South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Paul Yip says deep divisions in politics and society are eroding its edge
Singapore celebrated its 49th anniversary as an independent country this month. It deserves to be proud of its accomplishments; within such a short time, it has become an international hub with a thriving economy, home to 3.8 million citizens and permanent residents, and 1.5 million foreigners from different cultures and ethnicities.
While there is still debate on the level of immigration and concerns over rising living costs, it remains a clean, green, safe and well-off place, and the preferred destination of work or migration for many.
Singapore’s government has strategically targeted highly skilled foreign labour while making use of abundant lower-skilled workers from nearby countries to ensure construction projects are completed in good time. Also, with such a racially mixed population of Chinese, Malays, Indians and many others, people still live in enviable peace.
In contrast, Hong Kong’s clashes with mainland migrants and visitors are witnessed every day. We face an acute shortage of workers in many sectors, which the government and industry appear unable to resolve. The construction of several large-scale infrastructure projects is behind schedule due to bad planning and a shortage of workers. Our health care sector is also short of staff.
As a result, society pays a huge cost.
We need to use our competitive advantage – our diversity, freedoms, trustworthy legal system, flexibility and creativity – to make Hong Kong vibrant and appealing again. Adopting a flexible approach to attracting foreign talent without compromising standards is essential to enhancing our human capital.
The Singaporean government has invested substantially in education and technology to make its economy strong and competitive.
The city also draws its teachers from the top 30 per cent of university graduates, as it believes in getting the most talented people to be role models for children. As a result, they are well paid. During my visits to a number of secondary schools, I was inspired by the sense of mission and direction of the principals and teachers.
The schools seem well supported by the Ministry of Education, which aims to provide a friendly working environment for teachers, including through the use of flexi-time where possible.
After a week-long visit, I understand better why we are losing some of our local talent to Singapore. It strives to become a better place for people to work and live despite the keen competition and stress. The government officials I met seemed receptive and ready to learn and make changes.
In contrast, officials and legislators in Hong Kong are forever embroiled in political issues. Singapore is responding fast to challenges and is willing to commit resources to improve education and training. The government has induced a sense of urgency in the community to improve itself. In Hong Kong, we have talent and creativity but we are stuck in a cycle of prolonged arguments and fights.
Interestingly, the equivalent to our “City” section in the South China Morning Post is called “Home” in The Straits Times. Well, Singaporeans are building a home while many of us in Hong Kong just live in a city, which some may leave when things are not right. Indeed, we are seeing another wave of migration in the midst of the seemingly endless, sometimes meaningless, political debate.
However, there are also many who choose to stay.
But until we take Hong Kong to be our home, not only will it lose out to Singapore in many aspects, but many of us will continue to focus on short-term gains rather than making Hong Kong liveable and pleasant in the long run. Any economic development should benefit the majority rather than a few.
Paul Yip Siu-fai is a professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong