Serangoon Gardens and Foreign Workers: The problem is with a Government that has over-extended itself

Written by Ng E-Jay
08 Sept 2008

When a proposal was made to convert an unused school, Serangoon Gardens Technical School, into a dormitory for foreign workers, residents of the nearby Serangoon Gardens private estate banded together to show their intense disapproval and displeasure.

Over 1,600 residents out of the roughly 4,000 households in the immediate vicinity of the proposed dormitory have signed a petition, started by the residents’ committee, asking the authorities to reconsider.

The school in Burghley Drive has been vacant for about four years and can possibly house 1,000 workers. It is situated less than 10 metres away from the nearest residential property.

The petition was handed to Aljunied GRC MPs George Yeo and Lim Hwee Hua on Wednesday 03 Sept, in a highly publicized forum that saw a storm of criticism rain down upon the proposal that would, in the petition’s own words, “create security and social problems and spoil the ambiance of the estate”.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) stated that the school is just “one among the sites being studied, and there is no decision to proceed yet”.

MP Lim Hwee Hua said it was “good that residents are speaking out with an interest” on the issue and that she would convey their feedback to MND.

During the dialogue session, which was attended by some 250 people, residents let loose their tirade of objections to the proposal, including concerns about security, the possibility of increased crime in the area, and fears about maids hooking up with foreign workers.

The fears expressed by Serangoon Gardens residents are not without merit. For example, in residential areas like Jalan Kayu, where two dorms housing 6,000 foreign workers were built three years ago, littering, loitering and rowdy behaviour are some of the problems residents have had to put up with. (ST, “Problems ‘Next Door'”, 05 Sept).

Worse still, public announcements regarding the accommodation of foreign workers are usually relatively last-minute, low-key and piecemeal affairs because anything else would spark a massive outcry from residents living nearby.
(ST, “Your backyard, my front door”, 07 Sept).

In other words, the usual Government practice is to hush up the issue until it is too late for residents to complain.

Earlier this year in Parliament, Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said that, given the constraints of land, foreign workers’ dorms would eventually be near residential areas.

In my opinion, that stand is hardly sufficient.

If the Government wants to import a large number of foreign workers to build our casinos and all the mega projects that are supposed to spur our economy on, ample preparations first have to be made to house them properly. That means providing living quarters for foreign workers in locations that would inconvenience local residents the least.

In at ST article published on 7 Sept, Lydia Lim wrote that “foreign workers are human beings, no less so than I am … And human beings need places to live … That all persons are equal in dignity is a value I hold dear.

Her view is certainly valid, but to me, it misses the point of the whole debate. The point of the whole debate is that the Government has over-extended itself, initiated too many projects which then require the import of large numbers of foreign workers, without ensuring before-hand that there would be suitable accommodation for those workers located away from populated areas.

  1. Apparently Lydia Lim lives in Serangoon Gdns and she did not sign the petition. Perhaps she would be kind enough to house a foreign worker or two… in line with “nation building” mah, after all she herself works for the nation building press.

  2. she can’t backtrack( with her action) on what she had written in the past or risk being slammed by readers. like her colleagues who write for a living, her words, especially foolish words, will haunt or bind her for many years to come.

    this is sg. being real is not an option. being politically correct is your only option if you are to be accepted in their community.

  3. This foreign talent issue is going to break the camel’s back.

    PAP defied conventional wisdom in opening the floodgates in exchange for progress for themselves.

    As with most things on Earth, you will have to pay for it one way or other. Some European countries are realising their follies now.

    Perhaps, they forgot what Mah Bow Tan had warned earlier? “there is no free lunch”

  4. jeff, you are right. they have failed to understand or appreciate the wisdom of tribalism so they opted to break boundaries(open to global market) to increase their profit margin for quick wealth, powers and rewards at the people’s expense.

    too bad, for all their lofty education( that’s partly to blame), they can’t conceive a society of shared powers.

    they will win the battles for now, but they may lose the ultimate war eventually.

