Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai delivered his first speech in Parliament on Sep. 1.
It was also the first-ever speech by a politician from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), which contested in its first election earlier this year.
Leong spoke about the "two most pressing issues of the day", namely, immigration and jobs, topics he acknowledged had been brought up by other members in the previous day's proceedings.
His speech highlighted concerns and outlined suggestions by the PSP to address them.
He raised three questions which reflected Singaporeans' concerns:
- If there were "seemingly fewer good jobs for Singaporeans", even as the immigrant workforce grew over the last 20 years, signalling that there is discrimination against Singaporeans
- Why "world-ranking" universities here were not able to produce enough skilled Singaporeans to take up "good jobs in the new industries"
- Why taxes were increasing when immigrants, comprising 40 per cent of the population, "should have helped to reduce the tax burden", and whether tax revenue was enough to offset the "infrastructural and social costs incurred in supporting these foreigners"
The lack of satisfactory answers for these questions, Leong said, explained why "many Singaporeans have chosen to believe that the current immigration policy is a bad deal for them and for Singapore".
Leong's speech also highlighted reasons why the PSP was calling for "immediate actions" to "restore the balance of interests between the Singaporeans and the foreigners in our country".
Singapore a "global city-state", not a "global city within a larger state"
"We think that our government might have overlooked the fact that our country is a global city-state and not a global city within a larger state," Leong said.
He explained that other "global city" dwellers such as New Yorkers could choose to move out of New York, while Singaporeans "have nowhere to go without leaving the country".
A "different brand of foreign talent" since 2000s
"We are not being xenophobic or nativist" Leong said, explaining that his opposition was directed at "a different brand of foreign talent" that had been introduced since the early 2000s.
Leong, a former government scholar who worked in local and overseas banks after his time at GIC, said he had supported John Olds being appointed as the CEO of local bank DBS in 1998, but recalled being told that it was an "unthinkable" move:
"I remembered a senior Japanese banker had called me and commented, 'Leong-san, it’s like having a foreigner to run Mitsubishi Bank in Japan. It’s unthinkable!'."
Leong highlighted the fact that since then, "DBS is still without a home-grown CEO."
Leong contrasted this with "old foreign talents" of previous years, who Leong said had "trained and helped" Singaporeans, contributing to nation-building.
PAP MP Derrick Goh, declaring his interest in the matter as a member of DBS Bank's management team, spoke up to say that DBS's current leadership was made up of Singaporeans, "except for one person who is Malaysian, and a [Permanent Resident]."
Goh is the Managing Director and Head of Group Audit at DBS Bank.
With 40% of foreigners in workforce, dynamics have changed
Leong also pointed out that dynamics in the workforce can be expected to be "drastically" changed, as foreigners currently account for 40 per cent of the population.
Thus, Leong said, "we must take the ramblings from the ground about Singaporeans being discriminated against seriously".
Leong cited the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) Watchlist as "confirmation of discrimination taking place at the workplace".
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had previously said that more than 1,200 employers have been scrutinised under the FCF Watchlist, since it was introduced in 2016.
"Risks related to immigration"
Leong also called attention to "risks related to immigration", citing as an example the widespread Covid-19 infection in foreign worker dormitories.
Calling for stricter regulation of immigration, Leong said that Singapore should take time to "assess and ascertain the full impact of an outsized foreigner population" in light of such risks.
Proposed adjustments to immigration policy
Leong then outlined his proposed adjustments to Singapore's immigration policy.
More timely data
Leong asked for the government to share data in a more timely manner, to "obtain the buy-in" for their foreign talent model.
He suggested "regular disclosure" of the number of PMETs among Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, as well as details of intra-company transfers under free-trade agreements.
This was to support "an informed discussion" about the current immigration policy.
Reduce work pass approvals and renewals
Acknowledging the recent efforts to create jobs, Leong said that "existing jobs are still the best opportunities for employing our people".
Leong asked the government to reduce the number of new work pass approvals, and renewals, so that more jobs could be taken up by Singaporeans.
"Offshore" and "Onshore" companies
Leong also suggested that the government designate a group of "Offshore Companies" that would deal in products and services for overseas markets.
He proposed that such companies could have "a freer hand in attracting talents from all over the world", subject to requirements such as the minimum salary requirement for Employment Passes and S Passes.
All other companies, Leong said, would be designated "Onshore Companies", which he said should be subject to tightened regulations such as a stipulation that Singaporeans must be well-represented in top management and human resource (HR) functions, and a foreigner-to-citizen ratio cap.
Succession plans, work experience requirement, and restricting citizenship
Leong also suggested that foreign managers should have a succession plan, with renewal of their visa granted only on condition that the manager is promoted, with his previous position taken up by a Singaporean.
Entry-level jobs should also be reserved for Singaporean graduates, Leong said, suggesting a requirement that foreign PMETs must have "longer working experience" before being allowed to work here.
Finally, Leong called for citizenship to be restricted to PRs "who have stayed here for a long time and have passed a stricter set of naturalisation criteria", with a Citizen's Commission being set up to oversee the conferment of citizenships.
Role of PSP in Parliament
Leong's speech also gave an indication of what Singapore can expect from the PSP in their current term in Parliament.
"We look forward to more information and resources provided to the opposition for it to function as an effective voice and idea-generator," Leong said, saying that the appointment of Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh as Leader of the Opposition was a response from the government to "the people’s wish for this Parliament to work together for better solutions".
"The PSP believes that this Parliament must serve the interests and protect the sovereign rights of our people," Leong said.
He added that the opposition party would stand by the government "if it decides to take any decisive action needed to achieve that".
Leong also said that "PSP will uphold this Parliament as a Singaporean Parliament and not a partisan Parliament."
Top image from Leong Mun Wai on Facebook and @k8_iv on unsplash