Singapore Citizenship: A National Credit Card?

Justin Zhuang

— September 16th, 2009, 1.07pm

Singapore Citizenship: A National Credit Card?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong responds to a question about citizenship from a member of the audience. --Photo: Chong Zi Liang

How much money is a Singapore citizenship worth?

Budget packages, GST credits, CPF top-ups, subsidies for public housing, education, health and so on.

This slew of financial benefits offered to a Singapore citizen, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, is the reason why a permanent resident from Malaysia recently decided to apply for Singapore citizenship after living here for many years.

Speaking at Nanyang Technological University Student Union’s Ministerial Forum, he told the crowd made up mainly of undergraduates, “I asked her why do you need this? You are a PR, your family is here, there is no problem.”

“She said: ‘If you take citizenship, you get (financial) benefits!’”

While the former American president John F. Kennedy could once proclaim to his citizens to ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; Ask what you can do for your country’, such patriotic declarations today might simply drive people to immigrate elsewhere instead.

The onslaught of globalisation has shifted today’s dynamics of citizenship towards the people. The ease of uprooting from one country to another has made each of us consumers in a supermarket world of countries.

The product: Citizenship.

During the forum’s Question-and-Answer session, one international student asked PM Lee on the benefits of becoming a Singapore citizen.

Another haggled with PM Lee to provide affordable housing to attract foreign talent like him to stay in Singapore.

Citing his fiancée and himself as an example, the PhD student from China said it was hard to make Singapore his home without a house. He could not afford a condominium, nor was he allowed to buy a new HDB flat as both his fiancée and him were permanent residents.

Hence, in this global fight for talent, how can Singapore tweak its citizenship scheme into an attractive card that a top talent would want in his or her wallet?

Show them the money.

The lure of low income taxes and attractive subsidies has definitely made Singapore the destination of choice for many. Thus, PM Lee pledged at the forum to sharpen the difference in these benefits so that “citizens come first”.

But how different would citizenship be from a credit card subscription then? If the choice of where to make a home boils down to the place that gives you the most monetary benefits – then what happens when there is no credit left?

To brand our citizenship by highlighting only its financial benefits surely attracts the wrong kind of people.

After all, a nation is nothing more than an “imagined community”. To tie the imagination entirely on money would mean the people, and the country, could be gone in one economic recession.

It is why the appeal of a Singapore citizenship must go deeper. People should want to be citizens of Singapore because of what they can and will do to make it their home.

The pink card in your wallet and the red passport you use to travel is not a key to more money. Rather, it symbolises where you’re from and who you are.

As a popular credit card advertisement puts it:

There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s a credit card.


Disclaimer: Comments left on articles in The Enquirer are contributions from readers and do not reflect the views of the editorial team. The Enquirer is not responsible for the comments and reserves the right to remove any comments deemed inflammatory or in bad taste.

  1. A nicely used metaphor for citizenship in a transnational era, but I find the point about a nation being “nothing more than an imagined community” rather erroneous. Citizenship is an issue beyond just the benefits and goodies. Becoming a citizen is nothing natural, it is more than rational calculation or irrational loyalty or nationalism. A citizen is a subject who learns to be one, is constructed and who’s disciplined. When you become one, you enter a legal contract to a relationship with the state which is not just parasitic, but coercive. And also awarding of citizenship is also an uneven process.. within white collared professions there can also be discrimination. What about stories on these?

  2. [...] A short op-ed I wrote after attending the NTU Student Unions’ Ministerial Forum 2009 for The Enquirer who kindly provided me tickets for the event. Read it here. [...]