Monday, February 18, 2008

Singapore - You are a foreigner, shut up

In Singapore, whether on a work permit or with Permanent Residence status, you are never allowed to forget that you are a foreigner. You may live here for more than ten years, contribute to the CPF, pay taxes, and create employment for Singaporeans, but you are not eligible for any Government programs such as top-ups or tax rebates, and you pay higher fees for medical treatment.

More importantly, you have no right to speak. As has been made abundantly clear with refusals to permit speakers from overseas and the latest fiasco with the Complaints Choir, foreigners are expected to be invisible and quiet. There is an excellent review here of the situation, written by a Singaporean.

Which is all well and good from one point of view. If one is a guest, it is rude to criticize one's host.

Using the term "guest" stretches things more than a bit though. Moving to Singapore, raising a family, starting businesses, employing people, these are not the behaviours of a guest. There is clearly a commitment and permanence which makes the label "guest" inappropriate.

The Singapore government survives and prospers in no small part because of its disciplined and relentless organizational ability and focus on listening to the "HDB heartlanders". Given that set up, it is not hard to see how foreigners present a problem. They are too heterogeneous to be managed.

The reality is that there are now more than a million foreigners living in Singapore. And they are completely disenfranchised. To have almost a third of the population of a country relegated to invisible status is simply to breed trouble. There are no examples in history of disenfranchising major portions of a population leading to positive outcomes.

I doubt we will see British investment bankers rioting in the streets demanding their rights to be heard - they tend to riot only after extended sessions at Boat Quay. Instead, Singapore gets what it has created - a foreign population that feels no connection to their adopted country of residence, and a large group of people with no voice to air grievances or suggest improvements.

I contrast this with Hong Kong, where the expat population is proud of their adopted home, and serve as unofficial ambassadors for the Territory, creating and sustaining a positive image for Hong Kong throughout the world.

It is a shame that those in power today have made the policy calculation that they need to suppress foreign residents in Singapore in order to manage Singapore. There are other, more positive approaches which do not risk the Singapore identity, while providing those contributing to the growth of the country with an appropriate level of representation.


Anonymous said...


My comments to you :

1) Contribute to CPF ?
The contributions are tax-deductible. So it is you who benefits. Where is the sacrifice?

2) Pay taxes ?
Find another place that gives you as safe an environment with as low a tax rate as Singapore. If you do, please feel free to go there instead

3) Commitment and Permanence?
Ask your boys to serve the country by doing National Service and then Reservists.

4) Disenfranchised ?
The 1 million you talk about are likely to be in the top 5 - 10 % of the social and economic strata. Disenfranchised are the Armenians under the Ottomans or the Kurds under Saddam

Anonymous said...

"contribute to the CPF, pay taxes, and create employment for Singaporeans, but you are not eligible for any Government programs such as top-ups or tax rebates, and you pay higher fees for medical treatment."
Let me put these items in perspective first.
CPF - it's still your money if you still believe in the governement of singapore and that they will make good and return you such monies when you leave. Locals need to either die or wait till they change the scheme next month.
Taxes - do you expect, just by your 'status' as Foreign 'Talent' you don't need to pay taxes? Which country in the World gives you a free lunch?
Create Employment - was a business started that you created more jobs for Singapore Citizens or more Foreign 'Talents'/PR? Even if you did start a business, your cause is to make money and to benefit from the business opportunities this little red dot offered you. Your cause is not as noble as you make it out to be i.e. just to create jobs not to mention for whom.If you can't make money out of your venture would you still 'create' jobs?
Higher fees etc - you want to spend 2 years doing National Service and endure all the reservist training after that till your are 40? If you do, why don't you sign up?
Shutting up - you think you have it bad? Locals rarely if ever, get heard and you may have been reading the official media too much and are suckered to believe citizens are listened to intently. And you want more rights and privileges? Yeah rite.... (SS Lee)

Anonymous said...

Hey dude. I apologise for the xenophobic dickwads above. I can feel your frustration. Coming to new shores and the government here making you feel like a stranger is tough. Just like how I went to Australia and racism was rampant. Asian is a bad word there.

