There have been many comments bandied about recently online regarding the make-up of Singapore. Phrases like “true-blue Singaporean” and ”born-and-bred Singaporean” are used without really knowing if they mean the same thing to everyone using them. Even we at BLUTA have been guilty of it. So we decided to sit down and really distill our thoughts on this subject.

As we pondered the various possibilities, we realised that what we’re defining is really the Singaporean “core” that keeps popping up, first in the Population White Paper, then in the many commentator articles and finally in the speeches of politicians. One concept also kept appearing. That the values of a “core” Singaporean do not actually follow the divide between local-born and foreign-born residents.

While it is natural to assume that all local born-and-bred Singaporeans are automatically part of the “core” group, there are examples that prove otherwise. Those that refuse to return for national service, for example. At the other end of the spectrum, we have foreigners who, ostensibly, could never be part of the “core” group. Yet they have spent many years of their youth here, bringing up their Singaporean children or fully participating in Singapore life.

After some debate and discussion, we’ve distilled the values that we think the ”core” group should have.

  • Shared experience. Whether growing up in public housing, serving national service, local education, or just taking public transport, a shared experience of life in Singapore brings commonality of experience and understanding.
  • Integration effort. Those who are born-and-bred here have probably started this since young, but putting effort into living here and adapting to the culture here is a key value of the “core” group.
  • Sincere participation. Participating in activities and social life here, with a sincere heart, means that the person really wants to belong here. It is not necessary (nor possible) to always agree with all Singaporeans, but sincerely reaching out for participation and engagement is a good way to find kindred spirits.
  • Identify with Singapore. All of the three above should lead to identifying and embracing what it means to be living in Singapore. A person who identifies with the Singaporean way of life, and embraces it, will cherish and want to protect it.

 

These then are what we think everyone in the “core” group of Singaporeans should possess. Notice that none of them mention economic contributions. The problem with emphasising economic factors as “contribution” to the growth of Singapore is the skewed thinking it engenders. How many times have we heard foreigners claim that by coming here to do work, they are “contributing” to Singapore, and thus deserve many perks, such as owning public housing? We don’t believe that they came out of the goodness of their hearts in order to contribute to Singapore; they came because the pay was good! Do you think they would have accepted the job here if it wasn’t worth the renumeration?

Singapore skyline, BLUTA,

Unfortunately, it seems like purely economic factors are used to consider whether a foreigner is worthy or not of becoming a Permanent Resident (PR), and then subsequently a citizen. While this shouldn’t be the case, we need to address the most contentious group, PRs, and the privileges afforded to them as soon as possible.

In our earlier article, we have stated before that we believe PRs should not be allowed to buy public property in the form of Housing Development Board (HDB) flats. But as we stated above, there actually may be some, both PRs and foreigners, who do deserve a thorough evaluation to determine if they should be accorded privileges.

It is heartening to note that some in parliament also recognise this issue. Member of Parliament and deputy party whip Inderjit Singh actually spoke in response to the Population White Paper, but his comments regarding public housing specifically, are especially relevant for us at BLUTA.

Our original proposal that PRs not be allowed to buy HDB property was part of a holistic plan for Singapore housing (BLUTA on Housing – Part One, Two and Three). We accept that, in the short term, this may not be feasible before we are able to determine who should form the “core” group of Singaporeans. As such, the suggestions by MP Singh are a welcome step in the right direction for dealing with the PR issue.

His suggestion was to impose a levy – he gave a rough figure of $50,000 – when a PR family buys a HDB flat on the open market. Not only that, they should only be allowed to sell that flat back to a Singaporean citizen. If within five years, the PR takes up Singapore citizenship, his levy can be refunded.

The objective of this would be to prevent PRs from exerting upward pressure on prices of HDB flats, as well as to create more differentiation between PRs and citizens. This differentiation would serve to attract quality PRs by highlighting the privileges of citizenship, while at the same time weeding out those that are just “here for a ride”.

We applaud his reasoning and objectives, especially when it involves stabilising property prices in Singapore. We would like to add our voice – however small – to his, and have come up with a few more alternatives that drive the objectives he articulated.

Suggestion 1
Mandate an “integration period” of say, five years residing in Singapore, before a PR can buy HDB flats. After which, they will still have the present five-year Minimum Occupation Period, meaning that they can only sell the flat ten years (at minimum) after they are granted PR status. This will effectively rule out those here to make a quick buck on Singapore property speculation. Moreover, only those who are sincere about trying to live in Singapore will be eligible for public housing.

Suggestion 1A
Requirements in Suggestion 1 can be made more stringent to further identify the ones who are really commited to Singapore. During both the  ”integration period” and HDB’s Minimum Occupation Period, these PRs must be residing in Singapore together with the family nucleus declared when buying the HDB Flat. If they do not, they will not be allowed to buy HDB flats, or can only sell their flats back to HDB, whichever the case may be.

Suggestion 2
Only allow PRs to buy directly from HDB, with a levy or extra fee imposed. This fee is recoverable upon accepting Singaporean citizenship, just as with MP Singh’s suggestion. If the PR sells the HDB property, he can only sell to a Singaporean citizen. This assumes that the Build-To-Order (BTO) scheme is effectively nullified and surplus flats are always available via Sale of Balance Flats (SBF).

We lack the numbers to say for sure which of these methods would serve best, but we think that at least one, or a combination of them, will be able to suit our nation. We hope that, for PRs at least, it will improve the quality of potential candidates to become “core” Singaporeans, whether or not we end up with the “worst case scenario” of a 6.9 million population in 2030.

Do you have other suggestions or comments? Let us know in the section below, or via our social media channels, FacebookTwitter, and Google+. Check out our other articles on property at BLUTA-log.

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