  5. Township (both private and hdb estate) has their own characters and population make up, thus the reason why people has a preference when they pick or buy a place to live in. The price they pay for their preference is in accordance to the that township character plus supply / demand. The current furore over this topic has nothing to do with elitism or what the government and the media is trying to make it sound like. It is about screwing the people who has set up home in township they loved and possibly have lived there all their life or even stretching their dollar to buy their dream home, through changing the character and make up of their township. There are both direct and indirect strong impact to the people who live in these townships, both financially and emotionally, regardless of whether it is private or hdb township.The changes typically are weighted more to the negative side, just look at the situation in Jalan Kayu and some hdb area.

    We are not talking about people moving into the same residential structure here, the implication of building a dorm housing thousands thus changing the makeup drastically is unlike having foreign workers (yes, foreigners working in Singapore included) renting existing houses/ apartment. Just remember, the basic fundamental of economics will dictate that foreigners who wants to rent will also be looking for the right township and also on their affordability. What is being proposed here is clearly messing around with that.

    Our MPs & minister and even some journalists spoke gallantly about opening our hearts, so I would suggest the MPs and Minister lead by example through deploying same dorm for foreign workers next to their residences or township they live in, some suggested township could be Namly, Oxley, Sixth Avenue….

    This is not about ill treating or discriminating foreign workers for they are crucial to the development of this country.. but it is really an issue of bad capacity and town planning to cater the Singapore development/ big projects. Wouldnt it have been better if proper zoning has been planned and dorm campus built for foreign workers in preparation for these development? Zone can be carved out from many of the underdeveloped area and township built around this facilities, and that way, there are no surprises, there is no screwing of people’s hard earned investment as everyone is clear about the intent of that township/zone. For eg, no residential development would be built in Pioneer road/Jurong area as everyone is very clear that it is zoned as an industrial area, thus there wont be any surprises. On that same line of thought, why is it possible for a Biopolis to built around the secluded Portsdown area but it is not possible for part of Kranji to be carve out, tendered out to dorm operators to build the facilities?

    Lastly, let’s not forget that foreign worker working in Singapore is basically a 2 way business arrangement. Sure, what they do contribute to the development of Singapore’s infrastructure development but they are not doing this as a noble cause, they are doing it for the monetary arrangement, which in turn flows back to their countries/ families. So in some sense, Singapore is also contributing to their survival and income as they will return home after earning what they can. Therefore, it is important that the Singapore leadership do not push out Singaporean who make Singapore their home.

  6. I think Singaporeans are in general rather dismissive towards migrants workers, having no preconceptions of or concern for the rights and welfare of them. The question shouldn’t be where the dormitory should be build, but rather, whether they are able to meet the needs of the workers.

    With regards to the influx of foreign workers, again it is not a matter of the number, but standards to be adopted. If employers are forced to adopt stringent safety and welfare standards for both locals and foreigners, then the impetus for using foreign workers is reduced.

  7. You know, I really hope the PAP would be stupid enough to go forward with their plan to house foreign workers in HDB areas. Because if they do that, they will definitely lose support and we the citizens of Singapore will receive a nice present next election when those MPs lose their seats.

    Let us see if even the ‘hardcore’ RC members will continue their support of the PAP when they are forced to live next door to large groups of foreign workers. I remember when my ex-neighbours started renting their apartments out to foreign workers. Within weeks, we started to see heaps of beer bottles, vomit and urine around the place. Also rats and roaches started to run rampant in my old neighbourhood. So let us see if RC members will still support the PAP MPs when property value of their estate starts to drop.

    So, go on PAP. Ignore us again.

    Oh yeah, Lydia Lim wrote that “foreign workers are human beings, no less so than I am … And human beings need places to live … That all persons are equal in dignity is a value I hold dear.” Is that the new PAP spin? That they respect human rights?? Don’t make me laugh!

    If they really do think all persons are equal and that foreign workers are as equal as … say PAP MPs, how about housing those workers in better facilities? Maybe a condo complex like the Gurkhas? How about building one along Oxley Road? All persons are equal right? So why should the burden of living next to large groups of foreign workers fall on HDB dwellers? Come on you MPs and Ministers, open up your mansions to the workers who are your equals in dignity!

    Crew

  8. Actually, if it’s 1000 women I won’t give a hoot. If it’s 1000 local men, i will protest the same way the residents of Serangoon Gardens did.

