Several posts and remarks Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching, made on her personal Facebook page on Thursday (9 Jan) suggests that she backs her husband’s colleagues’s arguments in an ongoing clash with opposition leader Pritam Singh.

A heated exchange in Parliament

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat sparred with the Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general after he asked the Ministry of Manpower to disclose data on the number of new jobs filled by Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners respectively for each industry covered by the Industry Transformation Maps (ITM).

Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad responded that there has been an overall increase of 19,500 jobs across the 23 sectors – with 39,300 more jobs for Singaporeans, 8,600 more jobs for permanent residents and 28,500 fewer jobs for foreign workers – but did not provide a breakdown of data for each specific ITM as Mr Pritam requested.

The WP chief pressed for more specific data so as to avoid “a corrosive conversation about Singaporeans losing jobs to foreigners.” He also asked the Government to make it clear if it will not provide the requested data since “it’s pointless for us to keep asking for that data if the Government is not going to provide it.”

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing joined the fray and snapped: “I don’t think we have anything to hide. We have just shared the data.” He added that local employment increased by almost 60,000 between 2015 and 2018.

When the opposition leader asked how many of the 60,000 jobs that were increased between 2015 and 2018 went to Singaporeans and how many went to permanent residents, Mr Chan shot back: “We can get you the numbers. But let me say this: What is the point behind the question?”

Mr Chan asserted: “The ultimate competition is not pitting Singaporeans against the PRs, it is about the team Singapore comprising Singaporeans, the PRs and even the foreign work force…competing to give Singaporeans the best chance possible.”

PAP cannot have its cake and eat it too, post-POFMA: WP chief

In a Facebook post published on Tuesday (7 Jan), Mr Pritam explained that he had tabled the questions for the Manpower Ministry since many ITMs do not make clear whether their target is good jobs for Singaporeans.

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He added that most employment statistics released by the Government also lump permanent residents together with citizens instead of providing data on jobs for Singaporeans specifically. Asserting this makes identifying issues afflicting the Singaporean work force difficult, Mr Pritam said:

“Minister Chan confirmed that the Government had nothing to hide and could provide the information sought.
“Going forward, the Workers’ Party MPs will file the questions to get the data that is currently unavailable or not presented publicly by the Government or not provided in a manner that specifically identifies how Singaporeans in particular are doing.”

Mr Pritam stressed that the information he sought is necessary in part to counter falsehoods on manpower issues. Asserting that the Government cannot have its cake and eat it too after enacting anti-fake news legislation, he said:

“Separately, this information is necessary because, amongst other reasons, without hard data, there is much less scope for members of the public to rely on education and facts to counter fake news and falsehoods.
“Falsehoods fester far more when the facts are available but not made public. In post-Pofma Singapore, the political leadership of the day cannot expect to have it both ways.”

PAP politician joins fray and suggests such questions may divide society

Mr Chee Hong Tat rebutted Mr Singh’s comments in a Facebook post published on Wednesday (8 Jan).

Claiming that he is “puzzled” why Mr Singh did not acknowledge the “clear” statistics Mr Zaqy provided in Parliament, Mr Chee reiterated Mr Chan’s point that the Government “puts Singaporeans at the heart of everything we do” and has to constantly balance multiple trade-offs as it grows the economy.

Asserting that the “outcomes” for Singaporean workers are what’s most important, he said:

“In growing our economy, we constantly balance multiple trade-offs, including the extent to which we bring in foreigners to complement our local workforce. What matters most are the outcomes for our workers.
“On this, the results are encouraging – Singapore remains globally competitive in attracting investments, unemployment has remained low, wages of Singaporean workers are going up and good jobs continue to be created now and in the future.”

Mr Chee appears to be saying that the end justifies the means – as long as the outcomes for Singaporeans remain good, “trade-offs” like foreigners getting better paying jobs in an interim period is justified.

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Mr Chan had made a similar point in Parliament when he was sparring with Mr Pritam as he called the issue of local-foreign work force numbers a perpetual balancing act.

Mr Chan said that if some decisions today may mean more foreigners than Singaporeans getting jobs that paid better, this may just be a trade-off that would ensure that younger generations of Singaporeans would possess skills that would make them employable in the future. He added that Singaporeans could occupy the positions once held by foreigners in time as they get better trained.

Insinuating that Mr Pritam’s parliamentary questions are divisive and could be an attempt to divide different groups in society, Mr Chee said: “We have achieved these outcomes by staying united and working together. Let us not go down the path of other economies which are struggling with the politics of division and envy.”

Highlighting the contributions Permanent Residents have made to Singapore and the fact that many Permanent Residents are family members of citizens, he added: We must firmly reject all attempts to drive a wedge between different groups within our society and stand resolute against efforts to stir fear and hatred for political gain. Only then can we continue to progress together as Team Singapore.”

Ho Ching backs her husband’s colleagues

Mdm Ho, who has served as CEO of Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund for over a decade and a half, shared multiple posts capturing the main points made by Mr Zaqy, Mr Chan and Mr Chee in their exchange with Mr Pritam.

Mdm Ho shared Chee Hong Tat’s Facebook post in full not once, but twice, on her Facebook page – first at 10.47am, then again at 12.27pm. She then shared a post by pro-ruling party Facebook page Singapore Matters that highlighted how Mr Chee was “puzzled” that Mr Pritam did not share the data Mr Zaqy provided in his Facebook post.

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The Singapore Matters post Mdm Ho shared suggested that Mr Pritam deliberately hid the data Mr Zaqy provided and highlighted Mr Chee’s insinuation that Mr Pritam’s concerns could an effort to stir divisions between the different groups in society for political gain.

The Temasek CEO also shared a video of Mr Chan sparring with Mr Pritam in Parliament, besides sharing another six posts from the Singapore Matters Facebook page. One of the posts said that data on resident employment largely mirrors data for citizen employment while three posts highlighted Mr Zaqy’s comments on citizen employment in Parliament.

The remaining two posts highlighted Mr Chan’s remarks in Parliament. One post asserted that the data Mr Chan shared in Parliament was clear and shows how policies benefit Singaporeans while the other post said:

“Responsible political leaders must try to allay those anxieties, not prey on people’s fears for political advantage. Do not exploit sentiments to create envy, anger and frustration towards that foreigner who is now taking the $10,000 job.”

Mdm Ho herself made remarks on a separate matter on her Facebook page this afternoon, that perhaps captures her views on the argument between Mr Pritam and ruling party politicians.

Sharing a news article about how a child from the UK is in Singapore to receive novel cancer treatment, Mdm Ho pointed out that the lead researcher on the Singapore-pioneered breakthrough came from overseas and wrote:

“Local medical leaders as well as doctors, clinician scientists and scientists, both local, PRs and foreign, work together to make the discoveries that are now getting into either clinical trials or the market.

“Patience and persistence as well as mutual respect for what each of us can contribute in different ways, are what enabled SG to begin to offer novel solutions and the possibility to overcome where there had been no hope previously.”