• Pritam Singh

Lawrence Wong on Race / Racism

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong’s IPS-RSIS speech on Racism and his responses during the Q&A that followed are well worth a read, no matter what your political leanings. The issue at hand - race - affects everyone, particularly Singaporeans and new citizens who will come after us.

A significant part of the speech looked back at long-standing PAP policies. Mr Wong’s acknowledgment that not all agree with these policies was particularly noteworthy.

The Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) for public housing has bothered my colleagues and I in The Workers' Party for specific reasons. Over the years, we have heard our fair share of feedback from minorities of all races having to lower the price of their flats to effect a sale. Minorities bear a direct and real financial burden in the name of the EIP. Mr Wong’s tone and acknowledgment of the problem goes much further than any Parliamentary pronouncement on the matter by the Government in my recent memory (See Hansard below).

However, Mr Wong’s comments and concerns on the prospects of racial enclaves - and separately, in light of how the region and world has evolved since the EIP’s introduction, the reality of immigration to top up our population, amongst others – deserve a second look. National schools, institutions like NS, the bunching of minority races on the lower floors of public housing in many cases in spite of the EIP, and even the prospective effect of anti-discrimination legislation, do make the EIP one out of a number of policy options to mitigate the problem at hand. Even so, as it is, the inequity the EIP engenders for some minority Singaporeans is real, distorts the market and has serious economic consequences.

Insofar as the Minister’s defence of the GRC scheme is concerned, the PAP’s argument that it ensures a minimum number of minority representatives in Parliament is elegant in theory, but unconvincing in practice.

The GRC scheme has long been overshadowed by incumbent political considerations, to the extent that it also serves a more important collateral purpose. What began as 3-member GRCs expanded rapidly into 6-member ones (now back to five). And the GRC scheme continues to be routinely abused at the altar of politics. See how Fengshan became an SMC and was absorbed back into East Coast GRC within one election cycle? And who can forget Joo Chiat SMC of 2011? Why? One cannot help but to conclude that in the case of GRCs, minority representation is a Trojan Horse for the PAP’s political objectives. The WP has offered some realistic institution-building alternatives to get Singapore out of this self-serving quagmire. Getting the Electoral Boundary Review Committee out of the Prime Minister’s Office and a more substantive EBRC report are important starting points. We hope the Government reconsiders its position on this front.

There is of course, much more to unpack about Mr Wong’s speech. For example, is it true that the majority of Singaporeans today will inevitably vote along racial lines?

The policy questions and differences of opinion aside, Minister Wong’s speech sends the right signals. The call to educate each other about what matters to us, to help each other understand our different cultures, and to find that common stake we have in one another is an important one. It is one that transcends politics.


WP on EIP in Parliament



Minister Wong’s speech:

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