  9. Lydia Lim has the right to state her view coz her boss want her to say that lah!

    But Ms Lydia Lim obviously is not staying next to the poor residents at Bughley drive, or she is just renting a room there.

    Equal in dignity? Sure. But by interacting with them in public places like food courts and shops is one thing. Lydia, you can choose to walk away or go home if you like anything.

    But if they are house just 10-20m from your house? Walk away? BIG JOKE.

    I really cannot understand the IQ of some ST writers. Some write good articles, some just write bull shit polical pieces.

    Ms Lydia Lim, if so you equal right, rent out your many rooms to 10-20 FW in each room. Sure – you will love them as much as your family members right?

    Dun be hypocrite! Dun be so self righteous. You have right to state your preference, but so do teh majority of the residents here! And you ARE the minority!

  10. ‘Actually, if it’s 1000 women I won’t give a hoot. If it’s 1000 local men, i will protest the same way the residents of Serangoon Gardens did.”

    Liz, I hate but to agree with you :)

    But seriously, why dun Mah Bow Tan suggest his own house? And that Lydia – which house is her’s? Not difficult to find out right? She will one day shop at the NTUC, then I will pretend to be one FW and follow her home and see her reaction!!

  11. There are some people like Ms Lydia Lim who is either naive or just thinks it’s cool to be egalitarian. That being the case, all those who want to embrace foreign workers in the inner sanctums of their homes are free to do so. They shld start by queuing up to house the 1000 FW headed for Serangoon Gdn. I’m sure if each of these “big-hearted” S’poreans were to take one or two from the 1000, there’ll be no need for SG residents for further petitions. And it will spare the Govt from having to do a High Noon with the SG voters…

    Meanwhile, I want to share what one of my relatives (a 40+ year SG resident) wrote:
    “As for Lydia Lim- I think she is a complete waste of time. She hseems to have forgotten that we residents made numerous complaints and petitions to our MPS re the traffic problems because of chomp-chomp. Because of our complaints, Kesington Road has roaa dividers. This has put an end to illegal parking.

    They also have forgotten, about 6 yo 7 years ago, when old howses were torn down every second and new one built, Serangoon Gdns saw a surge in crimes, It was so bad that a police post was situated at the Serangoon Gdns bus terminal, so that residents may pproach them for advice etc. And the police stepped up their patrols . Also, visits to the homes were made and pamphlets given to the maids, with instuctions on who to call, what to do etc if bshe sees any suspicious.”

  12. Hi Autnie Lucia,

    I agree with you. That Lydia Lim is really a waste of SPH resource. I really cannot tahan hypocrite saying that all those words. Must be the bosses putting pressure on her, or she is just trying to impress her boss, or just still too naive to think the world is a bed of roses.

    If the world is such, no need police, judges and SAF. BTW, defence spending alone is biggest budget consumer, with MHA coming up high as well. Don’t she get it? I suppose she cannot do critical thinking.

  13. As a SG resident, I want to Thank MP Ms Lim Hwee Hua for standing up for us in today’s paper.

    Yes, some ST writers really should be removed from writing. Unlike the Ms Tan of Malaysia’s paper who was arrested for 18hrs for ONLY reporting what she heard, some (not all), ST writers do much worse things like slant their view, paint us in bad light, accuse us of being snobbish and prejudice. Did not give us the right to say our feelings.

    If Ms Chua of ST Political desk can write such a piece – it tells a lot about her integrity and tinted lenses. Should she be treated worse like Ms Tan of Malaysia then?

    BTW, we petition like any democracy (or near democarcy) do. We invite our elected MPs to hear our concern and bring it to MND. Did we abuse any “power” or any incite any class struggle like she is portraying or is she inciting class struggle herself and being prejudice against us? Did she even check the traffic condition here herself? Can she calculate how many buses and trucks that will park outside Burghley’s drive (and spill to Li Hwan Dri perhaps)? How do the residents go to work then?

    It is really about zoning, planning and being exploring alternatives.

    As it is, many people are hypocrites in standing so easily on the “right” side while not exploring the issues in depth and are afraid to voice in the unpopular.

    I hope ST will be more responsible, objective and factual, and not incite division among own S’pore citizens.

