Unhappiness towards Indian immigrants in Singapore is fuelled largely by false allegations made by alternative party Progress Singapore Party (PSP) on how the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) has allowed Indian professionals to come here easily for work, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in a Facebook post on Thursday (1 July).

Mr Ong said that while there are concerns about racist behaviours in Singapore that need to be addressed, but PSP’s “false allegations” on CECA had made it worse here.

“The recent two incidents of verbal and physical assaults on Indians were disturbing and not reflective of what Singaporeans are,” he said.

He added, “They occur amidst an undercurrent of sentiment against immigrant Indians over the past 2 years. There are concerns from Singaporeans that need to be addressed, but the unhappiness is also fuelled in no small part by false allegations by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) about how the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) has given Indian PMEs a free hand to come here to work.”

The two recent racial incidents that Mr Ong was referring to are – the first is a senior lecture who verbally uttered racist remarks at an interracial couple, and the second is about an Indian woman who was verbally assaulted over her apparently incorrect face mask-wearing by a Singaporean.

In the post, Mr Ong said that during the last Parliament sitting in May this year, Law Minister K Shanmugam had urged PSP to file a motion to debate on Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and CECA in Parliament.

Given that PSP’s Leong Mun Wai has recently accepted Mr Shanmugam’s challenge to seek “further clarification” on foreign employment policies and CECA, Mr Ong said that he and Manpower Minister Dr Tan See Leng will be delivering Ministerial Statements regarding this matter at this month’s Parliament sitting.

“In the run up to the filing of PSP’s proposed motion, we have received many parliamentary questions on the matter, including many from PSP.

“To answer these questions, Dr Tan See Leng and I will be delivering Ministerial Statements at next week’s sitting – he as Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Trade and Industry, and I as a former trade negotiator,” said Mr Ong.

The Health Minister went on to note that the duo will explain on how important FTAs are to Singaporeans and how they work. They will also be addressing the “false allegations” that FTAs permit foreign professionals a free hand to live and work in Singapore.

“We will also move to open our Ministerial Statements for debate. This will allow members of the PSP to respond to our statements if they wish to,” he concluded.

During the Parliament sitting in May 2021, Mr Shanmugam threw down a challenge to PSP’s Mr Leong to file a motion in Parliament to debate on CECA, which the latter accepted.

Mr Leong said that PSP is interested in taking up the issue of CECA at “some point in time”.

Following that, Mr Leong wrote in a Facebook post on 22 June that the PSP has accepted the challenge to have “a thorough debate” on Singapore’s employment policies and the CECA, in the spirit of “protecting our domestic economy and our people”.

“We are confident that Singaporeans will benefit from the disclosure of more information from the Government during the parliamentary debate and call on the Government to engage in the debate with grace, openness, transparency and trust that we all have Singapore’s interests at heart.

“Hence we are pleased to share that we will be seeking further information from the Government at the Parliamentary sitting in July in preparation for the coming debate.

“Subsequently, the PSP will decide on a suitable time to file a motion. It will be then up to the Speaker’s discretion to confirm the date of the debate,” he noted.

In his post, Mr Leong highlighted that foreign PMETs and Singapore’s free trade agreement with India – particularly the CECA – were the main policies that have affected the jobs and livelihoods of Singaporeans.

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