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DPM Tharman: We must show understanding and empathy towards fellow citizens and
DPM Tharman: We must show understanding and empathy towards fellow citizens and foreigners

Touched the heart. That’s what many told me about PM’s National Day Rally speech last night. I felt that way too. It was inspirational, and emotional. The policy details were left to be spelt out later.

Two of PM’s points that I want to highlight here. First, on preschools. The Government will make major moves to improve the quality and affordability of pre-school for our children. To me, that is one of the most important educational and social priorities for our future.

We cannot stop better-off parents from wanting to give their children the best. That’s happening more and more, and well before the children enter Primary 1. But we have to do all we can to help the kids from less advantaged homes in their early years – to develop, and to gain confidence in themselves. We have to make opportunities more equal, and provide every child with the best chance to find his strengths as he grows up. It’s also the best chance to sustain social mobility, which will otherwise slow down over time.

The Government will be investing heavily to upgrade pre-school quality. We will also help bring costs down for middle-income families, besides those with lower incomes who already receive large preschool subsidies.

Second important issue in PM’s speech – how we relate to foreigners. A difficult and sensitive issue. Singaporeans have reasons to be concerned about the flood of foreigners in the last decade. The inflow has slowed, as we have tightened foreign worker policies significantly over the last two years. The tightening is hurting our local SMEs badly, and we will do all we can to help them upgrade and invest in labour-saving technologies.

The unease about the foreigner influx is understandable, and there are disagreements about how fast we should tighten on foreign inflows. Some people want us to tighten even faster, while our employers and SMEs especially are opposed to that. We will have to find the right balance, in Singaporeans’ interests. We have also made significant shifts to differentiate policies in favour of Singaporeans – in housing, education and healthcare especially. We are investing massively to expand public transport and relieve congestion, because that too has gone up over the years. And we are doing more to help Singaporean couples have children and bring them up, which PM also spoke about. That’s key to our longer term future, which we will talk more about later.

But besides the adjustments in policy that we must make, there is another matter that we should all we concerned about. It has to do with our national character - the type of people we are and want to be. We are basically a fair-minded, gracious people. Most Singaporeans are like that. But the vitriol towards foreigners that we see especially in online discussions is quite out of our Singaporean character. Bad behaviour by a small number of foreigners does not justify spiteful comment about foreigners in general, or all foreigners of a particular race. It does no one good.

We must remain people who show understanding and empathy towards fellow citizens of all races as well as towards foreigners working on our island. And those who are new arrivals, especially those settling down here as new citizens, must make the special effort to interact, make friendships with Singaporeans, and respect our values. Many are already doing so, and some are contributing actively in community work. Our new citizens should also learn some English if they did not grow up with the language, so that they can interact with Singaporeans of all races.

The vast majority of today’s generation of adult Singaporeans, after all, had grandparents who were born abroad. Our forefathers were initially strangers to each other, did quite different jobs and often lived apart, in different parts of the island. They eventually became neighbours and colleagues. In those days, they used broken Malay, English and Hokkien to talk to each other. But their children grew up together in our schools, did NS together for the boys, and became friends who rarely thought of the different countries their parents came from. They feel Singaporean first.

We must keep up the effort to strengthen our Singaporean core - by providing the best opportunities for Singaporeans to develop their potential when young and have good jobs, and by ensuring that our social policies place Singaporeans at the centre. But we must also keep up the Singapore spirit that has brought us this far. It has made Singapore a country that Singaporeans are proud of. Keep our gracious and open spirit, and keep making the effort to interact and make friendships, regardless of our origins. For our own sake, and our children’s sake.

Tharman Shanmugaratnam

With Thanks To Source:
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