LO on the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) Debate: 5 July 2021
The Minister for National Development (Mr Desmond Lee): Mr Speaker, with your permission, may I take Question Nos 13 and 14 together?
Mr Speaker: Yes, please.
Mr Desmond Lee: Thank you, Sir. I thank the Members for their questions on the Ethnic Integration Policy, or EIP. I thought it would be useful for me to first share the history and context in which it was first introduced.
When Singapore was still under British rule, the Raffles Town Plan, also known as the Jackson Plan, designated separate geographical zones for each ethnic group. Malays, Chinese, Indians and Europeans lived in different areas and apart from one another. But this segregation was not conducive to promoting interaction and integration between the races. That was our colonial history.
Given the experience as well as the circumstances that led to Singapore’s Independence in 1965, our founding fathers were determined to learn these lessons in order to build a cohesive, multiracial society. Our very existence as a nation was based on this ideal: that we would be one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.
To achieve this aspiration, the Government did not blindly paper over the differences between the ethnic groups. We also did not take a “melting-pot” approach by forcing the different races to blend or conform artificially to one uniform national culture.
Instead, we respected and celebrated our differences, worked hard to uplift every community while actively enlarging our common space, and fostering trust and understanding between the various ethnic communities.
We encouraged this through a range of policies, including public housing policy. For instance, when HDB built new towns and estates to provide public housing for Singaporeans, we consciously allocated flats in such a way that every HDB block and precinct all over Singapore reflected the ethnic mix of the general population. These were for our new flats then. This was so that people of different races could interact and form bonds with one another.
While we controlled the allocation of new flats quite carefully, we did not initially place similar restrictions on resale transactions, which were first allowed in 1971. Over time, as more resale transactions took place, people sold and bought and moved, ethnic concentrations started to re-emerge in particular areas. For example, by the late 1980s, we started to observe an increasing concentration of Chinese buyers in Ang Mo Kio and Malay buyers in Bedok and Tampines. We could see that, without intervention, there would, over time, once again, be ethnic enclaves which would separate us.
That is why we introduced the EIP in 1989, for both new as well as resale flats, to ensure that public housing estates remained inclusive and diverse, even beyond initial flat allocation.
The EIP applies to all races. It caps the proportion of flats in each HDB block and neighbourhood that can be owned by households of each ethnic group. The limits are set based on the ethnic proportions in the general population, with an allowance for some local variations in each block and neighbourhood. And if you look at the EIP limits, they are actually set higher than the national demographic proportion of each ethnic group.
Mr Chong Kee Hiong pointed out the changing profile of our households. He is right. We, therefore, review the EIP limits regularly, to ensure that they are in line with national demographics so that our HDB blocks and neighbourhoods continue to reflect the multiracial character of our society.
As for inter-ethnic households, which are becoming increasingly common in our social landscape, they can choose which ethnic quota to be considered when buying a flat. This choice is then fixed until they sell the flat, to be fair to other flat owners.
Today, we have made progress in strengthening good relations among Singaporeans of all races. This is the result of the hard work put in by many generations of Singaporeans, as well as our deliberate policies and programmes that seek to actively support multiracialism, including the EIP.
But as recent incidents show, there is still more that we can and must do to combat racism. Building racial harmony is a constant work in progress.
The EIP remains an important part of this effort because, left entirely to social and market forces, ethnic concentrations will start forming in different areas again.
There are many reasons for this, even beyond instinctive preferences that people may have, to live near others from the same ethnic community. For example, family members may wish to live near each other for mutual support, that is, live near family. Or residents of certain ethnic groups may prefer neighbourhoods with a higher concentration of specific amenities and services or larger flat types. Or they may find different locations more suitable for their household’s financial situation.
Individually, these are completely understandable and reasonable preferences and very personal ones. But collectively, if we are not careful, these tendencies could, inadvertently, lead to segregation among our races.
Is the EIP still relevant today? Let us look at the facts. Today, nearly one out of every three HDB blocks, and 14% of HDB neighbourhoods, have reached one or more of the EIP limits, which means they have hit that particular ethnic limit more than the national proportion. This happens across all ethnic groups – Chinese, Malays, Indians and Others – as well as in both mature estates with older Singaporeans and newer estates with younger residents, where most residents fulfilled the MOP in recent years. In some areas, like Bukit Merah, Pasir Ris and Woodlands, the limits have been reached persistently across time.
So, just imagine how much more the different ethnic groups would concentrate in different neighbourhoods, if we did away with the EIP, and how much harder it would be then to promote mixing and understanding across ethnic groups in the home environment.
Our children could grow up in neighbourhoods where they hardly see any children or any people of other races, not even in their classrooms, since most children go to pre-schools and national schools near their homes. How much harder then would it be for them to even get acquainted with different cultures from a young age – to see festivities, celebrations and mourning in the neighbourhood – not to mention to truly understand and appreciate these cultures from a very young age? And how much harder would it be for our children to correct their conscious and unconscious racial biases and learn how to live in a multicultural society?
So, to Miss Cheryl Chan’s questions, yes, the EIP remains relevant and necessary today.
Fostering real racial harmony is challenging and the EIP is one very important part of the solution because it helps to ensure inclusive and diverse neighbourhoods.
Of course, some might argue that just because we live next door to someone from a different ethnic group, culture or religion, it does not necessarily mean that we will get along with our neighbour, or learn to tolerate or understand our differences. In fact, all these incidents of friction between neighbours of different cultures have caught our attention and is part of the reason why are having this debate today. But equally, often, we do not celebrate the large number of situations when neighbours learn to live with each other, celebrate each other’s festivals, mourn with each other, grieve with each other and go and learn how to live together, because they live in the same community. Others also argue that there are other ways to mix and achieve social integration – in schools, at work or during National Service.
But the EIP remains critical because so much of our lives and our children’s lives revolve around our homes and our neighbourhoods. With diversity in our estates, we get to interact with our neighbours of different races almost every day – along the corridors, the void decks, playgrounds, markets, neighbourhood centres, shops, hawker centres.
And if we do not live with one another, it makes it much harder to empathise with other communities and understand the challenges that they face. And so much easier to stereotype or assume the worst of the other, the people we do not see or do not see so often. And this is a recipe for mutual mistrust and intolerance that we have seen in our early history but also repeated in cities and townships all around the world.
