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Ministerial Statements nothing more than smoke-screens

Two Ministerial Statements that proved nothing more than a smoke-screen to sell a standard narrative that Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are important for Singapore’s survival.

That was how I viewed the Parliamentary debate last Tuesday (6 Jul) and reported by the Straits Times a day later (in confusing language.)

Two ministers, Mr Ong Ye Kung — former Education and Transport Minister who is now the Health Minister and Dr Tan See Leng, the new Manpower Minister teamed up, with well-prepared speeches to sell a narrative we already know.

However, the outcome of their speeches paled miserably compared to the effort put in.

The objective of the sudden Ministerial Statements (usually reserve for state matters of the highest order or urgency) over the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) soon became clear: to demolish Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai and his team mate, Ms Hazel Poa who is also a NCMP and discredit Progress Singapore Party (PSP) in Parliament.

The two ministers didn’t succeed because their objectives were wrong. They were not there to address the concerns of Singaporean PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) in losing their jobs and livelihoods and how to help them recover.

What wrong did these two political seedlings do to warrant such heavy attack? Politics is a contest of ideas — are politicians from the People’s Action Party (PAP) so lacking in confidence that whoever crosses their path must be demolished before their opponent becomes an old oak tree in Parliament?

This is not the politics Singaporeans want.

While trying to educate Singaporeans on the value and benefits of FTAs to Singapore, the real target was Mr Leong Mun Wai and team-mate Ms Hazel Poa.

The ministers glorified FTAs: “FTAs had enabled Singapore to ramp up investments from overseas and create thousands of jobs in Singapore.” Mr Ong made a serious allegation: “When you attack FTAs, and worse, if your attack succeeds, you are undermining the fundamentals of our existence, all the sectors FTAs support, and the hundreds of thousands of Singaporean jobs created in these sectors.”

Such an allegation makes it look like PSP has committed a national crime? Did anyone from PSP (or other opposition) ever attack FTAs except CECA? Was CECA even discussed in Parliament before it was signed in 2005?

So, what wrong did these two political seedlings do to warrant such heavy firepower?

The PAP politicians claimed that they must debunk falsehoods about CECA, which were apparently attributed to PSP.

Minister Ong “was referring to allegations by the PSP , going back to before last year’s general election,
about how CECA allows professionals from India ‘a free hand’ to come and work in Singapore.”

“Mr Ong said that the PSP has claimed for months that FTAs and CECA have led to the unfettered inflow of Indian professionals, which then displaces Singaporeans from their jobs and brings about all kinds of social ills.” “It has stirred up a lot of emotions,” he said.

If true, why didn’t the government respond immediately when the above claims were made? The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA​) was passed on 8 May 2019.

I am sure there ought to have been safeguards in the CECA which protect Singapore’s interests like:

  • “None of our FTAs including the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) gives intra-corporate transferees unfettered access to our labour market”;
  • “CECA does not allow unconditional entry of Indian PMEs; and
  • “CECA does not affect S’pore’s ability to regulate immigration.”

But if the regulations and process of applications are stringent enough, how did Singapore end up with 177,000 Employment Pass (EP) holders in 2020 compared with 65,000 in 2005?

40% of the increase in EPs issued to foreign professionals were in the finance and infocomm sectors. And 25% EP holders last year were from India compared with 14% in 2005.

For those Singaporean PMET who have lost their jobs and livelihoods to foreign PMETs, all the regulations that the government has to safeguard the local labour market do not matter. (The government has dropped “T” from this category of employees and uses PMEs instead.)

Seeing is believing, be it on the morning and evening trains, in Changi Business Park or MBFC, there are hoards of foreigners, mostly from one similar nationality, visibly present. How can the ministers blamed PSP for stirring up emotions on issues concerning jobs and livelihoods?

To be fair, Mr Ong said “the government has been taking steps to address their concerns.” The salary levels for work pass applicants were revised, enforcement work to ensure fair employment practices was stepped up and some employers were taken to task for non-compliance.

Unfortunately, none of these actions seems convincing enough for the Singapore PMETs because they are looked upon as putting up a show to soothe the ground.

