Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cracks in society are showing

The big question is who caused it and what is done to minimize it!

Cracks in society are showing
SM Goh raises concern as foreign talent stats hit new high

Loh Chee Kong
cheekong@mediacorp.com.sg

WITH the number of new citizens and PRs expected to outstrip last year's record figure of 70,500, cracks are already appearing not just between different ethnic groups, but also within races.

This sobering observation came from Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who was speaking at the 10th anniversary of the Community Development Councils (CDCs) on Friday, as he outlined the challenges facing them.

Mr Goh related how there are already signs of Singaporeans lowering their trust towards one another.

At his annual reception in his Marine Parade constituency for new citizens and PRs, Mr Goh noticed how "the new residents did not mix easily with Singaporeans" and Singaporeans, in turn, "tended to leave them alone".

And within the Chinese and Indian communities, crevices are deepening.

Said Mr Goh: "In terms of accent, culture and habit, Chinese Singaporeans are different from their PRC counterparts. As for Indians, I have heard that the Indians from India tend to bring their caste culture with them, and that some of them sometimes come across as sikit atas (slight air of superiority) to our local Indians.

"On the other hand, some Indian Singaporeans also display the same attitude towards the many low-skilled workers from India."

Citing the studies of Harvard University political science dean Robert Putnam, Mr Goh said that the phenomenon of "hunkering down" takes place as a society becomes more diverse and multi-cultural. Left unchecked, it would reduce social solidarity and erode community trust. For example, people will have a lower likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.

And as Singapore must continue to open its doors to new immigrants to boost its population and economy, Mr Goh hopes the CDCs would "find ways to bond new Singaporeans and PRs to our people".

He also identified two other social divides that must be bridged: That between less well-off and more successful Singaporeans, and also the gap between the elderly and the young.

Said Mr Goh: "We must involve more successful Singaporeans in a concerted community effort to help the poor and the dysfunctional families."

Likewise, Singaporeans have a critical role to play to help senior citizens lead active lives.

Apart from employers, the mindset of Singaporeans towards their elderly parents must also change.

He added: "Children sometimes discourage their own elderly parents from leading active lives … . In truth, the 60-year-old of today is very different from the 60-year-old of 20 years ago."

Mapping out the priorities for the CDCs, Mr Goh said they must enlarge the common space which brings together Singaporeans and immigrants.

On top of intra-group bonding within faith-based organisations or various professional and interest groups, the CDCs have to "encourage inter-mingling" between the disparate groups.

CDCs should also engage in "preventive intervention", instead of providing "downstream pain relief".

One positive example is the Home Ownership Plus Education programme, which helps families become self-reliant through housing and training grants, as well as education bursaries for their children to help them break out of the poverty cycle.

Likewise, efforts to promote active ageing should begin before retirement, said Mr Goh.

While there are existing programmes to address these social divides, Mr Goh called on the CDCs to do so "holistically".

Otherwise, he said, Singapore's social unity would be "eroded gradually and imperceptibly but with long-term implications on the harmony of our society".

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