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Government policies are the root cause, xenophobia is merely the symptomNg E-Jay04 July 2012At a recent forum on xenophobia attended by Zaqy Mohamad, Member of Parliament (MP) for Choa Chu Kang GRC, panelists expressed concern that Singapore might be turning into a xenophobic society.“To me, I don’t think xenophobia itself is a problem in Singapore; the problem is that we might be heading in that direction,” said one of the panelists, Andrew Loh, editor of publichouse.sg.Another panelist, Ravi Philemon, former editor of The Online Citizen, said: “My fear is that unless we start talking about these issues and unless we have a real dialogue, there’s a real danger that we may go in that direction.”Attempts by the forum to define “xenophobia” included descriptions such as an “irrational dislike” or “unreasonable hatred of foreigners”.Panelists like Martyn See and Andrew Loh were quick to point out that some of these emotions were based on real fears, such as the fear of losing one’s job.In my opinion, government policies are the root cause of Singaporeans’ apprehension about foreigners.Recent outbursts of xenophobia on the part of some irresponsible people, as well as the perception that Singaporeans as a whole might to leaning towards xenophobic tendencies, are caused by skewed government policies that have been either poorly implemented or simply taken to the extreme.My opinion is based on simple historical fact. We are a nation of immigrants, and in the early years of development, Singaporeans were not xenophobic. The older generation cannot remember a time when Singaporeans in the early years of nation building expressed an irrational dislike towards foreigners, or worried about losing their jobs and flats to foreigners which is always a legitimate concern and cannot be classified as xenophobia.However, government policies implemented to the extreme slowly changed all this. The original aim of letting foreigners in to augment our workforce and provide additional expertise somehow evolved into a “growth at all cost” economic strategy.The PAP government failed to control, or refused to control, the inf,ow of foreigners. The government deliberately allowed foreigners to suppress wages and make it hard for older workers, even educated ones, to seek re-employment should they be unfortunate enough to be displaced from their jobs.It is no wonder that many Singaporeans have started to worry about their livelihoods and fear that they may not be able to keep their HDB flat. These are legitimate worries that the government has created by taking its policies to the extreme.Another legitimate concern is that the government has failed to ensure that foreigners who want to take up residency in Singapore are willing to adapt to our ways and adopt proper social values, including manners and etiquette.The ability to speak English is also a problem — I have seen PRC bus drivers unwilling or unable to help out non-English speaking passengers and leaving them in the lurch.Integration cannot be a one way process in which Singaporeans simply accept foreigners for who they are, but without foreigners learning to adjust to our way of life and behave in a manner befitting a first world society.It is futile to look at xenophobia in isolation, because in the Singapore context, the root cause of why we may be heading in that direction is poorly implemented government policies that fail to take care of Singaporeans and put them first.Most rational people accept that we have to continually import foreigners. However, we need more selectivity in importing foreigners to ensure they complement our skills sets rather than merely suppress wages.Wage suppression merely sustains the bottom lines of GLCs and allows other unproductive businesses to continue operating when they should have folded long ago. Wage suppression also causes financial hardship especially amongst the lower income and makes even the basic necessities of life unaffordable.
There is also an urgent need to build adequate infrastructure to house the growing number of low skilled foreign workers especially construction workers, and implement tougher labour laws that prevent businesses from unfairly exploiting foreign workers or housing them under inhumane conditions.The only way to address the issue of xenophobia is to implement policies and address the worries of Singaporeans competently and effectively. Otherwise, we would only be running around in circle looking for the tail that wags the dog.
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