14 December 2006

How to treat citizens better than foreigners

The Health Minister announced recently that healthcare subsidies for migrant workers will be eliminated. This is to "treat visitors well, but citizens better". Full essay.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Alex,

I fully agree with what you say. The living conditions of foreign construction workers are appalling! They remind me of the days when our forefathers came from India and China to fork a living here... We can't seem to be able to treat them with some basic dignity as human beings. It's disgraceful.

Now that foreign workers are prohibited from renting HDB flats,
their living conditions are only going to worsen.

I can't believe we pay millions of dollars to ministers who adopt such simplistic measures towards solving the problem, as if they are redressing "social justice".

I seriously think you should send this article to TODAY or ST.

Cheers,
Just a concerned Singaporean

Charles said...

yes... I thought that this announcement was really crass.

I might ask for the Singapore citizen when Singapore citizens can vote meangingfuly.

Until then, I am happy with my french citizenship.

InSpir3d said...

"Yet there is one very cheap compensation for having to do National Service: a genuine right of participation in the political life of Singapore.

Our advantages in being Singaporean do not have to be purely economic. In fact, if we only think in terms of economic plusses and minuses, then it's a pointer to a rot setting in, not just as Singaporeans, but as human beings. Life aspirations are more than just money and selfishness is not a badge worth wearing.

We should treat foreigners who contribute to Singapore fairly and compassionately, as near as economic equals as we can afford. But in return for the duty of citizenship -– National Service -– we should have the political rights of being a citizen. In reality, not just in name."

are you saying that political rights are sufficient compensation for the equivalent of 3 years of the prime of our lives? if you are, i think you are nuts.

"That is to say, even if you believe that foreign professionals are taking jobs away from Singaporeans, this move over the medical subsidies will do nothing to redress whatever imbalance you think there is."

precisely. even more has to be done to clearly discriminate in favour of Singaporeans for the sacrifices they make that foreigners do not.

i think you have missed the point of the "Singaporeans First" policy and turned it into an opportunity to blast the state with regards to foreign workers' rights and political rights. just because foreigners may not be treated as well as they should, and singaporeans should have greater political freedoms, doesn't mean the government should not make efforts to privilege singaporeans over foreigners.

Anonymous said...

I see the need to buy medical insurance for the foreign workers here. And I think the best person to implement it is the government, using the proceeds from the Foreign workers levy. Again, by making the employers pay, you will turn the employers away from investing in Singapore. Unless the aim is to make the foreign maid employers pay again. In that sense PAP is again tilting the balance against working mothers in singapore. I would urge the governmemt to consider using the worker's levy and not add to the pressure of working mothers and employers.

Anonymous said...

I came to Singapore some 8 years ago due to personal reasons. At that time GCT told spouses to come to Singapore. It's pretty alienating how Singaporeans see themselves as vctims all the time. I feel the atmosphere has become more unfriendly over the years. As if we foreigners (or PR's in my case) are the reason for the great divide in income...

Anonymous said...

I have not yet understood what is so wrong about a 2 tiered GST - Zero rated for rice, sugar, kway teow etc etc. like what they have in the developed countries. Does any one have the answers why SG is not looking into this??

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

To anonymous, 15 Dec, 21:07,

Good to hear a Permanent Resident's point of view. It is alas a common phenomenon that when a society is under stress, there is a tendency to blame foreigners and minority groups.

The most egregious example was the rise of Nazism from the ruins of the German state after it suffered a humiliating defeat in World War I. The Nazis did not sieze power by force. They were popularly elected into office.

As we all know, the Nazis and their supporters then blamed the Jews, gypsies and homosexuals for their country's misfortune. 6 million Jews and I don't know how many million gays died as a result.

Anonymous said...

All this does not come as a SURPRISE to me.
The Singapore Govt is all about MONEY.
The lower income wage earners of FTs can go fend for themselves.
After all, the poor Singaporeans themselves have no social welfare?
So what else is new?

Anonymous said...

While I don't think we can compare Nazi Germany and Singapore, the tendency is always to blame the weaker elements of the society.
Now, as for Singapore, it has some unique features. The overly powerful and deafening government has a bad effect on it's citizens, Instead of probing and questioning the reasons for certain policies, blame will be shifted towards angmoh expats (I am an angmoh, but not an expat), immigrants from China and Malaysia. It seems to be easier than to blame yourself for electing the current government in the first place. (It's a unique element in S'pore to complain nonstop, but never daring to open the mouth to voice your opinions)

I find it a little weird to be able to work in this country (the jobs had been offered to me, I didn't beg for it, or cheat to get it) and then being told, that I must understand 2nd rate treatment. I already understand the workfare etc bonuses are meant for S'porean only (in fact they are simple measures to bribe citizens to vote for PAP). But since I contribute to the society by paying taxes etc, why do I get penalties? S'poreans always stress NS as a main obstancle, do you guys know that some people like myself also served my own country when I was a teenager?

What is completely weird, is the fact that S'pore treats the cheaper foreign workforce terrible and still needs to complain about 'better treatment' for foreigners.

