Sunday, December 10, 2006

Preferential treatment for Singaporeans in Singapore

Health and education ministries reviewing fees for PRs and foreigners

By Farah Abdul Rahim, Channel NewsAsia Posted: 03 December 2006 1918 hrs

SINGAPORE: Singapore citizens will always come first, before Permanent Residents and non-citizens, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

That is why the health and education ministries are now working on changes to reduce fee subsidies for non-citizens, so that foreigners do not enjoy the same benefits as Singaporeans.

The next offset package for the GST increase will be for Singaporeans only, just like the Progress Package earlier this year, said Prime Minister Lee.

This is because the Government's responsibility is to Singaporeans first, although Permanent Residents and foreign workers will remain priorities.

"While we have non-citizens here, citizens always come first. We have to treat them as the best, we have to treat visitors well too but citizens have to be treated better," Mr Lee said.

"Right now, PRs enjoy the same subsidies as Singaporeans for education and healthcare, and in fact in healthcare, foreign workers also receive subsidised treatment. I think we should make a clear difference – PRs should pay more than Singaporeans but less than other foreigners, there is a distinction.

"If you are not a PR and not a citizen, you should be given good treatment but we will not give you special privileges." (Read on...)

Hospital subsidies for PRs to be revised from Oct 2007

SINGAPORE: Healthcare subsidies for permanent residents at Singapore's restructured hospitals and national centres will be revised from October next year.

This is to provide a clear distinction in health benefits between Singapore citizens, PRs and others, including foreign workers.

Singaporeans will always come first. (read on...)

Give foreign talent equal dues
Why treat overseas employees differently?

Letter from Robyn M Speed (Today 6th Dec 06)

I refer to the report, "Permanent Residents debate price of citizenship", (Dec 5).
One might argue that Singapore citizens in other countries should not be entitled to the same benefits as the citizens of those countries. It is only fair that they pay full health costs and pay more for education.
If they want the same treatment as citizens, they should take up citizenship in that country.
It should not matter if Singaporeans have been living in Australia, New Zealand, or the United States for a decade or more — they should not get the same rights as the citizens. They should expect to pay more.
It is only fair. Right?
I bet you would say no; that if you do the work, you should get fair and equal treatment. Yet, that is what Singapore wants to do to foreigners here.
You want the top professionals in the world to come and work here, to build Singapore as the top research place in the world, the top education hub. Yet you want to hold them distant, to treat them as second to the locals.
Surely these foreigners are working for Singapore and her citizens, to build your country and economy, to add to your markets and prestige. (Read on...)

My Comments:

Dear Friends,

Many of us often complain that the government seems to value foreigners (including Permanent Residents) more than its own citizens.

The main grouse among some Singaporeans was that non-citizens were receiving similar benefits without needing to fulfil obligations such as National Service. In fact, there were allegations that male Singaporeans were discriminated against in job selections as employers would shun them in view of their annual In-Camp Training national service liabilities.

The past week’s announcement of policy changes to better differentiate the benefits accorded to citizens vis-à-vis foreigners comes as no surprise.

When we travel to any other country, we would not bat an eyelid if we knew that their citizens got preferential treatment in schools and hospitals. It is a given and a non-issue.

Resources are not unlimited. Money (in the form of subsidy) given to Peter, is money taken away from Paul. Simplistically speaking, it is a zero-sum game.

I am not ignoring the contributions and value-add to the economy from non-citizens. I readily acknowledge that Singapore’s economic pie had enlarged due in no small part to non-citizens making their living here.

There will be those like Mr. Robyn M Speed who feel that this discriminatory policy will make expatriates feel unwelcome and he even warned“ And beware, for there are always other markets for these people to go to” .

I am not worried about people like Mr. Speed.

He, and those in his shoes, have made conscious, calculated decisions before coming to work here. They have decided that on the balance of things, working in Singapore is good for them and their families. I am certain that those here with purely altruistic motives are a small minority. For Singapore and these expatriates, it is a win-win situation.

In any case, if these expatriates had wanted the exact same benefits as Singaporeans, it would be a mere formality of applying for the red passport and I am sure the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority would readily oblige.

I am more concerned about the other foreigners who do not have much chance of getting Singapore citizenship even if they applied. These are foreign workers like maids and other menial workers. Most have low wages and may not be able to afford unsubsidized healthcare services.

Unless health insurance for them becomes compulsory in their employment contracts, these workers may not seek medical help until it is too late. Health insurance would of course add to their employment costs.

Well, economists have warned us that there is “no free lunch”.

