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EIP: The Heart of the Matter

15 Jul 2021 3 min read

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MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim with resident Mr Mahesh.

A Petir Online exclusive by Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC

During my regular house visits last week, I met our fellow Keat Hong resident Mr Mahesh. He and his wife moved to Singapore in 1991 with their young children, then aged eight and two. They took up Singapore citizenship and have lived happily in our Keat Hong estate for more than 20 years.

He said to me that he had been following the parliamentary debates in the last sitting with concern, particularly about calls by certain segments to abolish the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP). He said that he and his family had benefitted from the EIP when they moved into their first HDB flat in Bedok before relocating to Keat Hong. His two girls went to neighbourhood schools, made friends from various races and are graduates of our local universities. He joked with me that they speak more Singlish than he does.

Their path to integration and assimilation with our larger Singapore community, is facilitated because the EIP puts them right in the middle of our heartlands and helps them to appreciate, understand and be part of our Singaporean identity as a multiracial and multi-religious society.

You see, Mr Mahesh’s story is a familiar one, for all of us. Some amongst us chose to make Singapore their home. Most of us were born here and this has been our home for generations before us when our predecessors made that choice for us. Whether we make the choice ourselves or whether we are born here, the fact remains – we call this beloved country, our home.

Policies like EIP go beyond housing but right to the heart of our integration as a society. EIP, to me, is not just about putting different people from different ethnic backgrounds together in the same block or precinct. It is more than that. It shapes generations and how we mould ourselves together. Once people of different ethnic groups live together, they are not just walking the corridors and taking the same elevator up and down, Senior Minister Tharman once explained. “The kids go to the same kindergarten, the kids go to the same primary school, because all over the world young kids go to school very near to where they live, and they grow up together.”

Mr Mahesh wrote in a Straits Times forum that he fears that new generations of Singaporeans who live in private estates will not benefit from the EIP like his family has benefited. He wrote, “Our ethnic enclaves now are not in HDB estates, but in condominiums, where expatriate families live among their own ethnic groups and send their children to international schools with friends who share their ethnicity.”

I agree with him that policies like EIP are still relevant and critical in our nation building and I think we should still take heed of wisdoms past. There may be some residents who face financial difficulties in selling their HDB flats because of the EIP racial quotas but this means that we should still refine and tweak the policies further instead of abandoning them altogether. We have seen the benefits through generations of Singaporeans having the shared experience of communal living. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

In this spirit, I have filed several PQs (Parliamentary Questions) to seek suggestions from MND and HDB as to how we can further refine the EIP for our fellow Singaporeans.

Mr Mahesh wrote to me:

“Singapore may not always get things right, but we have the ability to learn from our mistakes and course correct. Over the past thirty years that my family and I have lived here, we have been treated with fairness and respect. We have made many good friends over the years and this is our home. I can tell you that whenever the wheels of our SQ flight touched down at Changi … the little bump reminded me that we were home.”

I cannot agree more.

In the end, we all want the same thing for our beloved country – a more united, multi-racial and multi-religious but harmonious Singapore. We can discuss and improve how to get there in our journey, but let’s not turn back from the path, and turn our backs on each other.