27 August, 2006

Make love, not work

Singapore: Make love, not work

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has warned Singaporeans that they will either have to produce more babies or welcome more migrants if the country is going to sustain economic growth and living standards.

Lee, during his recent National Day speech, estimated that at current birth rates Singapore will need an additional 14,000 babies each year to ensure that the population is large enough to sustain the economy.

A slew of policies introduced two years ago to boost birth rates, such as longer maternity leave and infant-care subsidies, have so far had no visible effects, with the affluent city-state's fertility rate last year recording an all-time low of 1.24 per female.

The alternative, according to Lee, is for Singapore to open its doors to permanent immigrants. Last year's General Household Survey shows that new permanent residents have risen by 8.7% to 30,000 per year between 2000 and 2005. During the same period, the number of citizen births rose by a mere 0.9%, or an average of 28,000 births per year.

"If we want our economy to grow, if we want to be strong internationally, then we need a growing population," argued Lee.

A growing number of Asian professionals, especially from mainland China, India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Hong Kong, have recently uprooted themselves from their home countries to take up employment in Singapore. Yet while many immigrants have taken up permanent-residency status, few go on to become Singaporean citizens.

Kwan Chee Wei, a regional human-resource consultant for a multinational company, argues that many professionals go to Singapore hoping to advance their careers or for the upscale lifestyle, but are not interested in changing their citizenship.

That said, an increasing number of Indian and Chinese nationals have recently taken up Singaporean citizenship, creating a measure of resentment among the local ethnic Chinese and Indian populations, who see the new immigrants as competition for jobs.

Lee has tried to defuse those tensions, contending that many Asian migrants have actually created jobs for other Singaporeans through their entrepreneurship. "If you get the right foreigner here, he creates thousands of jobs for Singaporeans," he said.

He also noted that developed countries, including the United States, Canada and Australia, frequently headhunt and hire Singaporean talent, often offering scholarships and high-paying jobs to lure them away from Singapore.

"Countries know, people know Singapore. They no longer think Singapore is somewhere in China. But they don't know Singapore is out there looking for talent," said Lee. "We have to promote our immigration program overseas."

Since Lee's speech, letters to the editorial pages of newspapers in Singapore have been flooded with comments - or more precisely xenophobic complaints - about the apparent new policy toward immigrants. One letter writer, Lim Boon Hee, said, "Be open to foreign talent, but do not forsake our own. One more clever foreign talent means one place less for our local-born sons in institutions of higher learning."

Another writer, Jimmy Ho Kwok, suspects that employers will welcome foreign degree-holders from such countries as India and China so they can pay them less than the threshold salaries offered to local graduates and diploma-holders.

Unionist G Muthukumar points to information-technology professionals from India and sales assistants from the Philippines and Myanmar as examples of employers paying foreigners less than they would pay local hires. On the other hand, Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen referred to how foreign technicians helped to set up Singapore's aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul industry quickly - while it took Singapore six years just to set up the training courses to develop local technicians for the industry.

The debate has since turned focus to the politically volatile issue of the rising cost of living and its impact on raising a family. "Welcoming migrants to our shores is not the solution to our declining birth rates," argued Zeena Amir, a single sales executive in her late 20s. "What would be more beneficial to Singaporeans and also make more sense in the long term is to work on controlling the increasing cost of living."

Singapore has arguably become a victim of its own success. Over the past two decades, the island nation has produced a large number of highly educated young women, many of whom now have high-powered jobs and find child-rearing not only an economic burden but a liability to their career development.

"Children are no longer an asset but a liability," argued young lawyer Shirley Tan. "Child care and education are so expensive, and I can't afford to stay at home to look after them."

As this ambitious nation of 4 million people tries to build further on its economic successes, the debate on whether Singaporeans should have more babies or more migrants seems set to intensify.
"Some view foreigners as competition to their livelihoods," noted ruling-party parliamentarian Alvin Chan. "We will have to explain to them that this is not really the case." (Asia Times)

OK, let us do it ! A man has to do what a man has to do.


MCA Pledges Support For Umno, Says Does Not Fish In Troubled Waters

The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) pledged its support for Umno as the primary stabiliser of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and government, saying it upheld camaraderie and will not fish in troubled waters.

MCA President Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting, in an apparent response to Umno Youth deputy head Khairy Jamaluddin's recent remark that non-Malay political parties would take advantage of Umno if the party was split, said the MCA and the Chinese community upheld the principle of not turning their backs on a friend who was faced with challenges.

"The MCA and the Chinese community realise that Umno, which represents the Malays, is the primary stabiliser of the BN and government. We stand by together and provide support," he said in his policy speech at the MCA annual general assembly, here.

The assembly was opened by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is BN chairman and Umno president. Also present at the opening ceremony was Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and leaders of the other BN component parties.

Ong, who is Housing and Local Government Minister, dismissed allegations that the MCA or the Chinese community would take advantage at a time when a friend was faced with challenges.

"MCA, as the political representative of the Chinese community, would want to see a stable and strong Umno, and we hope that the Umno president as well as BN chairman and prime minister will get the undivided support of all component parties as well as their members," he said.

Ong said the MCA gave its undivided support to Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as the prime minister and BN chairman to enable him lead an effective government and bring rapid progress to the country.

The MCA president said the history of the relationship between Umno and MCA showed that the MCA had never taken advantage of or troubled Umno when the party was faced with challenges from within or without.

"When Umno was outlawed in 1988, MCA ensured that Umno was brought back to the BN and resumed leadership of the coalition.

