SINGAPORE: The Singapore government sees merit in continuing the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) introduced more than 30 years ago to regulate the racial composition of its neighbourhoods.
The EIP, which sets percentage limits on the ethnicity of residents of its Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, is designed to ensure an acceptable mix of races in all its housing projects.
An estimated 80% of Singapore’s population live in HDB flats.
Given Singapore’s racial demographic, this means around 77% of public housing units will be occupied by Chinese, 18% by Malays, with Indians and other ethnicities making up the remaining 5%.
“There is a historical basis for the EIP,” said Singapore’s national development minister Desmond Lee in an interview with Malaysian media recently.
“We had racial riots in the past, (and) ethnic enclaves where people just lived with others like them and did not interact enough on a daily basis.”
Such ethnic enclaves were not borne of prejudice, said Lee.
“It is not racism that leads people (of the same race) to want to live together.”
Historically, he said, people chose to stay close to their families and important amenities, including houses of worship and ethnic food options.
“Our aim is to ensure that diversity is met in every neighbourhood, but there could be micro differences from time to time (which) could actually cause the EIP to be tested.”
Critics, however, have called for the policy’s abolishment, arguing that it affected property prices as it restricted sales by limiting prospective purchasers according to their ethnicity.
Others say that the policy is no longer relevant as race relations are no longer an issue after more than 50 years of nation-building.
Although critics claim it is intrusive, Lee said the EIP continues to be necessary.
“(Otherwise), you will have overwhelmingly one race or another (living in a public housing project). That is not healthy.”
Aware of the limitations of the policy, Lee said the government adjusted the EIP last year to help those “adversely affected” by it.
The revised policy now allows the government to buy back a flat if certain conditions are met.
“So the government is spending resources to ensure that social good is achieved, without citizens being unfairly penalised.
“We have a goal, we have an aspiration, and people support it. If you want people to support it, you must make sure you do the right thing,” he said.