Indeed, we only need to look at other countries in the present day to see how this might happen. In major cities across Europe and the US, for example, racial segregation is common and well-advanced. Different ethnic groups live in different enclaves. The wealthier ethnicities congregate in expensive, gentrified precincts. While ethnicities which are less well-off are excluded and stigmatised. They receive fewer opportunities and these differences get entrenched across generations.
I recently read an article on the website FiveThirtyEight analysing racial segregation in the US. It featured a tool developed by the University of Virginia which is called “The Racial Dot Map” – and you might want to check it up after this. The map plots one dot for each person on the maps of US cities, with different colours representing different ethnicities. The visualisation is quite stark. The map is colourful, but you can see distinct and clear patches of colour sharply separated from one another, with very little inter-mixing, a reflection of how multicultural but segregated the country is. The author also cites a study showing that three quarters of white Americans do not have any non-white friends. He writes, I quote, “The places we live affect not only our access to resources, but also who we meet, interact with and become friends with. The nature of segregation in the US means that we only end up seeing and learning about what our own groups experience, making it hard to understand the lives of people outside of our own group.”
Similarly, after I spoke about the EIP at an overseas conference some years back, a mayor of a big city that suffered from serious racial segregation and conflict came up to me. He said he wished that his city had implemented a version of the EIP much earlier on, to foster harmony and avert the unrest that they now regularly face. But now that societal divisions have hardened along racial and ethnic lines, the EIP is not a feasible nor politically attainable option. Even talking about the idea of ensuring that different races live near one another would cause an uproar and inflame tensions even further. That is how bad the situation had become. That conversation with this mayor has stuck in my mind all these years.
In fact, in September 2016, Lord Mayor Sadiq Khan of London, said this: “The less integrated our societies are, the greater the economic and social costs we face now and in the future. Failure to integrate feeds extremism, whether in the Muslim community or the far right. It causes anxiety and fear of crime and causes mistrust between people. A laissez-faire approach to achieving social integration just does not work. There is so much that city leaders can do to ensure people of different ethnicities, faiths, culture, age groups and incomes do not just tolerate each other, but live truly interconnected lives. We need to ensure that our housing and planning laws mean we design and build integrated communities and institutions where neighbours have real reasons to come together.”
And, actually, I have got many other studies that we have been following over the years – studies in Europe, the US and other cities – which affirm that integration and social diversity strengthen social cohesion and understanding.
So, the EIP continues to serve a very important function for Singapore. We cannot leave social mixing to chance and hope that it will happen by an invisible hand. It is better to intervene upstream to pre-empt the problem and to foster mutual understanding and encourage integration from the start. If we wait until after racial tensions have started to bubble to the surface and develop and become entrenched, it will become so much harder to heal those fractures and rebuild trust among different communities.
From our engagements and the feedback we have received, most Singaporeans understand and support the EIP and recognise its purpose. Based on a recent REACH survey, more than 60% of Singaporeans agreed that implementing racial quotas in public housing was an important way of promoting racial integration. Similar levels of support were seen across all races. About 30% were indifferent to this and less than 10% disagreed.
Having said that, we recognise that the EIP is an intrusive social policy, because it acts against very powerful and complex socio-economic forces that are at play in Singapore and all over the world.
And in its application on the ground, the EIP does have its rough edges and may cause difficulties for some owners looking to sell their flats. In 2020, HDB received about 500 appeals for a waiver of the EIP, which is about 2% of the 23,100 resale applications filed last year.
When the EIP limits are reached for an ethnic group, sellers from other ethnic groups are unable to sell to buyers of the constrained group. With a smaller pool of eligible buyers, sellers may have to lower their asking price or they may take longer to market and sell their flat. This happens across all races, including Chinese sellers who are affected by the non-Chinese EIP limits. But we do see more appeals from sellers from the minority races. This is because Chinese buyers form a larger proportion of the market simply from the demographic mix of society and the impact on individual non-Chinese sellers is therefore larger when the Chinese EIP limits are reached. And this data we presented in some Parliamentary Questions (PQs) earlier.
In such cases, the seller’s loss may be the buyer’s gain. A buyer from an eligible race will benefit from a lower resale price and would thus be less affected if and when they sell the flat in the future.
But this brings little comfort to affected sellers, particularly those who had bought the flat from HDB, or on the resale market before the EIP limits were reached, and yet are now caught by the EIP limits. This is the group who can be financially disadvantaged, and I understand why they feel aggrieved. They may feel it is unfair that they are personally shouldering the costs for a policy that benefits all of us in society.
Over the years, Members of Parliament on both sides of this House have raised these concerns. This is why HDB has been exercising flexibility for EIP-constrained owners, on a case-by-case basis. For instance, HDB will give the household more time to sell their flat and even waive the EIP limits if there are exceptional circumstances. In fact, the percentage of successful EIP-related appeals has risen from 14% in 2018 to 21% in 2020.
However, whenever HDB waives EIP limits to address its impact on certain households, it is mindful that this may lead to even higher imbalances in the concentrations of certain ethnic groups in some areas. So, we are studying the situation carefully and are looking at what more can be done to help affected sellers.
The EIP is by no means the perfect tool, nor the only tool to promote and ensure racial harmony. We are very conscious of the trade-offs and will keep working to smoothen its sharper edges.
But it has an essential place among the range of tools, programmes, policies and safeguards we deploy to protect and promote our racial harmony. So, let us keep in mind the larger social objective behind the EIP even as we seek to smoothen its sharper edges. We must always ensure that the places we live and grow up reflect the fabric of our society. That is how we continuously press on towards our ideal of a cohesive and multi-racial Singapore.
Mr Speaker: Ms Nadia Samdin. We are taking PQs all the way to Question No 16.
Mr Speaker: Mr Pritam Singh.
Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the Leader for extending the time for Members to ask supplementary questions. My question is directed to the Minister for National Development. First and foremost, I thank the Minister for that very nuanced exposition of the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP). I think it has been the most nuanced reply that I have heard from a Government Minister on the EIP, considering on the one hand the realities of racial integration and other policies that can assist; and on the other, the fact that there are people who actually pay a price for the EIP.
I have three supplementary questions.
