Erosion of the Singapore spark and core

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

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Formula 1, an uppity event catering to the rich and well-heeled in Singapore and to prop up tourism.

At the heart of any country is its own people, not imported ones who have not grown roots and are here at the expense of locals – minus all the responsibilities that come with being true-blue citizens. I find it alarming that the primacy of the Singapore core continues to be neglected. There is also general official reluctance to state categorically that the interests of Singaporeans must always come first – no ifs no buts. Not the interests of premium class visitors (to F1), not tourists propping up the ugly White Elephants By The Bay, not PRs.

The F1 has just ended, to the relief of commuters, motorists and the shops and other commercial outlets helplessly disrupted by the event. As a sporting event, the so-called Singapore Grand Prix has no resonance whatsoever with the majority of Singaporeans who view it as a massive nuisance. Malaysia, in fact, beat us to the F1 circus. In his first round as PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad was keen to put his country on the sporting map. The Sepang circuit was built to accommodate the F1. Smartly, after having realised it benefited little from the event, Kuala Lumpur called it quits. There has been greater enthusiasm for the motorbike GP which had significant local participation.

I read a story in which an F1 spokesman was asked how many of the 260,000 people who attended the Grand Prix in 2017 were tourists and how many were locals. Answer:  Sixty per cent were tourists and 40 per cent locals. Do you seriously believe this? Just how many locals can afford the exorbitantly priced tickets?

To make the sport less alien to us, perhaps we can hold a simultaneous Temasek or Asia Air Grand Prix away from the Marina and city area, say, somewhere in the old Thomson Road circuit – with as many local or Asian drivers and motorbike riders as possible. This would add to the carnival spirit of genuine racing and not allow ourselves to be treated as insulting adjuncts to a rich man’s sport or an advertising gimmick. Otherwise, I cannot ever see the F1 as being socially acceptable to Singaporeans who live and work here and are not secondary to the rich and famous.

The need to re-emphasise political and social commitment to the Singaporeans First ethos was also highlighted by two just released surveys.

The annual Population in Brief report released on Thursday by the PMO Strategy Group seems to be telling us that Singaporeans make up only 60 per cent of the population here. Some 40 per cent of the 5.64 million are PRs, foreigners and new citizens!

Very soon, we are sadly going to be a minority in our own country. That would be a tragedy and the beginning of the end for the Republic. Are Singaporeans aware of the situation? This is not just about reproduction, it’s about exhausting all effort to make Singaporeans feel they are in control of their own destiny. That their views and needs are a non-negotiable national priority, even if we have to forgo the contributions of so-called foreign talents. Without the loyalty of true-blues, there is no Singapore.

Another survey, done in 2016 but released on Friday by the Institute of Policy Studies and which involved 2,013 young Singaporeans aged 19 to 30, is revealing. About 58 per cent in 2016 believe emigration for them is inevitable because Singapore is getting more stressful and competitive, compared to 42 plus per cent in another survey in 2010.

More interestingly, according to the Straits Times report on the survey, there was a big rise in the proportion of respondents who viewed foreign talents as having a negative impact on societal cohesiveness here, from 38.9 per cent in 2010 to 48 per cent. They also expressed scepticism about the long-term commitment of immigrants. About 55 per cent of our young Singaporeans in 2016  – versus 45 per cent in 2010 – think foreign talent are simply using Singapore as a stepping stone to other developed countries.  What does this mean? It means young innovative and highly talented Singaporeans do not buy the government’s narrative that wholesale import of foreigners, possessing whatever dubious “indispensable” talent, is good for Singapore.

They feel a great sense of displacement in their own country.

Dr Gillian Koh, the deputy director of research at IPS, said: “But what really popped up was in the category of ‘explorers’, they (tend to) speak English, not (Mandarin).”

The researchers define “explorers” as individuals with a “high intention and ability” to emigrate, with a “moderate to high level” of national pride and “subjective well-being”.

Lose these young independent-thinking and mobile Singaporeans and I see no future for this county except as one with contented cows, conformists and can’t-be-bothered non-achievers.

Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.