Monday, April 19, 2010

The Singaporean-PR gap

In today's 《早报现在》/"ZbNow" (19/4/2010), there was a feature reporting about the recent measures by the Singapore government to differentiate between Singaporean citizens and Permanent Residents (PRs), mainly through cutting down on the benefits available to the latter.

The main part of the feature was excerpts from interviews of 2 local academics, namely Associate Professor (AP) Peter Borschberg of the NUS History department and Assistant Professor (Assist Prof) Chung Wai Keung of the SMU School of Social Sciences.

According to Assist Prof Chung, while the presence of foreigners in Singapore is a perennial phenomenon, it has perhaps recently become a problem because Singapore is taking in immigrants in "too many and too fast" a manner.

He adds: "If all these immigrants are just here to find work, the problem will perhaps not be that serious. But when Singaporeans know that these immigrants are also applying to become PRs or Singaporean citizens, that is when the problem gets compounded".

"If these immigrants are all Caucasians who are highly-educated and are economically well-off, the problem may not exist. However, the reality now is that most people are being exposed to immigrants who are lowly-educated and cannot converse in English. This is the key aspect of the problem".

According to AP Borschberg, using material incentives such as welfare and subsidies to highlight the value of citizenship and to attract PRs to become citizens may result in people becoming citizens due only to the material incentives, thus perhaps diluting the normative value of citizenship.

Assoc Prof Chung adds: "Citizenship is a form of national identification. A differentiation in welfare benefits levels has not really differentiated citizens from non-citizens. The current policy of Singapore appears to give people the impression that PRs are second-class citizens. The rationale behind such a policy appears to be geared towards incentivising PRs to become citizens faster. The question is: is this logic or rationale appropriate".

Also, in Assoc Prof Chung's opinion, using material incentives to attract PRs to become citizens may have the unintended consequence of attracting only those who are more concerned with material welfare. Those with better conditions will most probably not be swayed by material incentives and thus, it is more likely that it will be those from a lower socio-economic status which will be swayed.

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