[ASIA] Melissa Aratani Kwee's Vision of Singapore in the 21st Century
- "Attracting Talent vs Looking After Singaporeans"
INTRODUCTION: A VISION FOR SINGAPORE
1. In the 21st century, Singapore will be even better than it is
today: an exciting city in which to work, live and play; a global
hub pulsating with energy and ideas. The Singapore economy will be
vibrant, our culture brimming with diversity, and our society strong
2. To achieve our vision, we must make Singapore a centre of
opportunity. Singapore will be a hub in Asia where people can
advance their economic lifestyles, pursue their interests and find
happiness in their lives. We will be a society where everyone
matters, where everyone is valued, and recognised for his or her
3. Singapores continued prosperity and success depends on our
ability to maximise the talents of all Singaporeans, as well as to
develop a deep-seated sense of belonging or rootedness to
Singapore. Singaporeans must be allowed to become the best they can
be. We should develop a more encompassing definition of success.
People must be encouraged to try the road less taken, to explore
what lies off the beaten track. We must recognise success even in
the single penny picked up at the end of the rainbow, and respect,
applaud and celebrate the diverse accomplishments of fellow
citizens. Locals have to feel that Singapore is our best home, best
hope. Singaporeans must believe in our country, identify with its
destiny and stand ready to contribute to, suffer for and defend our
society, values and nation.
4. Our continued success also depends on our ability to attract and
retain talent. In the new millennium, talent is not something nice
to have; it is the essential ingredient for sustained success. We
should not see foreign talent as queue-jumpers in the race for j obs
in Singapore; nor as opportunists competing unfairly. Rather, as we
shall explain, illustrate and seek to convince in this report,
foreign talent help to make Singapore more competitive, and create
more opportunities than we can generate on our own. This will be
crucial in enabling Singaporeans to find fulfilment and achieve the
good life. Singaporeans have expressed concerns. However, after
much discussion and deliberation, our committee feels strongly that
there is no contradiction between making Singapore our best home and
a talent capital. These two goals are mutually self-reinforcing and
Why Do We Need Foreign Talent?
5. Talent is crucial to Singapores survival and success. To
maintain our long-term competitiveness, Singapore must transit into
a Knowledge-Based Economy (KBE). What is a KBE? In the 20th
century, production of wealth was through the use of raw materials,
labour and capital. But, in the 21st century, talented people and
the services, ideas and innovations they generate will be the
critical factors. We need talent to deal with forces of
globalisation and the challenges wrought by advances in technology,
especially Information Technology (IT). We need talent to stay
6. Major cities around the world have thrived because of talent and
their ability to absorb the best and brightest. Even a country of
abundant resources like the US needs talent. In 1998, the US
Congress approved an increase in the number of visas for foreign
talent that allows the US to continue absorbing the brightest minds
from around the world. In Silicon Valley, a small town has been
transformed into a vibrant home for start-ups and ventures because
of the ability to draw top IT talent from all over the world,
especially Asia. In the US, the immigrant ethos is still very much
alive and this enables the country to continue to welcome talent
from abroad and to benefit from their contribution.
The sea welcomes a hundred brooks,
Only those with big hearts can accommodate others
- Chinese saying
7. Singapore, too, must be the sea that continually welcomes a
hundred brooks. Being big-hearted and accommodating enable
Singapore to be plugged into the global network. We will benefit
from the cross-fertilisation of ideas and thinking that comes from
the convergence of a hundred sources.
What Do Talent Bring To Singapore?
In a knowledge-based era, the scarce strategic resources that will
allow one company to surpass its competitors is the quality of the
people working for it companies that seek people with a passion that
makes real the oft-repeated rhetoric that `people are our greatest
assets can gain enormous returns on that scarce asset. As one
manager told us: `We must think of our company less in product-
market terms and more as collectors of great people.
- Christopher A Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal, Play the Right Card
to Get the Aces in the Pack, Financial Times 1
8. Besides bringing valuable skills, knowledge and ideas, the
foreign talents vigour provides powerful motivation for us to
continually strive for higher standards. They also strengthen our
society by keeping alive the migrant spirit and instincts that give
Singapore a critical advantage. Their example can make us aware of
the dangers of becoming complacent.
9. Foreign talent does not just help to enlarge our economic pie but
also make our pie tastier and more diverse in flavour. They
introduce the croissant to supplement our roti prata. Foreign talent
brings variety and diversity to Singapore, adding colour, richness
and spice to our cultural life. We not only need top economic
people but top-class artistes and musicians as well. To compete in
the World Cup, we too must, like France, absorb international sports
talent. This will add a cosmopolitan flavour to Singapore and
enable us to compete in the big league.
10. Singapore is a small country with no natural resources and a
small population. In welcoming foreign talent, we benefit from
global education and training resources and use it to supplement and
complement our own. Attracting top specialists in their fields to
Singapore raises our countrys profile: talent attracts talent.
This helps to make Singapore a world-class talent capital as well as
to establish a network with international specialists. To become a
truly globally competitive city, Singapore must forge links with
every major dynamic economy and incorporate talent from all regions
of the world.
Who Are Foreign Talent?
11. Talent refers to both foreigners and locals. Local talent is
valuable but with a population of three million, the Singapore pool
is not large enough when the competition we face is the world. Our
local pool must be augmented with the best skills and talents that
can be tapped globally. Just as the brooks enrich the sea, foreign
talent enlarges our human resource pool, strengthens our
competitiveness and increases our social vitality. We think of
foreign talent to be people who have certain internationally
marketable experiences and skills, and who can do the jobs that
Singaporeans cannot do, or where there are just not enough
Singaporeans to do the work. They include foreigners who work in our
industrial and commercial sectors as well as those in our
universities and research institutes. The foreign talent may be an
entrepreneur, IT specialist, artiste or sportsman in our S
league. They can also be foreigners in our education system who
strengthen schools through greater competitiveness and diversity.
12. What we want is to complement our local talent with talent from
How We Have Benefited and Continue to Do So?
