SINGAPORE — Singapore has to be careful about the extent to which it is releasing labour data publicly, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday night (15 September).
Speaking in Parliament, Wong referred to a call by the Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh for the government to communicate much more about foreign employment than it is doing now, in order to repair the local and foreign divide in Singapore.
Wong and the Leader of the Opposition were speaking during the lengthy debate on the motion tabled by Wong on securing Singaporeans’ jobs and livelihood, and a separate motion by Progress Singapore Party's Non-Constituency Members of Parliament Leong Mun Wai and Hazel Poa on foreign talent policy.
The minister noted that people have asked for more labour data breakdown based on nationality and said that where possible, the government has released such data.
“But is it such a good thing to let the whole world know our dependence on foreign workers and from which particular country? Really, do we want to let everyone know that?” Wong asked.
He also referred to a comment by a WP member who said that hostile actors may exploit Singapore’s social faultlines to disrupt its society.
“Indeed, we live in a dangerous world. So, should we not be careful about external parties that may hold us ransom by threatening to disrupt or terminate our labour flows, especially in certain key industries?" Wong added.
As such, there are broader considerations governing data release and information policy, according to Wong.
He acknowledged that while the government's communication is not perfect, it will always work to improve its communication strategy. There is already considerable data that is publicly available including information on labour markets, he said.
Data and transparency are a means to better governance but data is not always an “unmitigated good”, Wong said.
Referring to the Freedom of Information Act in the US as an example, Wong pointed out surveys have shown that the levels of trust in the superpower are low and nowhere near that in Singapore today.
He added, "And this is America, but you can look at many other countries which have similar Freedom of Information provisions, and that has not helped to improve public trust, or public confidence in policies."
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