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LHL’s New Foreign Talent Recruitment Policy Is Only the Culmination of Decades of Downgrading Singaporeans to Second Class in Their Own Country

LHL’s NDR speech, which I attacked in my recent Reform Party video (you can watch the video and read the text here), offered little to Singaporeans other than mammoth construction projects (to be built with foreign labour) and not to be completed till the 2040s. Both Tuas Port and Terminal 5 may turn out to be expensive white elephants and never earn an economic return even on a wider cost-benefit analysis (Terminal 5 more likely). Singaporeans will get few of the jobs involved in their construction and the profits from their operation will disappear into unaccountable Government-owned corporate entities like Changi Airport Group and Temasek-owned PSA. As for help for Singaporeans, LHL announced job done after spending a grand total of $1.5 billion in Budget 2022 and subsequently on Singaporean households.

The only people who got something out of NDR 2022 were foreigners wanting to come and work in Singapore. This is no accident and merely an accentuation of previous trends. It is what happens in a totalitarian state where one person controls everything and is able to treat the citizens with contempt and ignore their economic interests. The PM recited trite and obvious phrases such as “We must stay connected to the world” and “We must build a world class talent pool”. Nobody can reasonably object to wanting to attract the top talent to Singapore.

However it is LHL’s lies that I object to. He says “We do our utmost to develop our own talent, and enable every Singaporean to reach their fullest potential”. This is patently false. How can his Government claim to enable every Singaporean to reach his full potential when the NS burden is applied to male second generation Singapore citizens in such an inequitable and inconsistent manner? Requiring our young men to do two years of full time NS before they can go to university or college already means they have one hand tied behind their backs in competing with foreign graduates who do not face any such burden. This means Singaporean men are disincentivized in pursuing postgraduate degrees or PhDs because they are two years older than foreign men at the same stage. Where age is a factor, like sports, it makes it almost impossible because as everyone knows sportsmen have their best and peak earning years below the age of 25. The Government brazenly hands out scholarships to foreign students to come to Singapore and work after graduation with a fast track to PR and citizenship without having to contribute two years of slave labour at third world salaries. Those on employment passes are able to bring their children to live and study in Singapore. Even if they are able to work here for ten or twenty years and enjoy our low tax regime, their male children are able to leave Singapore without serving NS while MinDef pursues people it claims are Singaporean even where they hold foreign passports, have never lived here and they have received no economic benefit. Meanwhile the children of expats or even long time Singapore citizens are often able to return and become expats in their turn without having had to bother with inconveniences like NS. An example is Michael Booker, who is the head of Bain and Co., an American management consultant in Singapore. His father, Bob Booker, was a Singapore citizen and head of Allen and Gledhill. He and my mother were colleagues for a while but that did not prevent him from vetoing my brother Philip joining the firm after he graduated from Cambridge in 1986 on the grounds that his Singapore partners were opposed. His son Michael fled Singapore to avoid NS but afterwards was mysteriously allowed to return and live and work here after he graduated. He has served on the boards of SPRING Singapore and International Enterprise Singapore.

The new initiatives outlined by LHL in his NDR speech and fleshed out in more detail by MOM Minister Tan See Leng will double down on this basic unfairness and discrimination against native-born Singaporeans. The salary criterion of a minimum of $30,000 per month for the new Overseas Networks and Expertise Pass will be relaxed for those with “outstanding achievements’ in arts and culture, sports, science and technology, and research and academia. “Outstanding achievement” will probably be defined loosely and may in many cases be outstanding achievement in praising the PAP Government and extolling the benefits of one person totalitarian rule. Spouses of those holding the new visa will be allowed to work and they will be able to bring in dependents. The first is acceptable but the second will likely mean perpetuation of the unfairness by which the male children of long term residents of Singapore, even if the latter do not take up PR or citizenship, will be able to live here for years and go to school here but then subsequently escape NS. Later they will probably be allowed to return to SIngapore and work here, thus giving them a huge advantage over male Singaporeans who cannot go to university until they have completed NS and subsequently must fulfill their reservist liability of 40 days a year till at least 40, and in the case of officers, 50. MOM have also abolished the need to comply with the Fair Consideration Framework for the top 10% of Employment Pass holders and reduced the period to 14 from 28 days which reduces what was too short a period even further. This more or less guarantees that foreigners will get the top paying jobs in Singapore if they are competing with male Singaporeans. Tan also spoke about aiding Singaporeans in getting placements at world class companies. The only person who seems to have been aided thus far is the PM’s son, Li Hongyi, who was employed by Google at the same time that the latter was negotiating the terms of its investment in Singapore. We need more light to be shone on this to see whether there was preferential treatment in return for favours, which would be an offence under the Constitution.

I agree that Singapore must be open to foreign talent. However it must be at the very minimum a level playing field given that other countries tilt their playing fields much more in favour of their own nationals. In order to reduce the unfairness of the NS burden on male Singaporeans in competition with foreigners for jobs, NS should be reduced to under a year and if possible broken up so it can be served during university vacations. It should be extended to women so that are treated as full citizens and the range of options for serving it should be expanded. If Employment Pass holders under the age of, say, 35, stay in Singapore more than a certain number of years, probably 3 but certainly no more than 5, they should be given the choice of either serving NS or paying a significant additional amount of tax and their dependents should also acquire the obligation to serve NS if they are resident here for the same number of years. Becoming a PR or citizen will entail the same obligation. If the Government believes this would make Singapore uncompetitive in the global market place then it should abolish NS altogether and move towards a fully professional armed forces. The Ukraine conflict has shown that it is no longer an advantage to have a mass of poorly trained or only partially trained recruits and significant casualties would soon demoralize a conscript army, as has happened to Russia’s.

The present system effectively treats Singaporean men as second class or even third class in their own country. By handicapping our own young men and thus handing a significant advantages to foreigners in our own job market the Government is saying that you are worthless and it can deny you the best paying jobs. PAP may slowly be feeling its way towards extending some form of NS to women, as suggested by several statements by PAP women MPs, just as they telegraphed the removal of 377A well in advance to gauge the public reaction, but they show no signs of reversing the basic discrimination against Singaporeans in their own job market. With this, as with every aspect of the raw deal Singaporeans generally get from their government, change will depend on the willingness of those affected to take action and vote the PAP out. So far, unfortunately, there are few signs that the connection has been made.

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