13. How have we benefited from foreign talent? We need only to
remind ourselves that foreign talent is not new to Singapore but has
been an integral part of the Singapore story. Historically, Temasek
has been an oasis for immigrants. People from afar, be they
Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Eurasians, Jews or Armenians sailed here
seeking a better life. Some fled famine and chaos while others
brought new businesses and ideas. But all were determined to succeed
in a foreign land. All but one of our first Cabinet were foreign-
born and, without them, Singapore would not be where we are today.
In the private sector, contributions to Singapores economic
development by foreign CEOs and business leaders, as well as their
MNCs, are also well-documented.
14. We continue to benefit from foreign talent. The benefits that
foreign talent bring are not just economic but are spread out across
many sectors. Let us explore some specific examples.
15. Higher Education: As our economy matures and moves towards high
value-added industry, the government has increased the opportunities
for tertiary education. The number of full-time tertiary places
(university and polytechnic) has increased from about 14,900 in 1988
to about 66,200 in 1998. This increase was made possible by
recruiting quality foreign lecturers to supplement our local talent
pool, especially in areas where locals are lacking or difficult to
recruit like in animation, digital media design, etc. In the past
10 years, the number of full-time foreign academic staff in our
tertiary institutions have increased by about 840 in absolute
numbers. The proportion of foreign academic staff with respect to
the total academic staff strength, however, has remained at about
16. Attracting foreign lecturers, researchers, technical specialists
and postgraduate students to Singapore, either into our tertiary
institutions or through the setting up of joint institutions, also
helped in the transfer of expertise from other countries to
Singapore. For example, at the early stages when the German-
Singapore Institute, French-Singapore Institute and the former Japan-
Singapore Institute of Software Technology were set up, foreign
technical specialists from these countries were attached to our
tertiary institutions and had helped in the development of course
curricula and training of staff. In addition, they have also helped
to raise the standard of the research work.
17. Overall, the presence of foreign expertise not only supplements
our local talent pool but also helps to raise our standard of
intellect diversity through regular interaction and sharing of
knowledge and experiences. This has not only helped to raise the
standard of our education but enriched our campus life.
18. Research & Development: Foreign talent have similarly
contributed to Singapores research and development (R&D) scene. In
1990, we had about 3,600 local Research Scientists and Engineers
(RSEs) and 700 RSEs from overseas. We recognised that the R&D field
is an area that can give Singapore a technological leading edge in
regional and global competition. We strived for a more highly-
educated population which would create conditions ideal for R & D
work to be brought to Singapore. We attracted foreign RSEs to work
in Singapore. By 1997, we had expanded the total number of RSEs in
Singapore to 11,300. Foreign RSEs contributed 2,300 or 21% of this
number. With the greater number of more highly qualified RSEs, our
Research Institutes (RIs) were able to make greater strides and
19. For instance, the Institute of Molecular Agrobiology (IMA) had
conducted many agricultural technology research projects which led
to commercialisation of new products like rice with better
resistance to diseases and yields, and cotton with improved traits.
In 1996, the IMA collaborated with China to access upstream
technologies developed in research institutes there and transfer
them to Singapore for further development work and product
20. Another example is the Institute of Molecular Cell Biology
(IMBC) which was able to establish its name. In November 98, IMBC
entered into a bilateral partnership with the Medical Research
Council of Canada to support R&D activities in both countries,
geared towards the creation of intellectual properties in the
biomedical field. The long term objective is to utilise this
intellectual property pipeline to spin off and support Singapore-
Canada biomedical ventures and to create opportunities for corporate
partnerships with major global drug companies.
21. Another example is the Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and
Processing (CRISP) of the National University of Singapore (NUS).
CRISP developed a computer-modelling system linked to powerful
satellites which can help monitor land or sea pollution, forest
fires, seaport congestion as well as track lost ships. This computer
system is used by the Ministry of Environment and the Maritime and
Port Authority (MPA) to monitor forest fires in the region, and
track pollution at sea. It was immensely useful during the 1997 Haze
episode and was deployed to assist Indonesia to monitor hot spots in
her battle to curtail forest fires from starting and spreading. The
system was also successfully employed to help MPA clean up the major
oil spill in Singapore waters in 1997.
22. Some of the most exciting technologies in the IT world are being
developed at the Kent Ridge Digital Laboratories (KRDL). One product
enables surgeons to rehearse their operations in 3-dimensional
computer models making surgery safer. Another product creates an
invisible digital watermark on digital products (eg. digital music,
books, photos) which brings added security to electronic trade and
services. A third product can recognise spoken Mandarin and
reproduce it on screen, removing the need for slow and cumbersome
23. As we develop the calibre and increase the number of RSEs in our
R&D industry, overseas Research Institutes (RIs) have been attracted
to partner with us. In November 1998, leading US medical school,
Johns Hopkins Medicine, announced it had selected Singapore as the
site for its very first clinical facility outside of the US2. The 75
research scientists at Johns Hopkins Singapore Clinical Services
will work closely with local institutions and together, are expected
to bring Singapore into the forefront of research and education in
diseases common in this region. Such collaboration will raise the
profile of local researchers through the yield of patents, research
publications and other medical innovations. Undoubtedly,
Singaporeans and our neighbours will also benefit from leading
edge medical care.
24. Though Singapore has made progress, we still lag behind in the
number of R&D scientists and engineers compared with developed
countries. Working on the ratio of R&D personnel per 10,000
Workforce, the 1998 figures for Japan is 138.6, Switzerland 121.7
while Singapore is only 59. We have quite some ways to go. We need
more top quality R&D scientists and engineers in Singapore.
25. Manufacturing: Manufacturing is a high growth sector and a major
provider of jobs for Singaporeans. In the 1990s, manufacturing has
been growing at an average of 8 % a year. Today, manufacturing
accounts for about a quarter of Singapores GDP and employs about
23% of Singapores workforce.
