Put the foreign talent question to the people

DON'T get us wrong. A ''vibrant cosmopolis'' sounds like a wonderful idea in principle, but the details are a bit hard to pin down at this point.

What we do know is this: Our future society will be a globally connected and oriented one, and it will be built - with a little help from foreign talent - for Singaporeans, not outsiders.

How can you expect workers with their jobs on the line to look kindly on newcomers?

It's a brave vision, and a braver electoral platform - riding on economic and historical necessity to make a pitch for international standards, diversity and opportunity.

If it works, Singapore will secure a place on the world map, economically and culturally, for generations to come.

So we've got the goal, now what's the gameplan?

And pity the man in the street right now, confronted with all this high falutin' vision stuff. What does it all mean in real terms?

And why should he give a hoot?

More clubs, shops and shows? Nice enough.

More sophisticated media and civil society? Sure, if we can spare the time.

But in case you haven't noticed, we're in the middle of a downturn here.

Is this really an appropriate time to offer pragmatic Singaporeans - by tradition a hard-nosed crowd not predisposed to rah-rah manifestoes - yet another amorphous, grand-sounding slogan?

More than ever, given the current economic climate, Singaporeans are looking for straight answers to the bread-and-butter questions yet to be addressed by the PAP's new platform: COE prices, bus fares and jobs.

We can keep the ambitious cosmopolis dream. But what the PAP's manifesto needs are concrete plans to address the immediate concerns of the electorate.

As a strategy, that's hardly new: Pocketbook issues like HDB upgrading and CPF top-ups helped carry the electorate in the last election.

These critical reassurances - that ordinary Singaporeans will not be left behind as the more able dash ahead - are, after all, enshrined in the other pillars of the PAP's working manifesto.

Naturally, we expect to see how the Ruling Party plans to help the less-able and ensure each citizen's stake in the future.


Then again, call it what you like: Mention ''cosmopolis'' and people think inevitably of ''foreign talent''.

The PAP must have heard the coffeeshop talk and forum gripes - signs of a population which has yet to fundamentally accept the idea that we need to import more quality manpower to even survive in the future.

Sure, they grudgingly buy the idea that we'll need to open up to the world - eventually - to ensure the country's long-term survival.

But how can you expect workers with their jobs on the line to look kindly on newcomers when, really, even in good times, there were also rumblings?

Yet, this General Election (GE) is an excellent opportunity to nail the foreign talent issue once and for all.

But the solution is going to be tough. The bottom line? Bring the issue out in the open; make foreign talent the lynchpin of the PAP's electoral platform.

It's a fair call, after all the hard sell.

If the PAP is convinced that foreign talent is the best way forward, and is prepared to defy popular opinion to say so, why not take the question to the people?

It'll have to do its best to make sure every voter understands the issues and its point of view.

All the more likely for the electorate to accept the idea and make it work.

The process of persuasion, and the hard decisions it leads to, is what politics is about. The Elected Presidency, a milestone in our constitutional history, was similarly ratified at the 1988 GE.

If the results are positive, the PAP will finally have a firm mandate to proceed with difficult policies, and disregard any underground rumblings with a clear conscience.

Or, the people would have spoken.

© alvin pang
clm : rvw : esy : rfl