SINGAPORE - While the People's Action Party (PAP) and Workers' Party (WP) both want a racially integrated Singapore, the country is more likely to achieve this with the Government's housing policies, said Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean on Monday (July 5).
Joining the debate on the Housing Board's Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP), Mr Teo said Singaporeans are more likely to learn to live with each other by having integrated housing estates, rather than abolishing the policy and allowing enclaves.
Mr Teo rose to speak more than an hour into the debate after the House extended question time, to respond to Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh.
He said that although the WP chief agreed with the Government's aim to have Singaporeans live together in multiracial communities, they differed in the methods to get to this outcome.
"Methods can be adapted and changed, but we have this same philosophy that we want a multiracial Singapore, integrated housing, well-integrated communities and schools," said Mr Teo, who quipped that he had not intended to join the debate but thought he would share his perspective since he had "slightly more white hair" than most in the House.
"And we're more likely to get there with the HDB policies that we have today, with EIP, rather than what the Workers' Party is proposing."
Mr Singh had earlier set out the WP's current position on the EIP - to abolish it when Singapore reaches a state of being race neutral where such initiatives are no longer needed - in an exchange with National Development Minister Desmond Lee.
He also responded to Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong on the Government's CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others) model of ethnic classification.
Mr Tong had noted that while the WP had questioned the model and called for its removal, the party has also filed many questions that focus on race-specific programmes, outcomes, and assistance.
He said such questions are filed at almost every parliamentary sitting, and cited questions from WP MPs on specific race categories.
The minister then asked Mr Singh whether the WP thinks the CMIO model is still relevant today.
Responding, Mr Singh said the WP operates on terms dictated by the PAP government, which has continued the CMIO model.
What the WP wants is to "level everybody up", so that no race feels that Government policy does not reach them in the journey towards becoming a race-neutral society.
He added that there is a need to look at how the Government is performing on its own indicators of race.
Eventually, with more opposition MPs elected to look at the relevant figures, asking more questions and proposing alternative policies, Singapore could hopefully reach a race-blind state, he said.
Weighing in, Mr Teo asked if Mr Singh thought ethnic enclaves should be allowed to form and subsequently addressed, and if the WP chief would agree that matters of great sensitivity, like race, have to be handled sensitively, rather than be exploited for political purposes.
Mr Singh replied to say that the WP does not use such matters for political purposes.
He added that "moving from one extreme to another extreme" is probably not the best policy approach.
"By and large, we accept that we have to move forward in a way where Singapore as a country, as a society is strengthened," Mr Singh said.
Mr Teo noted that the WP's manifesto calls for the EIP to be abolished immediately, "although the Leader of the Opposition seems to have shifted away from that because he realises that's untenable".
"I'm glad to hear the Leader of the Opposition say that we should all not exploit the issues of race and religion for political purposes. I applaud that," he added.