Scholarships should be based on merit, not nationality: Baey

SingaporeScene

Tampines MP Baey Yam Keng shared his thoughts on the online backlash that ensued from comments he made to a local newspaper this week. (Photo courtesy of PwC LLP)

[UPDATE on 24 Feb at 3:40pm - adding Baey's clarification on scholarships]

No matter where a scholarship comes from, nationality should not factor into the decision of who receives it, says Member of Parliament (MP) for Tampines GRC Baey Yam Keng.

"Whether they are a GLC (government-linked company), the government or a private company, they all want good people to work for them," he told Yahoo! Singapore in an interview on Thursday.

He said that a scholarship should be awarded based on meritocracy, and should not be allocated specifically to locals or foreigners.

"If a local is as good or better than the foreigner, I think the local should get it. It shouldn't be because I want a foreigner, therefore I will settle for (a candidate with) a lower standard… because ultimately people want good talents, so the nationality should not be an issue at all," he added.

Baey was speaking in reference to scholarships that are currently awarded to both locals and foreigners, making the point that priority should not be given to recipients based on nationality, but on merit, as a culmination of several factors including character, integrity and leadership qualities. He also said that once awarded, scholarships should (and most do) carry conditions governing conduct, results and contributions to Singapore during and post study.

He also clarified that government scholarships, such as those awarded by the Public Service Commission, that are intended for Singaporeans only, should remain that way.

Comments to media sparked online backlash

Baey was at the receiving end of a wave of online furore over the past two days following his comments in Wednesday's The New Paper on a Chinese scholar studying here who made the "There are more dogs than people in Singapore" remark on his web blog.

After almost 40 posts attacking him were posted on his fan page wall, Baey published a transcript of what he said to the newspaper over a phone interview, where he explained that Singaporeans should not jump to conclusions over the comment the student, Sun Xu, had made.

The note he posted on his Facebook profile and shared on his fan page attracted almost 350 comments, some of which were positive but most were negative sentiments from internet users, who questioned his choice of words, his statement that citizens should "reflect upon (themselves)", and even his loyalty to Singapore, among other things.

When asked about the fiery reactions to his initial comments, Baey told Yahoo! Singapore he accepted, understood and appreciated the sentiment expressed in them.

While several users took issue with the fact that he felt the need to deconstruct Sun's offending line while speaking to TNP, Baey said at that point he was striving to be as rational as possible about the situation.

"I have to be accountable for what I say, whether published in the media or otherwise," he said, explaining why he published the transcript of his phone interview with the paper, with the hope of setting context to his words.

"I thought at the time, let's not jump to conclusions. Yes, certain words can be hurtful but let's not punish (the whole community because of) one person… we shouldn't just pick on one word (or phrase) and that's it, condemn the person for life just because he's said that.

"My point was please, let's not enlarge or expand it to say that all foreign students are bad — that's very dangerous."

Responding to people accusing him of defending Sun's actions, Baey said, "Why should I defend him? I'm just asking for us to take a step back and cool down, rather than just reacting on impulse."

'A big lesson in my political career'

When asked whether he would have said anything differently on hindsight, Baey said he still stands by his views, as well as his intentions, although he is more mindful of how people might read into the things he says.

"There's a lot of learning I have done from this… it's a big lesson for me in my political life—in fact, I would say my whole career so far," he said.

"But to me, I still do what I think is right, and will do my best serving people in my constituency, the country and the society," he added.

Acknowledging the threats on his Facebook page of him losing his voters in 2016, Baey said, "Ultimately I think I want people to judge me over a longer period of time. It's a lot more about what I do and what I say. Look at me as a person, what my values and views are, and whether they are consistent… so I'm taking it in my stride; I cannot let (the incident) hamper what I need to do in the constituency because I shouldn't.

"I will still make my own judgement and do what I think is right, and I hope people will understand that and give me the opportunity to do so."