Saturday, 9 February 2013

Parliament endorses Population White Paper on 8 Feb 2013







Debate ends but conversation continues: PM Lee Hsien Loong
Parliament passes amended motion on Population White Paper by a 77-13 vote
By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 9 Feb 2013

The marathon five-day debate on Singapore’s population roadmap wrapped up yesterday, with a 77-13 vote to pass the amended motion on the Population White Paper.

But the conclusion of the debate in Parliament, which saw 70 MPs rising to speak, does not mark a stop to the nation’s conversation on population, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He outlined three areas for further discussion “over the next few years”: Getting Singaporeans to have more babies, restructuring the economy to be less reliant on foreign labour and to benefit Singaporeans more, as well as ways to strengthen the Singapore identity in an open society.

Much of the debate centred on Singaporeans’ fear that they would be overwhelmed by immigrants and foreigners. Mr Lee pledged that the Government will make sure Singaporeans “are clearly in the majority so that our identity is not diluted by new arrivals”.

“We will always put Singaporeans first, and make sure that the benefits of our population and our population policies go to Singaporeans.”

The final speaker yesterday before Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean closed the debate, Mr Lee sought to address public reaction as well as concerns that MPs have raised in the past week.

He said that Singapore’s population could not grow indefinitely, but felt a total population of 6 million by 2030 would not be enough to meet the country’s needs with an ageing society. The figure, however, should be “significantly below 6.9 million and beyond 2030, in the very long term, it should not increase beyond that”.

Its actual population will be something for future generations to decide, but the Government will build up infrastructure ahead of demand so people will not feel the strains of today, said Mr Lee.



That the Government is not deciding on the population trajectory or the population size beyond 2020 — but simply projecting for the purpose of land use and infrastructure planning — was reiterated by Mr Teo.

The discussion “should and must continue”, and Mr Teo urged the MPs to keep an open mind going forward.

“We must continually review our approach and adapt our strategies depending on Singaporeans’ changing social and economic needs, and how our domestic and external circumstances change,” he said.

‘Hard for some PAP MPs to support original motion’

As the debate drew to a close, Aljunied GRC MP Low Thia Khiang of the Workers’ Party (WP) called for a division of the motion, which means that the vote of each MP was recorded. More than two-thirds of all elected MPs voted in favour of the amended motion — 77 out of 99.

Thirteen said “nay” — the WP’s nine MPs (including its two Non-Constituency MPs), NCMP Lina Chiam and Nominated MPs Faizah Jamal, Mr Laurence Lien and Ms Janice Koh. NMP Eugene Tan abstained from the vote.

Over the five days, 61 MPs and nine Cabinet members — including Mr Lee and DPM Teo — weighed in on the White Paper. Three former Cabinet members — Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, Mr Wong Kan Seng and Mr Mah Bow Tan — also spoke for the first time since they stepped down after the General Election in 2011.

There were fiery speeches aplenty. The WP criticised the Government’s “half-hearted” attempts to raise the fertility rate and proposed lower economic growth as well as tighter inflow of foreign workers and new citizens than projections set out in the White Paper.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh called for a five-year breather from the “relentless drive for growth” but said the Opposition’s proposal would spell doom for companies here that provided jobs for Singaporeans — a sentiment echoed by others such as Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran.

Holland Bukit-Timah MP Liang Eng Hwa on Tuesday tabled an amendment to the motion that included calling on the Government to prioritise resolving current infrastructure strains and carrying out medium-term reviews on population policies and assumptions.

Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua said yesterday that had the motion not been amended, “a number” of People’s Action Party MPs would “find it difficult to support it”. She was among several MPs who said the White Paper exposed shortcomings in the Government’s engagement of Singaporeans.

The WP released a statement last night saying the amendment captures some of its concerns, but believes the path proposed by the White Paper will further dilute the Singaporean core and “lead us to require unsustainable population injections in the future”. WP Chairman Sylvia Lim said demographic challenges must be addressed fundamentally and urgently by focusing on birth rates and growing the resident labour force participation rate.

Three groups of concern

In his speech, Mr Lee said immediate concerns and long-term population issues must be tackled together to create the most promising future for Singaporeans. Getting the population policy right is essential to take care of three groups: the elderly, the low-income and the young.

