Forum: Many more living in Singapore than just Singaporeans

We often fail to make a distinction between Singaporeans and the people living in Singapore.
We often fail to make a distinction between Singaporeans and the people living in Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

I found the report, "Tommy Koh laments that Singapore is a First World country with Third World citizens", troubling (ST Online, Oct 1).

We often fail to make a distinction between Singaporeans and the people living in Singapore.

I do agree that too many Singaporeans are not civic-minded. However, even if all Singaporeans in Singapore are uncivilised louts, there are only 3.5 million out of a population of 5.7 million, of which 22,550 were made citizens only last year.

Another 530,000 are permanent residents (PRs), of which 32,710 became PRs last year (Singapore population grows at a slower pace to reach 5.7m, Sept 26).

I make this distinction not to absolve long-term Singaporeans and blame bad behaviour on new or non-Singaporeans.

The distinction is necessary, though, as any programme that seeks to improve standards in a country takes many decades before there is any effect, if at all.

Take the example of the Singapore Kindness Movement.

It was launched in 1997 to execute public education programmes aimed at cultivating kindness and graciousness in Singapore society in response to then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's call to Singaporeans to develop into a more caring and gracious society.

After 22 years, any change in the behaviour of Singaporeans who have lived here throughout is modest.

We cannot then realistically expect the benefits of whatever programmes we put in place to "upgrade" Singaporeans to filter through to those who have newly arrived in Singapore instantaneously.

Furthermore, there are another 1.7 million people in Singapore who are non-residents.

We cannot reasonably expect too many of them to be committed to, or even consider making Singapore a more gracious society. Their focus is eking out a living to feed their families back home.

Agnes Sng Hwee Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2019, with the headline 'Many more living in Singapore than just Singaporeans'. Print Edition | Subscribe