Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has thrown down a challenge to Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai to file a motion to debate the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in Parliament.
This was raised on Tuesday (11 May) while Mr Shanmugam was providing details on the recent alleged racist attack made on a 55-year-old Indian woman in response to questions raised by Bukit Batok MP, Murali Pillai
Last Friday (7 May), an Indian woman named Hindocha Nita Vishnubhai was verbally and physically assaulted while she was out on a brisk walk. It appears that a man harassed her for allegedly not wearing her mask down before kicking her in the chest.
It was reported that the woman had her mask down as she was doing a brisk walk, which is allowed under the COVID-19 regulations. Mr Shanmugam noted that the woman had pulled down her mask to prevent breathlessness.
Mr Shanmugam stated that certain “parties” have been purposely inducing fears of foreigners as well as “encouraging racism and xenophobia” in Singapore, warning that such behaviours are “dangerous”.
He went on to state that justifying racist behaviour due to grievances over government schemes or policies like CECA was not acceptable.
In recent times, CECA has been heavily criticised as it is supposedly said to provide Indian nationals special immigration privileges and allows them to compete for jobs in Singapore.
However, the Government has argued that the free trade agreement does now automatically grant employment passes (EPs) to Indian nationals, and that they must fulfil the EP criteria first before being employed here.
‘I invite you to put up a motion to debate CECA’
Mr Shanmugam told the House that he invites Mr Leong to file a motion about CECA so debate can be done on it to find out if Singaporeans are benefiting or losing from the free trade agreement.
“There have been several canards about CECA promoted by whispering campaign. If anyone here believes that CECA is a problem, put it up for a motion, debate it openly, and let’s hear if Singaporeans benefit or lose from it,” he said.
He added, “I’m looking at you, Mr Leong. I invite you to put up a motion to debate CECA. You know that most of what is said about CECA is false.”
He went on to note that racism comments targeting Indians are “getting into the ground and being repeated”, adding that if Singapore is not careful, such a thing will soon become normalise.
“I hope responsible opposition parties would take a stand on this, notwithstanding that many of these sites that promote xenophobia support you.
“Singapore is 725sq km of rock. We have to make a living by being open to the world. We will fail if we allow racism and xenophobia to become prevalent, and is contrary to everything that has made us successful and proud to be Singaporean,” the Law Minister said.
Mr Leong accepts challenge to debate on CECA
In response to Mr Shanmugam’s challenge, Mr Leong said that PSP is interested in taking up the issue of CECA at “some point in time”.
“We are very interested to take up the CECA issue at some point in time. I think we still need to understand the situation more,” he said.
Mr Leong also went on to emphasise that he and his party are not xenophobic, and their interest in CECA issue is purely on the economic grounds.
“However, I must state at the outset that PSP and myself are not being xenophobic. We are just stating the economic effects of some of these free trade agreements have had on the economy.
“We are definitely not xenophobic and definitely racism has no place in our overall thinking. It is all about economics and livelihoods,” he concluded.