Singapore—On Thursday (Feb 25), the second day of the Budget Debate, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai called for levelling “the playing field” for Singaporean talents “in our very own job market”.
“It puzzles me why the Government has allowed a wage disadvantage against the Singaporeans for the longest time,” he said.
He then suggested the imposition of a S$1,200 monthly levy on all Employment Pass (EP) holders “immediately”. This, he said, is estimated to generate S$2.7 billion a year in revenues.
Furthermore, he said it would separate foreign talents who are paid more and would be less affected by the levy “from the foreign talents who are simply cheap labour that compete unfairly with Singaporeans and whom our economy has become overly dependent on.”
His suggestion did not sit well with Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung and Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang, who said that the Government does not agree with Mr Leong’s perspectives.
Mr Ong and Ms Gan underlined the Government’s plan to strengthen the Singaporean core.
Ms Gan said a levy such as the one Mr Leong suggested would “signal to foreign investors that we don’t quite welcome them bringing in their own talent”.
She reminded the House that just last September, the Government increased the minimum qualifying salary from S$3,900 to at least S$4,500 for EP holders, adding that it consistently reviews the qualifying criteria in order to rebalance the foreign and local workforce.
“If we start telling companies that they can invest but can only employ Singaporeans for the top jobs, we will end up chasing some of them away, and thousands of good jobs for Singaporeans will be lost as well. And going by Mr Leong’s logic, Singaporeans who are working overseas won’t be given top jobs outside Singapore,” she said.
Mr Leong answered by acknowledging that the country does need foreigners coming in to complement locals. However, he asked whether there are enough policies in place to ensure that Singaporeans receive fair treatment.
Referring to the appointment of Hong Kong-born Ms Helen Wong as group chief executive of OCBC Bank, he asked, “So what is MAS doing? In my maiden speech (in Parliament), I said that during my time in the 80s and the 90s, localisation was almost a must in our financial sector. Today, it doesn’t seem to be even a KPI (Key performance indicator(for) MAS.”
This time, he was answered by Mr Ong, who is a board member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
“Of course, we always wish there’s a menu that says ‘we get all the jobs, but yet no competition. I’m sorry, there’s no such menu… So I’m a little bit disturbed when I hear Mr Leong grandstanding, saying that… localisation (and) building our own talent is not in MAS’ KPI. I think that is grossly unfair and ignores everything that we have discussed earlier.”
Mr Leong said he does not believe the KPIs are showing enough results. “For example, the senior executive positions in the retail banking sector in Singapore, why should there still be 30 to 40 per cent of foreigners?”
To this, Mr Ong replied, “Why 30 per cent of retail bank managers are still foreigners? Because we are a global financial centre. We have 70 per cent, and a much larger pie with a larger share. But that is the essence of being an open and international financial centre.”
Mr Leong then apologised for his remarks on MAS, which Mr Ong accepted.
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