SINGAPORE – A survey conducted by the Singapore Polytechnic revealed one sobering statistic – more than 50% of youths aged between 15 and 29 years old want to migrate overseas if given the chance. Another ironic piece of statistic is that despite going through National Education in their schools, 37% admitted that they are not patriotic. Another interesting number is that despite 60% of the youth not being interested in local politics, half of them want to see more opposition in parliament.
And this migration statistic is worrying our leaders. Senior Minister (SM) Goh Chok Tong admitted in a meeting with Iranian leaders that Singapore is leaking talents, especially the top notch ones. And this leakage of talents extended to the civil service as well. This was ironic considering the fact that SM Goh fired a rhetorical salvo in challenging Singaporeans’ resolve to stay to fight for the nation instead of taking flight at the first sign of trouble, ending with a famous question – “are you a quitter or a stayer?”
Admittedly, this rhetorical question triggered an emotional response. The quitter reference didn’t go down well amongst a number of Singaporeans, especially those who have migrated or have already considered migrating. A variety of reasons were offered to explain their unhappiness. Be that as it may, sometimes it would be interesting to dwell on the causes behind Singaporeans’ decision to migrate rather than the furore over the stayer-quitter remarks.
Mr Seah Chiang Nee, in an article published in the Sunday Star, attributed one of the causes to a self-centred generation with no personal bond to the nation. Half of it is figured by Mr Seah. The other half is possibly attributable to the fact that Singaporeans are rarely offered a part to play in the running of the nation. Singapore has always been run in a top-down approach, the catch phrase for that is a paternalistic form of governance. Basically, Singaporeans have not much say in the running of Singapore.
Thus, there is a need to engage Singaporeans in the sense that they should be given a say in the direction that Singapore should take, and in doing so, shoulder more responsibilities. When citizens are given more responsibilities in running the country within a decentralized system of governance, the national bond naturally comes. In fact, this engagement should be extended to Singaporeans who have left our shores.
The case study of India has taught us that despite the brain drain, the Indian diaspora worldwide has benefitted India in terms of cash injection and technology transfer. It would be tragic if the Singapore government fails to engage the Singaporean diaspora worldwide.
One solution to the brain drain in SM Goh’s words is “to turn to talented people from other countries, get them to work here and eventually turn them into Singaporeans”. That in itself is a gamble because not all foreigners would end up taking up Singapore citizenship.
However, the pertinent question is – has the government completely forgotten the former sons of Singapore? It appeared that SM Goh’s reference to them as “quitters” will only further alienate them. One really wonders if it has ever occurred to the Singapore government that the Singapore diaspora worldwide can still be considered a valuable resource in terms of knowledge and finance. Even SM Goh conceded that these talented former Singaporeans are “harvested straightaway by top companies and institutions”. Thus, wouldn’t a friendly engagement allow Singapore to tap on their expertise or benefit from their cash injection? Alienation would only burn the bridges for eternity.
When there was talk about building up a knowledge-based economy, the government rolled out the red carpet in welcoming foreign luminaries. Perhaps, the same red carpet should also be rolled out to welcome overseas-based Singaporean or ex-Singaporean experts too.
Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong envisioned Singapore as “an inclusive society where no one will be left behind”. It is a beautiful vision worth attaining. However, former Singaporeans should also be included in this vision. Even as they have left our shores, they are still a part of us nonetheless. Instead of burning bridges, more bridges should be built to reach out to such Singaporeans.