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What Goes Up Never Comes Down

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The headline reads : “The dollar was trounced once again in Asian and early European trade after a surprise tightening move by the Monetary Authority of Singapore sent the greenback plummeting against all its major trading partners”

Wow, impressive I thought. Our little island is really building a name for itself, so much so that our monetary policy decisions will actually influence the Forex majors.

Well, an amusing sidetrack that is. My interest lies in the reason behind our Government’s reliance on adjusting the SGD’s trading band to control inflation as compared to targeting interest rates. Fair enough, we are by and large an export reliant nation. Our domestic consumption has a high import content as well, which translates the fact that we are price takers in the international market and very susceptible to imported inflation. This has been the case for our monetary policy decision since the 1980s, but isn’t there a need to re look into the issue of combating inflation since the dynamics of our economy has changed in the past 2 decades?

Ultimately, the decision to use whatever monetary tools to curb inflation must have an overarching goal, which is to ensure that excessive price increases will not be a burden to its citizens and affect a country’s growth. With that in mind, I am not sure if using exchange rate targeting polices will be ideal Singapore. We just have to question ourselves, especially in recent years, what factors actually contribute to our inflation. Why is it that our cost of living seems to be creeping up on us every time we become complacent and think that we are comfortable?

I am not too certain that we can attribute a large percentage of our inflation on external factors anymore. With a large influx of foreigners, be it investors or genuine citizens hopefuls, one just simply cannot ignore domestic inflationary pressures like the rise in demand for housing and consumables. Secondly, there’s the Government’s fees and charges like your road tax, ERP,COE, utilities tariffs, and the list goes on, that is ever-increasing. The reason for it?  To control congestion and mange the population surge. One big bloody irony I tell ya especially when they are the ones who opened the floodgates. But I shall dabble more on that in the future.

Thirdly, rising land prices especially with  the government tendering state land to the highest bidder and worse, allowing  these developers to dictate prices for public housing. Again, fingers are pointed to the Government for exacerbating the already high property prices which contributes a huge chunk of overall inflation.

My concern is this. I acknowledge that a rise in the cost of living is inevitable, especially in a land scarce nation like ours. Let’s take property for example, which incidentally contributes the most to inflation.  As much as I want a massive property correction, I have succumbed to the fact that property prices will most likely hover around such prices or perhaps correct a little. I really don’t see it coming down to levels after the 1996 crash, based on the inelastic demand created by immigration and our government being that proverbial slut when it comes to big investor money. Yes, not even with the recent slew of measures to curb rising prices. The recent polices to me are a mere reaction to pacify the noise on the ground. Yes, it might soften the prices for public housing and mass market condominiums, but that’s about it. The bar of having an “affordable” home here is already set, if you can’t reach it, that’s your problem.  Sale of high-end properties like the Good Class Bungalows (GCBs) and the Sentosa Cove area will still remain well bidded just because of the current global economic landscape where hot money will continue flowing to Asia. The last thing that our incumbent will do is to take away the punch bowl from the party and be a party pooper.

But they must recognize that fact that Singapore is not just for the elitists who can blow millions in the casinos or dock their yachts over at our piers just for a party weekend. Singapore is also made up of the aunties who contributed to our economic success in the past, but collects cardboard boxes and sell them for a living now.  It is also for that young aspiring and working  adult trying to make living and start or support a family.

Ultimately, the arrival of the filthy rich to our shores will inevitably push up domestic inflation whether it’s because of their investments, or the high salaries. Hell, even the ever-increasing million dollar salary Ministers, despite good or bad times, does contribute to overall inflation. Who will suffer in the end? Simple. The middle and the lower-income groups which will basically spark a vicious cycle of debt.

Essentially, I am no economist that can conjure the best recipe to curb inflation. But I am sure that the exchange rate targeting measures has its limitations. There is only so much room that the SGD can be strengthened before it becomes uncompetitive for our exports. Thus, whether we look into interest rate targeting factors or introduce certain policies, something needs to be done. Again it begs the question: Is our government running Singapore as a city or a nation?