  14. I applaud Ms Lydia Lim for choosing not to sign the petition, as well as for her balanced and well-argued viewpoint in The Sunday Times on Sept 7.

    So yes, foreign workers are human beings, no less than the rest of us. And since police statistics do no bear out the belief that foreigners are more prone to committing crime than Singaporeans, the arguments put forth by the petitioners look like sweeping statements that condemn everyone for the sins of a few black sheep.

    In particular, I agree with Ms Lim’s closing statement, “All of us have neighbors whose habits do not exactly enthuse us. But we learn to live with them. That is also what I will need to do if some of the people who help build our homes and offices, and clean up after us, come to live in my estate.”

    Note that the Serangoon Gardens housing to be provided to these foreign workers is supposed to be temporary, in the estate, and NOT in anyone’s home.

    Finally, I sincerely hope we Singaporeans will remember that the majority of us are migrants or descendants of migrants. And that we ourselves might become workers in a foreign land at some point of our lives. How could we like it if the locals in the lands that we visit want to throw us out?

  15. to ClappingTrees ,

    Temporary? well, house them in your own house temporary too. Can you do it? If not – shut up!

  16. go force 600 migrant workers to stay a stone’s throw from your place.. then we’ll see who complain..

  17. What has housing foreign workers got to do with having them in your neighbourhood? I would not house anyone in my house, foreign worker or not. But I certainly would not object strongly to having them in my neighbourhood. After all, they are people too. Not all foreign workers are what we assume them to be.

  18. perhaps you are a saint among the devils…. but I love the shock when I saw a Father Son pair walk to the side of a road in bishan with ALOT of people around and simply let the son pee on the road… How considerate… shouldn’t the government reward them with a fine??? oh I’m sorry, I forgot that their heavy chinese accent would make them comprehensible… SORRY!!!

  19. I’ve come to this discussion rather late, but let me add a new perspective to this issue. Do you know why $2million was spent in putting in an alternative route to the foreign workers dorm? Do you really think that eventually this will remain a foreign workers’ dorm?

    And do you know why in the INTERIM it is a foreign workers’ dorm? Well, let me enlighten you. I don’t know where people got the idea that this place has been empty for only 4 years. For those of us who have lived here for decades, we know that it has at least been 20 years – yes TWENTY years – since the school has closed.

    No one (in the govt, urban planning) is saying this, but probably a 20-year empty building probably has lots of dry rot, abestos rotting away, moulds growing around. This place is not fit to house anyone, but….in the interim, they found a use for it.

    Do you think the $2million road was built for the benefit of the foreign workers, or even to appease residents’ complaints? Nah. Let me hazard a guess that eventually, something bigger will come up in the place — it will be either a whole new housing development – probably condo or cluster housing, OR a development into an international school — just look at the miserable fate that is the new American school in Lorong Chuan, (no affiliation to SAS, but another new international school offering the American system) — situated next to the spanking newly-extended Australian school, it looks like blocks of dorms itself.

    Therefore my guess is that this piece of land is very valuable, but the timeframe to knock down and old buildings and develop the place is just not right for any school in the near future.

    Hence…..yup, you’ve got it right – go give the mouldy building a new coat here and there and house some foreign workers — there’s nothing altrustic about all their proclaimations now, is there?

    If you look at the outer half of the old school now – the part that is nearest the houses – and you’d realise that the land authorities (or whichever govt body that owns it) has leased it out to tuition centers etc – and mind you, these are newly-built, albeit simple structures. So…$$ is to be made here, and the foreign workers thingy is temporary. But poor things again….kena live in substandard mouldy and possible hazardous building.

    So open your eyes, people. There’s always more to things that meet the eyes.

    btw, I’m a long-time resident here, and Lydia Lim lives on the opposite side to the dorm, way over in Cowdray Ave. And nope, I don’t think her bosses forced her to say all that. She loves saying such things herself, being an ardent PAP supporter. :)

  20. Well we now have the proof , foreign workers are housed in old schools like Serangoon with lots of space and greenery around , even amenities . Yet Singapore children are now taught in concreted compounds with little or no greenery.

  21. So now the government houses foreign workers in spacious green areas with amenities , and puts children in schools with concreted areas and little greenery .