Monday, January 4, 2010

Is multiracialism also just an aspiration?

Seelan Palay, for The Online Citizen

Is multiracialism, like our national pledge, just another highfalutin ideal?

Multiracialism is the cornerstone of independent Singapore that became a sovereign state in 1965, breaking away from the federation of Malaysia. It was open racial discrimination in the polity of Malaysia that peeved the leaders of Singapore to champion the cause of multiracialism in Malaysia.

Singapore leaders, led by the then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, justifiably opposed discriminatory practices based on one’s ethnic background, leading to Singapore’s independence within less than 2 years of being part of Malaysia.

On the fateful day of 9th August 1965, Lee Kuan Yew proclaimed to the world that Singapore would be an independent nation which will neither be “a Chinese Singapore, a Malay Singapore, nor an Indian Singapore”, alluding to the 3 major races living harmoniously in the former British colony.

But is Singapore’s aim to achieve a multiracial society just a pipe dream? As the National Pledge is now being described by none other than Lee Kuan Yew himself as just an “aspiration”, apprehension has been expressed, rightfully so, on whether the multiracial concept is also another “aspiration”, and not something that we should conciously aim for.

Reality on the Ground

I say this because of what is happening on the ground, especially in the service industry. Not long ago, the Sunday Times ran a story of China nationals working as restaurant assistants in Serangoon Road. It was reported that one of them had been working there for close to 2 years on a work permit. The person featured in the article (below) had also said that he had to work for 10 hours a day for a salary of $1000.

Following this startling newspaper report I went to Serangoon Road and was able to speak to one of the restaurant owners who said he could not get India nationals on work permit to do the same job. The Manpower Ministry, after a couple of unsuccessful applications to bring in India nationals, had told this owner verbally that if he were to apply for China nationals his request would be granted immediately. Why only verbal explanation? Why not put it down in black and whilte?

As far as the policy of the Ministry is concerned, there is no discrimination along racial lines when it comes to the issuance of work permits. The MOM policy is country specific and not race specific – at least that is what the government says. However, it looks like there is an unwritten policy not made known to the public. It has come to my attention that not only restaurants, but also other sectors such as departmental stores and freight forwarding agencies have been affected by this obscure policy that goes against the grain of multiracialism.

Why must it only be China nationals or Chinese ethnicity? What happened to the foreign talent policy of allowing people to work in Singapore based on one’s ability alone? Is foreign talent just a myth, a disguised form of racism which Lee Kuan Yew vehemently opposed when Singapore was in Malaysia? Are Mr Lee’s multiracial, multireligious and multilingual concepts also figments of his imagination?

Mandarin for all?

Yes, it looks like it, especially when one recollects what Mr Lee Sr had said in March this year: “In two generation, Mandarin will become our mother tongue,” And taking the cue from the Mentor Minister a government official said that Mandarin will become Singapore’s predominant common language. Singaporeans are being encouraged to speak fluent Mandarin, said the civil servant.

A major shift indeed from preivious position that Mandarin would only be promoted among Chinese Singaporeans.

This tacit policy is beginning to be noticed clearly in everyday life. It cannot be hidden that the recent Singapore contingent to SEA Games was mainly composed of China nationals. In certain sports, the “new citizens” even dominated totally, leading some of us to wonder since when China became part of Southeast Asia?

Besides, the PAP’s deliberate manipulation of the country’s demographics through the unpopular “dumping” of aliens, is causing great stress and despondency among average Singaporeans.

Insidious Foreign Talent Policy

Critics of the government’s foreign talent policy have rightly condemned it as yet another move to depress the wages of our workers and turn them into cannon-fodder for foreign multi-national corporations (MNCs) looking for cheap labour. This naked exploitation of our workers, who form the vast majority of our people, not only continued but intensified even during the time of Singapore’s economic meltdown, resulting in the projected contraction of the economy to minus ten percent for 2009. When daily hardships are the order of the day for our desperate workers, the government, unmindful of their plight, allows the influx of aliens in the name of its foreign talent policy.

It is obvious that the so-called foreign talent policy is a euphemism for something insidious that is best known only to the PAP top echelon. Like everything else, PAP says one thing in public, and does something else on the quiet.

This deceitful foreign talent policy of the government would definitely lead to alienation of a sizeable section of our people from being loyal to the country that is Singapore. Patriotism and love for the nation are under great strain.

As what Lee Kuan Yew of yesteryear said in 1965, let’s work towards a Singaporean Singapore. Not a divisive nation pulling along different directions based on ruinous tendencies of ethnicity, religion and language.

Seelan Palay is an artist and activist whose blog can be read at


Robox said...

Great piece of investigative journalism, Seelan; it re-affirms the value of having a healthy mistrust of the PAP-controlled media.

There is always something sinister lurking below the surface of any article on 'sensitive' issues like race, religion, or Singapore politics in the PAP-controlled media - the reason such issues are deemed 'sensitive' in the first place is that the media is involved in cooperating with the PAP government to cover up some misdemennour or other. (I say this from personal experience.)

I will likely be following this matter up with the relevant government agency, but only if you have no objections.

Seelan Palay said...

Sure, Robox, I'd suggest you or someone else write to the Ministry of Manpower for a clarification.

Angry Parents said...

I am pissed today not sure if this is related to the Malaysian Education system or somebody is under instruction to be funny on multiracialism.

Back to school today for my (Grace Ho Hwee Ling)) daughter’s Darjah 5 in the same school she had studied since the past 4 years, I had a rude shock when her teacher’s recorded her name as Grace A/P Hweeling!!!!!!! My family name Ho is gone and missing and the teacher says she simplified it with A/P. A/P mean anak perempuan. While Ho has 2 characters, A/P are 3 characters so her reasoning she simplified it is not valid. Yes, her name tag for the school uniform did print Grace Ho, and she is very famous being the only 2 Chinese girls in SK Darjah 5 of about 110 pupils. Famous too being a Pengawas & me being an Ahli Jawatan Kuasa in the Persatuan Ibu Bapa dan Guru where I attended the monthly meetings with the entire Guru.

After paying for all the fees, the receipt was hand written Grace Hweeling. I am like !!!!#$%^&#$%^&!! school
We do know the Indians uses A/P; the Muslim uses Binti; but the Chinese family name can never be Grace, right?

Just about 2 months ago, a School Certification of participation was given as “Grace Ho A/P Patrick Ho”. Was I hopping mad? This certificate would be useless being not the same as in the birth certificate or in the school’s register.

Previously I wrote about a nurse in a Government Hospital calling out Ho Hwee repeatedly while we were standing just about 5 feet away. Took us a few seconds to scan our heads around if that is some one else’s name. Besides we used to call her Grace. After several shouts calling out Ho Hwee, we finally responded and was met with a scolding for not responding fast. In the first place no chinese called their child’s family name and middle name like Ho Hwee, right?