The first pertains to the request for waivers. This has been on the up, from 2017 to 2019. I understand the numbers were around 1,850 for the three years: 25% from the Malay community, 16% from the Chinese community and 59% from the Indian and other communities. The numbers actually cascade lower in the years before.
My question is: for the EIP limit for the Indian and other communities, which was at 59%, when the EIP limit overall was actually reviewed in 2010, the EIP limit for that category was 10% and 13% at the neighbourhood and block level, and that was increased to 12% and 15% respectively. My question is: in view of the large number of EIP appeals continuing to come from this community and a suggestion made in 2010 by the then-Minister for National Development that there would be a review around 2020, has this review been undertaken and what are the new EIP limits, if any?
The second question is a question for information. In 1989, when EIP was introduced, 28% of the neighbourhoods had already reached the established EIP guidelines on the start date of the EIP. Over the years, this has fallen but there is no real clarity about why this has fallen. I am specifically referring to the number of new neighbourhoods that have also come about. So, the percentage can be very difficult to understand. For example, in Kaki Bukit and Aljunied GRC, the neighbourhood level numbers for the Malay community are still, I believe, beyond the EIP limits. And there is nothing untoward about race relations in Kaki Bukit. And I think this will be replicated in other parts of Singapore.
So, to this end, is the Government prepared to share details on the breakdown by ethnic groups in all HDB neighbourhoods, both new and old, on an annual basis from 1989? If it is, then, we will file the question.
Finally, in response to a Parliamentary Question (PQ) I filed in 2013, HDB shared that it had reviewed the EIP limits for rental flats; and administratively, it adds up to 10% for the block limits for HDB rental flats. Would HDB consider a similar approach for all flats and also exercise greater flexibility at the neighbourhood level as a means of loosening the EIP criteria as a compromise, or even remove precinct and block quotas in favour of a larger area of coverage?
This is in view of the rising number of EIP waiver requests over the last few years, Singapore’s changing demographic profile and for policy equity considerations towards communities that are adversely affected by the EIP.
The Minister for National Development (Mr Desmond Lee): I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his three questions.
First, on the number of appeals from households from Indian or other ethnic origins, whether the review is ongoing, it continues to be so. We look at the proportions of various ethnic groups over the years and we make adjustments, where necessary.
In 1989 versus 2020, the second question. Here is the data. In 1989, when we introduced the EIP, 28% of neighbourhoods had reached one or more EIP limits. So, 125 neighbourhoods then; 35 neighbourhoods reached one or more limits. In June this year, out of 173 neighbourhoods – because we have been building our towns and increasing the number of neighbourhoods – 14% have breached one or more ethnic limits. That is 24 neighbourhoods. In 1989, 35 neighbourhoods out of 125 and in June 2021, 24 out of 173.
So, more neighbourhoods as a whole in Singapore but the number of neighbourhoods hitting one or more EIP limits has come down, not just in proportionate terms but in absolute numbers.
That is perhaps a result of a range of factors: the EIP operating, including operating in new neighbourhoods that are launched over the years since. But also, a whole variety of factors: providing a whole range of flat types, providing for different budgets, programmes that promote a sense of belonging, programmes that help to integrate society together across races. So, a whole range of factors may have led to that.
As for rental flats, I recall reading in 2013, the Member asked, following a 2012 question he had asked to Minister Khaw Boon Wan, then Minister for National Development, and Minister Khaw said that for rental flats to accommodate the Malay households that are applying for rental housing, there would be an administrative 10-percentage point increment to accommodate.
Whether we will consider that across all housing types, as I said earlier, we are mindful of the intent of EIP as a bulwark against very strong socio-economic forces borne out of choices of individuals. The EIP, we need to adjust along the way in terms of looking at proportions, but it is a very important bulwark. And I hope the Member agrees with me.
Therefore, we look at individual cases in order to determine whether we should waive the limit as opposed to an inexorable increase in EIP limits for all races across the board, which for some cases would bring it close to 100% because for Chinese, the EIP limit is already 87%.
So, the question is how much more do you want to raise the cap? In doing so, even when we allow appeals on a case-by-case basis, we are already pushing at the boundaries of what the policy seeks to achieve.
Let me also take this opportunity to ask the Leader of the Opposition to give us a better understanding of the Workers’ Party’s (WP’s) position on EIP. He has asked very useful questions. I looked at your manifestos and WP has said unequivocally from 2006 to last year, that WP wants the EIP to be abolished; and people should be able to stay wherever they want in our estates.
Let me quote page 28 of the 2020 manifesto, “the ethnic quotas governing citizens’ home ownership of HDB flats should be abolished. This would address the disadvantage faced by ethnic minority HDB flat resellers. Abolishing the quota will not cause racial disharmony amongst Singaporeans. After more than 50 years of nation-building, our society has evolved and achieved multi-racial integration that has gone beyond the need for mandating proportionately mixed neighbourhoods. Singaporeans should therefore be given the freedom to choose where their homes will be without taking into account race.”
It is the same in 2015. You did not cite the impact on minority resellers but you say that society has now attained a level of multi-racial integration and therefore there is no longer a need for EIP.
In 2011, that is the same position except that in addition to saying that in 2011, Singapore had reached a high level of multi-racial integration and therefore there is no longer a need for people to be mandated to live with each other across different ethnicities in our neighbourhoods, WP goes on to say that the ethnic quota system also contradicts the policy of encouraging young families to live closer to their parents and prevent young Malay and Indian families from buying homes close to their parents. I would dare say that also applies to Chinese families who are constrained by EIP even if they wish to live in the same block as their parents.
That is also the same in 2006.
Between 1989 and 2006, we have no record of any position that WP has taken since the EIP was launched.
I looked at speeches made by the hon Leader of the Opposition as well as the Chairman of WP and other Members. I just want to understand the rationale and, indeed, what the position is. Because in the House, there has been no clear and unequivocal position taken by WP that you want the EIP abolished because you object to it and that Singapore has reached such a high level of multi-racialism that it is no longer necessary.
We, of course, take a very different view to that. And the recent incidents over the years continue to remind us of the need to keep working at it and never rest on our laurels, that we can afford to take away mechanisms that are in place through the wisdom of the generations to keep our society where it is today.