Mr Ong believes he can sell a standard narrative with his simplistic argument.

Even when EP holders increased from 2005 to 177,000 in 2020, Singapore PMETs should not have reason to complain because the number of local professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) grew by more than 380,000 in the period, so he seemingly implied.

Furthermore, what was not clarified is that the local PMEs comprised both Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs). Among the Singaporean PMEs, we should expect a certain number to be new citizens too. In reality, the local-born PMETs are pressured by competition all round.

He further said “local employment has been stable. The unemployment rate for local PMEs in June last year was 2.9 per cent …even though this was immediately after the circuit breaker period.”

However, local employment is probably only stable for now due to the creation of thousands of short-term jobs like traineeships and internships, the new “ambassadors” to supervise the Covid19 government measures and new head counts created with financial help from government. There must also be hundreds of Singaporeans, young and old, who have taken up gig jobs like Grab drivers, PH drivers, food delivery riders who are considered as employed.

Mr Ong went further to say that “foreign PMEs help cushion the impact on the local workforce when times are bad.”

To prove his point, he said “from April last year to April this year, the number of EP holders dropped by about 21,600, while the figure for S-Pass holders fell by about 26,800..” This is a small number compared to 177,000 EP holders last year.

It is, however, important to note that “quotas or levies are not imposed on EPs because of competition for global talent.

Dr Tan provided more figures in his Ministerial Statement but none of these helped to address the Singaporeans’ concern for their loss of jobs and livelihoods.

He confirmed the massive growth of EPs in Singapore: “From 2005 to last year, the total number of EPs increased by about 112,000 while the number of local PMEs grew by more than 380,000.” The proportion of EPs from India rose to about 35% last year, from 14% in 2005.

From 2005 to last year, the finance and infocomm sectors together accounted for 40% of the increase in Employment Passes issued to foreign professionals which amounted to 44,800.

It is not surprising that these two sectors attracted a great number of Indian professionals to Singapore.

In infocomm sector alone, it attracted an increase of 25,000 EPs while the number of jobs created for local PMEs was about 35,000. So Singapore PMETs could lose jobs at both ends of the labour market – loss to EPs and PRs ( classified under Local PMES.) And in the finance sector, the number of EPs increased by 20,000 while the number of jobs created in the Local PMES amounted to 85,000.

Strictly speaking, Singaporean PMETs should be having a hay day today in the infocomm, professional services and finance sectors. No wonder, CECA, amongst all the 26 FTAs that Singapore have signed, is the most contentious. The contention is not over trade and investments but jobs.

In my view, it was a great oversight by Parliament if CECA was never fully discussed before it was brought it to the government for signature.

All the statistics provided in the two ministerial statements pointed to a big pool of professional jobs available in Singapore due to the success of FTAs in attracting foreign investments and creating many good jobs here.

To India, with a huge population and high unemployment rate, the Singapore labour market is a great prize to be won in the CECA negotiations. For Singapore, what was so wrong to offer our labour market as a bargaining chip to exchange for rights to enter the huge Indian domestic market for trade and investments?

Why was Deputy Prime Minister Heng so offended when Mr Leong made his point?

Mr Heng himself “recalled that his Indian counterparts were very keen on the chapter (movement of people) in question.” If Singapore did not offer India Chapter 9 on the movement of natural persons, would India just walk away from the negotiating table, like they did with the RCEP at the 11th hour when PM Modi knew he could not get the ‘movement of natural clause’ from the 15 Asia-Pacific economies to trade off the opening of the Indian economy to foreign trade and businesses?

Despite the massive resources put in by two ministers, both failed to put up a convincing argument that CECA (not other FTAs) is net beneficial to Singapore.

PAP politicians’ standard play-book didn’t work this time — talking about all the good work they put in to secure FTAs instead of addressing the widespread unhappiness of Singaporean PMETs losing their jobs and livelihoods to foreign professionals who purportedly have higher skills and talents than our well-educated workforce. There are also doubts that they are the foreign talents that can bring Singapore forward in the knowledge and high-tech economy.