"When Umno was up against the reformation campaign of (former deputy prime minister) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim during the series of demonstrations when the country was still grappling with the effects of the economic crisis between September 1998 and 1999, the MCA continued with its support for the Umno leadership," he said.

Turning to other matters, Ong requested the government to provide more financing to assist in the development of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

He said many Chinese entrepreneurs had been in business for generations but now faced difficulty in obtaining loans, either from the SME Bank or other government funds.

Ong said: "We are only seeking reasonable and just opportunities for the Chinese community to participate in national development. Many Chinese SME entrepreneurs had contributed much to economic growth and require help very much.

"In the past, they were accommodated by small banks such as Ban Hin Lee Bank, Hock Hwa Bank and Kwong Yik Bank because these small banks understood and were sensitive to the potential of their business. Now, these small banks have merged into big banks which have different policies, priorities and outlook.

"The Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Malaysia, and many SME entrepreneurs hope that the government will consider establishing a special boutique bank to offer loans to SMEs as an additional source of financing."



Hisham: Jangan guna media, Khairy

Ketua Pemuda Umno Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein mahu naib ketua pergerakan itu, Khairy Jamaluddin menggunakan saluran parti untuk menjelaskan kontroversi ucapannya di Kedah tanpa berharap sepenuhnya kepada media.

Beliau berkata, Khairy tidak boleh menggunakan media semata-mata untuk menjelaskan maksud sebenar ucapannya kerana ia akan menimbulkan lebih banyak lagi salah faham terutama di kalangan anggota parti komponen Barisan Nasional (BN).

"Khairy kata ada salah faham dengan apa yang dinyatakan olehnya sebelum ini, jadi sekiranya kenyataan itu sukar bagi kita untuk pastikan orang faham, baik kita fahamkan melalui saluran sedia ada. Itulah yang dipersetujui pemimpin tertinggi.

"Kalau nak menjawab melalui media, itu akan menimbulkan banyak lagi salah faham dan melagakan lagi keadaan," katanya kepada pemberita selepas merasmikan mesyuarat perwakilan Pergerakan Pemuda, Wanita dan Puteri Umno Bahagian Pekan di sini, hari ini.

Ucapan Khairy di Kedah minggu lepas mengenai kaum Cina akan diambil kesempatan daripada kelemahan Umno untuk menimbulkan kontroversi sehingga mengakibatkan rasa tidak puas hati di kalangan beberapa pemimpin parti komponen BN.

Hishammuddin berkata, salah faham itu akan mengakibatkan wujudnya pihak yang cuba mengambil kesempatan untuk memecah-belahkan BN.

"Pemuda dah serik dalam hal berbaur perkauman dan agama dan saya selaku pemimpin Pemuda tidak akan membenarkan hal ini terjadi kerana ia risiko yang tinggi kerana kita mempunyai agenda yang lebih besar," katanya. (BERNAMA)


Delegate demands apology from Khairy

MCA Youth wants Umno deputy Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin to apologise for his remark that Barisan component parties would take advantage of a weak Umno.

The MCA Youth delegate from Negri Sembilan, Siow Koi Voon, said Khairy has not only hurt the MCA's feelings but also that of the Chinese community.

As such, he said Khairy must also personally explain to MCA and the community his intention when he made his remark. "We want your apology, Khairy," said Siow in English, to thunderous applause from the floor.

Siow switched from Mandarin to English for that part of his speech to make sure that Khairy would not say he did not understand the message, said a Youth delegate from Selangor later.

He said Khairy, being an Umno leader, should know history better – MCA had stood firmly behind Umno all the while, singling the Umno crisis in the 1980s Earlier MCA Youth chairman Datuk Liow Tiong Lai had opened the floodgates during his speech at the opening of the assembly by raising two recent issues – a statement by an Umno Youth leader saying his sale of shares was to Bumiputras only and the proposed rotation of the Penang Chief Minister's post.

Speaking in an oblique way, Liow said: "There is no market for such heroes in this globalised world."

Saying both issues had racial overtones, Liow however stopped short of naming those who made the two statements and commented that these people should stop fighting with shadows.

He also reminded those who had resorted to petty actions to gain political mileage that "only great leaders will do great things".

"If you want to fight, don't fear. If you fear, don't fight," shouted an emotional Liow to thunderous applause from the floor. MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy, when opening the Youth assembly and speaking on the topic of globalisation, also hinted at exterior threats by saying, "We are not enemies, our enemies are from outside."

A three-term Youth chief before, Chan also congratulated Liow for his "high-spirited speech" saying that the latter had touched on important national issues. "Don't just talk. There must also be action," Chan said.

Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, who attended the opening of the assembly, told reporters later that "Khairy is attending a meeting. This is the time when Umno divisional meetings are on".

"I know you all will ask me this question," said Hishammuddin, who is also the Barisan Nasional Youth chairman, in response to a question from the media as to why Khairy did not attend the opening of the MCA Youth assembly.

On Khairy's remark that Barisan Nasional component parties would take advantage of a weak Umno, Hishammuddin reiterated that: "What is important is that it is not as portrayed. The intention is not to hurt."

Hishammuddin also praised Liow, saying that he was clever in politicking now, referring to Liow's reference to statements made by the former's late father and late grandfather on the importance of national interests over that of just one group.

Liow was speaking indirectly to hit on certain leaders who had resorted of late to using racial issues to score political mileage.

"Having quoted my father and grandfather, I just don't know how to respond," said Hishammuddin.
(The Star)


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