The elderly includes those of today, and tomorrow. There will be 2.1 citizens aged between 20 and 64 to every citizen aged 65 and above in 2030, down from 5.9 working-age citizens for every senior citizen currently. There will be a greater need for healthcare and support, as well as greater pressure on their families and society, he said.

“It is easy to say we stop immigration, we stop foreign workers coming in, ageing is a triumph of development … but is it so simple?” he asked. “Can one child look after two elderly parents, whether financially or physically? Is it sustainable? Is it fair?”

Mr Lee said low-wage workers fear excessive competition from foreign workers, but also benefit from a controlled supply of foreign labour. To provide good jobs, the economic pie must be growing, he said.

And Singapore needs the right population mix to be a city with buzz and opportunities, for the sake of youths. Two in three citizens are expected to be in professional, managerial, executive and technical (PMET) jobs by 2030. “Educating them as PMETs is not so hard. Finding PMET jobs for them to do to match their education is not so easy,” said Mr Lee.

If Singapore stagnates and becomes a “giant retirement home”, the young will venture overseas for opportunities, leaving their aged parents here — as has happened in countries such as Ireland and Greece, he said. “It will be very sad if that happens to Singapore,” he said.

It would have been easy to “kick the can down the road” – as WP’s Mr Low has criticised – and leave the population problem to the Republic’s next leader. But Mr Lee said it would have been irresponsible to do so.

Countering some MPs who said the White Paper’s theme is one of fear and vulnerability, Mr Lee said it is a discussion of a difficult problem, but also an act of faith.

“It is really an affirmation of faith in Singapore’s future. Believe Singapore has a future which is worth building, protecting, striving for. Believe that Singapore can grow from strength to strength and that next generation deserves to live better lives than this generation,” he said.









DPM Teo backs amendment to motion, making clear 6.9 million figure is not a target
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2013

DEPUTY Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday expressed support for an MP's amendment to the motion he had originally tabled on the Population White Paper, saying the change was in line with and clarified the Government's intent.

The amendment by Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) also reassured Singaporeans that the discussion has to continue, even after this week's proceedings in Parliament, Mr Teo said.

On Monday, Mr Teo - as the minister in charge of population matters - tabled a motion on the White Paper.

The motion was a proposal for the House to endorse the White Paper as the Government's "population policy road map to address Singapore's demographic challenge" and the accompanying Land Use Plan to "support Singapore's future population".

Mr Liang tabled his amendment the next day, on Tuesday.

It made clear that the 6.9 million population figure was not a target and for beyond 2020, the Government is not deciding now on any specific population size.

Its projections beyond 2020 are for the purpose of land use and infrastructure planning, Mr Teo said.



Wrapping up the five days of debate yesterday, he called on MPs to support the amendment, which spells out Parliament's support for maintaining a strong citizen core by encouraging more Singaporeans to marry and have children, supplemented by a calibrated pace of immigration to prevent the citizen population from shrinking.

Another change is a call for the Government to address Singaporeans' concerns by resolving strains on the transport system and ensuring better jobs and salaries flow from the population policies.

The amendment, he added, supports the White Paper's call for a significant slowdown in the rate of workforce, population and gross domestic product growth up to 2020.

"This is a carefully balanced path between two extremes - neither carrying on with the rapid growth rates of the last three decades which would take us beyond our capacity; nor having a freeze which would stall the economy, and be harmful to Singaporeans."

Medium-term reviews of population policies and assumptions are provided for.


He said: "This classification of low-skilled jobs is not correct. I would like to apologise to those whose professions have been unintentionally misrepresented.

"I personally have the greatest respect for those in the nursing profession, which is a noble and caring profession, which all of us and our loved ones depend on and appreciate."




Don't be cavalier about economic growth: PM Lee
Growth is needed to raise incomes and improve Singaporeans' lives
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2013

AS THE costs of economic growth continued to come under the spotlight, the Prime Minister yesterday sought to make clear the Government's aim - growth not for its own sake, but to raise incomes, especially for those at the bottom and in the middle.

"If you are in the top 5 or 10 per cent of the population, you may say, well, I have enough. I can manage. I can live within my means," he said.

"If you are at the bottom 10 or 20 per cent of the population or even at the median - not poor, not rich - I think it would be patronising and cavalier for us to say they don't need more, that growth is unimportant."

Mr Lee Hsien Loong said that past experience has shown that when the economy grows, those on low incomes gain. When the economy crashes or slows down, the salaries of this group stagnate, while those at the top often keep rising.