Written by Nabs

October 19, 2010 at 7:09 am

Someone murdered the sporting spirit…

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Remember the Malaysia Cup of the 90’s? Where the whole nation as one stood behind household names like Fandi, Abbas, Malek, Sundram, to slaughter our Malaysia opponents? How the National Stadium was drenched in a sea of red every single match? How these mere soccer players achieved celebrity status and even produced their own music album? The national fervor back then still brings a smile every time I reminisce.

Fast forward to today and the much talked about YOG. It is supposedly a world class event, hosted by yours truly and boasts many young local athletes competing as well. But to say that the support is lukewarm is a total overstatement. Judging from the abysmal attendants (coerced school kids does not count) especially the concert celebration held in conjunction with the event and reading comments among netizens, I sense a lot of discontentment.  The current YOG, it seems, is bearing the brunt for the ruling party’s policy failures of late. Quite a number are hoping that it is an epic failure that serves as a slap in the face to the ruling party who just doesn’t get it.  I think that politics and sports should never be mixed but to me, this YOG might be a turning point in Singapore’s history. It simply personifies the widening disparity between what the ruling party and true blue Singaporeans think. While most of us are struggling to make ends meet, politicians are busy blowing their trumpets to the world. And that is the crux of the problem.

It is very concerning when the government of a country is too obsessed over its own branding. Like a chronic narcissist looking at the mirror and flexing his biceps, I don’t understand how a government can blow its budget by 3 times by splurging millions on an excessive showcase but be oblivious to its issues in their backyard. And worse,  do all that with a straight face. Some  citizens might think what issues? Well, if you bloody care to step out of your material chasing, capitalist world and probe deeper, you’ll understand.

Please do not use the excuse of sportsmanship and embracing the youth spirit to defend one’s policies. That is just merely attempting to use sophistry to divert one’s ulterior motives. It is as though us citizens don’t know our ruling party well enough. It’s all about the money and potential economic benefits isn’t it?  Because if it is not just about the economic benefits then you would understand that national spirit cannot be bought, blatant importing of foreign athletes is detriment to the development of our young  and most of all in sports, winning is not everything.

And before anyone comes and thinks that organizing such events will help boost our economic standing which will further translate into added benefits for citizens, think again. It is already proven statistically that we have one of the lowest wage to GDP ratio among developed countries as well as a widening income gap (measured by the Gini coefficient), thus good economic numbers don’t mean a thing to an average Singaporean until structural changes are being made.

To end off, I want to salute our young sportsmen, volunteers and “volunteers” for the tireless  hours in contributing to the YOG event. Please don’t ostracize your fellow Singaporeans if they sound too negative and slam the games. The intended target is not you because we just want to be heard.   Perhaps it’s also a good time to ask yourselves whether you are a patriotic Singaporean because you fly our flag during such events OR because you question and challenge the way our country is governed for the betterment of society and the majority?

Written by Nabs

August 19, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Posted in MIND, Politics, Ramblings

A Fallacy – The Singapore Dream – We are all just GDP Oompa Loompas

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photo by lavapiubianco

The time has come for Singaporeans to wake up and snap out from the Singapore Dream. What is the Singapore Dream? The paper pursuit, followed by that coveted Multi National Corporation (MNC) job, and materialism, chasing the 5 Cs.  A bit of generalizing, but you get my drift…I have read many many issues and matters of contention towards the current state of social affairs, government policies and cost of living. I concur with many views and I believe that our ruling party needs a wake up call too. However regardless whatever happens in the next general election, we cannot and must not expect that through our votes; and if more opposition seats are won, things will completely be solved. Even if the opposition win more seats, you cannot dispute the fact that our ruling party has buried its roots deep into our system via various monopolistic industries and government linked corporations (GLC)s.

If that’s the case, the amount of unhappiness, resentment and complaints will still be present. We therefore have to look at ourselves and take onus  and responsibility of our life choices. A lot has been said about our education system and how it creates “A” grade students and conformists, but not thinkers. It’s true to a certain extent and the government has to shoulder some of the blame. Many of us love to bicker, bitch, complain, but somehow fail to take action. How many friends you know complain about the daily grind at work but have done absolutely nothing for months or years even. Astounding. Call it complacency, lack of oomph, but I somehow cannot disagree totally when our MM mentioned that we are falling behind because” the spurs are not stuck in the hide.”

