While the Singapore Government has “done well in safeguarding the lives and livelihood of migrant workers”, there are underlying issues, such as racism and a lack of embracing diverse perspectives, that cannot be ignored, according to a letter published in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post on Sunday (May 10).
The letter writer, Gauri Venkitaraman, was responding to the letter “Singapore is not racist: City has stood by migrant workers in coronavirus crisis” (April 26) from Lee Teck Chuan.
Lee had defended Singapore’s handling of the outbreak of coronavirus cases in the country, writing that foreign workers’ lives and livelihoods had been well taken care of. He gave the examples that they had been given SIM cards so they could keep communicating with their families, and that meals, accommodation and medical treatment were given for free. Lee had asked: “Is it fair for our international audience to think that Singapore is a racist society?”
Gauri responded by writing that all the good the Government has done “does not justify the racist undercurrents, nor address a problem that some Singaporeans refuse to acknowledge”.
The letter writer mentioned that when the outbreak of Covid-19 cases was first reported, there were those on social media who blamed it on the supposedly lower standards of hygiene of foreign workers. Gauri also decried the lack of empathy, citing that some Singaporeans had allegedly said the accommodation for foreign workers in the country “met international standards”.
Gauri added that, even as the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis was widely applauded in international circles in the early days of the outbreak, migrant worker rights groups were already sounding the alarm that the overcrowded conditions in the dorms were ripe for widespread infections.
Gauri also mentions the scorn Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing displayed towards Hong Kong during those early days. “He might have been better off demonstrating some humility in knowing that the authoritarian government in Singapore isn’t perfect and is capable of mistakes too.”
And while the Government is not fully to blame in this situation, Gauri writes, there are areas within Singaporean society that contributed to the problem, such as a lack of checks and balances to power, as well as a lack of embracing diverse perspectives.
The letter writer added: “The sycophancy usually exhibited by The Straits Times, and the Pavlovian response from many Singaporeans who jump to their government’s defence at the first sign of criticism, only serve to reinforce the mistaken perception that the government can do no wrong.”
Gauri writes that it is unlikely that leaders in Hong Kong will copy what Mr Chan did, even though Hong Kong has been more successful in winning the fight against the coronavirus, because Hong Kong’s politicians are “a lot more circumspect and a lot less condescending”. /TISG
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