After almost a full day of debate, the most critical question is still not answered by both ministers: How many Singaporean PMETs have been displaced by foreign employees from 2005 till today?

Mr Leong stood up to the pressure: “And we don’t agree that CECA is net beneficial to Singapore at this stage.”

For Mr Ong Ye Kung, “It is regrettable because generations of FTA negotiators worked very hard to make sure our interests are protected…”

This is the same for Mr Leong and team-mate Ms Poa — in protecting Singaporean PMETs’ interest in a global economy.

Finally, when the curtain was drawn, we saw both NCMPs standing tall in Parliament.

 

Kok Ming Cheang

 

 

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READER COMMENTS BELOW

20 Responses to “Ministerial Statements nothing more than smoke-screens”

  • opposition dude:

    When you ask the RIGHT questions which PMETs want answers to you show that you are doing something or voters and not the standard PAP MP wayang of just asking a question, getting an answer and then keeping quiet after that.

    Looking forward to more debates from Hazel and Mun Wai. Other fumbles we would like to see from PAP would be questions on the cost of living and high HDB prices.

    PAP failed to convince voters on their argument because they went too far in letting in these Indian nationals. No amount of reasoning will explain when one can see the numbers of these people everywhere on the island. We know they aren’t here for holidays either.

    So just keep up the good work PSP. We are all watching the show. When the next election arrives we will know what to do.

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  • PAP bao jiak leow loh:

    The language is so convoluted the normal sheep cannot understand.

    What PSP can try to do is to ask very specific short questions. Follow movie prosecutors who demand yes/no answer.

    PSP should go beyond CECA. Here’s a good post for their bullets:
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-12/verrender-skilled-worker-shortage-mass-migration-low-wage-growth/100285202

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  • oxygen:

    Enter the huge Indian domestic market for trade and investments? Reality or illusion of utopia opportunity or dreamland fantasy?

    CECA has been in place for so long, WHAT ACHIEVEMENT RESULTS in India’s domestic market for trade and investments to show?

    Its infrastructure is NOT even working of a functioning economy beneath a totally corrupt bureaucracy.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xg7orBSNTCo

    How to set up industrial production and efficient transport working when wiring is so bad and ignored of complete overhaul rework?

    Our CECA FTA negotiators flew into India and checked straight into their hotels without walking the streets to know what is reality of India’s crappy disintegrating infrastructural network?

    Oh I am sure they know or at least I hope they know that India’s bureaucracies is endless doors to endless layers of corruption sure to defeat our virgin entrepreneurs going there looking for trade and investment opportunity in their fantasy dreams.

    Other big foreign investors from elsewhere invested in India to defeated outcomes to the extent that when India offered off-shore oil and gas permits for bidding, NO BIG FOREIGN OIL AND GAS ENTITY put in an application.

    India is energy starved and any discovery got a ready demand/market just as doorstep. No foreign oil and gas entity came to ask for an application form.

    Isn’t this telling enough?

    AFTER DECADES, EVEN HOW MANY listed GLCs successfully penetrated India market or investment space?

    CECA IS STILL NET BENEFITS TO SPORE?

    I am scratching my head in bewilderment as I write this post comment.

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  • @PAP bao jiak leow loh

    I agree. These aristocrats are notorious for beating round the bush, got say like no say.

    PSP (where’s WP?) should ask pointed questions, short and sweet ones so that even if these over-paid aristocrats want to beat round the bush they also got nothing much to wayang about.

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  • xoxo:

    *…we can agree not to disagree for disagreement’s sake…*,bla bla bla,baa the BLACK SHEEP TRYING TO *SILENCE* the LAMBS?

    Yes,surely we can agree to agree to DISAGREE with lies and half-truths,cant we ?

    WHATS PARLIAMENT FOR?
    ITS TO AIR CITIZENS’ DISAGREEMENT WITH WHATEVER THAT THE GAHMEN SAY OR DO THAT ARE NOT *AGRREABLE*( ACCEPTABLE),us it not?
    Oh come on,DEBATE LIKE REAL GEMTLEMEN,can we all AGREE to that?