He also pointed out that the best way to help Singaporeans cope with higher costs of living is to raise their incomes.

Expanding the economic pie also enables Singapore to secure the resources needed to improve education and health care, to build better homes and towns, and to invest in reliable and convenient public transportation, he added.

The question of what rate of economic growth would be ideal in the coming decades has been an issue of debate in recent months.

The Government's White Paper on Population projected 3 to 5 per cent a year from now to 2020, and 2 to 3 per cent thereafter to 2030.

This is tied to a population planning parameter of 6.5 million to 6.9 million by 2030.

The Workers' Party, in its alternative proposal, suggested growth of 2.5 to 3.5 per cent a year from now to 2020, and 1.5 to 2.5 per cent a year thereafter to 2030, with a population of 5.6 million to 5.8 million by 2030.

Yesterday, Mr Lee said: "We're not pursuing growth at all costs. We're trying to juggle many different objectives, including population, including cohesion... Growth is not for its sake. But growth is not unimportant."

The Government, he added, is trading off growth by reducing immigration and foreign worker inflows, to slow down the economy significantly and achieve a better quality of life.

"We accept this because we want the growth to be sustainable," he said. "We want high-quality growth and we want workers and families to benefit."

But he also added: "One of the things we must not forget is we need to make a living for ourselves."

Mr Lee said economic growth is part of a multi-faceted problem concerning population, which goes beyond getting the numbers right on babies and workers, to matters of identity. The challenge is complicated because Singapore needs both vibrancy and openness, and a sense of identity and belonging among citizens, he said.

It is not like Japan or China, where the population is relatively homogenous. But neither is it like cosmopolitan cities such as New York or London, as it is a nation.

It requires a very difficult combination, noted the PM - to be cohesive without being closed, to identify with one another and not be xenophobic, and to be open and yet not be diluted and dissolved.

"But that is our karma and we have to keep a balance between the two," he said.









Getting policy right for 3 groups: the old, young and low-income
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2013

THERE are three groups of Singaporeans that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong most worries about, as he looks at the country's long-term population problems.

These are the elderly, those on low incomes and the young.

Getting the population policy right will therefore help to provide for their longer-term needs, he said on the last day of the Population White Paper debate.

On the first group, the elderly, Mr Lee observed that their ranks will swell as post-war baby boomers age. Without immigration, the burden on young working people to support the elderly is going to triple by 2030, and the pressures on family and society will rise.

While government schemes can help, a right population policy is needed to get the economy working for them and to have young people providing services to look after the elderly.

The second group are Singaporeans earning low incomes. The best way to help them is to expand the economy to create opportunities for them to have better jobs, higher incomes, and the chance to live dignified and fulfilling lives, Mr Lee said.

These people do not want handouts, they prefer to stand on their own feet, learn a new skill and provide for themselves, he added.

However, that can be done only by expanding the economy, and alleviating their burden of having to look after the elderly at home.

While these workers may fear foreign competition, foreign workers can actually help to lower the costs of businesses so they can keep going and provide jobs for Singaporeans.

The third group are younger Singaporeans of today and in the future. With two-thirds of the workforce in the future expected to be in white-collar jobs, Mr Lee said they will have to be complemented by foreign workers, who do the jobs Singaporeans do not want, and take up excess jobs Singaporeans cannot fill.

Singapore must offer the young fulfilling and well-paid jobs, as well as "an exciting, dynamic city, space to pursue diverse interests and the opportunity to go and change Singapore and change the world", he said.

It is important to provide opportunities for them in Singapore, or they may emigrate and leave Singapore to become "a giant retirement home".

"That's happened in many countries where the opportunities are not there, people have moved," Mr Lee said.

"The Irish used to have that happen to them. The Greeks have many young people who have gone all over Europe. I think it'll be very sad if that happens to Singapore."

In calling for people to understand why it is important to tackle the population problems now and plan ahead, he said: "For the sake of the young, for the sake of their futures, we have to think what sort of Singapore we want to see beyond the immediate, beyond the here and now."




Kicking the can to future leaders would be irresponsible: PM Lee
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2013

IT WOULD have been easy to "kick the can down the road", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, but dodging the population challenge would have been irresponsible.

Borrowing the phrase used by Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang on Thursday during the White Paper debate, Mr Lee said he could have left it to future leaders to sort things out.

