Parliament: Motions on jobs and foreign talent

Competing in the Champions League? You need Messis: MP

Just as the English Premier League is enjoyed by fans around the world, the financial services and technology sectors in Singapore do not merely exist to provide services to the country's domestic market, Ms Mariam Jaafar (Sembawang GRC) said in Parliament yesterday.

Multinational corporations (MNCs) in these vital sectors come to Singapore for many reasons, and they play a "global game that requires a global talent pool", she told the House during the debate on two motions on jobs and Singapore's foreign talent policy.

"As the ministers have explained many times, it was our choice to play this global game, to be a financial hub, to be a technology hub, that explains why we have a lot of foreigners in these sectors."

Ms Mariam noted that Liverpool Football Club's line-up during a recent match consisted of players of nine different nationalities.

"If you want to compete in the Champions League, you need the Messis, the Cristiano Ronaldos, the Mo Salahs. They not only complement the home-grown talent, they improve them," she said.

This openness to talent has brought the club success and allows children from Liverpool to dream of being the next great football star, said Ms Mariam.

"It also means that many local lads and academy players never break into the senior team," she said, noting that in Singapore, the fruits of the foreign talent policy have not been shared equally by all.

But Ms Mariam added that it is dangerous to generalise and falsely characterise the issues facing Singaporeans as more pervasive than they are, just to stoke emotions. "That is why I cannot accept, and I must reject, the motion raised in the name of Mr Leong Mun Wai."

Several other People's Action Party MPs like Mr Edward Chia (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) also spoke against Mr Leong's motion, which named the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) as a cause of widespread anxiety among Singaporeans on their jobs and livelihoods.

Mr Chia said many local employers can succeed only if Singapore is strategically plugged into the global flow of trade, investments and people. He added that Singapore's free trade agreements (FTAs) are designed to ensure locals benefit from this.

It is therefore "highly disingenuous" for Mr Leong's party, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), to focus on "one or two components of a single FTA to create unnecessary anxieties", said Mr Chia.

Mr Nair noted that Ceca has nothing to do with immigration policy, adding: "Ceca is just one out of 26 FTAs that we have. Why focus on this one? Is it simply to target Indian nationals, or worse, people of Indian ethnicity?"

Nominated MPs Hoon Hian Teck and Janet Ang did not express support for or opposition to Mr Leong's motion, but they warned against the dangers of being closed to global networks and pushing MNCs away.

Professor Hoon noted that MNCs, which bring in foreign direct investments (FDI), tend to be more productive and pay more than smaller firms, and this means significant benefits for job creation and better wages, especially in the later stages of economic recovery from a recession.

Ms Ang said Singapore cannot risk falling to the wayside and losing its edge in attracting FDI or "the debate would shift to how to stop the brain drain of our younger Singaporeans".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2021, with the headline 'Competing in the Champions League? You need Messis: MP'. Subscribe