Sunday 3 February 2013

6.9 million 'a worst-case scenario, not a target': Population White Paper

'Aggressive' projection is for planning ahead, say PM Lee and Khaw
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 2 Feb 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has made clear that the projection of a 6.9 million population by 2030 "is not a target, but just a worst-case, aggressive scenario that we must prepare for".

He said he fully agreed with Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan's explanation of the figure, which has been the focus of debate since the release of the Government's White Paper on Population on Tuesday.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Lee wrote: "Fully agree with Khaw Boon Wan's explanation that a 6.9m population is not a target, but just a worst-case, aggressive scenario that we must prepare for.

"We need to plan consciously and responsibly for the future, so Singaporeans continue to enjoy a good quality of life, and Singapore continues to thrive."

On Thursday, Mr Khaw told journalists that 6.9 million was an aggressive projection, to enable planners to prepare for the worst and avoid the under-provision of infrastructure and land space.

Yesterday, he blogged about it, saying that the White Paper and the Land Use Plan were about ensuring a better quality of life for Singaporeans. "That is why we plan long term, anticipate future challenges and try to address them early. That is why we put out these two reports, because we know our demographic challenges are severe. If they are not dealt with properly, our children will suffer," Mr Khaw wrote.

He explained that to plan long term, one needs to make assumptions, such as projecting population. The White Paper, he said, offers the basis for such projection.

It explains that Singapore can have a population of 6.5 million to 6.9 million in 2030, assuming it wants to grow at a sustainable pace economically, maintain a strong Singaporean core and remain vibrant and liveable.

Mr Khaw said yesterday of the figure: "It is not a forecast or a target. It simply states the assumptions going forward, based on (a) certain set of productivity and workforce growth rates. For planning purpose(s), it is safer to take the more aggressive projection and plan infrastructure needs based on it. This way we will not be caught under-providing, as we are experiencing currently."

He said the 6.9 million figure should be read in this light.

"It is the worst-case scenario. We hope we do not reach that figure; we may never reach that figure. But as planners, we have to ensure that the infrastructure could accommodate such a figure, if need be.

"Our hope is that the actual figure would turn out to be much lower. This is following the time-tested survival mantra: prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. It is the only responsible thing to do."

Paper on population is 'to spur debate'
The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2013

LAW and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday said the Government has issued its Population White Paper now to spur serious discussion on what might happen in 20 years' time.

He stressed that a population of up to 6.9 million by 2030 is not a target but a possibility that a responsible government must plan for.

Speaking to reporters at a hongbao presentation event in his Chong Pang ward, he said it was possible to predict with some certainty what would take place over the next five to seven years. Beyond that, the projections in the paper are based on a broad range of assumptions.

The paper projects a population of 6.5 million to 6.9 million by 2030, economic growth of 3 per cent to 5 per cent up to 2020, and 2 per cent to 3 per cent thereafter to 2030.

The actual growth rates, Mr Shanmugam said, will depend on economic growth, the external and internal environments, as well as a whole variety of factors.

"But the task of a responsible government," he said, "will be to look at 20 years ahead, 15 years ahead, and say, these are the possible, different things that might happen. Let's talk about them now.

"Let the businesses think about it, let the people think about it... Meanwhile, we must make sure that the infrastructure is put in place to cater to the rate of things that might happen so that we would not be caught by surprise, as we were in the 2000s - there was a boom and there was an infrastructure crunch."

Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S. Iswaran also made it clear yesterday at a Jurong event that the 6.9 million figure is not a target but "represents an upper bound in the range of possible scenarios" projected as part of the White Paper. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan have also made the same point.

Mr Iswaran also said the Government has in mind Singaporeans' needs in conceiving the White Paper and will do its best to mitigate short-term issues.

Mr Shanmugam said while it is understandable that many Singaporeans worry about the impact of a larger population on public housing and transport, among other things, businesses are unhappy that labour force growth is projected to slow significantly as Singapore reduces the pace of foreign worker inflow and as the population ages.

"They say this sort of growth is inadequate... So you have different viewpoints so it is good to have this discussion."

Giving his views a day before Parliament debates the White Paper, Mr Shanmugam also urged young people to think hard about the need for economic growth, to create enough good jobs for a rising number of future graduates, and generate the tax revenue needed to support a growing number of elderly people.

All ministries focused on planning ahead: Balakrishnan
By Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia, 2 Feb 2013

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said all ministries are now focused on planning ahead.

It's a strategy the government has said it will stick to, with the launch of a White Paper projecting a 30 per cent growth in population by 2030.