26. In the 1960s, when unemployment in Singapore was high, Singapore
attracted many manufacturing Multi-National Companies (MNCs) to
create employment. In those days, the top management in such MNCs
consisted mainly of foreign talent whose management and technical
skills contributed to the creation of jobs and opportunities for
Singaporeans. Many of the MNCs such as Philips, Hewlett Packard,
IBM, Motorola, Esso and Sundstrand have since localised the
management team, with their top management having handed over and
transferred their skills to Singaporeans. Hence, the presence of
MNCs and expatriate managers in Singapores manufacturing sector has
not only created jobs for Singaporeans but also created
opportunities for Singaporeans to rise to the top.
27. Foreign talent have also played an important role in shifting
Singapores manufacturing sector into more high value-added and
knowledge-driven activities. For instance, when Singapore first
started attracting MNCs to conduct wafer fabrication activities,
there were few Singaporean engineers with the skills and experience
needed for the industry. Training programmes were conducted to equip
Singaporeans with the necessary skills. However, such training took
time and many foreign engineers had to be recruited to fill the
shortage in skills and experience. Openness to foreign talent is a
key factor that makes Singapore attractive to MNCs. Without such
foreign talent, Singapore would not be able to start up high-tech
manufacturing activities such as wafer fabrication that creates high-
paying and meaningful jobs for Singaporeans.
28. Business Services: Recently, in October 1998, Singapore edged
out Sydney, Manila, and Hong Kong to host Caltexs global
Headquarters (HQ). This is the first multinational global HQ to be
based here3. With sales of US$9.9 billion, Caltex was Singapores
largest oil trader in 1996, an amount equivalent to about 12 percent
of Singapores Gross Domestic Product. Caltex is the largest
private company in Singapore, with a 1997 turnover of S$14 billion.
Explaining Caltexs move, EDB said that Caltex was a company that
likes to get involved with a country. They looked very favourably
at our initiatives towards developing Singapore as a knowledge-based
economy, bringing in world-class institutions like INSEAD.
Chairman of Caltex, David Law-Smith explained that the move to
Singapore will position us centrally in the areas where most of our
business allows us to be closer to our customers and serve them more
effectively. Singapore is a dynamic, international city with great
infrastructure, talented people and high living standards.
29. Financial Services: The Monetary Authority of Singapore is
promoting Singapore as the Asian hub for specialist financial
services. In order to achieve our aim of becoming a leading
financial centre in this time zone, we need to develop capabilities
in many key areas where local talents are scarce. Some of these
areas include investment banking, derivatives, actuarial services,
reinsurance, asset and risk management.
30. Today, EP holders make up about 15% of the financial
professionals in the licensed financial sector. The annual growth of
Employment Pass (EP) holder in the financial sector over the last 4
years has averaged 12%. The flow of foreign talent into Singapore's
financial sector brings in expertise in cutting-edge product
innovations and transfers world-best financial practices to
Singapore. This will bolster our domestic skills and knowledge pool
as well as further enhance our position as a financial hub of Asia.
In the process, this will create better and higher paying value-
added jobs as well as contribute to our economic growth.
31. Entertainment: In 1983, the then Singapore Broadcasting
Corporation began recruiting foreign talent, primarily from Hong
Kong and Taiwan, to help set up the Chinese Drama production unit.
These talent were mainly in key production management and creative
grades like director-producers, scriptwriters, story planners,
lighting men, and cameramen: professions where local expertise was
not readily available. In the 1980s, foreign talent comprised close
to 25% of the total Chinese Drama production talent pool. Of these
foreign talent who are still active with local productions, more
than 80% have taken up Singapore citizenship or PR.
32. In the 15 years since the inception of the Chinese Drama unit,
much production know-how has been transferred and the local talent
pool has learnt through their jobs while working closely with the
foreign talent. Today, locals make up 84% of the talent in
Television Corporation of Singapores (TCS) drama talent. However,
TCS continues to actively exchange ideas and expertise with
producers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and China. The
entertainment value of TCS productions has certainly gone up because
of foreign talent.
Foreign talent have helped raise the production standard of TCS.
They have also helped Singapore break into the international
entertainment scene. For example, TCS artists like Shanghainese
compere Wang Yanqing recently won the Asian TV Best Compere award.
Malaysian Christopher Lee is also well received by the Taiwanese
when the Singapore-produced serial Return of the Condor Hero was
aired via TCS satellite TV in Taiwan.
Lee Bee Furn, media consumer in her 20s.
33. Orchestra: In 1979, when the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO)
performed its first concert, Singapores musical talent base was
small and only 8 out of the 41 musicians were Singaporeans. The
presence of foreign musicians has not only livened the music scene
in Singapore, but also helped to build up the local talent base
through the transfer of skills to Singaporeans. Many have also
become Singapore citizens. Today, out of the 89 musicians in the
SSO, 70 of them are Singapore citizens of which, 36 are foreign
34. Sports: A couple of years back, the S-League was created amidst
concerns that the Singapore soccer standard would not be high enough
to sustain interest. The S-League has since grown in popularity,
with the development of home-grown and foreign football talent.
Soccer fans recognise the need for scouting and bringing foreign
talent into Singapores soccer scene to enhance the standard of the
game and the local soccer players here. A typical call by fans is
for Football Association of Singapore (FAS) to import foreign
talent, just as some sectors of the economy had done.
35. Import of foreign soccer players has helped make the game more
interesting and entertaining. This has also created healthy
competition and opportunities for our local aspiring players.
Fans come to watch the match partly because they want to watch
foreign players who generally are of better quality than the locals.
Though this would deprive local players the chance to get into the
first team, however, in the long term, the skills of our local
players would improve by playing with these foreign imports.
- Eric Teo, avid soccer fan.
36. In each of the above areas, Singaporean talent has played a
major role in our success. We can be truly proud of the
contributions and accomplishments of our fellow countrymen. But we
must also be humble enough to recognise that the progress we made
could not have been achieved as rapidly without the infusion of
foreign talent. Foreign talent is a pool to supplement local talent.
At the same time, we also benefit as critical skills are passed on
to locals, thus raising overall standards and proficiency.
PUBLIC CONSULTATION AND FEEDBACK
37. Our Subject Committee found that although the economic reasons
for attracting foreign talent are strong, concerns were raised on
the possible negative impact that attraction of large numbers of
foreign talent might have on Singapore. Such concerns merit serious
consideration and our committee had set itself the task of doing so.