So, I would like to seek some clarity. Firstly, given what I have said about the current EIP limits being strained in different locations and the experience in different cities and countries, not just in the past but in the present, what would be WP’s position? Is it your position that there will not be racial concentrations if we abolish EIP? Or are you saying that we have reached a level of multi-racial integration so that it does not matter if we have entire blocks and neighbourhoods of predominantly one race; society will not change if we have ethnic concentrations?
What would your position be if you know that people go to the pre-schools, they go to the schools near their homes. And if we have neighbourhoods predominantly of one ethnic group, that will of course cascade into pre-schools, into our national school system. The services in the heartlands, the shops, the markets, the hawker centre food choices, they will adjust to reflect the proportions of the clientele in the neighbourhood.
How about local jobs? The availability of local jobs and the kinds of ethnic Singaporeans who fill those jobs?
If you are concerned about diversity in the workplace, in National Service, in national schools and even social mixing – I recall there was an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) discussion about different socio-economic classes and the concern about whether they mix – then, why not at home and in our neighbourhoods where we spend a vast amount of time?
I would like to seek the Member’s clarification. It would help to advance our common understanding.
Mr Speaker: Mr Pritam Singh.
Mr Pritam Singh: Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Yes, that is the Workers’ Party (WP) position, as iterated by the Minister, in the manifesto. It really is undergirded by the frustration that we sense from ethnic minorities who cannot sell their flats.
The question is: is the EIP the only policy, among a whole gamut of policies, that the Government has to encourage racial integration, bearing in mind that it is a pre-emptive policy introduced in 1989? And we also have a hybrid system almost, in Singapore, where we do have places like Chinatown and Little India, where there are concentrations of a particular race but it does not disturb Singaporeans. It does not bother Singaporeans.
We may take a different philosophical approach as to what the end situation will be, but I cannot speculate on one or two episodes and say that because of that, we are descending in terms of our journey towards greater racial integration.
My own sense on the philosophy behind the HDB EIP policy as it stands today – almost one generation since its introduction – is that it needs to be revisited. It has to be revisited in the context and not limited to: number one, a larger national conversation on race relations in the context of today and tomorrow Singapore; and, separately, what it means to be Singaporean.
Number two, the effect of immigration into Singapore from the 1990s after the EIP was introduced, leading to a larger Singapore family living in HDB flats that include communities outside the traditional CMIO categorisation such as naturalised Singaporeans from Myanmar, the Philippines and non-Tamil ethnic Indians.
Number three, the more common experience of mixed marriages amongst Singaporeans and separately between Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans, and its impact on traditional racial categorisations.
Number four, as it is well known – this is really the heartbeat of why WP has taken the position it has since 2006. It was, I think, referred to as a “time bomb” by PAP even then – and that is the economic loss to minorities who have to lower the market price of their flats in the name of that policy. That is particularly painful because we hear that from many people who are in that position. I believe the Chairperson of WP in the opening of the Parliament for this session, referred to one individual who had to sell the flat at a loss of $100,000. That is shocking and that is really where we are coming from.
Number five and finally, a reassessment of Singapore’s lived experiences which acknowledge policies and guidelines that have successfully encouraged racial integration such as national schools, anti-discrimination guidelines at the workplace, National Service, amongst others, and how these compare in today’s time with the continued efficacy of the EIP as a policy tool of racial integration.
So, the position is this. The current policy as it stands has a larger impact on minorities, penalising them in the pocket when they have to sell their flat. By minorities, I mean not just racial minorities, but those who are affected by it, including Chinese, Malays, Indians. This may perversely interact with the stated objective of the policy of racial harmony, thereby breeding resentment amongst those who are affected by the policy.
For that reason, the EIP as it stands needs to be reviewed. We must always keep in focus the prospect of endeavouring towards a race-neutral society where race-based policies like the EIP are no longer needed. In its current form, as I suggested, the EIP quota should either be further loosened to ameliorate the prospects of further economic loss for sellers with HDB committed to buying back the affected flat at the valuation price, or a larger geographical area representing the anchor for the EIP rather than the precinct and block quotas.
And just before I conclude, my second supplementary question was not just a general question about the percentages at a broad level. It was about specific neighbourhoods across time. Would the MND be prepared to release that information?
Mr Desmond Lee: I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the very clear elucidation of the party’s position that it objects to the EIP and would want it abolished. A couple of responses.
First, he says it is a pre-emptive policy in 1989. If you look back in history and over the last few weeks and months as we continue to review our policies and preparing for today’s session has been a humbling experience in learning from the wisdom of the generations. It is not a pre-emptive policy in 1989. It was a policy that was put in place because of the lessons learnt from the 1960s, paid for with blood, sweat and tears. A real pain in families grieving for lost loved ones and a country newly formed wrecked by racial riots and disharmony, distrust. The efforts of HDB are not just to build homes for people who lived in slums and villages that flooded or were easily burned, but also ensuring that we learn those lessons, and in allocating new flats, make sure that in every block, there was a racial mix. Taking people from what were ethnic enclaves, which were a legacy of the Jackson Plan and persisted through villages and enclaves of different races, pulling them up and saying, “You move into these high-rise homes in the sky, but we will mix you. Learn to live with each other.”
If you talk to the earlier generation, it was not easy. And I think today, there are still frictions along the way, but things have improved.
So, it is not a pre-emptive policy. It is not something that we decided to put in because we were looking at other countries. We paid for it with the blood of our brethren and sisters.
Second, the Member says that he or WP would like to abolish the EIP because of its disproportionate impact on minorities. As I said earlier, the EIP has its rough edges. By its very operation, it seeks to ensure that in every estate, from BTO all the way to resale flat, there is freedom to choose where you would like to live, subject to balloting or price. But when it hits certain limits, and when the function of individual choices results in blocks exceeding significantly the demographic proportion of each ethnic group, then we have to kick in this bulwark and say, “Well, we will have to cap it”.
Of course, it causes pain to minorities but also Chinese as well. The proportion, of course, will be different because there are a lot more Chinese than there are the other ethnic minorities, and that is the reality of it.
For BTO applications in certain popular locations, say Bishan, Ang Mo Kio, you do have cases of Chinese coming up to say, “Look, I have been balloted. I have been asked to select, but the next day I am told sorry, EIP limit hit, and then the minority takes over my place”. There is also unhappiness. But we explain the rationale and seek their understanding, and by and large, all Singaporeans of all races have kept faith with the broader intent of this policy.