By now, we should be very aware that our government sees Singapore as a globalized city and it will spare no expense to make sure that Singapore is up there in terms of competitiveness and economic growth. Everybody is dispensable nowadays because there is always  more efficient or just plain cheaper alternatives out there. The world is a marketplace. Therefore, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and see whether we have a future in this GDP obsessed state. Stop being myopic and take a step back to see what’s happening.

Freedom and mobility are two critical elements that I reckon people must possess in order to survive. Being able to be free of long-term debt obligations so that we can be mobile enough to adjust ourselves in the global playground. Free enough to chase our passions, or relocate for better opportunities, or satisfying that entrepreneurial urge in us. Of course, we are rooted by our families and friends, but hey, if you start having this mindset early, and build your finances prudently, live within your means, then you will be able to spend more quality time with your love ones, — once you have passive income going for you and you are not bounded by any financial burden, which to me is  a major obstacle to living a fulfilling life in Singapore.

It’s really too late if you hit a mid-life crisis and find yourself in need to go for skills upgrading or relearning that is totally irrelevant to what you have been doing for the past 20 years. Because like I mentioned above, a better or cheaper alternative is at hand. To make things worse, you have that monthly housing and car loan, children to raise and elderly parents to support. It is no point crying to the government for social assistance then,  because along with you will be thousand others. That is the harsh reality of globalization.

The writing’s on the wall people – being able to use Medisave in hospitals in Johor Bahru, a retirement home being built there as well to cater for the elder Singaporeans, our government’s relentless pursuit of foreigners and its best efforts to try to assimilate and integrate them into our society.  There is a reason why they do not release statistics like average household income that differentiates between true bred Singaporeans and new Permanent Residents. To them, we are all just “GDP Oompa Loompas.”

The government sees Singapore as a globalized city, it’s time that we should see ourselves as globalized citizens too or forever be that Oompa Loompa trapped in a well.

Written by Nabs

July 6, 2010 at 11:40 am

Posted in MIND, Politics, Ramblings

The HDB Conundrum II

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I once blogged on the HDB conundrum issue [link], but a recent report that stated resale prices rising 3.8% for last quarter triggered me to re-explore this issue again.

Our town planning for public housing has been a model for many countries and it’s something that Singaporeans should all be proud of. The fact that they can incorporate facilities, transport infrastructure and beautiful landscapes into fairly affordable shelter for the masses in the past must be applauded. However, somewhere along the way, the balance was altered.

Before I carry on, I’d like to clarify that in any market, there are 2 types of inflation.Healthy inflation, where it shows that the economy is growing and all sectors are moving at a pace consistent with the fundamentals like unemployment rate, foreign direct investment etc. And then there’s artificial inflation, where prices are held up not by fundamentals but by sentiment or a short-term change in conditions. Our current situation fits the latter. A grossly under supply of HDB units coupled with opening the immigration floodgates. [link] It ain’t rocket science isn’t it?

I don’t think that our public housing is in a bubble that could burst overnight because firstly, we have sound stringent lending criteria in banks, secondly most home owners pay via CPF which is sort of  forced savings and more importantly, real demand due to our lax immigration policies. But the big question is, what will happen if this real demand dries up when we hit our population target of 6.5mil in the near future? Will a fall in prices be imminent?

photo by yeowatzup

There are two camps when it comes to HDB issue currently. On one side, we have new purchasers, owners and investors who want prices to rise indefinitely, and on the other hand we have aspiring new owners  and up-graders who want prices to fall. It’s like the bulls and bears fighting it out in a stock market. Except that for this case, its supposedly for public housing. Either way, the failure or the lack of foresight of our Men in White (MIW)  polices has seriously caused a conundrum. Nobody knows the percentage of one camp from another, but one thing the MIW is doing is playing its cards right, spreading the usual fear mongering  rhetoric about a collapse in values of HDB flats should they lose their constituencies and vote. Hence a blatant ranking exercise of the cleanest meanest coolest HDB estates which was released not too long ago. [link]. Plus a new take on retirement planning after the CPF model was proved inadequate by doing a so-called reverse mortgage of your HDB flat to provide annuities as another form of passive income for the future. Wow, how gracious… more wealth created by our MIW especially for us!

