April 27, 2009

Supporting social integration

TodayOnline.com, Monday • April 27, 2009

IT’S like getting married. Once a foreigner has made the decision to live in Singapore, then he or she is part of the family and together with citizens born locally, are in the same boat to build a brighter future for their children.
Giving this analogy during a community visit to Nee Soon on Sunday, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan said this is why the National Integration Council (NIC) will help foster integration efforts between new citizens and local-born citizens. The formation of the NIC, which is headed by Dr Balakrishnan, was announced in February.
Giving more details about the 20-member council, which is made up of seven Cabinet ministers and leaders from the community and private sector, Dr Balakrishnan said: “We (already) have a fair democratic society that’s a big plus point ... and we have already integrated HDB estates where all races live together.”
He added: “Even foreigners can see that Singapore is a working example of a united, cohesive society and we’ve already come a long way”.
However, he said this has only worked because of “top-down” Government policies and initiatives. “The formation of the National Integration Council and the fact its members are from the people and private sector is because I want to encourage a bottom-up approach to give people opportunities.”
The council will support collaborative social integration efforts and drive integration initiatives in schools, workplaces, the community, and through the media. It will also keep an eye on the progress of social integration, share best practices, and help resolve any problems that may arise.
The council, which will convene for its first meeting soon, will start by consulting the ground for feedback and ideas. The Government will then provide funding and support to implement these plans.
Meanwhile, Dr Balakrishnan said one of the most effective ways to achieve integration is to participate in grassroots activities as this will enable neighbours to get to know one another. “If we don’t spend time doing this, I worry with the rates of immigration we will have people emotionally anxious. Singapore is changing too rapidly”.
In recent years, the buoyant economy and the broadening of the eligibility criteria for citizenship and permanent residence in 2004 have boosted the ranks of new citizens and Permanent Residents.
“Singapore has to continue to change; this is our karma — to be an open global city constantly attracting talent. But even as we change, we need to reassure Singaporeans that is a place for citizens who always come first but we will always welcome those who commit to our cause. Even as we welcome newcomers, they will become part of the mainstream and they won’t be kept in separate ghettos,” he said.

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