Friday, January 19, 2007

Of late we've seen a movement calling for "S'poreans first" in our public institutions. Due to the perception that S'poreans are slowly being outnumbered by a 'foreign talent' pool that is growing so fast that it's doing our homegrown stock out of house and home, job and country; suddenly and unsurprisingly, S'poreans are pushing themselves to the front again with their "me first" mentality.

So far, the issue of healthcare subsidies has fallen to the will of the people, and in today's ST (online) there's a call for a similar policy for post-grad courses at our local unis.

This idea of "S'poreans first" is distasteful and somewhat meaningless. Though I stand to gain from it as a S'porean myself, I believe our desire to draw a boundary between "local" and "foreign" is going to bite us in the butt in the long-term.

It's hypocritical of us on the one hand to say that we S'poreans have the right to be first because we were here first, and on the other be so critical of Malaysia and it's Bumiputera privileges, which derives from the same basic reasoning. We slam Pauline Hanson's race politics, but we don't recognize that we're pushing for the same thing here on nationalistic grounds. And for the record, the Malays were here first. We non-Malays are practically 'foreign talent' ourselves, give or take a couple of generations.

Our desire to segregate will be our downfall because that will be the killer blow to the goose that lays our golden eggs. S'pore's success has little to do with our smarts, or our training, or our meticulous attention to detail, or in the long-sighted planning and forecasting by the pilots of RSS Singapura. All this activity can only diversify and even out our risk factors, nothing more.

Our success has everything to do with our diplomatic skills, our ability to make friends with pretty much everyone, or at least make friends with the right people on the global stage. We see where potential conflicts lie and we have so far been quite good at working out win-win scenarios for our working partners who have, as a result, been more than happy to pitch their lot in with us and help us grow (or else leave us alone, unmolested). Our open hand and firm handshake are ultimately our strongest assets, far above anything else we can offer.

Now that we're beginning to look at people with the view of distinguishing between "us" and "them", we're closing the valve of the main artery that keeps the heart of our country pumping. The free flow of people has been our lifeblood from our beginnings as a centre of entrepot trade. We grew because everyone from east to west met and mingled here. The currency of both money and ideas were easily exchanged without inhibition, and whether it flowed into or out of our country, we were enriched nonetheless by the exchanges themselves. No one else could top us then in creating a market for such free trade, and for the moment we still have few close rivals in this respect; but with this upsurge of "S'poreans first" our free market isn't looking so free anymore. We'll lose our only edge if we don't regain our senses quickly.

S'pore, being a migrant community (yes, it is, so stop pretending otherwise), is always going to be a competitive place to call home. So what do we have to do as individuals to survive? Like it or not, we play the game. And we always welcome our new teammates, even if they are just playing as subs. Fresh legs are good for our game, and they're on our side.

BTW, please go get your post-grad education in a different city from your undergrad. Tertiary education in a foreign country opens your eyes and broadens your mind to see a world much bigger than your fishbowl, won't you agree, Mr Leong?

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