Great analysis as usual, Alex. I'ts pleasure to follow all your articles here.

gen x-i said...

The situation in Singapore is not unique. Elsewhere in the world, we are also witnessing a slew of reactionary policies from ruling elites attempting to regain trust from the incumbents.

I'd say it's almost human instincts to put the blame on 'foreign bodies' during less favourable times for the incumbents.

But the question that we need to ask ourselves as the incumbents here in Singapore, is whether the root cause of our less than favourable conditions stems from an introduction of these foreign labour/talent. And would such a discriminatory revision in our policies lead to an overall improved welfare for everyone.

This being a logical progression, the next question I would be asking the ruling elites is really how they will ensure that the increase in healthcare costs for PR and foreigners working in Singapore be channeled into the improved welfare of the incumbents?

The way I see it, this increase in healthcare costs will necessary serve to impact on the already disadvantaged foreign residents rather than those expatriates who are reasonably compensated. Are we ready to address the social problems that could possibly arise from a tighter squeeze on these disadvantaged beings?

Anonymous said...

LTks Alex for posting this brave thought. To every Singaporean who thinks that he should lord over everyone just because of that 2 years of NS, the lives of many foreign workers (which you are profiting from) is a million times tougher than even your Special Forces training.

Having been a foreigner for three years, it becomes very crystal clear to me of the xenophobia of Singaporeans and the moral bankruptcy of the govt to exploit it.

Kai Khiun

Anonymous said...

I'll blame the whole mess on one thing alone - "subsidy". Subsidy is an insidious creature that distorts everything it touches. Without subsidy, if things were offered at market prices - look at MRT, look at cinema tickets - everybody pays the same, citizen or non-citizen.

I'll say - take away all those subsidy and let everybody pay market prices. Let the poor get help by direct social welfare instead. Let them get financial assistance directly, and then pay the same price as everybody for an identical service.

Singapore should admit it's mistake and bring social welfare back to the open. By hiding social welfare under all these subsidies, it creates a bigger mess and distorts and undermines the efficiency of the market forces.

Robert L

Nihilist said...

I have been thinking about the foreign worker issue for quite a bit as well.

While I don't have concrete proof/statistics, it struck me as interesting one day to note that there may be a sizeable number of people who believe they ought to have preferential treatment (i.e treat them better than foreigners), and at the same time don't feel a sense of belonging to the country.

-Nihilist

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

I think you may have hit the nail on the head. For some reason, the idea of being Singaporean has, for a significant number of people mutated to "show me the money". No money, why should I care?

As long ago as the early 1990s, Goh Chok Tong rode on this sentiment (and thus probably reinforced it) by linking a sense of roots/belonging to making citizens sink the bulk of thier financial assets into immoveable real estate in Singapore. His theory was that if people were deeply invested in their homes, they would fight to defend the island (because their wealth was mostly here).

But, to make people sink the bulk of their savings into Sg real estate, he opened the Pandora's box called "upgrading" in an attempt to ensure that house prices will rise and rise, so that Singaporeans would find real estate an attractive investment.

In the event, the Asian Financial Crisis struck and the plan went off the rails, but that is not the point of my argument.

My point is that the government made the connection between roots/belonging and financial gain. And it has persisted.

Don Lim said...

I believe that most Singaporeans will not agree with your views on the political rights. I think most would rather get a bigger payout from the government every year.

I agree that we should be treating the foreign workers better. Afterall, Singapore was built on the back of our immigrant fathers(mothers too!). To treat them like trash, we are behaving no better than our past colonial masters.

Jimmy Mun said...

The Progress Package was timed to Singaporeans exercising our political right - the General Election.

If Singapore is a functional democracy, where Singaporean citizens can have real influence over the political process, where Singaporeans can decide to empty our reserves or abolish NS by a majority vote, then we have to agree to any sacrifice demanded by the state because it was a collective decision by Singaporean citizens.

But Singapore is not a democracy. We only get to nominally influence politics once every 5 years. In the meantime, we dont even get to speak out loud or take to the streets like the Hong Kongers. Without any political voice, Singapore citizens are little more than hotel guests paying tax for a right of residence. NS is nothing more than a heavy tax levied on Singaporeans unfortunate enough to be born male. I think every Singaporean man is entitled to ask why they get nothing in return for the disproportionate tax.

For the foreigners who dont know, Singaporean NS men get the same pay as domestic maids. Hong Kong has a higher minimum wage for maids than newly minted commissioned officers serving NS. Singaporean NS is among the most poorly paid in the world, and term of service among the longest, even though we have hardly any border or occupied territory to patrol. A good proportion of time spent by NS men is spent as cheap labour for National Day Parades and arranging flower pots during the IMF meet. If Singaporean men have a political voice, the government will never be able to get away with such wanton waste.

Like the maids and the foreign workers, Singaporean men are just victims of an democratic-in-name-only government. If it is up to me, I agree that the foreign worker levy/maid levy should be channeled to a medical insurance fund for their benefit, rather than pocketed by the government for dubious purposes.