In response to questions raised by Leader of the Opposition, Pritam Singh, in relation to the following:
(a) numerical breakdown by nationality of Singapore’s permanent resident (PR) pool from each of the top 20 countries and further sub-divided by gender; and
(b) of these top 20 nationalities, how many individuals have remained as PRs for the last 10 and 20 years respectively and have not applied for citizenship at least once,
Minister for Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam only provided the bare minimum.
Mr Shanmugam said that Singapore’s PR population was 45% male and 55% female but refused to provide further information on the basis that publishing PR population by nationality could have implications on specific groups of PRs and create bilateral sensitivities with their country of origin.
Mr Shanmugam further said that “given our history, it has been our assessment that releasing the data of country of origin of our PRs will both create negative sensitivities with other countries; and may affect the flow of PRs from such countries.”
In other words, Mr Shanmugam has turned a question about our immigration policy into one about potential racism and discrimination. Perhaps Mr Shanmugam was misguidedly trying to protect immigrants in Singapore.
However, by declining to provide answers to direct questions, he may unwittingly be creating even more resentment among Singaporeans. Worst still, he might be muddying the waters between combatting racism and genuine policy concerns, thereby doing justice to neither cause.
While racism undeniably exists in Singapore and it is something that must be urgently and properly addressed, we must also be able to address national concerns without the spectre of racism being trucked out. Asking a question on figures is not racist. We need those figures to determine if our current immigration policy is still relevant. It is the suppression of these figures and creating an obi marker on things we cannot talk about that causes greater anger and discrimination.
The questions raised by Mr Singh of the Workers’ Party (WP) is information that can be obtained elsewhere. While it may not be easy to find by those who are not used to doing research of this nature, it is information that is publicly available to those who know where to look.
For example, a quick search on the internet would yield the ratio between PRs and new citizens yearly. A breakdown of the number of work passes and the types of work passes issued is also available as is a breakdown of the nationalities of migrants to Singapore.
Why then is Mr Shanmugam so reticent on providing the figures in Parliament? In not doing so, could Mr Shanmugam run the risk of coming across as trying not to draw attention to the actual statistics of immigration in Singapore?
In seemingly not providing information and using the “bilateral sensitivities” card, Mr Shanmugam could end up creating the speculation and resentment that he is probably trying to avoid.
Given that the information is already available elsewhere, why is Mr Shanmugam so hesitant? Openness and transparency are the best antidotes to rumour, anger, frustration and speculation on the rightness or fairness of our immigration policy. The seeming obfuscating of data creates suspicion that could manifest itself in racism.
Not to mention, it was Mr Shanmugam who challenged Constituency Member of Parliament, Leong Mun Wai from the Progress Singapore Party to file a motion on the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) which Mr Leong accepted.
Could Mr Shanmugam be fanning the flames of further racism and xenophobia by refusing to open? Or, could Mr Shanmugam be using the “race card” to prevent Parliament from looking into our immigration policy too closely and providing information to Mr Leong and his party to file a proper motion?