A series of 11 Focus Group discussions was arranged for committee
members to meet with Singaporeans from different walks of life to
hear their views and discuss their concerns. The committee met with
executives, professionals, employers, grassroot leaders, trade
unionists, NUS students, foreign talent, artistes, polytechnic and
ITE students, ethnic minority groups, returned graduates and
scholars and the teaching and medical professions. (A summary of
views articulated is at Annex A.) At these Focus Group discussions,
animated debates yielded at times an exchange of strong and
polarising viewpoints. A public consultation feedback session was
also held on 21 November 1998, where about a thousand members of the
public were invited.
38. Not all the issues and questions were resolved for everybody.
But Focus Group participants unanimously agreed on the need for
talent, and that we should attract them here as Singapore is a small
country with a small pool of people. Most were convinced of the
economic rationale for bringing in foreign talent with higher skills
and experience, that this would create wealth and, consequently,
more jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans. However, concerns
about the impact of foreign talent, especially in this economic
downturn, were also raised. These concerns were real and
legitimate. But in discussions that followed, the committee
concluded that the problems were not insurmountable.
39. Two extensive surveys were conducted as part of the S21
project. In June, the Straits Times published a survey that
essentially confirmed the findings of our Focus Group discussions
that most Singaporeans accepted the rationale and support the policy
of bringing in foreign talent. 76% of those polled supported the
governments move to attract foreign talent while 23% did not.
Younger Singaporeans were also more supportive, with 85% of them in
their 20sbeing supportive. This contrasted with only 68% for those
in their 40s.
40. A Forbes survey conducted in July found that 56.6% polled felt
that Singapore needed foreign talent to complement our work force,
while 16% felt Singapore could do it alone. One in three
Singaporeans felt that foreigners created more jobs than they took
away, while one in four thought the reverse. About one in four were
neutral i.e. they did not know what to think or were unwilling to
commit. What these surveys revealed was that although Singaporeans
were convinced of the economic rationale for foreign talent, deep
down, they remained anxious about the impact of bringing in foreign
talent. The uncertainties brought about by the regional crisis were
also reflected in the many non-committal and neutral responses to
the issues. The main concerns are examined in detail in the
Major Concern 1: Will I Still Have a Job?
41. The top concern expressed was fear of being crowded out of
jobs. The skies were cheery when the S21 project was launched. But
since then, tectonic changes have occurred across the region. Given
the regional economic slowdown and its impact on Singapore, quite a
number of people questioned whether we should continue to welcome
foreign talent. During hard times, they argued, Singaporeans should
be given first preference for jobs. Emotional pleas were made that
the government was morally obligated to take care of its citizens.
Loyalty demands protection. In times of crisis, the government
must look after its people.
Where there is sugar, there will be ants. But what happens to the
picnic when the sugar supply runs low?
- Focus Group participants
42. We expect these fears and sentiments to increase if economic
conditions continue to deteriorate. Measures that directly protect
jobs for Singaporeans will only reduce our national competitiveness
and ability to weather the storm. We need to be like athletes who
build up stamina and skill from training and participation in
competitions. Repatriating foreigners will not solve the economic
problems. Keeping foreigners out will ultimately cost locals to lose
more jobs because the talented foreigner takes job opportunities
away with him. For instance, retrenchment of experienced and
globally-connected foreign bankers will affect our financial
industry and our ability to compete with overseas financial
markets. Saving a few jobs for locals may end up causing Singapore
to lose more jobs.
The onset of the currency and financial crisis illustrates another
way in which foreign talent can contribute to Singapore. Local
staff were slow to react to real-life rapidly depreciating
currencies and asset values. That proved to be a costly experience
for some of us.
- Kong Siew Cheong, manager in a major securities house
43. We also sensed that Singaporeans were worried that employers
might prefer to hire foreigners. Some Singaporeans felt foreigners
were willing to take on unpleasant jobs and to toil harder, such as
working over time and doing shift work. During the economic
downturn, they were particularly worried these foreigners would be
willing to work harder for less, putting pressure on them to work
longer hours at the expense of a quality life-style.
44. Some Focus Group participants felt that each time they got
closer to the Singapore dream, the goal posts would shift, and be
moved further away. They felt that the government policy to bring in
foreigners was aimed at making them work harder. They perceived some
of the talent being imported as not real talent but cheap
labour. Our committee noted that this concern was greatest not
with the top professionals or low-end workers, but the middle band.
It was the ordinary white and blue-collar jobs that Singaporeans
felt they could do just as well that the threat was felt most. The
more highly-paid Singaporeans also tended to feel more secure about
their jobs. Less than half of those who earned under $1,000 a month
felt secure about their jobs, while 77.4% of those who earned more
than $4,000 thought so.
45. Some participants suggested that we should be more selective
such as recruiting foreign talent only in sectors with severe
manpower or talent shortages, or only for strategic growth
industries. However, it would be problematic for the government to
legislate specific areas. What criteria, for instance, should the
government use, especially for professional and high level talent?
Our committee believes that it would be best to leave such decisions
to free market forces.
46. In a world where advances of technology have made every region
accessible to each other, competition is truly global. Every country
competes against another. If we do not attract talent to Singapore,
they can easily go to elsewhere and compete against Singapore from
there. As Minister Teo Chee Hean has said, At least if hes here,
he is part of our team, helping to make the big picture here, and I
think we prefer to have more good people on our team than out there
on another team. Protectionist policies will only blunt
Singapores competitive edge in the global economy. By helping
companies remain competitive, foreign talent actually protects and
creates jobs for Singaporeans.
47. Our committee feels strongly that the way to look after
Singaporeans is to help them upgrade to their fullest potential. In
this regard, $420 million has been committed for the Skills
Redevelopment Programme (SRP) and Critical Enabling Skills Training
(CREST) programmes. A Skills Development Centre is now in operation
to meet the demands for more training places. We make further
recommendations later in the report.
Major Concern 2: Will My Children Have a Place in School?