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  • NOT SO EXCESSIVE INVESTMENTS:

    //The ministers glorified FTAs: “FTAs had enabled Singapore to ramp up investments from overseas and create thousands of jobs in Singapore.//

    aiyoh. which country does not want investments in their own countries to create jobs for their own people ?? but no country (and their own people) want BIG BIG open-leg policy (imported labour) to the extent / scale that the jobs (& livelihood ??? )for their own citizens will be jeopardized / replaced ???

    thousands of jobs in sinkie land, OR thousand of jobs for FTs and converted new sinkies ??? we need just enough investments for jobs for our own daft sinkie and NOT SO EXCESSIVE INVESTMENTS as to result in negative externalities (lack of big physical space and slaughtering of greenery, congestion, pollution, rent seeking environment ???) ???

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  • oxygen:

    PROBES FROM 2 NCMPs did successfully “provoked” or “invited” such attacking defence from two Ministers in Parly, is there NO WHITE ELEPHANT hidden under the bed somewhere?

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  • Justice Pao:

    CECA benefited Singaporeans?

    Where’s the proof?

    Talk is cheap and so easy.

    CECA has been condemned in coffee shops talk and social media.

    There’s no smoke without fire.

    PAP should stop spreading falsehoods.

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  • Justice Pao:

    Negotiators worked hard doesn’t mean Singaporeans have benefited.

    My BS monitor has gone up sky high.

    We see CECA Indians everywhere but tiny SG doesn’t have the infrastructure to accommodate so many of them without causing any resentment and consumption of resources.

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  • Justice Pao:

    India protects and fight for the rights of its citizens.

    Ours let them in freely to steal our lunches.

    Millionaire Cabinet are out of touch, lazy and are yes men.

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  • Aiya, just vote PAP out:

    Quote
    Despite the massive resources put in by two ministers, both failed to put up a convincing argument that CECA (not other FTAs) is net beneficial to Singapore.
    Unquote

    As long as it benefits PAP ministers and their cronies, they won’t care.
    They live in their GCBs and we live amongst all foreigners in HDB and condo.

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  • My plea:

    Vote these NCMPs in the next GE for a job well done.

    Don’t trust what the millionaires PAP ministers say.

    oxygen:
    PROBES FROM 2 NCMPs did successfully “provoked” or “invited” such attacking defence from two Ministers in Parly, is there NO WHITE ELEPHANT hidden under the bed somewhere?

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  • Figures Please:

    For Mr Ong Ye Kung, “It is regrettable because generations of FTA negotiators worked very hard to make sure our interests are protected…”
    >We do not want bullshiting but hard figures.

    We need hard figures not just surface, vague talk only.
    Values of CECA Singapore investments in India: how much values generated – nett profits $$$ made in India since 2005?
    Values of CECA workers:
    1. What is private sector productivity in sectors dominated by CECA workers such as IT, banking/finance, construction, shipping building? What was it in 2005?
    2. What is prectange of CECA workers in every sector in 2005 and in 2020? Percentage of Singaporean under employed and unemployed who are in or used to be in IT, Banking/Finance, construction, shipbuilding, etc.
    3.How many jobs created by CECA companies in Singapore and how many went to Singaporeans? Same question for other countries such as China, US, Japan, EU, etc.
    4. How many Singaporean and precentage in HR and Job recruitment firms in 2005 and 2020? And how many for CECA workers.
    5. How many Singaporean made complaints difficult to find and switch jobs in 2005 and in 2018 to 2020? Especially in sectors dominated by CECA workers.
    6. How many Singaporean went to work in India through CECA?

    If Singapore government really concern about Singaporean employment, the government should have such figures.

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  • xoxo:

    Not smoke screen.
    Its SMOKING!
    They are all SMOKING!

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  • 66:

    How wonderful to never grow up and depend on your parents(pap having citizen as parents)

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  • DeBarge:

    Oxygen:
    “ Enter the huge Indian domestic market for trade and investments? Reality or illusion of utopia opportunity or dreamland fantasy?”

