Forum: Thrust of parliamentary debates can send message to young

I am disturbed by the thrust of the most recent debate in Parliament on foreign talent and free trade agreements (FTAs).

I am referring to the debate sparked by Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai's speech, in which he expressed concern about some FTAs such as the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca). He said the provision on the "movement of natural persons" could have resulted in Singaporeans not having "net benefits". He was accused of race-baiting and resorting to anti-foreigner rhetoric.

First, I, too, have felt that some of the sentiments expressed in social media on Ceca clearly crossed the line. Racist connotations were palpable.

It is right for the Government to be concerned, especially at a time of heightened racial sensitivities. I appreciate Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cautioning against this in his National Day Rally speech.

Second, I am puzzled as to why the ruling party's MPs continued to accuse Mr Leong of having a racial agenda even after he made it clear that his intention was to discuss the job implications of Ceca and other FTAs.

Yes, there is a correlation between Ceca and Indians, but it is perfectly possible to raise questions about Ceca without having a racial agenda.

I can see Singaporeans - regardless of race - raising similar issues if they involved an FTA with China. It's evident that there is still the perception that Ceca has allowed Indian nationals easier entry into Singapore's labour market. It would have been more productive if the Government provided compelling data to persuade us otherwise.

Third, regardless of whether Mr Leong made sense or not, I feel his questions and points could have been addressed more directly. Vigorous rebuttal of points is usually more effective when the content is categorical and the tone is objective.

I would like to see parliamentarians focus on persuading the public with their key considerations. There's certainly a lot more room for magnanimity and grace. Let's think of the message we are sending to our young.

Viswa Sadasivan