But I accept the Member’s point and I accept the point that was made by many Members of this House, both present and past, and looking at very thoughtful questions in speeches by both PAP Members and Members from across the aisle over the years, concerned about the impact on their constituents of all races, including minorities.
And that is why we have been looking at it case-by-case, understanding the situation for each seller, looking at how long they have taken to market the flat, looking at the price if asked for, given the market conditions, and well, if today is EIP, tomorrow or next month, perhaps there might be a change of circumstances. Or after a few months, the EIP may adjust because people buy and sell and the EIP may no longer apply to your block. So, we look at it individually, bearing in mind that we have to be very judicious. Otherwise, the lessons that we have learned will all unravel.
The Member talked about the case that the Chairman of WP sought to help and the example was raised twice as an anecdotal, but real, example of a person who lost $100,000 through resale. I would like to clarify and we have checked all the cases that the learned Member had filed and without naming the individual family, it was not a case of them losing $100,000. Ms Sylvia Lim’s appeal to us was that the resident told her that she got offers for her flat that appeared to be $100,000 less than what other people nearby were offered. That was anecdotal, it was said to her. I am not sure if the Member verified. We were not in a position to verify what the offers were for that flat.
But in that case, HDB assessed the case holistically and agreed in August 2019 to waive the EIP for a period of time to allow the family to sell. Waived off EIP, looking at the circumstances of the family. But the family decided not to take this offer up for other reasons and requested HDB to acquire the flat. So, that was what happened. I think better put these cases which are raised as anecdotal examples to rest.
Having said that, there is impact, no doubt. There is impact. And we address that through appeals, we look at these and scrutinise very carefully to help the affected seller. And as we said, we continue to look at how we can smoothen the rough edges of EIP and ensure that a new generation of Singaporeans who have not lived through the tumultuous early days of Singapore history continue to support measures, may not be popular measures, but necessary bulwarks to ensure that our multi-racial character is in substance and not in form.
The Member, I am not sure whether he has addressed my question, but because of the impact on minorities, which we have said we address through appeals as well as through continuous smoothening of the rough edges, does he still take the position that we want to abolish the EIP for that reason? And if abolished, does WP believe that our estates will remain multicultural and representative? Or is it the case that you accept that given even current trends, there will be a lot of concentration, but that it is perfectly okay, there is no impact to our multi-racial character because we have multi-racialism in National Service, in our national schools and our workplaces?
I have also said earlier that there will be these knock-on effects, if whole estates become concentrated, to all these places, platforms and spaces that the Member talked about. From being common, they will be ethnic focused. Does he then say, we move the EIP away from housing and put ethnic quotas in schools, in workplaces, in pre-schools, in markets, in hawker centres, in neighbourhood shops? Or you think it is fine that the schools and pre-schools, they are all ethnically focused because its proximity and it is fine. We are sufficiently multicultural – a point you have made since 2006, that Singapore has reached such a high level of multiculturalism that we no longer need to concern ourselves with mixing people.
As for the last point about the data, we will look at what data we can provide, the granularity, it changes from month to month. But we will see what we can provide.
Mr Speaker: Mr Pritam Singh.
Mr Pritam Singh: Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Minister for National Development. I think the point really, again, is the philosophy that we want to aim towards, towards a race-neutral society and we continue working towards this assiduously and keeping in mind that you do not want the policy to become a barrier to that vision, to that journey to become a race-neutral society. That is why we took the position that we had.
I do not believe the Minister has suggested what sort of policy beyond the very helpful clarification of the anecdote, I think this is how Parliament should work: if an example is brought up, the Government clarifies. Beyond these cases where HDB looks at it on a case-by-case basis, we have a regime, the rental housing regime, where HDB is prepared to administratively lift block limits. So, it is not as if the Government, the arguments that were made by the Minister for National Development are cast in stone. There is flexibility beyond looking at individual cases and moving the boundaries.
So, the question I like to ask is for the review that was supposed to take place 10 years after 2010, according to Minister Mah Bow Tan. What sort of scheme changes have HDB discussed internally, beyond just looking at cases on a case-by-case basis?
If I have not answered any of the Minister’s questions, please ask me again. I will be happy to answer them. Ours is a philosophical point. We take the position because we want to endeavour and move towards a race-neutral society.
Mr Desmond Lee: I thank the Leader of the Opposition. Those are details, important details but I think, fundamentally, it is important to understand, given the Government’s position as articulated, that we continue to look at how we can smoothen the rough edges and given how over the last few years, we have started to see more appeals succeeding, do we recognise that that is on a case-by-case basis, providing a balm to a household but also not quite pushing the limits further. Does WP still want to abolish? And if it abolishes, the important questions about your belief about what society will be like, I think that is most fundamental. The other issues we can address, but we need to understand your position on multi-racialism.
Number two, the importance of these bulwarks to ensure multi-racialism. Number three, your position on Chinese, Malays, Indians, Others (CMIO). You have talked about a race-blind society, a race-neutral, race-blind multicultural society. But yet over the years, we have been tracking; WP has been filing lots and lots of questions specific to individual minorities or races. And in fact, I understand Member Mr Faisal Manap had asked a Parliamentary Question (PQ) before, asking for assurances that we will ensure that the ethnic mix in Singapore will remain and wants to keep a very close eye on ethnic issues.
The Second Minister for National Development (Ms Indranee Rajah): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I just wanted to ask a clarification of the Leader of the Opposition because I was listening to his response.
I think he had started out by saying that the EIP should be revisited. Then, he said, reviewed. He then mentioned that in the manifesto, they took a philosophical position. But I am sorry because I still do not know what WP’s position is.
So, could the Leader of the Opposition clarify? Is he saying today that the EIP should be abolished? Is the answer to that, yes or no? That is all I want to know. Or is he saying that it need not be abolished, we can just look to see how we improve it? That is all I wanted to understand.
Mr Pritam Singh: Well, it is a very nice way to close off our discussion on this topic. But I will be happy to clarify the doubts of the Leader of the House. The philosophical position remains, we aim as a society towards race neutrality. It does not matter what the colour of your skin is, we respect each other as Singaporeans, the Singapore family is going beyond CMIO categorisations and that is the target we need to keep in mind. That is where we want to endeavour towards.
