Hundreds of Singaporeans have expressed their support for Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Dr Chee Soon Juan after an anonymous article claimed that he “badmouthed Singapore to foreigners again”.
The article referred to a Facebook post Dr Chee published last Thursday, in which he wrote about his recent meeting in South Africa with Tim Harris – an ex-South African politician, who now serves as the chief executive of Wesgro, the official Investment and Trade promotion agency for the Western Cape, and sits on the board of SiliconCape, Cape Town’s technology industry promotion body.
According to Dr Chee, Harris expressed interest in “Asia’s openness to “free trade”” in the lunch meeting that involved other guests and talked about the possibility of South Africa working with Singapore by having South African Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) setting up shop here.
Dr Chee said that his Asian counterparts who were at the table were quick to warn Harris about the pitfalls of such a move before he could chime in.
Dr Chee’s friends noted the meagre technology transfer these corporations bring when they set up shop in Singapore and spoke of the tendency of such MNCs to employ their own nationals once they settle in and take advantage of generous tax breaks offered by authoritarian political administrations.
Reflecting that “As it turned out, I didn’t have to say much. My friends were right on the money,” Dr Chee added his own thoughts about such MNCs setting up shop in Singapore, citing the discrimination of Singaporean employees by firms in Singapore and trade agreements like CECA that make it easy to import cheap foreign labour.
Like his friends, Dr Chee also noted that such MNCs bring “little long-term investment and technology transfer. Case in point: Giant pharma companies Eli Lilly, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Novartis all left “after lapse of tax breaks, other govt incentives”. (TODAY)” He added:
“No minimum wage, no trade unions, no free press and govt ranked bottom in effort to tackle income inequality. Economy struggling, unemployment and retrenchment rising, opportunities for youth bleak, elderly taking their own lives at an unprecedented rate…
“Yes, Singapore has jumped from Third World to First. Question is, for whom?
“We need change.”
It was Dr Chee’s point about little long-term investment and technology transfer from MNCs that socio-political website Singapotato latched on to as it asserted that Dr Chee has been “talking shit about his own country to foreigners”.
Claiming that Dr Chee’s point about big pharmaceutical companies exiting Singapore is a “blatant misrepresentation,” the website cites a 2016 ST report about Pfizer opening “a Manufacturing Technology Development Centre here” and employing 600 staff and a 2017 ST report about GlaxoSmithKline opening their Asia HQ in Singapore, employing around 1600 staff and investing over US$2.5 billion here.
Singapotato asserted: “The reality is that pharma companies are still opening up new facilities here. Honest mistake or deliberate misleading? You can make up your own mind. I still don’t trust the guy. Judging from the ballot box, voters in Singapore tend to agree too. The Singapore Democratic Party deserves a better sec-gen.”
Did Dr Chee really bend the facts and “talk shit about foreigners to Singapore”?
According to his post, Dr Chee claims he did not speak extensively about the pitfalls of a trade agreement between South Africa and Singapore – only his friends did. The politician, in fact, says explicitly that he did not say much since his friends were quick to offer their own views.
Further, Dr Chee’s Facebook comments did not seem to “misrepresent” the facts since there really appears to be little technology transfer from MNCs setting up shop here.
According to the TODAY article Dr Chee cited, Eli Lilly, GSK and Pfizer indeed wound down their research and development operations here, while an ST article reported in 2016 that “Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis is moving a key research facility out of Singapore.”
A big part of technology transfer between foreign companies and host nations occur when these companies develop their own research environment in the host country, thus facilitating the transfer of new technology from the foreign MNC to the host nation.
While the TODAY article is dated, the fact that Novartis, Eli Lilly, GSK and Pfizer are all pulling their research facilities out of Singapore does seem to put a strain on tech transfer.
The articles that Singapotato cited also does not make any mention of how many Singaporeans GSK and Pfizer employ. The GSK article only mentions that the pharma giant’s new facility in Singapore is initiating a programme to nurture leadership talent and that the programme will train 50 Singaporeans (out of a total 250 people) over 5 years.
Hundreds of Singaporeans expressed support for Dr Chee, even as the Singapotato article and some Facebook users blasted the opposition leader for “badmouthing” Singapore. Over 400 netizens have “liked” Dr Chee’s post on Facebook and over 180 Facebook users have shared the post on their own walls.
Several netizens also encouraged Dr Chee to tune out the “PAP IB” who are attacking him and asserted that they are seeing more and more Singaporeans supporting his party online:
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