One caveat which they failed to mention is an assumption and a big IF, that our public housing prices will continue rising indefinitely so that our $400k flat we purchased today will be worth close to $1mil by the time we retire.  And even if the prices do rise, we are making another assumption and a big IF that we have fully paid off our flat at retirement and can reap the full monetized value. Here’s a reality check, how many of our parents have actually fully paid off that HDB loan today even though prices were more affordable back then? Also considering depressed level of wages relative to GDP growth for the past decade.  Now, all these assumptions plus the fact that we have not even factored in inflation of 3%  to 5% which we all know erodes purchasing power. With 2 big IFs and inflation, that’s cutting a very thin line when it comes to retirement planning doesn’t it? Of course the young educated ones will not leave their retirement planning solely on their HDB flats, but for the ruling party to blatantly spread such flawed concepts to cover up their policies inadequacies is simply irresponsible.

Something’s got to give in the near future. Never will I thought I ‘ll see the day where our public housing will hit $1million.  But with the recent $900k hurdle cleared for a Bishan flat, I’m not holding my breath anymore. Am I the only one who sees that the current prices of so-called “public housing” is unsustainable? One thing I am sure is the prices will keep trekking up till elections. The Built to Order (BTO) system which restricts supply to cushion prices will be our ruling party’s tactic to win voters cum this election. As I mentioned earlier, voters who are existing or new flat owners who coincidentally make up a bulk of new citizens will definitely favor the current ruling party to maintain the value of their flats.  After all, it is them that gave these new citizens an opportunity to make a living here.

A lot of young couples in  my age group view that BTO flats are the way to go, a common demographic of tertiary educated, a fairly decent combined income of $5k, paying around $200k for a flat is decent. But, looking beyond ourselves, isn’t such BTO flats the only option left for the lower-income/needy group as well? Even if they were to stretch their loan to 30years, the long-term financial implications will not be healthy.

It is fairly easy, especially if you are the majority  to overlook socioeconomic factors that plague the growth potential of the younger generation of the minority groups, but yes it does exist, contrary to the meritocratic ideology that people down there deserve to be there. It also begs the question of what kind of society are we cultivating? Don’t forget the potential negative long-term societal impact of a widening income gap as well.

At the end of the day,  a government’s responsibility is to ensure every citizen must be catered for. Not spoon-feeding, so as to spur ambition but as much as possible provide a level playing field for every individual to embrace the true essence of meritocracy. Well, either you can do that or marginalize the lower-income group by diluting their impact. It seems that our ruling party has chosen the latter with a mere 4% of the national budget  dedicated to the Ministry of Community Development Youth and Sports (MCYS) in our 2010 budget. [link][link]. Mind you, around half of that 4% will be dedicated to sports development which leaves very little for the needy in Singapore.

I am not sure how I deviated from HDB issues to social assistance, but public housing is one of the basic need any government should provide for its citizens. Purchasing a house is also one of the biggest financial decisions for the majority. Hence it is paramount that this illusion of affordable housing must be addressed. There are various solutions proposed by bloggers and opposition parties which make good sense. They range from re introducing the Build to Sell (BTS) system to dividing the public housing into cost-plus models for long-term occupants to market subsidy models for investors.  But whatever it is,  the very immediate challenge is the need for the current ruling party to see the problem, admit the policy flaws and address them. However,  I  really wonder if they are up to it anymore. After all, these are the same leaders that in one week, glorify themselves, heaping praises for the recent strong GDP figures, but on another week defending their pride with infamous “caught off-guard” response to the recent flooding. Gees.

Written by Nabs

July 5, 2010 at 12:20 am

Posted in MIND, Politics

Singaporean on Paper or Heart?

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photo by Sebastian Mary

Congratulations to our woman’s table tennis team for clinching the world cup from our arch rivals China. It is another milestone in Singapore’s sporting history. Only thing missing is the enthusiasm of support among Singaporeans.