The Government is the government of the day, it wants to retain the EIP for reasons which I would say are not totally illegitimate. I think it is important that I state that. But having said that, how do we move forward with the EIP as it is, knowing that there are minorities, knowing that there are minority communities, knowing that there are even majority, even the Chinese community, who are affected by it? Is there a better way forward?
I think that is our duty as an opposition also. Half the reason why I am asking for all that data on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis, over time – annually, not monthly – annually, is to try and see, for those neighbourhoods where EIP limits have been breached, what is unique about those neighbourhoods. Is it very different from any other neighbourhood in Singapore? How do we look into those details with more granularity? And I hope that clarifies the point by the Leader, but I do not think so.
Mr Speaker: Ms Indranee Rajah.
Ms Indranee Rajah: Mr Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his erudite answer, which did not answer my question. So, I think we both agree. Both, indeed, the Workers’ Party and we, agree we do want a race-neutral society. We want to raise a society where everybody can live happily together. It is a question of how do we get there. And one of the things that the People’s Action Party Government has put in place is the EIP.
The Workers’ Party, in its manifesto, has said, abolish it. Mr Pritam Singh comes to Parliament today and says revisit, review underlying philosophy and a few other things. I just want to know, today, is the Workers’ Party saying we should remove the EIP? If you are saying that we should do that, say so. On the other hand, if you are saying, keep the EIP but let us improve it and ameliorate the impact on minorities, say so. Then, I think we know where we both stand and where we are in agreement.
Mr Speaker: Mr Pritam Singh.
Mr Pritam Singh: We still aim to remove it but, until we get there, we have to, as Minister said, even out the rough edges as much as possible and, at some point, I hope my generation, within our generation, we reach that place where we are race-neutral. It does not mean that sometimes things do not bubble over. But there are more important things that remind us that we are Singaporeans and we ought to look beyond our skin colour.
Mr Speaker: Mr Desmond Lee.
Mr Desmond Lee: I thank the Member for that very clear position. In 2006 and all the way till last year, the Workers’ Party position was that we have already reached a level of multiculturalism and, therefore, unequivocally, called for since 2006, election after election, for the immediate abolition of EIP. But the Workers’ Party’s position today, in 2021, is that we still need the EIP, we work towards a race-blind society and we endeavour to reach there and, at some point, hopefully, we may not need EIP. So, that is a clear change in political position and I thank the Member for that.
Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Sir, the Leader of the Opposition, the hon Mr Pritam Singh has mentioned CMIO quite a number of times in his speech. In the light of this, can I ask our MCCY Minister, Mr Edwin Tong, to share with us the relevance of CMIO today.
Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: Mr Speaker, Sir, WP has on several occasions questioned the continued relevance of having the CMIO classification, and has also called for it to be removed. Sir, but at the same time, at almost every Parliamentary sitting, there are a many number of Parliamentary Questions (PQs) which focus on individual specific races, looking at programmes, outcomes, assistance.
I just did a quick look; this last Sitting, we have seven or eight such PQs and they range from issues such as education, like Ms Raeesah Khan asked a question for tomorrow whether there are, and I quote, “any immediate and specific action plans to tackle the issue of low education levels of the Malay community”. She has also asked another question for tomorrow where she has asked the Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs, “for each year from 2011 to 2020, how many Malays entered the local Universities and what is the percentage breakdown as compared to other races?”
Mr Faisal Manap has also asked the question, I think, in writing, asking the Minister for Home Affairs what is the number of reports made by victims of sexual assault, asking for a breakdown by race. I think Mr Leon Perera, at an earlier Sitting, asked for MOH’s Screen for Life programme to be broken down by ethnic lines. And I think Ms He Ting Ru asked the same question for the breakdown in relation to elections.
Sir, I am not citing these to suggest that these questions ought not be answered. On the contrary, I think these are very important questions and it is not wrong to do so, and we agree. The relevant Ministries will answer those questions fully.
The point though of citing these PQs is to say that, in reality, both sides of the House, and I think certainly on these examples, WP as well, realise that it is important to look at these outcomes by segments of society. And it is only if you have the CMIO classification and breakdown that you will be able to track performance of relative segments of society, to gauge the outcomes and to gauge for ourselves the efficacy and outcomes of these programmes that we have in place.
The relevant Ministries will give more full answer, I am sure, in due course. But if you take some of the points raised in these PQs, we are able to say that the percentage of Malay P1 cohort going onto post-Secondary education has doubled in the last 25 years. The number of Malay university graduates has doubled from 5.5% in 2010 to 10.8% in 2020. If we take the average Malay student, they were found in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2018 to have scored higher, above the OECD average. And Malay students also outperformed international students in this same PISA assessment on 21st century competencies.
This gives us, Mr Speaker, a good gauge of not just the relative performance of the segments in our society but also on the efficacy of our programmes and allows us to look at relative outcomes to assess where there might be gaps and to help in targeted, specialised, curated ways.
So, Sir, with reference to the point made by the Member Mr Sitoh, I think these are important classifications that feed into an important outcome in terms of the programmes that we make. And I would invite the Workers’ Party to consider this position and perhaps to state whether or not they see the CMIO as a relevant consideration today. And I would suggest, Mr Speaker, that certainly from the nature, type and range of questions that they have asked in Parliament, I think that would appear to be so.
Mr Speaker: Mr Pritam Singh.
Mr Pritam Singh: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I should thank Mr Sitoh for asking a question on our behalf.
I think we have to accept that we operate on terms dictated by the Government which wins the mandate at the elections, and that has been the PAP government. It has continued this CMIO model. I think where we are coming from is – and I believe the Government is on the same page in this regard – that we want to level everybody up so that no race feels that the government policy does not reach out to them in a way which brings us to that destination which the Workers’ Party wants Singapore to reach, of a race-neutral society.
So, these questions inevitably will be asked but the point I want to share with Minister Edwin Tong is, to what end do we keep asking these questions? What is the end game? We want a situation where we can tell that government policy is improving outcomes, especially for communities which are not doing well. But let us be clear about where we want to go with this.
More than that, I think, immigration after 1990 has changed the complexion of Singapore society in that, are we just looking at CMIO now or is there something a little bit more complicated in Singapore that we need to look into?
