Forum: More clarity needed on issue of racial balance

Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim's oral reply to a parliamentary question about Singapore's existing immigration policy is too opaque to be useful.

To be convincing, he should elaborate on three issues.

He said the Ministry of Home Affairs was aware of "the need to maintain the racial balance in Singapore's population in order to preserve social stability and harmony". He added that "the pace and profile of our immigration intake have been, and will continue to be, calibrated to preserve this racial balance".

First, what exactly does changing the racial balance affect? While often cited by the Government, it is not self-evident that preserving social stability and harmony requires the maintenance of the racial balance. What indicators of "social stability and harmony" is it relying on?

Abstract notions of "social stability and harmony" are not useful to ground public policy if they are not properly operationalised. Are we talking about the perception of threat by the majority group? Or about trust in the community? How sensitive are these indicators of "social stability and harmony" to small, medium and large changes in the racial balance?

Second, what specific measures are we taking? Based solely on natural growth, the Malay population is growing at a quicker rate than the other races. But based on a study by AMP Singapore, the heavy influx of non-Malay migrants means that there is a risk of the proportion of Malays in the Singapore population declining. So what exactly are we doing to maintain the racial balance? Are we slowing the overall immigration rate? Are we encouraging more Malay migrants? How aggressively are we taking these measures?

Third, how useful will our rigid markers of race continue to be, given our increasing diversity?

The proportion of mixed race or transnational persons in the population is likely to increase in the future. Cultural heterogeneity within the racial groups will increase with immigration aimed at fulfilling the needs of our economy and our ageing population.

Imposing CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others) categories on to the increasingly diverse population will become more and more contrived.

Consequently, the implications of a blunt position like "maintaining the racial balance" on "social stability and harmony" will change over time, even if the policy itself does not change.

How does the Government evaluate the effectiveness of such a policy vis-a-vis other measures - for instance, those that ensure equality of opportunity regardless of race or national origin?

Shannon Ang (Dr)