He could also have proposed a bogus solution to buy time politically, such as declaring key performance indicators to raise the low total fertility rate, again in an oblique reference to the WP's attack that the Government had been half-hearted in wanting to boost it.

"And then by the time you find that nothing has happened, well, perhaps the awkward moment has passed," he said.

"But it would be irresponsible of me to do so," he told Parliament, adding that he hoped citizens understood this even if they might not agree with the White Paper's proposals.

Since the road map to 2030 was released a fortnight ago after a year of public consultation, it has sparked strong reactions.

Acknowledging this, he said the Government introduced it now to be upfront in discussing sincerely and openly a "difficult and unpopular subject".

Singapore is facing the twin threats of an ageing society and too few babies and if nothing is done, the population will soon start to shrink like Japan's, he warned.

To meet the challenges, choices have to be made.

For instance, should construction workers be let in to build more flats and train lines faster, or should foreign worker numbers be capped, translating into a longer wait for infrastructure?

The White Paper, drafted after extensive consultations and studies of various trade-offs, is actually an "affirmation of faith" in the country's future, Mr Lee said.

"It's a belief that Singapore has a future which is worth building, protecting, striving for; belief that Singapore can grow from strength to strength and the next generation deserves to live better lives than this generation," he said.

Getting population policy right will give Singapore the best chance for success.

While they could have deferred tackling the challenge, over time, it would loom larger and become more difficult.

And this is why, even as the Government is working on short-term problems, it has to look in parallel at the long-term issue of population.

On the more immediate problems, PM Lee recalled how his team of ministers spoke about more flats being built, the ramping up of the construction of train lines, and adding more bus services.

In manpower, the reliance on non-Singaporeans is being reduced and workers are getting help to upgrade their skills.

Citizens are also getting help in tackling higher costs of living, through social safety nets for low-income groups, for instance.

"Step by step, whether it's houses, whether it's trains, whether it's cost of living, we are determined to improve things progressively," he said.

In his Mandarin speech, he added: "I'm sure that very soon you'll see the results."

Singaporeans, he stressed, are at the centre of all the Government's plans. Economic growth and policies in population, transport and housing are just a means to improving their well-being and security.

"Our purpose is to do the best for Singaporeans."



GETTING IT RIGHT

Step by step, whether it's houses, whether it's trains, whether it's cost of living, we are determined to improve things progressively.

- PM Lee, giving his assurance that the Government was addressing immediate as well as long-term issues



GOOD THAT WE ARE OPEN

The debate raised awareness of the challenges we are facing, like the ageing demographic and low fertility. I think it's good that we are open. Not everyone read the White Paper, so it's good that we can highlight a few things in the amended motion like the Singaporean core and the fact that this is not a population target. I think the backbencher MPs were more comfortable with the amendment.

- Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa, who proposed the amendments to the motion



GETTING IT RIGHT

Step by step, whether it's houses, whether it's trains, whether it's cost of living, we are determined to improve things progressively.

- PM Lee, giving his assurance that the Government was addressing immediate as well as long-term issues




Proportion of Malay citizens 'will not change'
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has pledged that the proportion of Malays among Singapore citizens will not change even as the population grows over time.

"We will preserve the Singapore character of our society. In particular, we will maintain the ethnic balance in our citizen population," Mr Lee said yesterday in Malay.

In the week-long debate on the Population White Paper, several MPs had expressed concern that the shrinking Singaporean core put forth in the paper would lead to a smaller Malay-Muslim share of the population.

Yesterday, Mr Lee gave the assurance that while Singapore is supplementing its population with an inflow of foreigners, it is slowing down the numbers to a more manageable pace.

"The proportion of Malays in the citizen population will not change, even over the longer term," he said.

Mr Lee also reiterated that "Singaporeans will always be at the heart of all we do". The Government will continue to give priorities to Singaporeans, including Malay Singaporeans, in all its policies, he said.

While meritocracy ensures that Singaporeans will succeed because of their abilities, the Government will continue to take care of those who need help "to get back on their feet or to reach the same starting point in life", he added, pledging to create more opportunities for all Singaporeans.

Mr Lee said the most important priority is to encourage Singaporeans to have more babies as none of the ethnic groups are replacing themselves.

He urged the Malay community to support the Government's population policy and take advantage of the recently enhanced Marriage and Parenthood package.

