It’s been over a month, so you may not remember the challenge laid down during a Parliamentary debate by Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam.
Shanmugam directly addressed Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), during a debate where the racist attack on a Singaporean woman was raised.
He challenged Leong to debate the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between Singapore and India. Leong accepted.
On June 22, Leong revealed PSP’s plans for the upcoming debate in a Facebook post.
PSP to seek more information from government
PSP will first “seek further information” from the government at the next Parliament sitting, scheduled for July. Leong said:
“Subsequently, the PSP will decide on a suitable time to file a motion. It will be then up to the Speaker’s discretion to confirm the date of the debate.
Once confirmed, the PSP hopes that all Singaporeans will join us to listen and participate in the discussion on Singapore’s foreign PMET policy and our economic future.”
Leong criticised government’s economic policies
In his post, Leong also criticised the government’s policies, including a “heavy indirect tax burden” which he claimed resulted in “widespread social inequalities”.
He said PSP maintained that if Singaporeans and SMEs had been in a better financial position when Covid-19 struck, financial and personal hardships right now would be more manageable. He added:
“The most important economic policies that have affected the jobs and livelihoods of Singaporeans relate to Foreign PMETs and Free Trade Agreements, in particular the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with India.”
Leong commented on the ratio of foreign PMETs and Permanent Residents, and said that the PSP feels it is long past time to “rebalance the interests of the Singaporeans” with regard to foreign work pass holders.
Leong also said that “obtaining prompt and complete information” can help promote transparency and eliminate prejudice. However, he did not specify exactly what information he intends to ask about.
“We are confident that Singaporeans will benefit from the disclosure of more information from the Government during the parliamentary debate and call on the Government to engage in the debate with grace, openness, transparency and trust that we all have Singapore’s interests at heart.”
Shanmugam brought up CECA
During the previous debate on May 11, Shanmugam said that racist attacks need to be condemned, and claimed there were groups who deliberately stoked such fears, encouraging racism and xenophobia over foreigners “taking the jobs” of Singaporeans.
Shanmugam then referred to CECA, which has been frequently used as a shorthand for Indian nationals on certain online forums:
“There have been several canards about CECA, promoted by a whispering campaign. If anyone here believes that CECA is a problem, put it up for a motion, debate it openly, and let’s hear whether Singaporeans benefit or lose from it.
I’m looking at you Mr. Leong. I invite you to put up a motion to debate CECA. You know that most of what is said about CECA is false.”
PSP has mentioned CECA before in the context of reviewing free trade agreements to reduce Singapore’s dependence on foreign labour. It was mentioned during the launch of their manifesto in the GE2020 campaign.
Shanmugam then added that the government was aware of racist sentiments reaching the ground, and said there was a danger of such sentiments being normalised.
He then alleged, “I hope responsible opposition parties will take a stand on this. Notwithstanding that many of these sites that promote xenophobia support you.”
Leong Mun Wai accepted, states PSP are not xenophobic
In response to Shanmugam, Leong said that the party and himself were not xenophobic.
“We are just stating the economic effect of some of these free trade agreements have had on our economy, the feedback we get from many suffering Singaporeans. We still need to know the situation better, but we are definitely not xenophobic and definitely, racism has no place in our overall thinking.”
Stressing that he was speaking about the economy and livelihoods, he said that he accepted the challenged posed by Shanmugam.
PSP’s Central Executive Committee subsequently issued a statement on May 12 which slammed the recent racist attacks against Indians as unacceptable and deplorable. It said:
“PSP is steadfast in promoting racial harmony and equality which is enshrined in our core values and beliefs.
PSP is categorically against racism and does not stoke or incite racism to gain political mileage and advantage. The recent cases of hate crime and violence against Indians are unacceptable and deplorable.
We appeal to the good sense of all Singaporeans to stay calm and united during this period of crises.”
Top image from CNA video.