It’s official – the Singapore govt is trying to create a clearer distinction between Singapore citizens and PRs. Recently it has punched where it hurts most: money and the cost of living. Education fees for PRs and foreigners will rise, while healthcare subsidies will be rolled back. There’s also talk of a “HDB PR quota”, to ensure there isn’t a PR enclave in the island i.e. Woodlands becoming Little Malaysia or Jurong West turning into a second Chinatown. The important question to ask is “Why now?”.
The key difference between a citizen and a PR is that of political and economic rights. A citizen has the right to vote in elections, purchase properties with few restrictions (e.g. only citizens can buy flats direct from the HDB), and enjoy access to social services as entitled. Since Singapore is a developed country, access to basic needs is not an issue, so PRs actually can easily access housing, healthcare and education here, albeit at slightly higher costs.
This is pretty much the ‘official’ distinction. As PRs don’t possess political rights, they are not equal in status to citizens, so logically speaking, citizens still shape Singapore’s future. Ah, then here comes the funny part. Singapore citizens have political rights i.e. they can exercise their right to vote, kick out the incumbent govt during elections etc, but half of our population has NEVER voted. Not because Singapore is a Myanmaresque state, but because the ruling party simply won elections in some constituencies by walkovers. Throw in a few more restrictions like an illegal assembly consists of 5 or more members, ban this ban that, go protest must apply permit, and we’ve a situation where citizens have their political rights on paper, but they are unable to exercise them to the maximum.
So where’s the diff between a citizen a PR? To complicate matters, PRs are seen as competing directly against citizens for resources like jobs, school places or husbands. The Singapore govt also seems to be liberal in granting PR status to foreigners, and the step from PR to citizen seems to be too fast, especially those who live, what, just a couple of years here? Furthermore, not all foreigners who become PRs and PRs who become citizens seem to be of use here, as the govt has claimed. Construction foreman becoming PR then taking up citizenship? Service staff who speak poor English, or don’t even speak it at all?
All these frustration has been noted by the govt, I guess. Hence cutting the benefits of PRs will somehow appease some citizens. But as I mention, citizens have political rights on paper only. Allowing them to exercise those rights fully will create a better distinction, and a greater sense of what being a Singaporean means.
Personally, I think this kind of stuff can never be solved. We’ve to balance between the identity of citizens and the vision of S’pore as a global city. While we citizens welcome foreigners to live, play and work here, we don’t want them to compete with us, and challenge our identity. At the same time, these foreigners see Singapore in a few ways – a stepping stone, an ideal home or just a port of call. How are we going to reconcile the emotional with the practical?
Thinking hard, I’ve friends who are PRs – if Singapore doesn’t have an open immigration policy (actually, it is TOO open), I wouldn’t have met them. They compete with citizens for school places, jobs and women/men – perhaps better than us. Ooh, I randomly remember, I’ve a PR friend whose mom works in fengshui – foreign talent? And this PR friend is a recipient of a govt scholarship, has studied in the best govt schools etc. Everything provided for by the govt, so it’s good to see her contributing back to society. So this is my point – there are black sheep, there are diamonds clothed in coarse clothings, there are always Angry/Bitter/Jealous Citizens – this kinda us vs. them problem cannot be resolved.
And so I bury myself in my hole, none of my business…