I think the UN special rapporteur on racism Githu Muigai was unduly harsh on Singapore. He said that "while there may be no institutionalized racial discrimination in Singapore, several policies have further marginalized certain ethnic groups".
I doubt the government expected to hear that when it invited him to Singapore.
It was expected to be an educational trip for him, a lesson in nation-building, according to this Channel NewsAsia report:
A United Nations representative is in Singapore to get a better understanding of how the various ethnic communities live together and the pillars of nation-building.
Instead, he ended up criticizing government policies when everybody knows Singapore is a multiracial, multi-religious meritocracy where you can go as far as your talent will take you and get no special breaks for your race or religion.
Such preferential treatment for the indigenous Malays gets Malaysia a bad press.
And yet here was the UN representative urging the same kind of affirmative action to help Malays in Singapore.
Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
And that wasn't all — he had a good deal more to say.
About ethnic quotas in public housing, under-representation of the minorities in the armed forces, police and intelligence services and the judiciary, racial categorization in identity cards, and ethnic-based Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs).
He didn't care for any of it.
Public housing quotas made it difficult for the minorities to live close to their families and resell their apartments, he said.
I don't know about the alleged under-representation of the minorities in government services.
But I wonder if the minorities will wind up with fewer members in parliament if the GRCs are abolished. Of the 84 elected MPs, 23 belong to minorities, and all of them represent GRCs, multiple-seat constituencies which are required by law to elect at least one minority candidate. All nine single-seat wards — Bukit Panjang, Chua Chu Kang, Hougang, Joo Chiat, MacPherson, Nee Soon Central, Nee Soon East, Potong Pasir and Yio Chu Kang — have Chinese MPs. That's in keeping with Singapore's population — more than 74 per cent Chinese.
Race and religion shouldn't matter, of course, in a truly secular, multiracial society. And they don't in Singapore unless you are applying for public housing or for a job which, purely for business reasons, requires you to know Mandarin or Malay or Tamil. But you face similar problems in any society.
About speaking your mind — ah, that could be a problem.
The UN representative called for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
The government responded race and religion are sensitive issues in Singapore and a balance has to be struck between freedom of expression and preservation of racial harmony.
It's a bore, but I prefer bland to bigoted.
The UN representative also called for minimum wages for migrant workers, which, of course, have nothing to do with race and religion.
In eight days in Singapore, he learnt more by speaking to the right people than I have from occasionally reading the local newspapers.
The Presidential Council for Minority Rights (PCMR) has never in 40 years issued a statement on policies affecting the minorities, he said.
That's what he said:
Given its constitutional status, the Presidential Council for Minority Rights (PCMR) appears to be the highest organ within the Government mandated with the task of protecting the rights of members of minority groups. It is my understanding that the PCMR, which is chaired by the Chief Justice, may consider and report on legislative and policy matters affecting persons of ethnic and religious communities only if referred to by Parliament or the Government. I was surprised to learn that in 40 years of existence, the PCMR had never issued a statement or taken a position on any particular legislation or public policy that may have affected the rights of members of ethnic minority groups.