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I am a Singaporean working in China with a large International Bank. I do find it amusing yet disturbing that suddenly everyone in Parliament is trying to speak for (more like, “on”) me and my profile of Singaporeans.

Friends who knew me well, know that I do champion the Singapore agenda within my Bank (when I was based in Singapore). In fact, I dare say that no one championed more than me in trying to have more Singaporeans in senior roles. However, in recent years, I had an epiphany that such efforts may be counterproductive. Don’t get me wrong, I do think it is important to have Singaporeans in top jobs, but only by his/her own merits rather than their birthrights.

Meritocracy

Meritocracy is probably a word used more often by late Lee Kuan Yew than any other words. This single word has a profound meaning that our entire system, our government, our politics and our country is built upon. Regardless of his/her gender, the colour of skin, race, religion and family association, can and will be successful if he/she proves his/her capabilities, talents and diligence. The idea was to create all the social enablers such as our education system, the job opportunities, the transparent legal system and the foreign investments for Singaporeans to succeed but only if he/she wants it and willing to fight for it. No one is guaranteed an iron rice bowl.

We are the nation most-favoured by MNCs and global Financial Institutions not because we have a large hinterland to tap but a competitive market with the depth of talent pool to match and a sound system that would withstand the test of time and tide. If our design is to have a financial market stuffed full of Singaporeans, we wouldn’t open up the banking sector in the 90s. Competition made us stronger and made us be world-beaters.

I fully agree that the government is voted in by Singaporeans and they need to place Singaporeans at the heart of every policy. This is why I hope that Singaporeans and our elected MPs are sensible enough to thread the fine balance of promoting the Singaporean agenda and not lose our real competitive edge by eroding the meritocracy-based system we had created. Such xenophobic and stirring the emotions a deemed-privilege of a Singaporean is myopic and will lull us into a false sense of complacency in this unforgiving world.

The real competition is not in Raffles Place

My 14 years in banking had taught me that the real competition for banking jobs is not in Raffles Place, but it is in Hong Kong, in Shanghai, in Dubai, in Mumbai, in New York, in London; the real arena is the world stage. There will be a tsunami of 8+ million university graduates in China released into the market this year; imagine the competition at the world stage! I had the privilege of meeting some of these Chinese graduates through interviews and trust me, they are very impressive and speaks good English as well. Side note, the junior staff helping me account opening has a degree in Quantitative Finance from one of the top university in the USA! These youths are well-educated, hungry and diligent. So we need to be aware of the true competition at our doors and if we tighten too much, we may preserve jobs for Singaporeans but lose more in the long run.

Ensure workplace fairness and no bias-ness in hiring

The real question that we should consider is workplace fairness and ensure that there is no bias-ness of hiring. I had seen my fair share of ill-qualified “foreign talents” (which I often question the value of their existence) and you can’t help but to feel that such people have a “Godfather” up in the hierarchy that got them the job. But enforcing fairness is always difficult and how can Parliament legislate more oversight to penalise firms that practising bias hiring? There is no foolproof legislature. Also, the last thing we want is to shoo-in a Singaporean into a top role where he/she is set up for failure. I am sure we all had seen a fair share of less capable Singaporeans taking a role too big for themselves.

Enough ranting… just a couple of liners for my fellow Singaporeans:

To the millennial Singaporeans – don’t assume it is your birthrights to get a job in Singapore. Fight for it and polish up your CVs.

To the MPs – don’t take the easy route of socialism and protectionism just to win votes. Preserve what made us an economic miracle but enforce fairness in the workplace so that qualified Singaporeans don’t get sidelined.

To the “other Singaporeans” – don’t just complain why other foreigners are ahead of you. Venture out and get some overseas experiences as well. Life is not always fair, deal with it!

By Benjamin Chan

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