48. The second key concern expressed was Singapore children were
being crowded out of our schools. Many (59% in the Straits Times
survey) felt that the specific targeting of foreigners would crowd
their kids out of the best schools. Worse, allowing large numbers
of foreign students would have a ripple-down effect and make it even
more difficult than now for young Singaporeans to find a place in
49. Unlike the first concern, these concerns were expressed by
parents who were worried about the hope and future of their
children, rather than their own immediate welfare. Some asked the
government to protect the positions for Singaporean children in good
schools. They argued that our children should be given the best
educational opportunities, so that they could compete in future as
50. We are confident that the government will ensure that no child
in Singapore is denied a place in our schools. However, to realise
our vision for Singapore, we cannot shy away from competition. We
can choose to bury our heads in the sand like ostriches but that
will not make the competition go away. Protectionism will not help
us but stymie the growth of our children. Instead, teaching our
children early how to swim will ensure they can swim faster and
further later on in life.
51. Foreign students will benefit our schools and children. They
will raise standards by spurring excellence in our classes. Like
foreign talent in our work force, foreign students in our schools
are another resource we can tap. They bring with them new cultures,
innovative ideas which can stimulate and broaden the outlook of our
local students. Many schools are already observing national days of
other countries and celebrating cultural diversity.
52. The youth of Singapore must also develop international awareness
and global mindset. An island mindset will spell undisputed failure
for Singapore. We must create opportunities for our students to
travel overseas and interact with foreign students. Some schools are
already organising excursions, study trips and exchange visits
during school holidays to countries like the UK, France, Australia
and China. These should not only continue but be further
Major Concern 3: Second Class Citizens
53. The third key concern was locals fearing that they would be
turned into second-class citizens. Some 24% of those polled by
Straits Times felt that the government treated foreigners better
than Singaporeans. In the Forbes survey, 55.2% thought that PRs
have the same privileges as citizens, while a small minority (8.7%)
perceived that PRs have even more privileges than citizens.
54. Anecdotally, many felt that foreigners, including PRs, enjoyed
benefits without obligations like national service. Examples cited
included: foreigners not having to pay CPF which makes them
cheaper to employ, foreign talent enjoy housing allowances, JTCs
scheme providing housing for foreign talent, and subsidised
education and healthcare for PRs. Other than complaints about
inequity, locals also felt unhappy that many foreigners were no more
than birds of passage, who would not hesitate uprooting from
Singapore the moment things turned bad.
55. Some Singaporeans felt that foreigners were granted permanent
residency too easily and that PR status had all the privileges of
citizenship. There were suggestions that the criteria for granting
PR should be made more stringent and the PR should have certain
obligations to reflect commitment to Singapore. Some suggested that
foreigners who wished to continue working in Singapore for an
extended period of, say, more than 10 years, must decide to become
PRs and then citizens. Otherwise, they would enjoy the benefits of
working and staying in Singapore, without the corresponding duties
56. However, imposing such restrictive conditions works against our
broad strategic objective of attracting talent, which is an
extremely competitive business. In a globalised world, talent is
internationally mobile. To bring them here, Singapore must be made
as attractive as possible to work and live in. A better way is to
attract the foreign talent to cast his lot with Singapore and opt to
become a PR and perhaps later for his children to be citizens.
57. For Singaporeans, we believe that there are clear benefits of
citizenship which are not enjoyed by the foreign resident. We
discuss this later in the report.
How should the concerns be addressed?
58. Our committee felt that the concerns expressed are reflections
of Singaporeans desire to better our living standards. We want
better jobs, good opportunities and a country we can protect and
call our home. From the Focus Groups and public feedback, it is
clear that most Singaporeans agree with the need to attract and
recruit foreign talent for the future of Singapore. Equally clear is
that some Singaporeans are concerned that foreign talent will have a
competitive edge over them and take away the better job
opportunities. Since a protectionist reaction will only work against
ourselves, we should resist that temptation. Instead, a win-win
solution would be to respond by looking for ways to improve the
skills and competitiveness of our people - to provide opportunities
for Singaporeans to develop to our fullest potential.
59. We must not have a foreigners-them, locals-us attitude.
Foreign talent will supplement our strength as we work side by side
together for the development of our nation.
What does it mean to be a citizen?
60. As we listened to and discussed the concerns expressed during
our feedback sessions, one of the themes we repeatedly returned to
was the question of what it meant to be a citizen. To us,
citizenship is more than economics. Citizenship confers intangible
benefits, and it also requires commitment beyond mere economic
contribution. Above all, citizenship is about belonging to a place,
having a sense of ownership and calling it home. This is a right for
those born here, but a privilege we extend to others only when they
share our same hopes, values and vision for the future.
61. As Singaporeans, we live in a safe and secure city, where law
and order prevails, where we can raise a family without fear of
crime or discrimination. We enjoy a clean and green environment,
safe grounds in which our children play and social cohesion and
racial harmony. The Singapore passport also entitles us to the
invisible protection of the state, wherever in the world we may be,
at work or on holiday.
I feel secure whenever I travel because my citizenship engenders
full confidence that I will be helped should I face difficulties
when abroad. I was especially glad to be a Singaporean when I was
in Japan right after the Kobe earthquake as I was assured that I
would be guaranteed a seat on Singapore Airlines to return to
Singapore even if I did not have a single cent on me.
- Angie Monksfield, mother of two who decided to become a Singapore
citizen 10 years ago
62. Our sense of belonging comes from things uniquely Singaporean.
It is that special feeling when you hear a local accent or smell
familiar food when you are in a foreign country. It is that
familiar accent which reminds us of our sunny island in the
tropics. It is the pride we share when the Singapore flag is
planted on top of Mount Everest. It is our collective memories of
life in Singapore, from the generation of our forefathers, to the
future we hope for our children.
But what was it exactly which made me hang on so tenaciously to my
Singapore passport? Well, it is not something I can explain
easily. The closest way I know how is to say that it concerns deep
feelings of identity and belonging...if your country has been good
to you, if you have friends there going back a long way, even back
to primary-school days, and if you have fond memories of your
homeland, then renouncing your citizenship will be a nearly
impossible step to take I actually felt an affection for my little
red Singapore passport. The idea of holding any other passport,
was, well, alien to me.
