Monday, August 27, 2012

PM Lee's speech lauded as wake-up call for Singaporeans

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans, by and large, hailed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech, calling it a timely and compassionate wake-up call on what it means to call the country home.

They praised his bold vision in tackling Singapore's declining birth rate by creating a conducive workplace environment; and highlighted his candour in pointing out the double standards faced by foreigners here.

Lawyer Terence Yeo, 37, is all for the idea of paternity leave - part of a slew of measures which Mr Lee said the Government is considering.

It may help spur him and his wife, Ms Michele Lee, 38, who is head of operations in a human- resource consultancy, to have more kids, he said. The couple have a six-year-old son.

"It would encourage my wife because I would be able to help around more, without work concerns," he added.

In his speech, Mr Lee cited a recent New York Times article as damaging to Singapore's reputation, as it causes others to view the country as xenophobic.

When a foreigner says or does something wrong, the response is vitriolic, but bad Singaporean behaviour often goes uncriticised, and a good deed by a foreigner often goes unnoticed, he said.

National badminton player Fu Mingtian, who is the reigning Singapore Sportswoman of the Year, told my paper it "wasn't easy understanding and speaking English" at first. But she felt she was fortunate to have multiracial teammates to interact with.

"I'm lucky I didn't get teased too much when I spoke English. Many of my teammates even helped me to improve my English," said the 22-year-old, who was born in Hubei, China.

Regional supply-chain manager Anna Chua, 43, who works with foreigners, noted that while differences between Singaporeans and foreigners exist, "it's about how we embrace all those differences and come to a mutual understanding".

Whether a foreigner comes across as different boils down to his individual personality, she said.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam called on Singaporeans to "keep our gracious and open spirit".

The vitriol towards foreigners, especially in online discussions, is quite out of the Singaporean character, he observed.

"Bad behaviour by a small number of foreigners does not justify spiteful comment about foreigners in general, or all foreigners of a particular race. It does no one good," he wrote.

Others commended the Government's pledge to invest in pre-school education.

Ms Adeline Sim, 32, a legal counsel, applauded the move, as it will ensure that children will be adequately prepared for Primary 1. The mother of two young children said: "Kids at that age are like sponges and their ability to learn even surpasses (that of) adults."

Mr Chan Tee Seng, chief executive of NTUC First Campus, which runs childcare centres, said the new statutory board set up to oversee the sector will mean "a single, harmonised regulatory regime" for childcare centres and kindergartens.

Speaking at NTUC's National Day Observance Ceremony yesterday, Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and labour chief, stressed the need for better social integration of foreign workers.

Employers must commit to attracting more Singaporeans but, at the same time, Singaporeans should regard foreign workers as friends and not enemies, he said, adding: "It's better for them to compete for Singapore than for them to compete against us."

On concerns of insufficient suitable jobs in the wake of plans to increase university places, Mr Lim said it is important to "turn the manpower of Singapore into a core competitive advantage".

This will attract overseas investment and create more demand for quality employees, he noted.

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