Think Singaporeans First Debate 1999

Tan Cheng Bock, “Our message to Singaporeans must be clear and loud. We will take care of their basic needs. We will have schemes for our citizens to upgrade their skills training and education and they will get priority over others, including Permanent Residents. Now this is more important priority call than foreign talent. I can understand the rationale and need to inject such talent into our society. But many still don’t and especially in this time, such a call makes them feel threatened, bearing in mind that a good number of jobs are lost from the middle management level. I feel that it this juncture, this call for foreign talent might be a bit misplaced. Let’s think Singaporeans first.”  9 Mar 1999, The Straits Times

BG George Yeo retorted, "So precisely at a time like this, when we need many foreigners to help us take our economy to the next phase, we must not send the wrong signal… such an emotional line of attack would do great disservice to Singapore and to ourselves in the long term." 12 Mar 1999, The Straits Times

Tan Cheng Bock replied, "I’m surprised that the minister chose to misinterpret my call for the toning down of the foreign talent message as a call against foreign talent. In this crisis, charity begins at home. Did I ask that we sack them and replace their jobs with Singaporeans? No. All that I ask is for the government to play down the message in this crisis. Is it wrong to ask that Singaporeans should take priority on the Government’s plans to tackle the economic crisis? The minister is worried that I’m sending the wrong message to foreigners. I think we should be worried that we send the wrong message to Singaporeans." 13 Mar 1999, The Straits Times.

Lee Kuan Yew, “So, when I heard Dr Tan Cheng Bock, I decided I would stand up and tell him he’s wrong… you have to decide whether you think he knows more or I know more. You have to decide whether he will give you the answer to Singapore’s future — or that I am likely to give you the better road to the future.” 15 Aug 1999, The New Paper