Singapore—Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Hazel Poa said it is “disappointing” that the Budget did not present any new measures “to fundamentally remove” the “over-reliance” on foreign labour.
Her fellow PSP NCMP Leong Mun Wai called for a re-examination of the Budget for research, innovation, and enterprise.
They both spoke in Parliament on Tuesday (March 2), on the third day of this year’s Committee of Supply debate
Ms Poa spoke on the local-foreign workforce balance. She noted the pandemic had exposed the vulnerabilities of the country’s over-reliance on foreign labour. But the Budget did not present any new measures to tackle this, aside from a tightening of S pass quotas in the manufacturing sector.
She noted this would have been “a golden opportunity to commence the needed restructuring” — at a time when Singapore’s foreign workforce has greatly decreased because of the pandemic.
“When businesses are looking for new ways to rebuild economic activities,” this would be time for a “reset, as IPS calls it,” she added.
As only “minor tweaks” were mentioned in the Budget, Ms Poa said it is to be expected that the foreign workforce in Singapore “will remain as large as ever”.
She clarified that the objection to the over-reliance on a foreign workforce does not mean any disrespect for foreign nationals working in Singapore, but is a matter of disagreement over the best policy for the economy.
Ms Poa acknowledged the significant contribution of foreign workers to the country and added that they deserve protection like the local workforce.
She asked if the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has sufficient employees to impose relevant laws and regulations and can reassure the public that its resources have been put to good use.
Ms Poa asked how the Ministry of Manpower would ensure a balance between the local and foreign workforces.
She also asked if the MOM is working hand in hand with non-government organisations (NGOs) to improve the conditions in foreign worker dormitories and how much has been spent in this endeavour.
Ms Poa also made special mention of the foreign domestic workers, asking if doctors could check for signs of abuse during the six-month examination of the helpers.
Mr Leong, on the other hand, called for a re-examination of the Budget for research, innovation, and enterprise.
He said that Singapore is “fortunate to have adequate financial resources” to invest in RIE (Research, Innovation, and Enterprise) in order “to future-proof the society and economy.”
In the last 15 years, $55 billion has been spent on RIE, which is even larger than the draw-down of reserves to fight the pandemic, he noted, adding that for the next five years, another $25 billion has been allocated in the Budget for similar use.
Additionally $2.2 billion has been allotted to be spent on talent development. But he noted that the majority of the post-graduate students, researchers, and faculty members are foreigners.
“What does that say about our progress in building up a research talent pool over the last two decades?” Mr Leong asked, adding that he believes it is “premature to add research expenditures significantly when we still lack a sizable domestic pool of research talent?”
The NCMP also called on the Government to conduct a review on the allocation of resources to promote enterprise.
As a venture capitalist himself, he opined that new ventures cannot be effectively promoted by the Government through co-funding.
This should be left to the private sector, he said.
A better way would be to provide tax credit, as this would activate excess capital to fund the ventures.
Mr Leong said this would allow for Singapore to become a regional venture capital hub for both local and foreign ventures.
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