Can Singapore support a 6.9 million population by 2030?

That's a key concern raised by Singaporeans since the White Paper on Population was released.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a community event on Saturday, Dr Balakrishnan said the reaction is understandable.

He added all the questions raised by Singaporeans are valid and the government has to reassure people that the plan is a long-term one and for the good of all Singaporeans.

Dr Balakrishnan stressed that the discussions over the next few weeks, months or even years, will be essential.

He said: "The problem is that in the short term, if you look at congestion, look at house prices, look at infrastructure, this is far from satisfactory. As long as we have problems dealing in the short term, people will have difficulty accepting long term plans.

"But the point is that although we're slowing down, in the medium term, in the next 10-15 years, there will still inevitably be some growth in the population.

"The key reason for that is that our population that's aged over 65 is going to travel over the next 17 years from about 300,000; we're going to end up with over 900,000 people who like me will be over 65 in 2030 and this enlarged population of seniors will need a top-up of both younger Singaporeans as well as selected foreign talent and labour, who will work with us, serve us, pay taxes, create opportunities for us."

Hence, Dr Balakrishnan said, the government has to commit to Singaporeans to improve their quality of life in the short term.

In the medium term, it has to assure Singaporeans that the country can accommodate a larger population if need be.

And in the long term, it has to ensure that Singapore will continue to be a vibrant country with opportunities.

So whether it's housing or transport, the key is to build ahead, said Dr Balakrishnan.

As for his ministry, he said Singaporeans can be reassured that there will be enough water resources in the future.

He pointed to technology such as reverse osmosis and the ability to enhance water recycling.

"So, water is not a limiting factor. But it does mean we have to plan ahead of demand and we have to be prepared to implement projects," said Dr Balakrishnan.

He added: "In a way, we're buying insurance for the future. So whatever happens, whatever the needs for the country, in the next 20, 30, 50 years, we will have enough infrastructure and then, it will really be a matter of seeing how the future unfolds.

"So, for instance, with greater, higher productivity, with greater automation, perhaps we may not need so much staff or such a large labour force in the future. This is a possibility. But the point is whatever happens, to be prepared."

That also means being flexible.

Dr Balakrishnan stressed that the government's plans are not "written in tablets of stone".

But its key guiding points will be to ensure Singapore remains a vibrant, exciting place of opportunities, and to enhance the quality of life of every citizen.

Projected 6.9 million population basis for healthcare planning: Gan
By Alvina Soh, Channel NewsAsia, 2 Feb 2013

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the projected 6.9 million population by 2030 in the White Paper will serve as a basis for planning efforts to ensure sufficient capacity in the healthcare sector.

He also said his ministry is adjusting its plans to be able to meet future healthcare needs.

Mr Gan stressed that the 6.9 million figure is not a target.

The health minister said that Singapore's ageing population would have grown larger by 2030.

Hence there is a need to restructure some healthcare services to cater to more elderly citizens, with particular emphasis on chronic diseases.

"We need to, maybe, look at how we can restructure our primary care sector, our hospitals including our intermediate long-term care sector," said Mr Gan.

"We make sure that our capacity is in line with the government's planning norm, so that by 2030, we will make sure that we have sufficient capacity to meet the population at that time."

He added that the Health Ministry will also monitor the demographic shift of the population to ensure that hospitals have the sufficient flexibility to adapt.

"If the ageing process picks up pace, our fertility (rate) goes down, more older people than we expected, even if the number remains the same, the demand for healthcare services could be quite different. So we need to make sure our hospitals have sufficient flexibility to adapt to demographic shift," said Mr Gan.

Boosting physical infrastructure and manpower development would also be important.

"This will involve training programmes, recruitment programmes and continuing to improve the terms of working conditions for healthcare workers to attract and retain more Singaporeans in this sector. We need to look at how we need to supplement our local workforce with foreign manpower especially in the healthcare sector to meet the ageing population," said Mr Gan.

The health minister was speaking on the sidelines of a community event by the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) on Saturday.

He, together with CDAC board members Ms Grace Fu, Mr Baey Yam Keng and Ms Low Yen Ling, announced new outreach initiatives to improve social mobility and help lower income families.

These include extending CDAC's programmes and assistance to post-secondary students and a new mentoring programme.

In addition, CDAC will foster closer ties with the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations and clan associations.

Mr Gan also presented awards to CDAC's partners in recognition of their contributions.

At least 42 MPs to speak on population concerns
By Goh Chin Lian and Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 2 Feb 2013

A MARATHON debate on the Government's White Paper on Population and its Land Use Plan is expected next week, with five days set aside for it.

