Singapore — During the 10-hour-long debate on jobs, livelihood and the government’s foreign talent policy in Parliament on Tuesday (Sept 14), Leader of the Opposition and Workers’ Party head Pritam Singh called for greater transparency on foreign workers in Singapore.
He acknowledged that this would be “a change of culture” that would allow a much better and more informed public debate.
The LO also said the government should have done this years ago, long before the controversial Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) “entered the public lexicon in the way it has done in the past months.”
Mr Singh added that the government’s “reactive” approach of releasing data when it suits them, instead of a proactive one that suits the public, would no longer hold water.
The desire to interrogate facts will only increase, he said, adding that the government must take some responsibility for the ‘groundswell’ of misinformation about CECA.
Later in the debate, this was echoed by fellow WP MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC), who called on the government “to institute a freedom of information initiative that will guarantee the full release of accurate and complete trade, production, and labor market data, insofar as they pertain to the study of our FTAs.”
Assoc Prof Lim noted that this has become a routine practice in many other nations.
The LO was answered by Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who said that the government needs to be careful about releasing data regarding labour to the public.
“Is it such a good thing to let the whole world know our dependence on foreign workers and from which particular country? Really, do we want to let everyone know that?” he asked.
Mr Wong added that “we live in a dangerous world. So, should we not be careful about external parties that may hold us ransom by threatening to disrupt or terminate our labour flows, especially in certain key industries?”
As for better communication from the government, the Finance Minister admitted that it would work to improve its strategies.
However, he also said that there is data, which includes information on labour markets, that has been made available to the public, and that while transparency is one way to ensure better governance, data is not always an “unmitigated good” Yahoo! Singapore quotes him as saying.
And as for the Freedom of Information Act in the US, Mr Wong pointed out that trust in government in America is low, in comparison to that of Singapore.
“And this is America, but you can look at many other countries which have similar Freedom of Information provisions, and that has not helped to improve public trust, or public confidence in policies,” Mr Wong added. /TISG
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