Thursday, 11 October 2012

Townhall Dialogue “Our Population, Our Future”

Values, vision for future get airing at dialogue
Top concern on population woes: Will I feel like a stranger in S'pore?
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2012

WHEN some 220 people were asked what were their biggest concerns on Singapore's population challenges, most of them were not too bothered about the nuts and bolts of pragmatic policy.

Instead, many wanted to know the answer to the question: "Will I feel like a stranger in Singapore?"

It was the top concern raised in one of two polls conducted during a dialogue on population issues last night. When presented with a list of six concerns by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, almost a quarter of the participants voted for this question.

Indeed, it reflected the tenor of much of last night's discussion, with participants homing in on the values and visions of Singapore's future they wanted to see.

"Is the issue of traditional (families) more important, or adding foreigners which disturb our national fabric?" asked Mr Lim Yong Siang, 38, who works in the property sector.

Held at *Scape, the "town hall" meeting was the last and biggest of three dialogues organised by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) to gather feedback on the population debate. A White Paper on the issue will be presented in January.

During the three-hour dialogue, many of the 30 or so people who rose to speak wanted to talk about the impact of immigration, which the Government has said is needed to prevent the country's citizen population from shrinking.

Research scientist Chua Chern Pin, 35, for instance, wanted a "robust discussion" on what economic growth and population size Singapore should aim for. "Maybe we can live with not so much money, so that maybe we don't need that much (economic) growth, and then we can have a more sustainable population," he said.

Others questioned the need for immigrants and voiced doubts on their commitment to Singapore.

And when the discussion turned to marriage and parenthood, the concerns were, once again, about values and culture.

In the second poll, almost 40 per cent said work-life balance would make the biggest difference in encouraging more Singaporeans to get married and have children earlier. Another 25 per cent or so thought a family-friendly culture was vital.

But there were divided views over what a "family-friendly culture" might mean. Some wanted recognition for non-traditional families, such as single parents and homosexual couples.

"Family structures... are changing, so policy should change as well," said entrepreneur Irene Oh, 29, who is about to have a child and wants her female partner to be a legal parent too.

Others had more conservative views, and asked the Government to encourage stay-at-home mothers or further restrict abortions.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu, who oversees population matters, said policies had to signal society's current values, which generally still favour traditional family structures. "We don't intend to run ahead of the majority of people in society," she said, but added that if values change, so will policies.

What low birth rates mean for Singapore
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2012

IF SINGAPORE does not raise its birth rate, the number of grandchildren of today's generation will shrink by two-thirds - and will still have to support their parents and grandparents.

Apart from the increased burden tomorrow's generations will face, the shrinking citizen population will also mean a shrinking local workforce. So, while efforts are being made to get more Singaporeans to reproduce, immigrants are needed fill the gap to maintain the Singapore core.

This is the crux of the nation's population challenge as laid out by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in a speech that was delivered at the start of last night's forum, but also appeared to wrap up a debate that has dominated dialogues in past months.

In a speech to about 220 participants, he painted a stark picture of what could happen.

"If our birth rates stay at 1.2, and we don't have immigration, our citizen population will start to decline from 2025," he said. "With all of us doing our part, I hope our birth rate can increase... maybe, at least, to 1.4 or 1.5," he added, noting that Singapore had such rates just 10 or so years ago.

"Of course, I think it would be very good if our birth rate was higher than 1.5, but it will take time to change this, and we will need a really huge effort. But I hope one day, we will get there."

The minister in charge of population matters said the Government would do its part to encourage Singaporeans to get married and have more children. These included pro-marriage and parenthood policies and measures, which he said the Government is looking at enhancing.

But Mr Teo also stressed the need for society to enhance a family-friendly culture. "We have to strive to create a supportive and conducive environment for raising children, and we hope couples will make the decision to start a family, even if circumstances don't quite fit their expectations completely or perfectly."

At the same time, he highlighted the need for some 20,000 new immigrants a year to keep the citizen population stable.

Many will come from marriages between Singaporeans and foreign spouses - which accounted for four in 10 marriages last year, or 9,000 marriages - and others, adults in their prime working years and families.

"We select those who are able to contribute to Singapore, and to integrate into our society," said Mr Teo, even as he acknowledged that many Singaporeans were worried about integrating them into society here.

But he expressed confidence that this would happen over time in an immigrant society known for turning diversity into strength. "We are united, not by where we are born, but by the values we live by and a common desire to want to make Singapore, our home, better."

No easy answers
Participants air perennial concerns such as overcrowding and strain on infrastructure
by Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 10 Oct 2012

With only a couple of months to go before the Government finalises its White Paper on population - and after much has been said and done to address the foreigner issue and the rising housing prices - old chestnuts were brought up at a dialogue yesterday, as participants aired impassioned views on perennial concerns such as overcrowding and the strain on infrastructure.

Held at *Scape Warehouse, the town hall dialogue was moderated by REACH Chairman Amy Khor. The session, which lasted more than three hours, was attended by about 200 participants, who posed wide-ranging questions to Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean - who is also Minister-in-Charge of population policies - Minister in Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu and Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin.

In a speech which kicked off the dialogue, Mr Teo said he hoped that ongoing efforts by both the Government and society will eventually raise the current fertility rate from 1.2 to at least 1.4 or 1.5. "We will strive to create a supportive and conducive environment for raising children, and we hope that couples will make the decision to start a family, even if circumstances do not fit their expectations completely or perfectly," he said.

