Hiring Singaporean first policy – the tale of two farmers

January 25, 2016

Once upon a time, there was a greedy farmer in nearby village who believed it was a jolly good idea to bring in workers from a faraway land to earn more money – the greedy farmer had many reasons to bring in foreigners – firstly, they were all younger and fitter than those in his own village, hence they could work faster and longer and even offer better, betterer and betterest results for much less.

When villagers asked him pleadingly – why don’t you give us a chance to earn a living? The greedy farmer would often be heard recounting in the kopitiam, ‘I get a bigger bang for my buck by hiring these foreigners stupid! Besides you should not have such an entitlement mentality! Didn’t you know…no one owes you a living! Hahahahahahahaha!’

As these foreign workers swarmed the village, many of the villagers found themselves slowly displaced and marginalized.

Since many of the villagers could no longer find jobs, their skills slowly frittered away. And since without a job it was virtually impossible to pass on skills under a master and apprenticeship arrangement to the youths.

Eventually even the young started to leave the village for the cities. And since all the foreigners much preferred to repatriate 80 cents out of every dollar they earned back home rather than spend it in the village. Soon the local economy began to shrivel up as the shops closed down one by one. Eventually even the merchants packed up and moved along like a traveling circus. One by one the villagers began to leave for the city till eventually the village began to resemble a ghost town.

One day when the economy of the country collapsed due to the mismanagement by crooked politicians who claim to have received anonymous donations which are not actually donations….but I rather not write about it. As I don’t ever want to end in up in block 7 of IMH…..Dowan lah!

The currency of the country began to collapse in earnest. Soon the foreign workers began to demand higher wages from the greedy farmer. They would often be heard complaining, ‘now that your money is so small, it’s not worth it for us to work here any longer. As every time we send money back our wife’s and relatives complain no end that it is so little – so eventually even they decided to pack up and leave for greener pastures. And since there were no locals in the nearby village which had long since turned into a ghost town…no one could be found to work in the estate of the greedy farmer. As time went by the jungle overran the estate and it was no more….only to disappear like a piece of shit on a hot scorching day.

On the other side of the valley was another farming hamlet – there lived a wise farmer. This farmer did something very different when he brought in new migrants from other parts – for one he made sure every villager was first employed, unlike the greedy farmer who was only driven by the profit motive of always chasing the biggest bang for the buck.

The wise farmer valued relationships, so it was not unusual for him to even give out work to the locals even though he knew they were in some cases slower and more expensive when compared to foreign labor.

He would often be heard saying, ‘We are investing in the future…so we cannot measure progress in just monetary terms – after all if skills are not passed down from father to son, if they are not retained and sharpened in our community, then how will we harvest fruit in the future? How will we perpetuate our way of life? Besides we are a family, we must all take care of the old, young and the stupid. We cannot just leave them to fend for themselves – even animals don’t that.’

In this way, he was able to maintain the peace and harmony in his village and everyone, including the new migrants were happiest with the farmer – as even they despite their strange foreign ways were most welcomed by the villagers as since everyone was gainfully employed, the foreigners never once posed a threat to either the villagers way of life or their livelihoods.

One day when the economy turned to mud and all the foreigners left for greener pastures. The farmer gathered the whole village in the Padang. He told them all the brutal facts of life, we face very difficult times ahead….who will stand and fight with me?

The whole village told the farmer, ‘how can we not stand by you and fight… Where else do you expect us all to go? This is after all our home! If we don’t fight for home…..then what are we supposed to fight for!’

As for the foolish farmer he was last seen drinking himself blind while singing, show me the way to go home, like a broken violin…some say he was transformed into a frightened dog thereafter…if anyone knows or who has seen this dog…I mean person please drop me a line.

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‘Its hard to argue against the logic of ‘meritocracy’ without coming across as a parochial, insular and backward Dodo bird. As since meritocracy is premised on the idea of putting the most qualified, best into the positions of responsibility etc etc it has to be a very compelling logic….so I want to be crystal clear from the word ‘go!’ I am all for meritocracy! I am not against it.

However, where all discussions concerning meritocracy in my humble opinion take a very wrong turn is when the word is used out of context to somehow denote an end by itself.

Rather than meritocracy being simply a means to an end – and this brings me to my central contention, that is when we speak about meritocracy – one has to also ask: is it a reliable purveyor of the good life for natives? Does it nourish the idea of common wealth? Or does it produce inequalities that marginalize the natives?

The problem with the near-religious meritocracy cult is while they wax lyrical 24/7 about the fabled meritocratic magic carpet that will deliver us all to the land of milk and honey. The paradox is they don’t seem to nearly show the same enthusiasm when it comes to having a meaningful dialogue about the inequalities ‘meritocracy’ so often produces in Singapore – and it is this lag between theory and reality that causes so many natives to feel anxious and threatened and suspicious only to eventually lose faith in the idea of meritocracy.

Because if the custodians of power wash their hands clean and leave it all to the free market to define and interpret and determine the ambit of WHAT is meritocracy – then it’s as good as giving the keys to the National blood bank to Count Dracula. You know why he’s called the count right? He’s got a loopy accounting method lah! And that’s what will happen as well, when firms are given a carte Blanche to do whatever they want under the banner of meritocracy – they like the greedy farmer and Dracula will always plumb for the maximum bang for the buck! Along with discounting the long term and investing in the future.

That’s to say if there are two equal candidates for a prospective position and one of them is prepared to settle for a lower pay – then it will most likely go that person. That’s fine, if you tell me the guy who pitched higher was unrealistic. Or not as capable.

But if he’s a native who has to live and support a family and his aged parents in the world’s most expensive country – then that by itself is a constraint that needs to be adequately reflected into the whole calculus of selection if we are all wearing out meritocracy top hats!

How much latitude does this native have to compete with Rajiv on an equal basis when it comes to salary scale, whose family is still back in one sing dollar buys ten chapati’s and a chilled Mango lassi in Mumbai and who is just renting a room in Sengkang?

Let’s be realistic!

Where may I respectfully ask is the whole idea of the level playing field here?

Where does meritocracy even feature?

Pray tell if you have the balls to do so..because it’s conceivable I am stupid and may be sun stroked as I spend so much time these days in the field….rather the way I see it, in this illustration – you have cost leadership hiding under the skirt of meritocracy – I have just given ONLY one stark example of how meritocracy as a school of thought fails to pass sensibly from the land of theory to reality….there many many more examples of inequalities should one decide to peer deeper – as you can see, this word can very easily be used and abused by vested interest to sanitize all sorts of conditions that only produces inequalities for natives if we don’t think hard enough about it.

This it seems is the central problem in Singapore – namely, the imbalance between the theory and realisation of meritocracy.

And my suggested solution for correcting the excesses of our extreme version of meritocracy is quite simple: make it truly meritocratic!

Fashion it as a no nonsense means to create a real level playing field for all! Because as it is, it’s a pariah dog meritocracy that embodies the form without the content and this can only continue to produce more inequalities for natives…wonder no more why so many people these days don’t believe in meritocracy as the purveyor of la Dolce Vita.

You can’t blame them, not when the politicians these days are so criminally lazy, they don’t even seem to feel the urgency to ask further or bother with a report card – whether meritocracy produces more pluses or minuses for Singaporeans!’

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