The Minister did not raise the Parliamentary Questions (PQs) I have filed for tomorrow. They are Written PQs, they are on the basis of the census that has been released last month. In the census, if you look at Census 2010 for the Indian community, for example, it was broken down into the minority languages: Urdu, Gujarathi. More data on Indian community groups. But Census 2020 takes a much more narrow approach; some categories have fallen away. What are the reasons? I do not understand, hence, the PQ.
I do believe that there is a fundamental shift in Singapore society and it will be useful to know if the CMIO model needs to evolve.
Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: Mr Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Opposition for making those points. Just to pick up on his last comment, to look at the outcomes and to see whether or not we can improve certain segments in society in Singapore and to look at whether the programmes help to uplift them, would he not accept that if you are looking at how to uplift certain segments by race, which we have done, then, would that not mean that the CMIO classification would not only be relevant, it would in fact be necessary to retain this distinction; at least for now, until we reach post-race-blind or race-neutral society?
Mr Pritam Singh: I think I can agree with the eventual outcome that even the Minister shares, which is to reach that race-neutral, race-blind end. To that extent, yes. I think you have to look at how the Government is performing on these indicators and eventually, with more Opposition Members in the House, looking at these numbers and figures, and asking more pointed questions and even putting up alternatives for debate and discussion, hopefully, we can reach that end state, which will be beneficial for all Singaporeans, not just this generation but those that come after us.
The Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security (Mr Teo Chee Hean): Mr Speaker, Sir, I had not intended to speak or ask any questions on this very important subject, but I thought that since I have slightly more white hair than most people here who have been speaking, I thought I would share a perspective.
I would like to ask the Leader of the Opposition whether he thinks we should allow ethnic enclaves to form and just to see what happens, by abolishing the EIP today; and then, reach a situation where we were 50 years ago, 60 years ago, at the point of Independence; and then, try and correct it when all the problems arise?
Or whether we should take what he calls a pre-emptive but the measures that we are taking today, to avoid such a situation arising?
So, are we more likely to arrive at a situation where Singaporeans learn to live with each other on a daily basis by making sure that we live in an integrated way on a daily basis in our estates? Or are we more likely to do so if we allow Singaporeans to live in segregated estates?
And also, are we more likely to level everyone up if we are able to identify the issues that each of the communities in Singapore may face and therefore have more targeted programmes for them?
Or to ignore the differences? The Leader of the Opposition says we should be race-blind or race-neutral and just treat everybody as though they are exactly the same.
And then, are we likely to arrive at a good solution, where we reach this eventual outcome? Or are we less likely to do so?
And Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to ask the Leader of the Opposition whether he agrees with me, because he mentioned more Members of Opposition in the House would lead to better outcomes. I would like to ask the Leader of the Opposition whether he agrees with me that these are matters of great sensitivity and have to be handled with great sensitivity, rather than be exploited for political purposes?
Mr Pritam Singh: Mr Speaker, I will deal with the last comment first. Is the Senior Minister suggesting that the WP is using these episodes for political purposes? The answer, I think, should be obvious. The answer is no, we do not do that. I appreciate the accolade because I think it is appropriate.
In terms of the series of hypotheticals that the Senior Minister put out, I think moving from one extreme to another extreme is probably not the policy approach; hence, the earlier exchange we had about evolving the EIP to suit the needs of this current generation.
But I hope it does not undermine or take away the point that philosophically, where does the WP want Singapore to go? And I do not think the PAP is very far away from this – that we all are trying to move towards a race-neutral society. We may have different approaches of going at it. We, of course, have the harder job of trying to second guess what is reasonable in the way we move there, because we do not have the information and the broad sweep of facts that the Government has.
But I think, by and large, we accept that we have to move forward in a way where Singapore, as a country, as a society, is strengthened. That should make things clear.
Mr Teo Chee Hean: Speaker, Sir, I think there is a lesson to be learnt here between philosophy and methods. The philosophy, we can agree on. We all want a multi-racial Singapore. We want Singaporeans to live together in multi-racial communities, not in segregated communities. I think even the WP agrees on that; the Leader of the Opposition says so too.
But how do we get there? Those are methods. Methods can be adapted and changed. But we have the same philosophy that we want a multi-racial society Singapore, integrated housing, well-integrated communities and schools. We are more likely to get there with the HDB policies that we have today, with EIP, rather than what the WP is proposing. In fact, their manifesto says abolish it now; although the Leader of the Opposition seems to have shifted away from that because he realises that that is untenable.
Are we more likely to achieve an integrated Singapore by having integrated housing or to abolish the EIP as the WP would propose today and have segregated housing. And then, how do we learn how to live together again? That is the question I have, Sir.
I am glad to hear the Leader of the Opposition say that we should all not exploit the issues of race and religion for political purposes. I applaud that.
Mr Speaker: Order. End of Question Time. Ministerial Statement. Minister for Finance.
LO’s Written Parliamentary Question: 26 July 2021
ETHNIC BREAKDOWN FOR ALL HDB NEIGHBOURHOODS IN PERCENTAGE TERMS ON ANNUAL BASIS AT 31 DECEMBER EACH YEAR SINCE 1989
43 Mr Pritam Singh asked the Minister for National Development with regard to the HDB Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) (a) what is the ethnic breakdown for all HDB neighbourhoods in percentage terms on an annual basis from 1989 at 31 December each year to date, including the population size of each neighbourhood as at the same date; (b) how many blocks in each neighbourhood surpassed the EIP limits for at least one race at any given year from 1989; and (c) since 1989, how many times has HDB purchased a flat affected by the EIP at the flat’s posted price, market price or valuation price.
Mr Desmond Lee: Under the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP), limits are set on the proportion of flats that can be owned by households from each ethnic group. When an EIP limit for a specific ethnic group is reached, sellers from the other ethnic groups cannot sell their flats to buyers from the affected group. However, sellers from the affected ethnic group may sell their flats to buyers from any ethnic group, including the affected ethnic group.
For example, when the Indian/Others block limit is reached, Chinese and Malay sellers in that block cannot sell their flats to Indian/Others buyers. However, Indian/Others flat owners can sell their flats to buyers from any ethnic group, including Indian/Others buyers.