And to the dickwads, please don't confuse the issue. He's merely saying that foreigners are asked to come here, to live, contribute to the local economy (yes they do) and yet they are asked to keep quiet when it comes to politics.

I have to say that there is little political representation for anyone in Singapore, be it a foreigner or a citizen.

For your point about NS, PRs do have to attend NS now. Lets try not to confuse this whole affair and blare out your hatred for no basis.

All in all, xenophobia no, integration yes. We were immigrants just a few generations back.

Anonymous said...

I am "Asian" and I lived in Australia for 5 years. Funny, I never felt racism even once. Anyway I think foreigners are much better treated in Australia than they are in Singapore. In Australia I was free to say anything I wanted to and, gasp!, I sang in a choir. In fact, I felt more welcome in Australia than I do in my own country.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I think the complaining about NS in the foreigner debate is just silly. By that logic, Singaporean women should have to pay higher fees, taxes, not get CPF, and should shut up (just like foreigners in the choir) since they also don't serve NS.

The proper way to complain about NS is to direct those complaints to the Singaporean government, whose own failures in international diplomacy have led to a situation where NS is required for our security. There are many examples of other small countries, both geographic and in population, around the world that don't have NS. But fellow Singaporeans never question why we have to do it. It just sounds like the guys above are jealous of foreigners for not having to serve it. Open your eyes dudes, the foreigners didn't make us serve NS, our own government did.

whanafi said...

My goodness, xenophobia seems to be well represented here.

OK, let's deal with the "NS" argument first. If you want an older, overweight gweillo serving in your army, bring it on, I am ready to rumble. But a question if I may. What does national service have to do with giving people a voice in their government? Or do you regret giving women the vote?

Taxes. I am not complaining about paying taxes, (and yes, taxes are lower in HK, and it is just as safe). I am merely saying that having paid, I do not have the same rights as others who pay. Taxation without representation was the main cause of the American revolution.

To the commenter who suggested that foreigners are in the top 5-10% of the social and economic strata, you have just made my point.

The people cleaning your toilets, picking up your trash, constructing your buildings and looking after your children are invisible to you and disenfranchised.

Since you asked, the jobs that I have created have primarily been filled by Singaporeans. Not that it makes any difference to me, as I hire for talent, not race, gender, or citizenship.

If you re-read what I originally wrote, you will see that it is not a complaint but rather regret that Singapore chooses not to take advantage of people with skills and passion who have voluntarily chosen to live here.

Anonymous said...

The Singapore Government would be more than happy to offer you all that you seem to be asking for - top-ups, tax rebates, etc - just take up Singapore Citizenship. It's not difficult at all, our Government practically begs foreigners to take up citizenship.

With regards to being "invisible and quiet" though, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed because Singaporeans aren't allowed to speak up either (except on trivial matters - in which case anyone can speak up).

I doubt the people who posted comments on your blog are xenophobic, nor did they mean to cause offense. There are a whole lot of disenfranchised Singaporeans out there, many of whom are biding their time, waiting for the right opportunity to leave Singapore and to take up citizenship elsewhere. If you engaged them, you'd probably be better placed to understand why they reacted the way they did.

Anonymous said...

This is Singapore if you are already not aware. The people in power, the PAP gives residency to people who will not get themselves involved in the politics here in Singapore. Your P.R. status is misleading, it is an ONLY CONDITIONAL permanent residence and is not guaranteed. This is reviewed every 5 years and renewed if you have obeyed and listened to the people in power. Otherwise they can take away the P.R. for whatever reasons they deem fit. In a recent case, the Malaysian P.R. pilot who got involved in the pilot strike at SIA (a government owned corporation) was STRIPPED of his P.R. and expelled back to Malaysia. This is what you would expect from a government who is run by the PAP, first world country, third world leaders. In HK or the UK, there apparently are no such things as a PR conditional on your political behaviour in theat country.

You are in ignorant bliss if you believe that the PAP is listening to the heartlanders. This got to be some joke. Just see and check out who are representing the people here in the so called heartland and you wouldn't be so fast in thinking that these people are being listened to. For a show, maybe.

You apparently seem to find a good comparison with HK. Singapore lacks in the current leadership, the ability to take Singapore to where HK is in such terms.

