Monday, January 25, 2010

Zaobao features PAYM Policy Forum @ Aljunied GRC & Hougang SMC

Lianhe Zaobao (25/1/10)

Minister Lim Hwee Hua: There should be no differentiation between "Old" and "New" Citizens

Although the government has differentiated the benefits of permanent residents and citizens, there should be no divide between "old" and "new" citizens, once foreigners take up Singapore citizenship.

Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister, Prime Minister Office and Second Minister for Finance and Transport, attended the People's Association Youth Movement (PAYM) Policy Forum @ Aljunied GRC & Hougang SMC as Guest of Honour. The topic for the forum was "Foreign Talent and Integrating New Citizens". During the dialogue, Mrs Lim noticed that there were some Singaporeans who feel that local-born and bred Singaporeans ("old" citizens) should have more benefits than "new" citizens.

"The obligations of foreigners differ from those of citizens, hence the disparity in benefits of both groups. However, as citizens who share the same obligations, there should no difference in entitlements. If we need to demarcate between "old" and "new" citizens, how do we justify how "new" is "new" and how "old" is "old"? 5 years? 10 years? Or 15 years? It's hard to justify," said Mrs Lim.

Mrs Lim also pointed out that the government uses the term "new citizens" to emphasise that they might experience difficulties in integrating into society, and might require tolerance and assistance of locals. The term is not used to mean any division between "old" and "new" citizens.

Responding to a point raised by a participant that "new" citizens prefer to associate with members of their own groups and that they are not willing to integrate with Singaporeans, Mrs Lim posed a question. "How many of you have studied or worked abroad? How many of you could blend with the locals there instantaneously?" Using this example, she told participants that it is important to put themselves in the shoes of "new" citizens" in considering these factors.

Our forefathers who came to Singapore also had to undergo a process of integration into society, taking time to understand the local culture and develop a sense of belonging. During this process, mutual understanding is needed, said Mrs Lim.

Regarding those Singaporeans who study or work abroad, Mrs Lim said that the government has not forgotten the importance of local talents, but it is not practical for the government to prohibit Singaporeans from venturing abroad. "We need to retain foreign talent, and also instil a sense of belonging to Singaporeans living abroad by various measures, including setting up contact points to connect Singaporeans together and providing them with information about the country. This way, no matter where Singaporeans are, they could still contribute to the country."

Hosting Minister of the forum, Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, who is also a Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, also stressed that in this globalised economy, every country is attracting and losing talents. Competition cannot be avoided. "Instead of losing foreign talents who go on to work for other teams, why not attract them to be part of our team?"

Mr Zainul also pointed out that during periods of economic downturn, Singaporeans tend to feel that foreign talents snatch away their rice bowls, but they forgotten the fact that foreign talents also contribute in economic recovery. Therefore, youths should look in the long term to adjust their mindsets.

A total of 70 youths participated in the policy forum, of whom some were permanent residents and new citizens. Permanent resident, Sarah Pham, 23, who came from Vietnam, said, "Through today's forum, I feel that integration requires efforts from both parties. No matter whether you are a foreigner or a Singaporean, you need to interact more to prevent misunderstanding."

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