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More race-based data, lowering of voting age among opposition MPs' suggestions

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s ethnic policies should be reviewed as the country moves towards becoming a race-blind society, said Workers' Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) Sylvia Lim in Parliament on Tuesday (Sept 1),

More race-based data, lowering of voting age among opposition MPs' suggestions

(Clockwise from top left:) The Workers' Party's (WP) Mr Leon Perera and Ms Silvia Lim, Progress Singapore Party's Mr Leong Mun Wai and WP's Ms Raeesah Khan, who all spoke in Parliament on Sept 1, 2020.

  • Ms Sylvia Lim from Workers’ Party (WP) called for a review of ethnic policies
  • WP’s Mr Leon Perera said Singapore needs a stronger civil society to enhance the country’s resilience
  • Newcomer Raeesah Khan from WP suggested lowering the voting age
  • Non-constituency MP Mr Leong Mun Wai from Progress Singapore Party asked the Government to provide more data to justify its foreign talent policy

 

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s ethnic policies should be reviewed as the country moves towards becoming a race-blind society, said Workers' Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) Sylvia Lim in Parliament on Tuesday (Sept 1),

Referring to President Halimah Yacob’s address last week which acknowledged Singaporeans’ desire to have candid conversations on race, Ms Lim said that the re-election of the WP in Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC), which fielded three minority candidates out of five in the recent General Election, was an “encouraging sign”.

“I believe that Singaporean voters are not fixated with race, and there is cause for optimism for the future,” said the WP chairman, who represents Aljunied GRC.

She was one of four opposition speakers to tackle issues ranging from competition for jobs from foreign workers to green jobs and the need for a stronger civil society on the second day of the parliamentary debate on the President's Address, which saw a total of 17 MPs speaking.

Among the issues raised by Ms Lim was the selective release of race-based data. She cited the example of how, after filing a parliamentary question 13 years ago on the ethnic composition of Singapore’s prison inmate population, she was told that the Prisons Department was unable to share such statistics, with no explanation given.

Such data, said Ms Lim, could have allowed researchers outside of the Government to study societal issues and raise public awareness of challenges faced by particular communities.

Requirements for minority candidates to prove their minority status in elections also put an “uncomfortable spotlight” on them, said Ms Lim, adding that there could be other ways to ensure diverse candidates are fielded.

Ms Lim also called for “progressive discussion” on the Ethnic Integration Programme, which places limits on the number of people of a certain ethnicity who may occupy a public housing block or a neighbourhood.

The policy had caused hardship for residents from minority communities who can buy or sell their flats only from someone in the same community when quotas are reached, said Ms Lim.

She said she was “convinced” that the discussion of race needs to move forward and proposed a nation-wide conversation on how to do so.

STRONGER CIVIL SOCIETY, MORE SAY FOR YOUNG SINGAPOREANS

Mr Leon Perera, a fellow Aljunied GRC MP, also touched on Singapore’s evolving landscape, addressing among other issues, the need for a stronger civil society to prepare Singapore for “black swan” events.

Mr Perera, who had served as Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) in the previous term of Parliament, said that many Singaporeans have wondered if the outbreak of Covid-19 cases in foreign worker dormitories could have been avoided if the Government had heeded warnings by civil society groups.

“A stronger civil society with a louder voice may bring that element of diversity and debate that can enhance resilience, rather than over-depending on a strong state apparatus that is dominated by one political party,” said Mr Perera.

The third WP MP to speak was newcomer Ms Raeesah Khan. In her maiden speech, the Sengkang GRC MP spoke of allowing young Singaporeans to contribute to the nation’s development.

One way was to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 to give more young people a say in Singapore’s future, said Ms Khan, who at 27, is the youngest MP in Parliament.

Ms Raeesah also called for a bolder approach to creating jobs for young Singaporeans, such as by setting up an independent body for the arts to oversee funding, forming a more competitive media landscape and creating green jobs in industries such as manufacturing and retail.

MORE DATA ON FOREIGN TALENT POLICY

The Progress Singapore Party also made its debut in Parliament on Tuesday with NCMP Mr Leong Mun Wai focusing his speech on the issue of foreign talent in Singapore.

Mr Leong said that while his party strongly supported an open economy, it believed the Government must have good reasons for its foreign talent policy.

He called for the Government to provide more timely data to obtain buy-in for its policy.

This included regularly disclosing the number of professionals, managers and executives who are citizens and permanent residents, as well as details of intra-company transfers under various free trade agreements.

“Without clearer data, Singaporeans cannot have an informed discussion over whether the existing foreign talent model is benefiting us,” said Mr Leong.

He also suggested that visa extensions be granted to foreign managers only if they are due for promotion and the previous position is taken up by a Singaporean.

Related topics

Parliament Opposition race resilience voting age foreign talent

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