"Our shared goal is to sustain the Singapore story into future generations and strengthen our Singaporean core," Mr Lee said.




Singaporean core is about spirit, not numbers: PM Lee
He promises that citizens will not be 'overwhelmed by flood' of immigrants
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday acknowledged people's fears that the Singaporean identity will be diluted if citizens make up only 55 per cent of the population in 2030.

But the Singaporean core is "not just about the numbers, but about the spirit", he said, speaking at the close of the debate on the Population White Paper.

This is when "we feel together and we are in a cause together, committed to create a brighter future for all of us".

Still, Mr Lee promised Singaporeans the Government will never allow them to be "overwhelmed by the sheer flood" of immigrants, even as he asked them to see things in perspective.

A sizeable segment of the foreign contingent will be transient labour, like those here to work on construction projects.

If they are housed and provided for suitably, their presence will not have an impact on the Singaporean core, he argued.

He also rejected the Workers' Party's suggestion that the core must be made up of born-and-bred Singaporeans, emphasising that immigrants have been critical to the country's success. Many born elsewhere, he said, have made important contributions and been "the fiercest defenders and the most able propounders of our cause".

But Mr Lee acknowledged that today's situation is different from that in the 1960s, when the founding generation was thrust together to forge its own destiny.

Over the years, a distinctive national identity has grown, one which enables a Singaporean to pick another out from a crowd

anywhere in the world. "You don't have to wait for him to speak," he said of this instant recognition. "You just look at him, see how he walks, his body language."

New citizens, however, are never quite the same: "The accent will be quite different. The body language will be quite different."

But this difference can be a strength as new citizens have seen how the world works elsewhere and can "add something to us".

More importantly, said Mr Lee, if they have committed themselves to Singapore and embraced the country's values, then "I say we should have the big heart and the open spirit to welcome such people, and help them become Singaporean".

Singapore neither subscribes to the super-open philosophy of the United States nor the closed-off policy of Japan, but will practise a "controlled openness", he said.

In a moment of emotion that moved some MPs to tears, PM Lee's eyes reddened as he told the House what the Singaporean core is to him.

"People who have embraced our values, ideals, and who have sunk roots here and given their loyalty to Singapore.

"People for whom when you say the Pledge, when you see the helicopter flying past during the National Day Parade, it's a special moment."

Singaporeans have shared experiences, like national service, and have come together in the midst of crises, like Sars in 2003 and the global financial crash in 2008.

Singaporeans, he said, "feel together" as when the nation grieved with Mr and Mrs Francis Yap when their two sons, aged 13 and seven, were tragically killed in a Tampines accident last week.

And when Singaporeans triumph, as Mr Nickson Fong, 43, did in winning an Oscar this year for a new animation technique, the country celebrates with him, said Mr Lee.

He concluded with the promise that the Government will "watch the numbers" and make sure Singaporeans are clearly in the majority. It will always treat citizens better than non-citizens, he said.

But he also beseeched Singaporeans not to think they can afford to be "along for the ride" like in resource-rich countries where citizens live off the oil wealth and non-citizens do the work.

"For Singapore to thrive, we Singaporeans must always stay lean and hungry," he said. "If we lose our drive, we will lose out."

There are privileges to being Singaporean but with that special status comes responsibilities, he emphasised. "We are not just the beneficiaries of the country's success, we also need to be the architects and the builders of our future success."



BUILDING OUR FUTURE SUCCESS

We are not just the beneficiaries of the country's success, we also need to be the architects and the builders of our future success."

- PM Lee




'Govt can build house... people make it home'
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2013

THE Government can improve the physical environment and build national icons, but it will take Singaporeans to transform them into beloved markers of home.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said such a "sense of belonging" was not covered in the Population White Paper and the accompanying Land Use Plan, because they focused on how to prepare the tangible infrastructure for an expanding population.

It was, however, "very much in our thoughts".

He reiterated the promises that PAP ministers have made over the past week in Parliament - that plans to beef up the public transport network are in place, and land to build half a million more homes has been set aside.

But the liveable environment that the Government is confident of providing, even with a population projection of 6.9 million, can fall short of being a "loveable" city, he said, using Nominated MP Janice Koh's words.

"Love cannot always be built," he said. "Love has to blossom."