This policy shift is a step in the right direction and I am not afraid to say so.

Now, about National Service...


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Links to this debate:PRs debate price of citizenship Bigger is better


family man said...

Now I hope the Govt will come down hard on errant employers to protect these foreign workers, as they are also 'guests' in our country. Singapore has a lot to catch up on, consider how our government is so 'hands off' concerning our foreign maids - who are exploited by the agents and who have to work here for 'free' for months on end.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think we should also refrain from exploiting our neighbours for cheap labour, such as maids and construction workers. Give them their respectful value too, not exploit them because they came from lesser developed countries.

Relying on low cost to compete will never bring us to the next level of a truly developed country. Thus, we will lose out in the long run as China and India will become more developed. We need more innovative ways of solving our economic problems.

Singapore's productivity is pathetically low because we take the cheaper way out.

shimure said...

Dear Dr H,

It would increase the cost of the employer if the employment law states that all foreigners need to apply a medical insurance in singapore.
Would it be a deterant for foreign employers to come to singapore?
Or would the employers reduce the salary of the foreigners as a cost in applying medical insurances.

This would make those on WP or maids visa to have lower salaries.

Well it does not affect singaporeans as it is suppose to give more preferance to citizens.

Yet i inquire. Is this increase on the surface necessary to apeace the locals or is it merely a facet of the bigger plan?

For so long has the government spent the money on subsidies on the foreigner health care and education.

A reason behind this is for the government to cut budget and to channel the funds to new avenues.

What would these new avenues be?

Higher salary for ministers?

Dr Oz bloke said...

I think the total percentage of Singapore's population who are foreigners has gone up quite a bit in recent times.

I suspect that this move to raise costs for foreigners (notice it isn't raise subsidies for citizens) is totally economic in nature. Nothing to do with making the citizen vs foreigner playing field level or anything. Just to make more money, or save more money etc.

The strange thing is that the citizen vs foreigner debate doesn't change with this move. Citizens are not going to be HAPPIER because we got nothing MORE what. Happy for what?

But the foreigners are now going to be more unhappy because they have LESS.

I guess the government is too used to making such moves. Now the foreigners have a taste of what it is like to be Singaporean :)

Both Singaporeans and foreigners not happy with the government.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi all
Yes I am very anxious that those lower-income foreigners are able to fend for themselves now that the subsidized healthcare that they expected is suddenly taken away.
Eg. employers of maids, esply those already living from hand to mouth themselves, may not pay for their maid's healthcare or even deduct from the maid's salaries.
I have seen how manual workers ( on WP) can exploited by their employers and the industry.

On principle this policy is correct but implementing it now ( without warning for those already on our shores) is very tricky. We have to point out to policy makers regarding the impending hardship of those already here.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi drozbloke,
Yes the percentage of foreigners has increased about ?10% last year.
Read Littlespeck's article ( my link) and you know that the govt has made a strategic decision to make this a 6-8million population country to take advantage of critical mass etc.
There are advantages and disadvantages of the new (more populous) Singapore.

Anonymous said...

I feel that there is another angle to look at the issue. Why must we make citizens special by "punishing" PRs in the form of increasing their fees/ reducing their subsidies? Why cant we differentiate citiznes by INCREASING the benefits of citizens, and leaving the PRs untouched? that way, the PRs wont feel too miffed, and there will also be enhanced benefits of becoming a citizen

travailingdoc said...

True to the Government's usual response to the people's unhappiness is to hand out free tokens and appeasements.
It reminds me of how the West was bought with beads , trinkets and pieces of silver, because the native Indians did not know better.
Singaporeans and non Singaporeans alike should be aware that these measures are more psychological ploys to give a goodfeeling but will not really bring about any radical changes , and neither substantial advantages nor disadvantages, to anyone on either side of the divide.
The only group affected, may be the ones in the lower rungs of the pyramid like maids and foreign construction workers who will be made to suffer further compromises...but you see, in the eyes of the Govt, they are dispensable.
So, as for me, this is all the usual Hoo Hah .. and will go its usual indeterminate course to oblivions, unless Singaporeans will take the bull by the horns..

Dr Oz bloke said...

Hi Travelling doc,

of course you know that Singaporeans aren't going to do that. Nor will the government make it easy for them to do anything close to that *wink*

Recruit Ong said...

I gave my older boy and my younger daughter a slice of ba kua each. The 2 slices were of the same size.

I told my daughter, "Your brother deserves a bigger slice because he is elder and needs more energy." I then bit off a mouth full of ba kua from her slice. My son did not protest as it did not concern him.