I could see it coming, after reading about our triumph in Moscow. The never-ending debate about our Sports representatives not being “true blue” Singaporeans, hence the lack of national empathy and pride associated with their victories. And of course like any national issue that our incumbent is uncomfortable with, they will point to extremities via their propaganda mass media, attempting to alienate alternative views and sway public opinion. Just like how they claimed that we are all xenophobic when it comes to foreigners of all classes and how they are critically needed to fill lower end jobs that we shun, OR how they should lock our CPF funds up if we liquidate our property just because some guy irresponsibly squandered his proceeds away.

On a similar tone, we are told to embrace the efforts of our table tennis world champions, treat them as fellow Singaporeans and not be ungrateful [link]. Well, once again these reporters are missing the point. A hidden agenda perhaps…  I reckon the majority of us certainly do not doubt the effort and time put in by our peddlers in achieving what they have today. And we also acknowledge the fact that they were “unpolished diamonds” when our scouts found them and we nurtured their talent to be world beaters. We are also told that like the Zidanes of France and the Cacaus of Germany, many countries are importing their way to victories. It’s an unfair comparison if you ask me.  Firstly unlike us, the majority of their representatives are still natives or second generation immigrants who were brought up there, with a handful of new immigrants to boost their strength. Secondly, Singapore is a young country with a mere 50 years of independence as compared to other developed countries with a couple of hundred years of history.Are we already putting our hands up and forgo generic growth in our local sportsmen? A small population is not a problem as seen in countries like Denmark and Norway which boasts world-class sports representatives.  A very typical fear mongering type of mindset that our ruling party instilled in us led us to believe that we must be world beaters ASAP in anything we do, and the end justifies any means even if it takes blatant importing of talent in the sporting scene. I dare say, what’s the rush? Is it just to meet a certain key performance indicators (KPIs) that government boards are so fond of?

I’m sure it takes time and money to nurture home-grown talents, but for every sportsmen, it is definitely worth it if he has the full support of the nation he is representing. Never mind the world cup, a regional cup would suffice, because the passion of a true sportsman lies in not what material rewards he’ll attain by winning a competition, BUT the pride of representing his country and adornment & fervor of his supporters. Just look back in the nineties and the Malaysia cup. Never mind if it’s a competition among the states of merely 2 countries, the pride of seeing our local footballers in action is for all to see.

This leads to the ultimate question, can our China born peddlers that represent us feel connected to our country? I am utterly frustrated by the mass media because,why is the focus always on the negativity of  Singaporeans whining about our foreign-born athletes? Why can’t the focus be on these new immigrants instead? Ask them about their sense of patriotism or whether they can truly call Singapore home. Ask them what were in their hearts when our national anthem was played at the podium? What can they identify with our country that will keep us in their long-term plans? It is paramount that we know the answers to these questions because at the end of the day with our low fertility rates, we are relying on these new generation of immigrants which includes these athletes to sustain the growth of our country.  It does not help that they can only speak Mandarin during interviews. No wonder some Westerners think Singapore is in China. Gees.

Written by Nabs

June 3, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Posted in BODY, MIND, Politics

Insights to the Singapore Dilemma

with 4 comments

Credit to TOC for the heads up on this interview with the former head of the civil service, Mr Ngiam Tong Dow.

Talk about hitting the nail on its head. No interview comes close in terms of addressing the future concerns of the civil service and the government. Mind you, this interview was done in 2003, and we are facing the exact same problems which Mr Ngiam highlighted. Bloody insightful.

Here are some excerpts form the interview. You can read the full one here.


Q. With all this pessimism surrounding Singapore’s prospects today, what’s your personal prognosis? Will Singapore survive Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew?

A. Unequivocally yes, Singapore will survive SM Lee but provided he leaves the right legacy. What sort of legacy he wants to leave is for him to say, but I, a blooming upstart, dare to suggest to him that we should open up politically and allow talent to be spread throughout our society so that an alternative leadership can emerge. So far, the People’s Action Party’s tactic is to put all the scholars into the civil service because it believes the way to retain political power forever is to have a monopoly on talent. But in my view, that’s a very short term view. It is the law of nature that all things must atrophy. Unless SM allows serious political challenges to emerge from the alternative elite out there, the incumbent elite will just coast along. At the first sign of a grassroots revolt, they will probably collapse just like the incumbent Progressive Party to the left-wing PAP onslaught in the late 1950s. I think our leaders have to accept that Singapore is larger than the PAP.

