Tuesday's parliamentary debate on the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) suggested there was a confluence of views between the ruling People's Action Party and the opposition Workers' Party (WP) on the need to enhance the multiracial inclusiveness of Singapore's common spaces. But the debate also demonstrated differences on how to reach that goal. The EIP, introduced in 1989, sets racial quotas on flat ownership within each Housing Board block and neighbourhood. Its objective is to prevent the formation of ethnic enclaves in public housing estates that would set apart the races geographically and socially. The colonial construction of Singapore as a plural society, with differentiation among the races based on segregated economic specialisation and access to living spaces, had a deleterious effect on social cohesion as each ethnic group gravitated towards its own kind.
The Government, which uses public housing as one of the levers to advance social cohesion, introduced the EIP to get different communities to know one another better by living together. This week, the WP maintained the EIP should be removed, but shifted to accept that this can happen only after Singapore achieves a state of being race-neutral. The Government defended the policy as being necessary for racial integration because ethnic concentrations would reform again should public housing be left entirely to social and market forces - the practical consequence of removing the EIP all together.