Two weeks ago (6 Jul), a heated debate over India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) erupted in Parliament with the People’s Action Party (PAP) crossing swords with the Progress Singapore Party (PSP).
PSP’s Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai raised more questions on Singapore’s foreign worker policies after PAP Ministers Ong Ye Kung and Tan See Leng delivered their official statements with regard to accusations levelled at CECA.
Mr Leong refused to back down entirely despite Ong pressing him more than once during the debate to acknowledge that some of PSP’s statements about CECA were false.
“The whole purpose of this statement is that I know PSP is preparing for a motion debate, but I’m also hoping that we all go into the debate with some common ground … Let’s put aside the falsehoods … and don’t bring them into the motion,” said Ong. Nevertheless, Mr Leong did not back down.
ST criticises PSP
Today, Straits Times’ Senior Political Correspondent Grace Ho decided to write an opinion piece to further criticise Mr Leong (‘Ceca is not a four-letter word’, 18 Jul).
She said amid Singapore’s increasingly complex challenges, the last thing Singapore needs is the non-constructive circularity in the trade pact’s debate. “PSP’s refusal to walk back on its past statements is troubling,” she said.
Praising the 2 ministers, Ms Ho wrote, “I thought that Health Minister Ong Ye Kung – a former trade negotiator – and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng supplied useful facts and gave an accurate steer on how Ceca works.”
She cited how Singapore has long tapped foreign manpower to overcome the limitations of its human capital since the 80s. “In the 1980s, programmes to draw skilled labour here included the Professionals Information and Placement Service, and the Committee on Attracting Talents to Singapore,” she said.
“Later, an international manpower division was created within the Manpower Ministry (MOM) to oversee Contact Singapore offices in global cities and draw overseas talent to work here.”
The efforts paid off, she said citing a 2016 study by Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) saying that net migration numbers “increased drastically” in 2005 and peaked in 2008. This helped to counter falling birth rates in Singapore, she noted.
Ms Ho went on to argue that no amount of data can prevent some people from viewing CECA as inherently suspect.
“Knowing this, and also knowing how racially charged the public discourse on Ceca is, PSP’s refusal to walk back on its past statements is troubling,” she criticised PSP.
Bringing in trade into her argument, she warned, “It sets up a dangerous dynamic for Singapore, which relies on trade to expand its economic space and enhance its labour market flexibility. Already, some foreign investors and residents feel Singapore is anti-foreigner.”
She stressed that the bottom line is this: CECA does not interfere with Singapore authorities’ powers to decide whether foreigners can enter and live here.
Number of Indian EP professionals skyrocketed from 2005 after signing of CECA
It is indeed true that there are no legal clauses inside CECA mandating that Singapore must allow a certain number or even free rein of Indian professionals to work here.
However, it’s interesting to note that, as admitted by Minister Tan, the proportion of Indian professionals grew from 14 percent in 2005 to 25 percent last year among all EP holders in Singapore.
That is to say, among the nearly 200 countries on Earth today, 25 percent of all foreign EP professionals working in Singapore came from 1 single country alone – India. And this explosion in growth of Indian professionals working here occurred right after CECA was signed in 2005.
And if we were to put the figures in actual numbers, the growth is not double (100%) as in 14 percent to 25 percent as what ST had earlier reported, but in fact, 486 percent from 9,100 to 44,250.
Minister Tan explained in Parliament that this “rise” in Indian professionals here is attributed to the “rapid growth of Singapore’s digital economy, rather than the result of more favourable treatment for Indian EP holders due to CECA”.
And speaking of “tech talent” needed for Singapore’s digital economy, HackerRank, a global technology hiring platform for assessing IT developer skills, conducted a study some time ago to see which country has the best IT programmers and developers.
As part of the study, HackerRank ranked more than 1.5 million IT developers who took part in solving challenging coding problems on its site. The ranking was based on factors such as accuracy and speed.
It was found that IT developers from India were ranked at a lowly 31st position in terms of talent, with people from 30 other countries beating those from India. Even Singapore was ranked 13th in the world way ahead of India.
Furthermore, no figures have been provided by the Ministers as to how local Singaporean workforce benefited from CECA.
Conversely, from figures shown in United Nations’ data show that the number of Singaporeans living in India had dropped since 2005 instead of the expected growth if CECA had allowed Singaporeans to tap into a larger market as ST article seems to have suggested at its start.