Q. What is your biggest worry about the civil service?

A. The greatest danger is we are flying on auto-pilot. What was once a great policy, we just carry on with more of the same, until reality intervenes. Take our industrial policy. At the beginning, it was the right thing for us to attract multinationals to Singapore. For some years now, I’ve been trying to tell everybody: ‘Look, for God’s sake, grow our own timber.’ If we really want knowledge to be rooted in Singaporeans and based in Singapore, we have to support our SMEs. I’m not a supporter of SMEs just for the sake of more SMEs, but we must grow our own roots. Creative Technology’s Sim Wong Hoo is one and Hyflux’s Olivia Lum is another but that’s too few. We have been flying on auto-pilot for too long. The MNCs have contributed a lot to Singapore but they are totally unsentimental people. The moment you’re uncompetitive, they just relocate.

Q. Why has this come about?

A. I suspect we have started to believe our own propaganda. There is also a particular brand of Singapore elite arrogance creeping in. Some civil servants behave like they have a mandate from the emperor. We think we are little Lee Kuan Yews. SM Lee has earned his spurs, with his fine intellect and international standing. But even Lee Kuan Yew sometimes doesn’t behave like Lee Kuan Yew. There is also a trend of intellectualisation for its own sake, which loses a sense of the pragmatic concerns of the larger world. The Chinese, for example, keep good archives of the Imperial examinations which used to be held at the Temple of Heaven. At the beginning, the scholars were tested on very practical subjects, such as how to control floods in their province. But over time, they were examined on the Confucian Analects and Chinese poetry composition. Hence, they became emasculated by the system, a worrying fate which could befall Singapore.

Q. You advocate a more inclusive mindset all around?

A. Yes, intellectually, everyone has to accept that the country of Singapore is larger than the PAP. But even larger than the country of Singapore, which is limited by size and population, is the nation of Singapore, which includes a diaspora. My view is that we should have a more inclusive approach to nation-building. We have started the Majulah Connection, an international network where every Singaporean – whether he is a citizen or not, so long as he feels for Singapore – is included as part of our diaspora. Similarly, we should include foreigners who have worked and thrived here as friends of Singapore. That’s the only way to survive. Otherwise, its just four million people on a little red dot of 600 sq km. If you exclude people, you become smaller and smaller, and in the end, you’ll disappear.

Q. What is the kind of Singapore you hope your grandchildren will inherit?

A. Let’s look at Sparta and Athens, two city states in Greek history. Singapore is like Sparta, where the top students are taken away from their parents as children and educated. Cohort by cohort, they each select their own leadership, ultimately electing their own Philosopher King. When I first read Plato’s Republic, I was totally dazzled by the great logic of this organisational model where the best selects the best. But when I reached the end of the book, it dawned on me that though the starting point was meritocracy, the end result was dictatorship and elitism. In the end, that was how Sparta crumbled. Yet, Athens, a city of philosophers known for its different schools of thought, survived. What does this tell us about out-of-bounds markers? So SM Lee has to think very hard what legacy he wants to leave for Singapore and the type of society he wants to leave behind. Is it to be a Sparta, a well-organised martial society, but in the end, very brittle; or an untidy Athens which survived because of its diversity of thinking? Personally, I believe that Singaporeans are not so kuai (Hokkien for obedient) as to become a Sparta. This is our saving grace. As a young senior citizen, I very much hope that Singapore will survive for a long time, but as an Athens. It is more interesting and worth living and dying for.

photo by notsogoodphotography

Written by Nabs

June 1, 2010 at 11:18 am

Posted in MIND, Politics

A National Identity Issue

with 7 comments

It was once said that we only attract  talented immigrants with expertise so as to create economic synergy.

It was also said that we should attract  immigrants to fill the lower end jobs to support our rising middle class.

But nobody was ready for or should I say none was reported about wholesale immigration of any occupation or class. And suddenly the fingers were pointed at its own citizens for their low productivity and fertility.

