Wed, Oct 28, 2009
The Straits Times
Pink vs Blue: Minding the gap

By Zakir Hussain

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IF YOU are a Singapore citizen, you have the right to vote, visit 150 countries without a visa on your red passport, and receive a slew of tax reliefs and a cornucopia of subsidies.

If you are so inclined, you can form a political party, launch a tirade and stage a protest at Speakers' Corner on most matters - but race and religion are off-limits.

Indeed, from the cradle - or from the point you are given a pink IC - to the sick bed, you have a leg up over permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners working or living here.

Should you have the misfortune of becoming destitute or unable to support yourself, you would qualify for public assistance, ComCare aid, a rental flat and handouts to help pay your utility bills and conservancy charges. And if you fall ill, you can bank on Medifund to pay for your hospital bills.

The distinctions between citizens and PRs could not have been clearer.

As the National Population Secretariat (NPS) under the Prime Minister's Office declares unequivocally: "Our citizens' interests are the priority of the Government."

As it points out, a PR holds an entry permit, which is issued under the Immigration Act that grants him or her the right to enter and remain in Singapore.

"Citizenship is a birthright for legitimate children of Singapore citizen parents. As such, citizens enjoy more rights and benefits than PRs," said the NPS.

Yet, with all these perks and privileges, many Singaporeans still complain about being marginalised by the influx of new arrivals and becoming strangers in their own land. They say they see no difference between the benefits enjoyed by citizens and PRs.

To allay these concerns, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told 1,500 students at a Nanyang Technological University forum last month that there will be a sharper differentiation in the way citizens and PRs are treated "to reflect the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship".

Elaborating a day later, Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said: "We are looking at this whole issue of calibrating the differences, so Singaporeans can see in concrete terms what it means to come first.

"Foreigners in our midst will still feel a sense of welcome, but they must understand that they cannot demand the same privileges that come with membership. This is something we have to keep calibrating with time."

So what is contributing to the growing groundswell of discontent and disquiet among Singaporeans? Why the need to review the distinctions between citizens and PRs for the second time since 2006? What more can be done to reassure citizens that they still bask in the Singapore sun?

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

» ST graphics: Quek Hong Shin


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» The numbers game

» Rights not enough

» Balancing needs of both camps



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