At least 42 MPs, including all 10 from the opposition, told The Straits Times that they intend to speak.

They will raise residents' concerns about overcrowding, the cost of living, and competition for jobs and university places by foreigners. Some will also speak on employers' worry that a slower pace of economic growth - between 2 per cent and 3 per cent up to 2030 - will hurt business.

Since its release on Tuesday, the White Paper has drawn criticism online and off, with many homing in on its projected population of up to 6.9 million in 2030.

The 76-page document sets out a road map to strengthen the citizen core, create jobs and secure a good living environment.

A complementary land use report was released on Thursday, on plans to reclaim more land, build new towns and redevelop golf courses to accommodate a larger population.

MPs plan to voice the concerns of their constituents. Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) said: "There is a lot of fear and negative feedback on whether our country can support 6.9 million and whether there's a need for that big a population."

Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) and Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) felt that residents' immediate concerns such as public transport, housing and medical costs should be addressed.

Mr Liang said: "In order to seek buy-in from Singaporeans for long-term plans, we have to demonstrate that we can really solve the current bottlenecks."

Added Mr Ang: "We must give Singaporeans a sense of security, even when the proportion of Singaporeans drops with more foreigners."

Singaporeans who feel they cannot catch up with the competition also need to be reassured that they will not be marginalised with the inflow of new citizens, said Mr Seng Han Thong (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

But Mr Seah hopes people will keep in mind longer-term interests: "We need to look at both the present two to three years, and also cast an eye on the situation for our children and grandchildren 20 years from now."

Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) also wants to flesh out the impact of an ageing population on the younger generation.

"The White Paper is meant to manage the burden of the young of tomorrow. That part is not clearly articulated."

Newly elected MP Lee Li Lian, who will be sworn in on Monday, will also speak on the issue, along with the other eight Workers' Party MPs.

However, before the White Paper debate starts, 12 MPs will raise questions about last year's illegal strike by bus drivers from China in SMRT's employ.

Four Bills related to financial institutions and insurance will be introduced, and the Legal Aid and Advice (Amendment) Bill will be up for a second reading.

Opposition parties take aim at White Paper
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 2 Feb 2013

FOUR opposition parties have weighed in on the White Paper on population, taking aim in particular at the projection that Singapore's population could hit 6.9 million by 2030.

The National Solidarity Party (NSP), while unveiling its population paper at a forum last night, called for a referendum on the White Paper, for national unity.

Said its secretary-general Hazel Poa: "This is a proposal that is going to have a huge impact on every one of us, our children and our grandchildren. It cannot be rushed through in one week."

If not every Singaporean is on board with the plan, it will cause a "serious rift" between the Government and the people.

In its paper, the NSP argued that the Government should focus on growing its own citizen core instead of topping up the population with foreigners to make up the numbers.

The White Paper projects that citizens will number around 3.8 million in 2030, just over half the total population. About 15,000 to 25,000 foreigners are expected to become citizens every year.

The NSP cited figures and studies showing that countries with the highest population densities tend to have the lowest fertility rates. "Increasing our population to 6.9 million by 2030 is therefore likely to further depress our fertility rate, creating a vicious (circle)," said the party.

At the same time, excessive growth in the number of non-citizens will lower productivity and suppress wages of lower-income Singaporeans, it added.

The NSP laid out several proposals for improving the fertility rate and growing the citizen core.

Its suggestions include letting parents with three or more children upgrade for free to a larger flat, to encourage young couples to buy flats within their means.

Criticising the White Paper for continuing to believe economic growth, "however derived", will lead to better lives, the NSP said the approach is unsustainable. "What happens after 2030? Grow the population some more?"

Similarly, the Democratic Progressive Party asked if population was the only path to economic growth, as a population explosion might bring other ills such as the dilution of identity and heritage.

Its statement yesterday said economies such as Scandinavia do well with an average population of 5.5 million. It asked if Singapore had considered other means such as improving productivity and work-life balance.

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) took aim at shifting population targets given by ministers over the years, saying it hinted at "confusion within the Cabinet".

It questioned whether the Government had thought through the impact of the population increase on infrastructure, social cohesion and national security. Citing international studies, the SDP said Singaporeans work long hours while real income has declined.

The Reform Party said the proposed population rise will "make our lives more miserable and offer no benefits whatsoever". Its statement set out alternative policies, which include introducing a minimum wage, child benefit payments for lower-income families and spending more on education.

All nine parliamentarians from the Workers' Party will speak on the White Paper in Parliament next week, as will Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam from the Singapore People's Party.

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