“Now, we feel foreigners who come here are intruding into our space. But we forget that that’s what our parents did before – intruding into the space of those who were here before them.We should remember that immigrant children will one day be like us,”

–  Minister for Home Affairs, Wong Kan Seng

photo by JasonDGreat

There we are people, the open truth, we are all just immigrants, dispensable, replaceable and replicable. When your Minister of Home Affairs utter words like this, you listen  and you be smart about it. It just accentuates my claim that we are mere commodities to the government and they still wonder why Singapore is suffering from a brain drain.

The word xenophobic has been mentioned quite a lot recently. But what are we Singapore citizens afraid that the foreigners might take away from us? Our national identity?  Do we even have a national identity?

We measure a nation’s identity by its culture, belief structure, national heritage and ethnocentrism. The negro/black community for example is a great example of how strong a national identity can be despite having throngs of them emigrating to Europe and North America. The apartheid era in Africa, famous icons like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela,  hip hop music and dance are all elements of national identity that the black community can identify with regardless of boundaries.

In our shores, has our mere 50 years of independence created an identity for us? Our foundations were laid by first generation immigrants and along with them came a hybrid of culture and religious differences. Yes, all of us are infused by the notion of racial harmony by government driven campaigns and by saying the pledge, but is 50 years long enough to forge a common identity of Singaporeans instead of by ethnic groups (we are one of the few nations in the world to have our race stated in our identity cards mind you)?  I highly doubt so.

How about our sense of ethnocentrism or patriotism? The only events in the past 2 decades I can think of is during the Malaysia Cup in the mid nineties. Never have I seen national pride so evident as we come in our red T shirts, banners and flags to support of our beloved national soccer team. However, the pride of the Malaysia Cup was short-lived because of some pretentious  government official who wanted to strive for the World Cup 2010 by splurging more money. How typical.

Of course we have our Singlish, yummy food like nasi lemak, chili crab, durians, as national identities,  but all this to me are just superfluous and pompous  marketing tools created by our tourism board.  How about our historical landmarks like Fort Canning or Raffles Hotel? Well, every country has a history which can be over commercialized for monetary reasons, but whether its citizens can relate to it as a national identity is another issue altogether.

To me, our national identity is based on economic, pragmatic ideals with one driving factor – money. To think of it, what motivated the first generation of immigrants to our shores is also based on purely economic pursuits.  We work the longest hours in the world, striving for our country’s economic success in hopes that the equity can flow down from the top. This is the reason why we get xenophobic when foreigners start competing for our jobs and tertiary places.

However, this is where the problem lies. A national identity forged by pragmatic,  economic reason is not relevant ever since we had globalization and a significant rise of the middle class . Immigrants of yesterday had a binding goal, spearheaded by the government, to transform Singapore into a first world country.  That was their national identity. Now that we are a developed nation, the late generation X and Ys of today are born in an environment of decent modern comforts, thus that national identity began to change considerably. The new generation will have lesser difficulties of uprooting themselves for greener pastures as long as the society fits their ideals and conducive to making a living. The government is deeply concerned by rising emigration trend especially the young educated ones,  but instead of solving the core of the issue, they focused on the symptom instead, by opening our floodgates to immigration.

If the ruling party fails to engage the younger generation of Singapore and empower them to play a role in building the country, what they’ll get is more and more dis-chanted citizens who will question the need to do National Service, dismayed by the rise in cost of living , and more crucially question their loyalty to the country. We just want to be heard. We want to keep the country we love alive, but we need to be listened to. No where it is more apparent than in the blogosphere. Don’t just shove policies down our throats and lump our statistics with the new Permanent Residents to make the figures look better. A majority of us are all immune to news of stellar GDP figures and how prosperous the nation is because we cannot empathize, and if we can’t empathize, we feel disconnected.

On the flip side, it is  naive and a risk  if the government thinks that the majority of new generation of immigrants will stay for good and contribute in boosting Singapore’s fertility rate and economic growth. Only they will know whether the cost of integration like health care and education subsidies  will outweigh  the potential economic benefits. Talk about a double whammy.

A national identity is created by memories that spur patriotism. An engaged citizen who is given freedom to contribute in shaping its country’s growth and given a listening ear  will no doubt create binding ties with the country, filled with memories to cherish.

And as I quote a fellow blogger, “We can’t make a national identity, if we aren’t regarded as citizens with voices.”

Written by Nabs

May 27, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Posted in MIND, Politics