The Straits Times
| Feb 3, 1990
By: Koh Buck Song
Peh Chin Hua, an MP for
Jalan Besar GRC, is generally thought to be one of the more nationalistic
and traditional sons of Singapore. Therefore his suggestion that
certain emigrants from Singapore be allowed to hold dual citizenship
will probably surprise some people. No doubt, those who notice that
the suggestion was made in Petir, the official publication of the
People's Action Party, will speculate on the significance of the
fact and wonder if the party is giving his idea serious consideration.
Whatever the position of the party might be, his proposal has sparked
off a debate among Singaporeans at large. The controversy is hardly
unexpected since the proposal touches on the two hottest topics
on the Republic's political agenda,
emigration and citizenship.
Should dual citizenship be allowed?
A number of pragmatic arguments can be made in its favour. The strongest
is that Singapore faces a brain drain problem and awarding dual
citizenship could help to stem the outflow. It is argued that those
who leave may find life in another land unsuitable for them after
some time and come to regret leaving Singapore. Additionally, emigrants
may feel the pull of the homeland tugging at their heart-strings
as they grow old in a foreign country. If these people are allowed
to retain or regain their Singapore citizenship, they may be more
ready to consider the possibility of returning to their country
of origin. Emigration constitutes a heavy loss of the country's
scarce human resources and the return of every emigrant can only
be to Singapore's gain.
This argument, however, is flawed. For it is by no means certain
that dual citizenship will actually reverse the trend of emigration.
Indeed, it could possibly worsen an already bad situation. Knowing
that they can retain their Singapore citizenship even after emigrating,
some Singaporeans who now hesitate to leave for fear of losing their
citizenship here might actually be encouraged to try their chances
abroad because they will have nothing to lose.
If they do not like it elsewhere, they can always return. The net
result could be to encourage, not discourage, emigration. On another
plane, the debate about the pros and cons of Mr Peh's idea centres
on the concept of citizenship. Some proponents of dual citizenship
believe that nationality is increasingly becoming an outmoded concept
as the world grows more and more international. They may cite the
example of the United States, which allows its people to be citizens
of more than one country. They will say that citizenship is, after
all, an artificial entity, created by accidents of history and an
anachronism in the modern era of the global village. This being
so, they will ask, is there anything wrong if people hold
two or even more citizenships?
But citizenship means more than just holding a passport and has
a value that goes beyond the utilitarian. While it gives a person
certain unalienable rights, it also brings with it certain inescapable
Citizenship also embodies the idea of community and belonging, of
staying together through thick and thin because there is no other
choice. Allowing people to hold two citizenships will devalue this
idea of community and undermine Singapore's attempt at nation-building.
The problem of emigration is one which requires effective and urgent
solutions. One practical way is to allow certain emigrants who have
given up their citizenship to apply to return to Singapore. There
is no reason not to accept some of them as long as they are willing
to renew their pledge of allegiance to Singapore and bear the responsibilities
of national defence. Such a scheme will work just as well as Mr
Peh's suggestion. The advantage is that it will not have all the
undesirable consequences that dual citizenship will bring.