- Ow Wei Mei column, The citizen who came home, Straits Times,
63. Citizenship is both a matter of pride and duty and nowhere is
this more clearly illustrated than the National Service issue. On
the perceived inequity of National Service, some pointed out that
Singaporean males were disadvantaged by losing 2 years of their
lives and also later, during their work years, when they were
regularly recalled for in-camp training. The committee has made some
recommendations in this area which will be detailed later in this
64. Singapore men will recall that it is immense trepidation he
first feels when called up to give two years of his life to the
country. But as he dons the camouflage green and goes through the
strenuous training, he begins to appreciate the importance of the
SAF to the defence and security of the country. Each and every
individual young soldier contributes to the well-being of the
nation. It is a crucial rite of passage for all Singaporean males,
which brings us together as one multi-racial nation. Parents also
gradually accept that National Service moulds the hearts and
character of our nations young men. While some Singaporeans feel
that there is disruption to their careers, especially when they are
called up for reservist training, there is broad recognition of the
importance of national service.
65. Perhaps there is no better way to express the pride we feel
about being Singaporean than the joy and jubilation at the annual
National Day Parade. It is a celebration of our nations birthday
and an affirmation of the good life we have as Singapore citizens.
It didnt bother me that Id spent so many years away from
Singapore. But, standing in the National Stadium, saluting that
gigantic flag flying overhead while listening to 60,000 voices belt
out the national anthem, deafened by the collective roar from the
sea of people around me. I knew then that was what Id lost by
being away: the remarkable unity and harmony of multiple races,
religions, and creeds that you find nowhere else in the world, only
- Su-lin Gan, University lecturer who recently returned after
spending 11 years away from Singapore, at her first National Day
66. Let us return to the question of how Singapore can and what we
should do to attracting talent. To our committee, everybody is
talented. In the words of the Chinese poet, Li Bai:
All of us are talent bestowed by heaven
and we must serve some useful purpose .
- Li Bai, poet, Tang Dynasty
67. International talent is internationally mobile. While Singapore
is attractive, improved job opportunities elsewhere has eroded our
competitiveness. We need to create opportunities in Singapore to
attract and retain top class talent. Top talent will not come to
Singapore unless we actively create conditions that are conducive
for them to flourish and develop. Affordable housing, flexibility
of education system, cost and quality of living are some areas that
can help make it attractive to foreigners intending to settle in
68. We need to actively target and seek out talent. Our vision is
to make Singapore a global city of opportunity for talent. This
involves having a pool of people who want to be here, because this
is the place to be. The pool of talent will be a natural magnet to
more talent. We want Singapore to be a gathering place not just for
international talent, but a place where our own people feel
comfortable and at home, where they have the capabilities and
confidence to participate fully in the life and prosperity of the
69. Attracting talent involves promoting Singapore to foreigners and
removing obstacles to the entry of talent. Regulatory mechanisms
can be loosened. Rules should be simplified and made clear. We
will also have to encourage greater openness in Singapore companies
and Singaporeans towards welcoming international talent.
Singaporeans must also be prepared to accept different life-styles
70. We should make available information to foreigners; not just
glossy tourist brochures but useful information about working and
living in Singapore can be prepared and disseminated. Relocating is
a family decision and we must consciously address the needs and
concerns of the family. We need to sell Singapores strengths, and
how we are a safe place to bring up families, and where foreign
talent can live without fear of discrimination.
Im so happy here. I can enjoy my own Asian culture with all the
Western comforts and education for my children and grandchildren The
perks are nothing compared to being accepted here and being able to
enjoy the Asian culture. There is stability without racism.
Naturally, I want to be a citizen of the country I call home.
- Neila Sathyalingam, South Indian classical dancer, Director of
Apsaras Arts, became a citizen in 1994. Neila left her homeland, Sri
Lanka, because of civil unrest.
71. Beyond attracting talent to Singapore, we also want to
selectively root some of them here. The granting of citizenship is a
very special and carefully scrutinised matter. It is not just a
matter of economics, but must also be balanced with matters of the
heart and societal concerns. Citizenship is given only when the
foreigner shows that he or she associates with our values and wants
to commit his or her destiny to Singapore. It is an act of
permanent commitment, to become part of Singapore society and rooted
to our community.
72. However, that sense of belonging cannot be assumed nor does it
happen naturally. We can do more to help foreigners understand
Singapore, our uniqueness, diversity, traditions and values.
Similarly, we should encourage locals to understand and make
newcomers feel welcomed. There are two interlocked processes
involved in the transition a foreign talent makes in becoming a
Singaporean. First, acculturation which involves foreigners fitting
into our society and feeling comfortable in it. There is mutual
accommodation by both the newcomer and society and, in the process,
there is a fruitful cross-fertilisation of ideas and culture.
Second, rootedness which is a deeper sense of belonging to
Singapore, of loyalty and commitment to the nation. Some specific
recommendations on how to achieve rootedness will be offered later
in the report. This will involve teaching and celebrating our
history and key moments in our national life, as well as the
transmission of core values. We must put in place enough support
mechanisms to promote both acculturation and rootedness.
73. While attracting and rooting foreign talent, we will also have
to root local talent to Singapore. Singaporeans must have a clear
sense of where we are in time and space. We need to develop a
strong ethos, built on a deep understanding of our history and a
broad knowledge of how we fit into the global village. Singaporeans
must also develop and retain a global mindset. This will not only
strengthen our sense of national identity but also enable us to
compete more ably in global markets.
74. To attain the kind of vibrant and dynamic society we envision
Singapore to be, we must help Singaporeans to excel and compete. The
best way is to bring Singapore and Singaporeans to global standards
is not to close the door as we cannot shut the world out. Instead,
we must face the challenges head-on.
