of PRs to be offered citizenship & if they refuse, their PR status won't be renewed

It's a tough measure alright. Desperate, some may say. And what will happen to those PRs who bought the HDB resale flats but refuse to take citizenship when approached? Will they lose their homes when their PR status later on will not be renewed?

What concerns me the most is even if they're willing to take citizenship, how patriotic will they be? Especially for those who do so because they feel compelled. They may feel that they have no choice. And that is sad, isn't it? To be a complaining citizen.

The Singapore Government is moving to encourage more Permanent Residents in the country to take up citizenship.

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said some PRs will be approached to become citizens and if they don't do so, their status will not be renewed.

Immigration was one of many issues tackled during a dialogue session with over 200 residents from Marine Parade to gather feedback on the Prime Minister's National Day Rally.

SM Goh did not give details on getting PRs to take up citizenship.

"Moving forward, we are going to approach some of them to take up Singapore citizenship, if they don't then their PR will not be renewed. That's a better way.

"We now have quite a few PRs, 500,000 in Singapore, so hopefully maybe 50,000 can be selected to become Singapore citizens, the rest can be PRs, contributing to Singapore's economy," he said.

SM Goh was responding to a suggestion from a participant who said Employment Pass holders should take up citizenship which he believed will discourage foreign talents from working in Singapore.

Besides, SM Goh pointed out that Employment Pass holders serve as buffers where their numbers can be reduced during a downturn.

Another radical suggestion put forward was to bar foreigners from buying private property but SM Goh noted developers would just build more high-rise private apartments to counter it.

"At the moment, our policy will be, condominium, private sector. They want to buy, let them buy because they actually bring in money for Singapore. They may not actually stay there but they bring in money.

"They buy from locals, locals are happy to get the money but it's not actually adding to space. In fact, that's actually ideal. They buy here, they don't drive cars, they don't live here, we just get their money! They're buying air!" laughed SM Goh.

Separately, SM Goh revealed it will cost S$1 billion to upgrade the train signalling system to increase capacity and reduce the waiting time for commuters.

He said problems can be resolved rationally but noted that for every solution, there are consequences.

Citing overcrowding in trains, SM Goh said the problem is expected and can be addressed.

In this case, resources have to be put in place to upgrade the system.

The cost may not be passed down to commuters directly, but SM Goh pointed out that it has to be defrayed.

Similarly, there are consequences with measures introduced in the property sector.

SM Goh acknowledged the situation has resulted in many unhappy Singaporeans, and he sought to put things in perspective.

"Those who missed out, those who can't buy this, who can't upgrade and so on, so we are really feeling the unhappiness, question is was the policy good?

"Unhappiness, those who are happier, in total there's net happiness, there's no such thing called total happiness, don't believe in it. It's whether we create net happiness in all this," said SM Goh.

He added it is "very difficult to satisfy everybody" and in politics, trying to make everybody happy is "impossible".

They key, said SM Goh is to "make the most number of people happy, the most number of times".

Another idea worth considering in managing transport woes is to have a "zero vehicular traffic growth".

"Let the COE take care of the number for cars on the road so when the number of cars cannot grow when the COE is so high then the roads will be freer so it's a combination of high COEs and low ERP.

"But we have opted in the last 10 years or so to give Singaporeans the 4 wheels so we have opted for 3 per cent growth in vehicle population and therefore use ERP to tweak it because one can argue that's fairer." he said.

The question is to decide which is the best way forward, said the Senior Minister.

He also answered questions on why the S$9,000 award to recognise the contributions of NSmen is not extended to all who have served the country.

SM Goh said authorities can consider giving older Singaporeans a token for their contributions.

"I think the old days, the financial sacrifices were much more because you were paid just a nominal sum but there were other benefits. If you were born earlier, maybe you bought your HDB flat cheaper! So you cannot argue.

"Your point is whether we can recognise in some way, token well I think we take note so that in future, they can remember the older ones, just a token, maybe past 55, help them with their medical top ups, I think that's possible. It's a suggestion we will take note."

SM Goh was relaxed and candid in his answers. At several points, he threw questions back, seeking a consensus on issues.

His message - that Singapore's problems can be resolved rationally, no matter how complex, with a good dose of the Singapore Spirit.

From Channel NewsAsia, "Government encourages more Singapore PRs to take up citizenship".

Getting Permanent Residents (PRs) to take up Singapore citizenship stems from a wider attempt at integration, said observers reacting to Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's remark.

Mr Goh had said during a National Day Rally feedback session that some of the 500,000 PRs will be asked to take up citizenship. If they don't, their PR status will not be renewed.

The authorities have yet to disclose details of the latest government initiative at assimilation. But observers said any new policy will likely target those who have been here for three to five years, and who have enjoyed the benefits of their PR status.

Dr Leong Chan Hoong, Research Fellow at Institute of Policy Studies, said: "The policy makers would have a better chance if they target PRs who have stayed here for a certain period of time and who have benefited from our social policies.

"For example, they have purchased a subsidised flat under the old HDB housing estate schemes, or they may have children who have gone through the local education system and getting some form of educational subsidies or medical health care benefits.

"Essentially, people who have been in our system for quite a number of years and become very localised."

Dr Leong added that those impacted may be Employment Pass holders who may now think twice about applying for PR status, simply because it may have an impact on their citizenship in the long term.

While it may seem like a tough stand, observers said it is the government's way to assure Singaporeans over the growing number of foreigners. But they added that a sharper distinction must be made between PRs and citizens.

Eugene Tan, Assistant Professor at the Singapore Management University's School of Law, said: "It depends on what they see, what are the benefits that could come out of becoming a Singapore citizen. I think as the differentiation between Singaporeans and Permanent Residents becomes sharper, we could see more PRs converting to citizens.

"But until that distinction is a lot sharper, many PRs may feel that there are no plus sides to becoming citizens. In fact, for many Permanent Residents, having citizenship in another country and a Singapore Permanent Residence is actually a very good combination for them. In that sense, there is no push factor for them to convert and at the same time there is no pull factor for them to convert from Permanent Resident to citizen.

"This is where the policy's challenge lies. Simply, for a long time the differentiation between a citizen and PR hasn't been very sharp. In recent years we see that distinction becoming sharper but for Singapore we are limited by the fact that we still need new immigrants.

"So if we have a policy in which we compel, so to speak, PRs, to covert to become citizens, that in itself could be a push factor. I think one pull factor would be to show that it makes both pecuniary and non-pecuniary sense for a PR to covert to citizenship. The idea here is: how can we make Singapore citizenship something that is attractive?"

From Channel NewsAsia, "Getting PRs to become citizens a wider integration attempt: observers".

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