Pritam tossed a question in Parliament yesterday, a question that shows you how how toxic politics can be for a country. 

He asked the Minister of Manpower to give a breakdown on “how many Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners there are respectively for each industry covered by the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs)”.

The ITM is a piece of work painstakingly planned and executed over the last few years in order to protect Singaporeans from future job losses and to restructure our enterprises and industries. The opposition knows that a lot of time and work has gone into this and was seeking to attack it.

It is very difficult to see job growth, without also seeing foreign employment growth. The Workers Party is exploiting the foreigner presence for their own benefit. They know how people will feel about foreigners and they phrased their question in such a way that would elicit a negative response from ordinary Singaporeans.

In the business of data analysis, there is a function called “sense making”. Data on its own is pointless. The sense making people, well…make sense out of raw data. So I’d like to ask Pritam: What sense are you trying to extract out of Parliament? What insight can you give the country?

Anyway…

The government did not evade the question – they merely stopped Pritam and denied them the pleasure of politicising a non-issue and reminded him that a responsible politician had a duty to ally the fears of Singaporeans, not capitalise on them.

Chee Hong Tat then reminded Pritam that the data he sought for had been given:

“Between 2015 and 2018, total employment across the 23 Industry Transformation Map (ITM) sectors grew by 19,500 (excluding foreign domestic workers). This comprised an increase in employment of #Singapore Citizens by 39,300, an increase in employment of PRs by 8,600 and a decrease in employment of foreigners by 28,500.” 

Minister Chan said this Government has nothing to hide. In fact, most international labour market statistics are not even broken down by nationality, as explained in a Factually article on 3 January this year.

Pritam Singh received the data he asked for, and more. However, he failed to document this in his Facebook post and chose to call on his followers to narrow in on the political drama he created instead. 

The rest of Chee Hong Tat’s response is important. It provided the sense making that Pritam’s question denied.

“As Minister Chan said in Parliament, this Government puts Singaporeans at the heart of everything we do. In growing our economy, we constantly balance multiple trade-offs, including the extent to which we bring in foreigners to complement our local workforce. What matters most are the outcomes for our workers. On this, the results are encouraging – Singapore remains globally competitive in attracting investments, unemployment has remained low, wages of Singaporean workers are going up and good jobs continue to be created now and in the future.

We have achieved these outcomes by staying united and working together. Let us not go down the path of other economies which are struggling with the politics of division and envy.

The PRs in our workforce have made contributions to Singapore, both economically and socially, even though they receive lower subsidies and fewer benefits than citizens. More importantly, many PRs are family members of our fellow Singapore citizens, as Mr Singh would be aware since the Workers’ Party has joined PAP MPs in advocating for foreign spouses and children of Singapore citizens to be given priority for Singapore citizenship.

We must firmly reject all attempts to drive a wedge between different groups within our society and stand resolute against efforts to stir fear and hatred for political gain. Only then can we continue to progress together as Team Singapore.”

By the way, do you know it is not so easy to hire a foreigner in Singapore? If you want data, here’s a good one: The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Report says that Singapore is ranked 93 out of 143 countries in terms of “ease of hiring foreigners”.  

And that’s the whole point isn’t it? That the government is managing our economy properly and protecting us from the adverse side effects of capitalism. If this was the point that Pritam was trying to make, he should have stated it upfront and unambiguously and save the political drama for the elections.



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