In view of the large number of HDB blocks and neighbourhoods, and the long time period involved, we have provided aggregated statistics at five-yearly intervals for the number of HDB neighbourhoods and blocks affected by the EIP limits. Please see Tables 1 and 2 for details.
Until 2000, HDB accepted the voluntary surrender of flats for any reason. Flat owners who chose to surrender their flats to HDB were not required to indicate a reason for doing so and HDB did not track if surrendered flats were affected by the EIP limits. After 2000, as the resale market had become more developed and sellers had more options for sale on the resale market, HDB stopped accepting the voluntary surrender of flats that are eligible to be sold on the open market.
LO’s Written Parliamentary Question: 13 September 2021
DATA AND STATISTICS ON NEIGHBOURHOODS WHERE AT LEAST ONE ETHNIC INTEGRATION POLICY LIMIT WAS REACHED
66 Mr Pritam Singh asked the Minister for National Development for each of the respective five-yearly intervals from December 1990 to December 2020 (a) what are the names of the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP)-affected neighbourhoods where at least one EIP limit was reached; (b) what is the total number of HDB units in each of these aforesaid neighbourhoods; and (c) what is the number of HDB units classified as owned or rented by Chinese, Malay and Indian/Others households respectively for each of these affected neighbourhoods.
Mr Desmond Lee: In December 1990, 33 neighbourhoods were affected by the EIP limits. Since then, the total number of neighbourhoods affected by the EIP limits has come down. As of December 2020, 24 neighbourhoods, with an average of around 6,000 Dwelling Units each, were affected by the EIP limits. Please see Table 1 for details.
Of the 24 neighbourhoods that were affected by the EIP limits in December 2020, seven were also affected in December 1990. In 2020, three of these neighbourhoods were affected by the Chinese limits only (corresponding to areas around Alexandra North, Margaret Drive and Tiong Bahru), two were affected by the Malay limits only (corresponding to areas around Bedok North and Tampines East), one was affected by the Indian/Others limits only (corresponding to the area around Little India) and one was affected by both the Malay and Indian/Others limits (corresponding to the area around North Coast).
LO’s cut MND’s Committee of Supply Debate: 8 March 2021
Mr Pritam Singh: In September last year, I asked the Minister for National Development a written Parliamentary Question for data for each of the respective five-yearly intervals from December 1990 to December 2020 to detail, amongst other things, the names of the EIP or Ethnic Integration Policy affected neighbourhoods where at least one EIP limit was reached and the total number of HDB units in each of these aforesaid neighbourhoods. The Ministry only provided data for 1990 and 2020, even though it was able to provide information in a five-yearly interval for EIP-related question earlier. Why was it unable to provide the information as requested?
The Minister for National Development (Mr Desmond Lee):….
Finally, a quick response to Mr Singh’s question about EIP data. During our exchange in Parliament on EIP last year, he wanted data to understand what was unique about EIP-constrained neighbourhoods. I had said that we would look into what we could practically provide, given the large volume of data requested.
In our response to his two Parliamentary Questions, we had provided comprehensive figures, such as the number and proportion of blocks and neighbourhoods that have been constrained by the different EIP limits over the last 30 years as well as the areas corresponding to some of the neighbourhoods that were EIP-constrained in both 1990 and 2020.
However, there are practical limitations to providing all the data sets requested. For instance, he had requested the names of all EIP-constrained neighbourhoods from 1990 to 2020 – a 30-year period. But there are no public maps or demarcated areas that we can make reference to. So, we did the next best thing and provided corresponding areas, but it would have been difficult to do so for all neighbourhoods without significantly compromising accuracy. So, where practical, we have and will continue to provide the information requested to further everyone’s understanding of the issue. I think it is important to clarify this.
The Chairman: Leader of the Opposition.
Mr Pritam Singh: …..
The second clarification pertains to the EIP. I welcome the announcement of the buyback option for EIP constrained households, so as to make things fairer for the Singaporeans. But I note that this position that was announced today was actually the original last resort solution that was put out by then MND Minister, Mr S Dhanabalan, when he introduced the policy in the late 1980s. Can I confirm if HDB had applied this last resort earlier, and if not, why had it not applied earlier, because Minister in the late 80s already said that this was a last resort option to buy the property from the affected EIP household.
Actually, I had asked a written question in July about how many times HDB had purchased an EIP constrained flat and the reply actually was specific to voluntarily surrendered flats. That was the reply that the Ministry gave. So, I am not sure whether it was an answer to the same thing, whether the flat was actually purchased by the HDB in the first instance, as the HDB would have committed to do if there were EIP related constraints, or whether it had not purchased any EIP affected flat previously. So, has this actually been done before, because the policy was already announced earlier.
My third point relates to the EIP data. I acknowledged Minister’s point about the difficulty in coming up with a map which is consistent over time. I asked the question because of the previous EIP related question I filed. The Ministry actually provided the five-yearly interval data. So, naturally I asked whether that data could be further clarified in those five-yearly intervals, but I note the Minister’s point.
Mr Desmond Lee: I thank the Leader of the Opposition for sharing his immediate reaction to the change to the EIP where we will introduce the buyback to support EIP-constrained families on a case-by-case basis. But let me first talk about the priority schemes.
On EIP, when EIP was introduced in 1989, the resale market was really nascent. The number of resale transactions back then pales in comparison to the resale market that we see today. And, in fact, all the way to the year 2000, if my memory serves me right, people could surrender their flats to HDB for any reason and not just because of EIP. And it took a period of time for the resale market to become mature in Singapore. When the resale market became mature, HDB stopped the buyback option as a last resort. And then, we put in the various measures that we put in place that I have articulated before – waiving EIP on exceptional basis; giving home buyers more time to sell if they feel the constraint and so on.
So, that is my response to the Leader of the Opposition’s question, if I got him right, in terms of when the buyback option was last used.
Then, the Leader of the Opposition had asked the question about the Written Parliamentary Question for data and I explained that we received a request for significant data-sets by the Leader of the Opposition. We had endeavoured to give data that we were able to provide. And for the second Parliamentary Question that there were constraints with regard to neighbourhoods, neighbourhood names, boundaries and so on, it is all in the reply. And if the Leader of the Opposition looks at the Hansard and he is not satisfied about the response in any way and needs more clarification, we welcome him to put forward a further request and we will clarify.