    The market is huge. The belief that outsiders can enter and do well is a fantasy. How many outsiders can they name who have done well in India. If we have so many Indians over here, it shows they do not lack labour, they do not lack land. They only lack capital perhaps ( I am not even sure about that ). Even Western MNCs in India have Indians from C-suite down, so no Singaporean can work there. Try getting money out after you have invested. Good luck. All you can do is reinvest there. The balance sheet may be alright if you can turn a profit, but where are the funds and how does it benefit Singaporeans. Our government are really noobs outside Singapore. HSK says Modi was ready to walk away from the negotiating table unless we opened the border to Indians. Every other country with bigger capacities to absorb them said “go ahead”, but not tiny Singapore. We wonder whether our negotiators were thinking of Singaporeans or trying to meet KPIs (“conclude that FTA or else”). Suzhou all over again I will bet you except with Suzhou we didn’t commit to a tidal wave of PRCs coming here.

    Just go to any trade show in India. Even international brands are Indianised. To give them credit, unlike us they do not think foreign is better unless you can prove it decisively. But we call every incoming professional from outside Singapore a “talent”. Foreign talent is a catch phrase. You never hear “local talent” being used.

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  • $ in $ out:

    How much $$$ Singapore companies make in India yearly and how much $$$ (x billions) India national workers make in Singapore every year?

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  • Protect our interest:

    Figures Please: For Mr Ong Ye Kung, “It is regrettable because generations of FTA negotiators worked very hard to make sure our interests are protected…”

    Big joke. Singaporeans work very hard for decades and their CPF interest are not protected. Other interests as well.

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  • MarBowling:

    For centuries VERY VERY FEW Countries Big or Small DARE to INVEST in India. WHY?

    Those that did so, are currently LICKING their DEEP DEEP Wounds.

    Then came our MOST TALENTED individual in SinKapore, Holee Jinx aka Mrs NO REGRETS!
    She wants to PROVE to the WHOLE WORLD, especially 61.24% of DAFT SinKaporean, that SHIM ALONE and no one on planet earth could BREAK the TABOO and JINX!

    The REST as the saying goes, IS HISTORY. Tombmasek Holdings under shim armpit, has invested about $11 billions of our taxpayers hard earned money in India. DBS alone has 33 branches in 22 cities in India. CECA is only part of shim GAME PLAN to proof shim POINT how TALENTED shim is! Btw she has ALREADY announced that shim will be STEPPING DOWN as the Indian Chief of Tombmasek Holdings after squatting there for sooooooo LOONG. Btw shim SACRED position will be taken over by an Indian on 1 oct 2021!

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  • Yet another pap nfi wayang:

    Many humbly dressed seniors were queuing patiently at NTUC Fairprice for their oximeter. They were so relieved to come to their turn, some of them with IC or senior ppassion card or pioneer card in their hand ready for their collection.

    Where is your pamphlet, uncle?
    What pamphlet?
    The phamphlet distributed to your mail box?
    Don’t know there is one. Many phamplets every day n many are from house agents n food psellers. So must have thrown away la. My IC cannot ah
    Uncle, no pamplet cannot IC, senior card no use’.

    Old men behind joined in hoping can convince the staff they must have thrown away like they used to with past pampletscdropped into their post box. Grumbling n angry over wasting hours in the queue just to be told that the govt has decided to use the pamphlet instead of IC, senior card or pioneer card. Disappointed n some swearing n cursing that thry would not vote for the shit party anymore.

    Yes why pamphlet this time n not IC or one of the cards issued bearing all the particulars?
    One woould have thought the ingenius way better than queuing and possibly got infected at one of the crowded place, pap may think of mailing to each household in place of phamplet!

    No wonder Singaporeans getting more familiar with peeing n pooing apart from pay n pay.
    G4 indeed as LKY confessed he cannot recruit tier 1 Singaporeans who r getting more dignified with their talent n not to deprave themselves to bootlick etc etc for nfi arrogant shits before he finallyl gave up n called it eternally quit. Wondering whether he still wear his rageous face ready to kill amidst the hellish fire at his own stupidity of promoting stupidity in compliancy instead of creativity n critical thinking by daring to be different?

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