Mr Teo noted that, in the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)'s most recent mid-term concept plan review in 2006, it had assessed that Singapore has sufficient land to support a population of 6.5 million.

Mr Teo stressed that this was a planning parameter - not a population target and factors behind population numbers will also depend on fertility rate and ability to attract new immigrants.

After the speech, the questions and comments came thick and fast. One participant said she was "completely bewildered, why an island-nation ... is selling our property to everyone in the world". Another described the surge in the number of immigrants in 2007 and 2008 - a period when the Lehman crisis was unfolding - as "very perplexing". He said: "There has been no apology or no real addressing of that issue, no wonder the MRT broke down."

Others also wanted to know the mistakes that have been made in Government policies, with one participant wondering if the "cart was put before the horse" in terms of infrastructure and how Singapore can support more than five million people.

There were also calls for the Government to reserve the majority of Certificates of Entitlement for Singaporeans, and for greater interconnectivity underground between buildings. Government buildings such as the Istana should also be moved out of prime area, one participant said.

In response, Mr Teo commended the ideas to free land constraints as "out of the box" and should be studied by the authorities.

He also reiterated the Government's focus of growing the Singaporean core through pro-marriage and parenthood policies.

Mr Teo shared that he had received questions on the impact of the previous Stop-at-Two child policy on the Republic's current population woes. He said that the policy was necessary at that time to ensure the well-being of the generation of Singaporeans then.

One participant, who identified herself as a lesbian, asked about benefits for single mothers and whether her partner will be given the right to adopt a child. In response, Ms Fu acknowledged the difficulties faced by single mothers but she noted that many Singaporeans still stand by the traditional family structure. Policies have to signal what society values but there will be regular reviews to ensure relevance of policies, she said.

Summing up the dialogue, Mr Teo noted: "We are so used to scoring 95 marks, maybe 99 marks that when we score 75 or 80 marks, we think that we have become really a dismal failure ... Maybe in the last one year or so, two years or so three years or so, in our test papers we scored less than 95, 99, 90 marks but can we buckle down, fix the problems, move forward and get up back there again? I think we can, I have the confidence that we will be able to do so."

Population key to building a better Singapore: DPM Teo
by S Ramesh, TODAY, 10 Oct 2012

Singapore's leaders want to build a better and brighter nation for its citizens and Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the country's population growth is key to achieving this vision.

Mr Teo, who is also Minister-in-Charge of population policies, made the point when wrapping up a town hall session on population challenges late last night.

The town hall was held to get feedback on the nation's population policies and ways to reverse the declining birth rate. The views will go into shaping the White Paper on the subject due by the end of the year.

It was a no holds barred discussion as the session ended an hour later than scheduled, and it was evident not everyone shared the same view.

"I could see that just from watching your faces of the audience. Some people nodded their heads while some shook their heads. This represents the kinds of dilemmas and difficulties that we have, and as the Government, to try and meet the aspirations of our people," said Mr Teo.

While it has become "harder and harder to predict the future", Mr Teo said Singaporeans have to ask themselves what is the future of the Republic.

And besides planning for the future ahead, Singapore must also be able to make adjustments along the way to overcome various obstacles, he added.

"At this point in time, we are making adjustments along the way for the very rapid population growth we had in the last few years and we are also adjusting the way our population is being developed in the future."

The aim, said Mr Teo, was all about developing a vibrant and liveable city.

Highlighting the need for Singaporean couples to have more babies, he noted: "If we don't have a sustainable core Singapore population, we won't be able to sustain the kind of Singapore that we want in the future. That is a critical element of the Singapore in the future."

To make up for the shortfall in births, Singapore should be open to immigration, he urged.

Mr Teo explained the Government is trying to achieve a sustainable population for a dynamic Singapore and that requires a resident population which is stable and not shrinking or ageing.

He said: "Where are we going with our population? Have we gone crazy and are we taking in anybody who wants to become a Singapore citizen or anybody who wants to be a PR? The numbers would blow away. Are we just taking any numbers of foreign workers and the population would keep on growing without bound? The answer is no."

"We want to maintain a strong Singapore and we are going to try and do that by increasing our birth rates as much as possible and by supplementing it with new citizens who share our values and who can assimilate and integrate as much as possible," said Mr Teo.

That also means creating a role for foreign workers in the economy.

Turning to the advantages of having a transient workforce, Mr Teo pointed out: "They are only here when they are active and therefore they don't contribute to our ageing population. So there is an advantage in having a transient workforce here which helps to contribute to the economy and economic growth but which doesn't impose a social load on us when they grow old or doesn't demand a social load from us when they are very young."

Among other concerns raised at the dialogue were affordable homes for newly married couples, work life balance and suggestions for one parent to stay home to raise the children.

Minister in Prime Minister Office Grace Fu was also present at the dialogue.

Ms Fu said: "From speaking to many women and men, many of them want to have both a family and a career. And if you make that as the only option, it may just become a real and significant obstacle especially among many women whom I have spoken to. Look, if you have children, you have to stay at home.

"Women want to have both options - a good career (in which they can get) satisfaction from working and making a mark in the workplace but also settling down and having children. So we have to find policy options that allow quite a wide spectrum of people who are driven by different things in life. Whether we can shape everybody to consider marriage and settling down as a priority, I definitely hope so."

Singaporeans have been urged to continue sending their views on the subject to the National Population and Talent Division.

No comments:

Post a Comment