Foreign residents especially those in the 5-10% socio economic strata, being probably more vocal and knowledgeable and networked more intentionally than most locals, are a threat to the PAP, being perhaps able to bring out issues and awareness in many areas that Singaporeans may lack.

Reports from Reuters and the local Singapore media are excellent examples in the recent reporting of the Budget 2008 issue where Reuters is highlighting that the main benefits of the package of the Budget is - the increase in the already enormous salaries of LHL and his ministers, while the local media propagates, sings instead the praises to the generosity of the government giving pittance on the increase in the social aid, not even sufficient for 3 MacDonald meals a day... and the rest of the crap.

If you are the top 5-10% of the socio strata, I believe that you would have much less grievances, since the package is in effect encouraging wealthy foreigners to deposit their wealth here. Most of such foreigners, would generally not be interested in getting involved politically and are here only to make the most out of what they can get here.

Shutting up as one commenter made – “you think you have it bad? Locals rarely if ever, get heard..” and the government is in the meantime trying its best to now also try to wrest control of the free flow of speech in the internet, planting their supporters like Remy Choo and Andrew Loh into popular blogs sites to censor and propagate what they do in the local press.

LKY once said that he regret educating the women. So what do you expect from most of the men in his country. Women do serve in the army. However the rules on serving NS is established by the government. There is no problem for women to serve NS. Ask the old man why not. On the other hand the current women in power like Ho Ching to name a few are pathethic and give a bad name to women in Singapore in general. Either they are related and show they have power or they try to be a good PAP by repeating the line of the PAP without the slightest of thought through their minds. Perhaps this is typical for most of the PAP MP, ministers and members, not just the women.

What representation are you expecting? The Singaporeans get NONE and have ZERO say in what is being done with their money - like bailing out sub primes. No consent or even a mere consultation is required. Only the word from the Chairman and his BOD will do. There is no need for accountability.
"The people cleaning your toilets, picking up your trash, constructing your buildings and looking after your children are invisible to you and disenfranchised" - many Singaporeans are also in jobs as such and do you think the government give two hoots to people in this strata.

You have brought a valid point about Singapore which allowed real opinions of people disenfranchised or not to voice out. In Singapore only one man talks, LKY and only him, and at millions of dollars at the expense of all the Singapore taxpayers including you. The rest with differing views - SHUT UP

Anonymous said...

JL, perhaps your own experience in Australia has caused your over-sensitivity.
I don't need to defend my thoughts to you as some other readers/commentators have rightly seen my main point that: citizens don't even get heard (enough?)and it's not about what contribution any of us, locals or otherwise have made. It's the stance adopted by the incumbent political party that imposes a regime of frowning upon critism(thin-skinned?). The author has the answer he seeks in his title.. to Shut UP and it guess what, it goes for the citizens too! SS Lee

uXuf said...

It is sad to see that most of the commentators chose to be anonymous and even didn't give out their email addresses. It shows that there is obviously no such thing is free speech and it's not exactly the contentment of the people that they don't rebel against the "monarchy", it's much more than that.

Unknown said...

I am a PR of Singapore and a citizen of Australia. I have lived in Sri Lanka and lived in UK, US, New Zealand and HK.

For me i find the above article quite irrelevant at best. When you are a foreigner in most countries you dont have that much rights. Its quite a stupid myth in the west that foreigners have rights. Its quite hilarious!!. When I was in London as a student paying very high fees i didnt even have a right to get a job.

In the US under the current regime you might get dumped in Cuba accused of being a terrorist. In Australia getting a job as a foreigner is very hard when they ask for "local experience". Its no matter where you come from and what profession you belong to.

If you are a foreigner in any part of the world. Guess what ? learn to accept the fact you dont belong there is the message the world gives to everyone. I have been a foreigner in UK, US, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Believe it or not i felt Singapore was the best out of them all. This writer has to ask the question why is that if foreigners care so much about wanting speak out make up 33% of the singapore population. Its higher than most countries in the world.

In Australia I cannot find a single foreigner who is a CEO of any major company. But in Singapore there are enough and more. Singapore is more progressive in treating foreigners than Australia is towards providing equal opportunities for foreigners to become a CEO.