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot
read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
- Alvin Toffler
Helping Singaporeans Excel and Compete
The L3 Fund
The Government has set up workers training programmes and
funds to help Singapore workers upgrade their skills, and enhance
their employability. For instance:
the $220 million Skills Redevelopment Programme (SRP) which is
accessible to workers through their companies
the NTUC Education & Training Fund (N-ETF) available to individual
union workers to help defray the cost of upgrading without having to
go through their companies;
the Skills Development Fund (SDF) which subsidises Singaporeans and
permanent residents training through their companies and self-help
organisations, which includes:
the $200 million Critical Enabling Skills Training (Crest)
programme which will help workers, their supervisors and managers
develop thinking and management skills.
75. These funds are geared toward supporting both hard and soft
skills training and cut across all sectors of our economy.
Together, they ensure that many of our workers are provided with
adequate training opportunities to re-skill. However, these training
programmes and funds are geared towards specific skills, which are
mainly relevant to the manufacturing and service industry.
76. We recommend that a Life-Long Learning (L3) Fund be created,
that is not restricted to specific industry skills, but available to
all adult Singapore Citizens for their life-long learning. This fund
can be used to acquire a useful employment skills or knowledge.
77. This is how we envisage the L3 Fund to be set up: Individual
working adult Singapore Citizens will receive a special dividend
from the Government whenever the economy does well. This dividend
will be kept in each persons L3 Fund which can only be spent on
approved educational and training courses, but cannot be encashed or
bequeathed. This dividend will be different from Shared Ownership
Top-Up Scheme (SOTUS) in that the L3 Fund can be used for
individuals to upgrade themselves.
Re-engineer Institutes and Schools of Learning
78. Institutes/Schools of Learning should be re-engineered to
support life-long learning. Currently, institutes are structured to
support one-time learning experiences, such as getting a diploma or
a certificate. The institutes should re-engineer their courses and
curricula to be:
Modular: Free standing modules of short duration can form part of a
larger structured programme. Individuals can complete modules at
their own pace, when they are relevant to their needs or interest.
Accessible: The modules or courses should be made accessible outside
office hours. Distance learning through the Internet could be
Affordable: The modules should be made affordable by lowering the
cost to the individual. Just as subsidies are given for one-time
learning courses like diplomas or degrees, we propose that the
Government provide some subsidies too for such life long learning
modular courses so that they would come within the reach of a larger
number of the population. Together with the L3 fund, this would
ensure that every working adult in Singapore who wishes to pursue
courses after his/her formal education, would have the opportunity
and the means.
Creditable: A credit system should be set up to give recognition and
certification after accumulation of sufficient credits.
Accreditation: The private sector should be involved: they have the
incentive to drive and market the courses to individuals. Private
courses allowable under the L3 fund should be properly accredited so
that they are recognised to be proper and useful courses.
Transfer of Skills
79. Business, trade, professional, social and cultural organisations
should make all efforts to recruit foreign talent to become members
or associates of their organisations. These organisations should
then actively facilitate the transfer of know-how and knowledge of
the foreign talent to the Singaporean members. This could be
achieved through activities that promote interactions and global
80. The Committee challenges local organisations to link up with
their international counterparts and aspire to have their members in
leadership positions in the international arena. Such positions will
help Singapore to have some influence on international organisations
and become a part of some decision-making body in setting global
standards. This would be like having a seat in key United Nations
bodies or the International Maritime Organisation.
81. Attaining such positions could also help open the windows of
opportunities for other Singaporeans, and help promote Singaporean
talent, companies, services and products internationally and upgrade
Singapores global standing. We already have some good examples: Dr
Noeleen Heyzer who is Executive Director of UN Development Fund for
Women (UNIFEM), Mr Ng Ser Miang who sits on the International
Olympic Council, Mr Liew Mun Leong who has served as president of
the International Standards Organisation (ISO), and Mr Abdul Halim
Kader who is Secretary-General of the International Sepak Takraw
Nurture Curiosity and Develop Critical Thinking
82. In the 21st century, Singapore must become more of a leader and
less of a follower in many fields and industry. Singaporeans must
correspondingly develop our creativity, critical thinking skills and
an entrepreneurial spirit to excel and compete. The Committee
commends the Ministry of Education for taking the lead in this area
in promoting the concept of Thinking Schools and Learning Nations.
We recommend that through the revised curricula and pedagogy,
schools nurture curiosity, encourage informed debates, and build up
an adventurous and risk taking spirit amongst the students.
(e) Promote global outlook both at work and schools
83. It is important that all Singaporeans develop a good sense of
our place in time and space. We need to develop a strong ethos,
built on a deep understanding of our history and a broad knowledge
of how we fit into global markets. This will not only strengthen our
sense of national identify, but enable us to participate more
effectively in global issues and compete more ably in global
markets. A global outlook should be promoted and encouraged in both
schools and workplace, through student exchanges, international
seminars and exchanges, overseas visits and establishment of
84. Bringing out the best in our people and for our country means
managing our talent and attracting new ones. This requires that we
create the best conditions in Singapore so that the local and
foreign talented will come to stay. To do this, we must increase the
85. We should adopt the following measures:
Have a clear message to sell Singapore. We could sell Singapore
as a centre of opportunity, as a place where things work and things
happen. Singapore can be seen as the bustling metropolis.
Boost our marketing efforts. More attention should be paid to the
marketing of Singapore Inc overseas. A central agency could be
identified to spearhead this effort. Efforts should be made to
correct wrong negative images of Singapore. Attention should also be
paid to the usefulness of information provided. For instance,
Singapore Tourism Board (STB) packages very good tourist brochures,
but these are not useful for a foreigner considering whether to work
in Singapore. More practical information about living and working
here should be made available through mediums like interactive web
sites. Such packaged information should include tips not just for
the foreign talent but also the family, as decisions to relocate are
made collectively. We could also make use of Changi Airport given
that 25 million passengers flow through annually and SIA to market
the opportunities available for foreign talent to work or invest in
Expand our facilitation services to new talent and their families.
Transitional help can be provided for foreign talent and their
families so that they can adapt to our local conditions. Programmes
could be organised to help them adapt to and assimilate with our
lifestyle, eg. Singapore history and culture. Packages should also
be created to sell Singapore as best home, and attract them to
sink roots here.
