Singapore ministers to address FTAs issue in Parliament; focus on abuse of Indians

·4-min read

Singapore, Jul 1 (PTI) Two ministerial statements will be delivered in Parliament next week to explain 'how vital' Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are to Singapore and to address 'false allegations' that these pacts are not 'a free hand' for foreign professionals to take up jobs in the island nation, a media report said on Thursday.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, in a Facebook post, said the ministerial statements will explain 'how vital' FTAs are to Singapore and how they work.

The statements will be delivered by Manpower Minister and Second Minister for Trade and Industry Tan See Leng and Ong, who is a former trade negotiator. The statements will be open to debate after they are delivered, according to the Channel News Asia.

Among the FTAs being question is a broader Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement between Singapore and India which was signed in 2005 but has been a concern among some Singaporeans who see it as allowing Indian professionals to take up jobs that they would have done, diplomatic sources said.

Ong also referred to two recent incidents of “verbal and physical assaults on Indians”, which he described as “disturbing and not reflective of what Singaporeans are”.

Without specifying the incidents, Ong said they occurred amid an “undercurrent of sentiment against immigrant Indians over the past two years” as per the Channel report.

“There are concerns from Singaporeans that need to be addressed, but the unhappiness is also fuelled in no small part by false allegations by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP - an opposition) about how the Singapore-India CECA has given Indian PMEs a free hand to come here to work,” he wrote in the post.

Following the incidents, Ong said Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam during a parliamentary sitting in May this year called on the PSP to file a motion on FTAs and CECA.

So that Parliament could have a proper debate on the matter, discuss what is at stake for Singapore, and “shine a light on untrue statements about CECA', Ong said.

“In the run-up to the filing of PSP's proposed motion, we have received many parliamentary questions on the matter, including many from PSP,” he said, adding that the purpose of the ministerial statements was to answer these questions.

Shanmugam said in Parliament on May 11 that Singapore will fail if the country allows racism and xenophobia to become prevalent.

He was responding to a question from parliamentarian Murali Pillai, who pointed to an incident in the previous week when a 55-year-old woman of Indian descent had allegedly been kicked in the chest and subjected to racial slurs for not wearing a mask while brisk walking.

Murali asked Shanmugam for his assessment of “the security situation arising from this racial incident connected with the pandemic”, and what steps the authorities would take to address the situation.

Noting investigations need to be done before conclusions can be drawn, the minister said the attack appeared to be racist based on the victim’s claims. Such behaviour should be condemned, he added.

Shanmugam pointed to certain websites which were anti-government - which he said was “perfectly okay” - but also deliberately fomented racism, with comments describing Indians as “cockroaches” and “rapists”.

Such racist behaviour cannot be justified by saying “the Indians are behaving badly” or blamed on the government policies such as CECA.

“There have been several canards about CECA, promoted by a whispering campaign,” he said, adding that any members of Parliament who believed the agreement was a problem could put up a motion for debate.

He singled out Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai (PSP - an opposition party of a nominated parliamentarian), who previously said he was “deeply disappointed” that DBS Bank did not have a “homegrown” chief executive and whose party had called for agreements such as the CECA to be reviewed.

“I am looking at you, Mr Leong. I invite you to put up a Motion to debate CECA. You know that most of what is said about CECA is false,” said Shanmugam.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said last Friday that Singapore should be “very concerned” about racist incidents because there is 'always a risk we will regress and move backwards' on race issues.

In a dialogue moderated by Dr Shashi Jayakumar of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Wong answered a question on whether Singapore is moving in “the right direction” on race issues.

He was speaking in the dialogue after delivering a speech at the forum jointly organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and RSIS.

Wong’s comments come after a series of incidents sparked public debate about race and racism. He said that while Singapore has 'come a long way' from 20 years to 30 years ago, racism still exists in the country.

“Indeed, the recent spate of incidents are a concern,” said Wong. “We should rightfully be very concerned about this because we cannot assume that progress will always move in one direction. There is always a risk that we will regress and we will move backwards.” PTI GS CPS

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