by Augustine Low
The recent call by “expert” observers to Singaporeans to step out of our comfort zone and venture overseas for work has understandably struck a raw nerve.
Especially in light of the budget statement this week by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, who highlighted that governments around the world are “looking for ways to rebuild their manufacturing capabilities and create jobs for their people.”
He added: “Countries are thinking less about mutual benefit and interdependence, and more about national gain and security. An era of zero sum thinking has begun.”
DPM Wong made it crystal clear that countries are looking inwards, putting their own interests first and looking to “create jobs for their people.”
Two questions for DPM Wong then.
One, does he think it makes sense for Singaporeans to venture overseas for jobs at a time when other countries are putting their own interests and own people first? Two, is Singapore bucking the trend, welcoming foreigners with open arms while other governments, as he himself pointed out, are focusing on national gain and indulging in zero-sum thinking?
Which then brings to mind that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told unionists previously that Singaporeans must “make sure you steal somebody else’s lunch.”
The question is, do we steal people’s lunch here in our own backyard or are we now called upon to go overseas to steal people’s lunch?
Either way, it doesn’t bode well for Singaporeans. Instead of putting the onus on Singaporeans to steal lunch, why not protect and safeguard the lunch of Singaporeans?
Minister Chan Chun Sing has said that the ultimate competition is “Team Singapore, comprising Singaporeans, the PRs and even the foreign workforce … competing to give Singaporeans the best chance possible.”
Since he put it so broadly – everybody being part of one happy family – how are Singaporeans to tell the difference?
Whose jobs are being prioritised, whose jobs are at risk, who is stealing lunch from who?
DPM Wong says other countries are engaging in zero sum thinking, putting national interests first, while another minister says that Team Singapore comprises Singaporeans, PRs and foreign workers!
What’s worrying also is that so many Singaporeans are resorting to delivering lunch instead of holding good jobs to earn their lunch. Just look at the number of food delivery riders all around the country, at all times of the day.
Is this how our people should be gainfully employed? Is there no better solution?
What we are having instead is one national conversation after another. The current one is called Forward Singapore, a year-long exercise to gather feedback and ideas from tens of thousands of Singaporeans, being led by DPM Wong.
As with previous such exercises, we will end up with more slogans and more motherhood statements, when what we really need are real solutions to real problems.