Saturday 15 December 2012

What Singaporeans are talking about in 2012

Foreigner issues garner most feedback this year
by Lin Yanqin and Louisa Tang, TODAY, 14 Dec 2012

With a string of bad behaviour by foreigners grabbing the headlines this year - such as insulting comments by foreign scholar Sun Xu and the antics of ex-ASEAN scholar Alvin Tan - and drawing the ire of Singaporeans, the volume of feedback received on foreigner issues spiked significantly this year, with some calling for stricter immigration policy.

According to Government feedback channel REACH, some 7,300 feedback submissions were received between January and November - making it the most-talked about topic. In comparison, last year's top topic - transport - only garnered 4,400 submissions and foreigner issues did not even make the top three.

The second most popular topic between January and November this year was population and immigration. The topic gathered just over half as much feedback at 3,900 submissions, and was also underpinned by concerns about the influx of foreigners. Transport came in third this year with 3,400 submissions.

Those who expressed unhappiness with foreigners blamed them for crowding out public infrastructure, eroding social norms and values, and marginalising Singaporeans in school placements and the job market.

In a press release, REACH cited the bad press about Mr Sun and Mr Tan, as well as the fatal Ferrari crash involving Chinese driver Ma Chi, which set off "heated views" towards foreigners.

Institute of Policy Studies sociologist Tan Ern Ser said that negative sentiment towards foreigners has always been around and was heightened around the General Election last year.

"Every occasion exemplifying bad behaviour or perceived unfairness involving (foreigners) would be used to support their position," Dr Tan said. "In my view, Singapore society is not any more intolerant than before, but the competition for jobs, space, and amenities can bring out the worst in some Singaporeans. We see this happening on our roads every day, and the triggers may not even involve foreigners."

This will make it harder for policymakers to "secure a broad consensus" on issues, he said, adding that policymakers will need to find "optimal balance to soften the impact" of foreigners moving here to live or work or both.

The discussion over population and immigration - which ranked third last year - continued to centre around issues of low fertility rate and putting "Singaporeans First", with contributors citing the high cost of living, lack of work-life balance, and job insecurity due to competition from foreigners as the key obstacles to marriage and parenthood, said REACH.

"Many conveyed that they are not looking for short-term incentives but more holistic, long-term solutions to reverse the declining birth rate," said REACH. It added that the issues gained traction with the release of papers issued by the National Population and Talent Division on marriage and parenthood and population in April and July.

Housing, which was the second-hottest topic last year, fell to fifth place this year with 1,700 submissions.

REACH Chairman Amy Khor, who is also Minister of State (Health and Manpower), said concerns over housing has "somewhat abated".

"But I think concerns about the affordability of housing still remains. Basically, some of these concerns will take time to allay because some of these policies will take time for its effect to be felt in the market," she said.

Noting that the foreigner issue cut across other issues including transport and housing, Dr Khor said that the effects of policies implemented to address these concerns - such as tightening of foreign labour quotas and transport infrastructure improvements - take time to be felt.

Elsewhere, REACH noted that with regards to transport, the spectre of public transport fare increases "has not sat well" with the public.

Since the issue of increasing bus drivers' pay emerged on Dec 6 after the illegal strike by SMRT bus drivers last month, REACH has received 140 submissions on the topic as of Dec 11.

"While many acknowledge the need to improve bus drivers' pay, they urge (public transport operators) to consider alternative options such as implementing cost cutting measures and tapping into existing reserves, noting that raising fares should be the last resort," REACH said.

Overall, REACH received 64,000 feedback submissions, up 42 per cent from last year.

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