This article is rather late but it does have a special resonance with myself as I intend to return to Singapore in the near future. Having lived in Singapore for a number of years I actually love the place and it is close to my partner's relatives. There are however two important concerns that we have and that is our children's education and the fact that our son or son's will have to do national service if we became full citizens.
I am no pacificist but no child of mine will ever hold a gun. I grew up in a city with guns on every street corner, soldiers and paramilitaries patrolled the streets late at night and parents and relatives mourned during the day. While my extended family was relatively untouched by violence it was happening all around us and we did live in fear. When I see a gun today whether it be on television or at Heathrow airport I remember the amazing, brutal and indiscriminate death that guns inflict on the innocent as well as the guilty. The greatest weapon of mass destruction is the gun whether it be fully automatic or not. No child of mine will ever be placed in the position of holding a weapon or standing at the end of the barrel if I can help it.
The second is the education system in Singapore where every parent dreams of creating yet another managing director or CEO. If my children are unable to attend an international school then we will uproot and move back to the UK.
By Kalinga Seneviratne
SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has warned Singaporeans that they will either have to produce more babies or welcome more migrants if the country is going to sustain economic growth and living standards.
Lee, during his recent National Day speech, estimated that at current birth rates Singapore will need an additional 14,000 babies each year to ensure that the population is large enough to sustain the economy.
A slew of policies introduced two years ago to boost birth rates, such as longer maternity leave and infant-care subsidies, have so far had no visible effects, with the affluent city-state's fertility rate last year recording an all-time low of 1.24 per female.
The alternative, according to Lee, is for Singapore to open its doors to permanent immigrants. Last year's General Household Survey shows that new permanent residents have risen by 8.7% to 30,000 per year between 2000 and 2005. During the same period, the number of citizen births rose by a mere 0.9%, or an average of 28,000 births per year.
"If we want our economy to grow, if we want to be strong internationally, then we need a growing population," argued Lee.
A growing number of Asian professionals, especially from mainland China, India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Hong Kong, have recently uprooted themselves from their home countries to take up employment in Singapore. Yet while many immigrants have taken up permanent-residency status, few go on to become Singaporean citizens.
Kwan Chee Wei, a regional human-resource consultant for a multinational company, argues that many professionals go to Singapore hoping to advance their careers or for the upscale lifestyle, but are not interested in changing their citizenship.
That said, an increasing number of Indian and Chinese nationals have recently taken up Singaporean citizenship, creating a measure of resentment among the local ethnic Chinese and Indian populations, who see the new immigrants as competition for jobs.
Lee has tried to defuse those tensions, contending that many Asian migrants have actually created jobs for other Singaporeans through their entrepreneurship. "If you get the right foreigner here, he creates thousands of jobs for Singaporeans," he said.
He also noted that developed countries, including the United States, Canada and Australia, frequently headhunt and hire Singaporean talent, often offering scholarships and high-paying jobs to lure them away from Singapore.
"Countries know, people know Singapore. They no longer think Singapore is somewhere in China. But they don't know Singapore is out there looking for talent," said Lee. "We have to promote our immigration program overseas."
Since Lee's speech, letters to the editorial pages of newspapers in Singapore have been flooded with comments - or more precisely xenophobic complaints - about the apparent new policy toward immigrants. One letter writer, Lim Boon Hee, said, "Be open to foreign talent, but do not forsake our own. One more clever foreign talent means one place less for our local-born sons in institutions of higher learning."
Another writer, Jimmy Ho Kwok, suspects that employers will welcome foreign degree-holders from such countries as India and China so they can pay them less than the threshold salaries offered to local graduates and diploma-holders.
Unionist G Muthukumar points to information-technology professionals from India and sales assistants from the Philippines and Myanmar as examples of employers paying foreigners less than they would pay local hires. On the other hand, Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen referred to how foreign technicians helped to set up Singapore's aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul industry quickly - while it took Singapore six years just to set up the training courses to develop local technicians for the industry.
The debate has since turned focus to the politically volatile issue of the rising cost of living and its impact on raising a family. "Welcoming migrants to our shores is not the solution to our declining birth rates," argued Zeena Amir, a single sales executive in her late 20s. "What would be more beneficial to Singaporeans and also make more sense in the long term is to work on controlling the increasing cost of living."
Singapore has arguably become a victim of its own success. Over the past two decades, the island nation has produced a large number of highly educated young women, many of whom now have high-powered jobs and find child-rearing not only an economic burden but a liability to their career development.
"Children are no longer an asset but a liability," argued young lawyer Shirley Tan. "Child care and education are so expensive, and I can't afford to stay at home to look after them."
As this ambitious nation of 4 million people tries to build further on its economic successes, the debate on whether Singaporeans should have more babies or more migrants seems set to intensify.
"Some view foreigners as competition to their livelihoods," noted ruling-party parliamentarian Alvin Chan. "We will have to explain to them that this is not really the case."
(Inter Press Service)