Application procedures and process should also be as transparent and
as simple as possible. Immigration should revert to applicants as
soon as possible and within a fixed and known timeframe so that
there is greater certainty.
Both business and government should be involved in promoting
Singapore to foreign talent.
We also need to change the mindset of Singaporeans towards foreign
talent to be more open to, accepting of, and welcoming talent. We
need to have a big heart and recognise that talent contribute to and
benefit our country. This effort would need to involve all levels of
society, from the individual to the family to the community to the
nation. As a start, our schools and universities could, through
immersion or exchange programmes, create greater global awareness.
They should also provide more opportunities for global exposure and
inculcate a global mindset amongst the younger Singaporeans. In
relation to this, the Committee fully endorses the concept of
Thinking Schools, Learning Nation envisaged by the Ministry of
A committee could be formed to help expatriate families integrate
into our society, such as provide assistance to settle down, find
places in local schools for their children. We should encourage
foreigners to mix socially with locals and involve them in cultural
exchange programmes and social services (eg. civil defence
exercises, blood donation drives). Residents Committee can also help
foreigners feel accepted in the community by including them in
Integrating and Managing Talent
86. The current system of controls is adequate to maintain the
quality of talent flows. However, regular reviews and transparency
in criteria used to admit foreign talent should be maintained.
87. In managing this policy of attracting talent, we also need to
address the following issues:
We need to address the issue of inequity concerning National
Service. Permanent residents should not be forced to become
citizens. However, second-generation PRs who avoid NS by giving up
their PR status, and subsequently return to live and work in
Singapore after completing their tertiary education should not be
allowed to circumvent our NS policy. Such loopholes should be
Companies who hire active NS men should be recognised for their
contributions towards national defence. Tax rebates equal to the
rank pay of NS men who are called up for active national service
could be offered to employers. Self-employed NS men should also
enjoy the same tax exemption.
We should strengthen the links with Singaporeans living abroad, keep
in contact and help them re-integrate into our society when they
return. This should be a broad strategy that involves all sectors of
society working together: public, private and people. A small
gesture would be setting aside a small number of NDP tickets for
returning Singaporeans so they can participate and revive their
sense of belonging to Singapore.
Managing local and foreign talent spans across a number of
government agencies and ministries. A central steering committee on
Managing Talent could be formed, to co-ordinate and direct our
strategies and actions. Our committee welcomes the governments
decision to form the Singapore Talent Recruitment (STAR) Committee,
headed by BG George Yeo.
88. Ultimately, it is not enough to tolerate foreigners because
they are of use to Singapore. We must welcome them, make them feel
at home and that they belong here. To be welcoming to foreigners
requires an open mind and a big heart. We need to remind ourselves
that almost all Singaporeans are either immigrants or descendants of
immigrants. Shutting ourselves off will make Singapore very insular
indeed. Singapore must retain an open and hospitable attitude. The
challenge is to build an inclusive Singapore, where citizens feel at
home and a part of the nation, and confident in welcoming foreign
residents to be a part of our society, to live with us, to benefit
from our society, and also contribute to our continued growth and
But we must not discriminate against foreigners because they are
foreigners. If Singapore is reserved for Singaporeans alone, we
would have a very small Singapore.
- BG George Yeo, Minister for Information and the Arts, Launch of
Contact Singapore in Sydney, July 1997
89. We return to the vision we painted at the beginning of this
report. At the dawn of the 21st century, we want to make Singapore
a centre of opportunity, like the boundless sea, receiving, enriched
and enlarged by the ideas and contributions from surrounding brooks.
We must keep our minds open and our hearts big. We will be a
society where everyone matters, a society where everyone is valued
and rewarded for his or her contributions. We should be a society
where everyone is recognised for his or her ability, and which helps
individuals realise their full potential.
In the end, it comes down to people, both locals and the non-locals
who have decided to call Singapore home, building the kind of
society we want our children to inherit.
Tong Chee Kiong, University lecturer
The success or failure of our efforts will be decided by each
Singaporeans willingness to take responsibility, for the future we
want to create. The feeling of being Singaporean comes from being
able to make choices about the kind of community we want to live
- Melissa Aratani Kwee, Co-director for Project Access
90. Citizenship is about commitment and commitment is based on
participation. There can be no citizenship without participation
from everyone. From a fishing village to modern city, Singapores
prosperity has been founded upon talent and their commitment to this
country. Many of our forefathers were foreign talent who came to
Singapore. Braving storms, they sailed down the Southern Seas to
Temasek looking for a better life. They worked to build a better
Singapore. While some went back, others chose to call Singapore
home. But, whatever they chose, they came to Singapore because it
offered them something in exchange for their skills, hard work and
talent. Singapore prospered because they came and contributed.
91. For Singapore to remain competitive and prosperous, we must be
like the sea , receiving a continual flow of talent. We also need
to develop and maximise the talents and abilities of all
Singaporeans. No vision of Singapore can be sustained unless we can
keep and develop our local talent. There is no contradiction between
attracting foreign talent and nurturing local talent. They are not
two horns locked forever in battle but two wings that will propel a
thriving Singapore. Foreign talent is not them and locals us.
Instead, we are the same team competing together against the
world. Everyone matters to Singapores success.
For the want of a nail,
A shoe was lost.
For the want of a shoe,
A horse was lost.
For the want of a horse,
A soldier was lost.
For the want of a soldier,
A war was lost.
For the want of a war,
A kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horse shoe nail.
92. This report attempts to capture some of the key concerns and
recommendations that emerged from our committees meetings,
deliberations with the public and the broad consensus which
eventually emerged. Our views are by no means comprehensive;
neither do we claim that our recommendations are the only right
ones. But we have put them forth in the belief that these are
aspects of the society we want to create and the dream we have. Our
forefathers too came to Singapore with their dreams. They came,
stayed and were transformed into Singaporeans.
93. This is our unfolding Singapore story, a global centre of
opportunity. Lets join our hands to realise our vision for
. . . . .