Saturday 28 July 2012

Government seeks feedback on population issue; 2012 Issues Paper: Our Population Our Future

It lays out demographic challenges in paper, launches site to collect views
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2012

THE Government is ramping up its drive to engage the public on population, a current hot-button issue that it says has far-reaching implications for Singaporeans' opportunities and quality of life.

Yesterday, it released a comprehensive paper laying out Singapore's demographic challenges and dilemmas, and launched a website to collect feedback.

Among the questions posed by the paper are: how to raise birth rates, what immigration to have, and how to ensure a good living environment.

At the heart of the debate is the need to manage population growth, immigration and integration while trying to raise productivity to keep the economy going.

The ultimate aim, said the paper, is to come up with a policy that 'strengthens our social cohesion, provides a good living environment for our people, and maintains our economic vitality'.

The Government is expected to release a White Paper on population by the end of the year which is expected to incorporate the feedback collected.

The population puzzle has become a complex issue, going beyond birth rates to the topic of how many immigrants and foreign workers should be taken in.

The National Population and Talent Division's paper - titled Our Population, Our Future - follows a flurry of research papers in recent months and is the first document to set out Singapore's demographic challenges in full.

In particular, policymakers are concerned about the potential impact of low birth rates, a shrinking working population and a drop in the old-age support ratio.

The paper notes that while immigration can help supplement the shortfall in births, 'we recognise that we cannot grow our foreigner population indefinitely'.

'The issues we have to deal with are closely inter-related and complex, with long-term implications for Singapore and far-reaching effects,' it adds.

The paper was mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night on Facebook. Responding to calls for him to address the issue at the National Day Rally, he said the population issue was 'an important and difficult problem'.

The chairman of the Government's feedback arm, Dr Amy Khor, said she hoped engagement would 'bring about greater appreciation of Singapore's complex demographic challenges'.

The Behavioural Sciences Institute director David Chan said the move will give the Government a chance to understand citizens' concerns, but added that it should take the feedback seriously.

'There should also be a genuine discussion on the validity and implications of the various basic assumptions underlying the economic and population models that frame the issues,' he said.

Some Singaporeans were keen to respond. Human resource consultant Martin Gabriel, 45, said he would send ideas on parenthood, adding: 'There must also be some system that can bring people together so they can exchange their experiences. Singles and married people can learn from each other about family life, not just read from a paper or the Internet.'

Views on birth rates, foreign inflows sought
Public input will go towards White Paper to formulate policy for future
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2012

SINGAPOREANS' opinions are being sought on various aspects of the population puzzle, with the Government looking to tap the public's ideas as it works on coming up with a policy for the future.

Over the next three months, they are being invited to send their thoughts on issues from raising birth rates and strengthening cohesion to managing foreign worker inflows and getting more Singaporeans into the workforce.

In a paper titled Our Population, Our Future released yesterday, the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) sets out Singapore's demographic challenges, and proceeds to ask the public to submit input on some 15 questions.

Taken together, they reveal the dilemmas that policymakers face when addressing different aspects of the population puzzle.

For example, one notes that the Government has cut the inflow of immigrants since 2009, and asks: 'Should we reduce the inflow further even if it means that our citizen population will age and shrink, and foreign spouses may find it more difficult to become permanent residents or Singapore citizens?'

Another asks: 'If the foreign worker inflow is to be tightened, which group should be targeted - construction workers, maids, professionals, Singaporeans' foreign spouses, or others?'

The feedback will go towards a government White Paper on population expected to be ready at the end of the year, said the NPTD.

Members of the public have until Oct 31 to send in their views at

The division has met close to 200 people including students and those from the community sector, businesses and unions to get their input, and will continue to do this through dialogues.

Political observers say the latest move to collect feedback is a sign that the Government understands the importance of population issues to Singaporeans - especially with immigration being a hot-button topic.

Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Carol Soon said: 'The Government could consolidate key suggestions and constructive criticisms and publish them on the website, as well as the Government's responses to these feedback.'

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, who has already circulated the call for feedback on her Facebook page, believes that Singaporeans would welcome being asked for their views.

'Once the Government has decided which ideas it is going to adopt, it should acknowledge them so that residents feel good about participating and don't think they're writing into a black hole,' she said.

Agreeing, student Murugiah Komala, 24, said: 'It gets people interested and as people talk, more ideas are bound to get bounced around.'

Government seeks public's views on population issues -26 Jul 2012

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