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‘Lack of transparency is not the way to build real unity’ – WP NCMP backs party chief in clash with PAP politicians

Mr Perera asserted that a lack of transparency and making policy decisions behind closed doors is not the way to build real unity.

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Workers’ Party (WP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) has backed his party chief, Pritam Singh, in his recent clash with ruling party politicians over the availability and transparency of employment data.

The WP secretary-general had 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), in Parliament on Monday (6 Jan).

While the Government provided some data, it did not provide a breakdown of how many new jobs were filled by Singaporeans for each specific ITM as Mr Pritam requested. When the opposition leader pushed for the information, he was told that the Government has nothing to hide and questioned about what the point behind his questions was.

Sharing a video of Mr Pritam’s parliamentary exchange on Facebook, Mr Perera asserted on Thursday (9 Jan) that a lack of transparency and making policy decisions behind closed doors is not the way to build real unity. He wrote:

“Let’s have fact-based national conversations, not the kind of lack of transparency that breeds speculation and can fuel prejudices of all kinds.

“Without knowing the relevant facts, we cannot debate what’s best for Singapore. Without knowing the relevant facts, policy-making becomes the preserve of the elite behind closed doors.

“That’s not the way to create a real sense of ownership of public outcomes among the people. That’s not the way to build real unity.”

Unity has been the ruling party’s buzzword over the past several months, as it gears up for the looming General Election.

Establishment figures like Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, his presumptive successor Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, President Halimah Yacob and fourth-generation ruling party ministers like Indranee Rajah have been asserting that unity is crucial for Singapore’s growth and that the nation should not become “divided” like other societies.

What happened 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 workforce…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.

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 workforce 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 the 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.

Mr Chan had made a similar point in Parliament when he was sparring with Mr Pritam as he called the issue of local-foreign workforce 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.” /TISG

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