I then told my son, "You two are both my children, and should have been treated in equity. There is no reason why you should have a bigger slice." I also bit off a mouth full of ba kua from his slice. My daughter did not protest as it did not concern her.

The cycle went on. Eventually I ate both slices of ba kua. My 2 children were convinced thru out until they realised that their ba kua was gone.

I was laughing behind their back as to how silly they are.

We Sporeans shall appreciate the move as a great effort by the Government in giving "more benefits" to Sporeans. ;)

nofearSingapore said...

anon 6.07pm:Yes I agree that perhaps another way would be to give citizens more benefits.

travailingdoc & drozbloke:I guess in countries like S'pore where the electorate is not sophisticated (unlike the USA), the govt would continue to use carrots and sticks approach to get support for their rule.
recruitong:it is a good analogy.We need sceptics like you to keep the govt on its toes!

Without being too philosophical, do you guys accept the principle that citizens of any country should be treated better ( all things being equal)?

shimure said...

Dear Dr H,

Yes Citizens should be given better treatment. After all, it is the part of citizen to feel a belonging to the state.

If you are paying for a golf club membership, you expect that you get exclusive rights to play on the pitch and not a visitor who is not paying for the membership.

However, if by giving out more benefits to the citizen, there will be an increase in budget and there is not cut back such as reduction of ministers' salaries or reducing un-necessary spending such as building big offices for Ministries, the government would not take such action.
Even the action of coming up with actions or initiatives to aid the poor requires the increase of GST. imagine what additional taxes the government must take to give more benefits to us the citizen.

I actually feel it is possible for some ministries to reduce their budgets since some of them are considered as profit centres. for instance, the HDB is collecting a lot of money in the form of rent from all the banks and offices currently in the HDB Hub. Moreover, it is collecting a health 2.5% interest from all those who are from HDB loans.
For the Ministry of Health, there are the fines which are collected due to mosquito infestation, there are also the licenses cost which are collected annually from the various hawkers and food outlets.
For the LTA, COE, ERP and parking are just a few forms of revenue.
Instead of reducing Budget, there is a trend of increase in Budget.
Instead of reflecting the revenue collected by these avenues, these profit centres are considered as cost centres instead.

Hence, I still think that this ploy of increasing the cost of the foreigners is just a direct taxation act and the candy of the whole thing is to let singaporeans feel that there is a reason to be a citizen.

Bottom line, how is the addition cost to be spent? On the increase of minister's pay?

Just my 2 cents worth.

Dr Oz bloke said...

"Yes Citizens should be given better treatment. After all, it is the part of citizen to feel a belonging to the state."

Just a logical question : "Can you imagine a country where the government is democratically elected, but the citizens who vote in the elections are not treated better than foreigners?" Does it make sense at all? Either the country is not democratic or the electorate is just plain stupid.

"the HDB is collecting a lot of money in the form of rent from all the banks and offices currently in the HDB Hub. Moreover, it is collecting a health 2.5% interest from all those who are from HDB loans."

In a recent reply letter to the ST forums, the HDB officer stated that over the past few years the HDB has been making a loss of an average of $390 million a year.

Do you buy that?

It's getting quite ridiculous really. And Mah Bow Tan is still going to earn his million+ and get a raise as well.....for what? Losing $390 million a year? Is that a good track record?

All this talk about pegging Minister's salaries to the private sector....well if they had the same results in the private sector they would have been fired not to say get raises! Ridiculous!

shimure said...

Dear Dr Oz Bloke,

When the spokeperson was stating that the HDB was making the loss of 2.5 million yearly, She would be correct if computation of the following factors.

1) holding costs of flats which are unsold.
2) selling costs of New HDB flats versus the selling costs of Resale flats.
3) estimated cost of land for residential use verus the potential rent value and cost of land if the land was made to use for commercial purpose.

Lets take a flat which is unsold would be about S$125,000.00 on the first year. so for 99 years lease of the flat. the flat annual depreciation would be estimated at S$1,263.00 per flat per year. If you add the potiential loss in interest would be S$3,125.00.

If you have 100 flats unsold that would be a potential loss of (s$3,125.00 + 1,263.00) x 100 = S$438,800.00.

Moreover, if the loss of flat sold vs the loss of potential of the resale market it would be staggering.

In addition, if they add the computation of the potential loss of the land use.

If would easily amount to S$2.5 Million.

Figures are easy to come up. However, whether it is a fact or a fiction. It is to the eye of the beholder.

Just 2 cents worth.