SINGAPORE - The debate on the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) is about the jobs of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), and has nothing to do with race, said the Progress Singapore Party (PSP).
In a statement on its Facebook page on Monday (July 19), the PSP wrote that the party's secretary-general Francis Yuen, together with party chairman Tan Cheng Bock, held a closed-door meeting on Sunday with several party members to address their concerns about the party's stance on the bilateral free trade pact.
"In the meeting, party leaders re-emphasised the party's stand that the debate is about the jobs of PMETs and has nothing to do with race. The focus is on the fair treatment of Singaporeans and protection of Singaporeans' jobs and wages," it said.
It added that the discussion and exchange of candid views between party leadership and members "concluded with a unified stand of commitment and support" for the party's leaders and two parliamentarians, Mr Leong Mun Wai and Ms Hazel Poa, both of whom are Non-Constituency MPs.
"The PSP stands united with all Singaporeans and will always stand up for and speak up for all citizens' concerns and livelihoods. We will continue to focus on the importance of protecting, growing and developing our Singapore core, the foundation of our economy and future of our country."
The party was responding to online newspaper Today's article last Friday, which reported several party members had expressed concerns about the party's stance on Ceca.
According to the article, these members had said that recent parliamentary debates could give the impression that PSP was singling out a certain race and nationality.
A senior PSP member was cited in the article as saying that while a group consisting of senior members was formed to address the Ceca debate, there was no concerted effort to reach out to Indian members for their feedback.
The party leadership, however, has rejected these claims.
Earlier this month, Mr Leong and Ms Poa crossed swords with Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng in Parliament over Ceca.
Mr Ong pressed Mr Leong on whether PSP agreed that free trade agreements (FTAs), including Ceca, are fundamental to Singapore's economic survival; and that Ceca does not allow a free flow of PMEs from India into Singapore.
"We don't agree that Ceca is net beneficial to Singapore at this stage," Mr Leong had said, adding that while FTAs are important to Singapore, it remains to be studied whether Ceca has contributed to the influx of foreign nationals from India.
Mr Ong called Mr Leong's conclusion "regrettable".
"This is not a back door, this is not an avenue for any professional from any country to enter Singapore with a free hand and unfettered," he said.
"But I take it that this is PSP's position, notwithstanding hearing all our explanations."
On Monday, party member Abhijit Dass wrote in a comment on PSP's Facebook page that the Today article had mentioned he and PSP cadre member Khush Chopra were to attend Sunday's meeting, and the moderator was going to be PSP spokesman Kumaran Pillai.
"We were told that the meeting was cancelled due to the Covid-19 situation, and that Francis Yuen was not attending.
"Subsequently, the meeting went ahead, Francis Yuen attended, and Kumaran Pillai removed as moderator... The total composition of the closed-door attendees was altered. Why?"
The Straits Times understands that Mr Dass was informed late on Friday of the cancellation. It has contacted PSP for comment.