PM Lee said he believes the building blocks where people can bond are in place, whether at community clubs, neighbourhood parks, hawker centres, or old landmarks that have been made new, such as the Punggol Waterway's Kelong bridge, which is aligned with the old Punggol Road, or the new Dawson estate in Queenstown.

There are also "icons that make us proud to be Singaporean", like the Marina Bay skyline and Changi Airport. The latter, he added, is "not just pretty but works well".

While the Government will give "extra emphasis" to building up this hardware, it cannot do the rest alone, he said.

It can build a house, but it is the people who must build the home; while the Government can provide common spaces, it is up to Singaporeans to use them as the springboard for "healthy, vibrant communities". "We can create the opportunities, but it's up to us, the people, to define who a Singaporean is."




Workers' Party MPs say nay to White Paper
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2013

ALL nine Workers' Party parliamentarians voted against the amended motion to pass the White Paper on Population because the path it lays out will lead to a dilution of the "Singaporean core", said WP chairman Sylvia Lim last night.

Ms Lim (Aljunied GRC) said in a statement that while the amendment to the original motion captures some of the WP's concerns, "fundamentally the White Paper still forms the basis of the road map forward to 2030".

The changes to the motion proposed by Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) include a statement to reinforce Parliament's support for maintaining a strong Singaporean core by encouraging more Singaporeans to get married and have children, supplemented by a calibrated pace of immigration.

But Ms Lim said yesterday that the path proposed by the White Paper will dilute the Singaporean core, weaken national identity and require "unsustainable population injections in the future".

"We believe that the greater well-being of Singaporeans lies in sustainable economic growth driven by increases in our productivity and in our resident workforce, rather than further increases in our dependency on imported foreign labour," said Ms Lim.

Throughout the week, the WP MPs have called for the Government to freeze the foreign worker inflow and focus on getting more Singaporean women and seniors back into the workforce.

Ms Lim said Singapore's demographic challenges must be addressed "fundamentally and urgently" by focusing on raising the fertility rate and growing the resident labour force participation.

"In short, we should instead strive for 'A Dynamic Population for a Sustainable Singapore'," she said, referring to the WP's theme in the debate which reverses the White Paper's original title of "A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore".



'DILUTING THE CORE'

The Workers' Party believes that the path proposed by the White Paper will further dilute the Singaporean core and weaken our national identity. It will also lead us to require unsustainable population injections in the future. We believe that the greater well-being of Singaporeans lies in sustainable economic growth driven by increases in our productivity and in our resident workforce, rather than further increases in our dependency on imported foreign labour. Singapore's demographic challenges must be addressed fundamentally and urgently by focusing on increasing the total fertility rate and growing our resident labour force participation rate.

- WP statement



SHARING CONCERN

This debate gave the occasion for the Government to share its concern about the country, growth and immigration. I don’t think we have had our immigration policy debated in this manner before. The Government has stressed that the 6.9 million population figure is not a target; it is a planning parameter. That part has to sink in.

- Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan



FOCUS ON ESSENCE

To be fair, the essence of the White Paper was about the development and the things we wanted to do. But the thing that really stood out and distracted and upset a lot of us was the 6.9 million population. In PM’s speech today, he took the 6.9 million out of the equation clearly and just focused on the essence.

- Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh




Three Nominated MPs vote 'no'
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2013

THREE Nominated MPs joined nine Workers' Party MPs and Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam in opposing the Population White Paper, casting a "no" vote though the motion was amended.

Ms Janice Koh, Mr Laurence Lien and Ms Faizah Jamal did so for varying reasons, ranging from the environmental impact of further growth to concerns over whether Singapore could absorb more foreigners.

The vote was taken after Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang called for a division - which means each Member's vote is recorded, in this case by MPs keying in their votes electronically instead of giving a verbal "aye" or "no". Eight Members were absent for the vote, including Mr Inderjit Singh who stood out among the PAP MPs for his strong criticism of the White Paper on Tuesday.

When asked if he had absented himself, the Ang Mo Kio GRC MP replied: "All I want to say is I was not present for the vote." In a Facebook post earlier, he wrote: "I spoke from my heart and will do what I can to change things."

One NMP, academic Eugene Tan, opposed the White Paper in his speech but abstained from the vote after listening to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's pledge to act on the concerns raised.

Fellow NMP, Ms Koh, used her speech to highlight deficits in three areas - psychological, social and cultural - and said that these must be dealt with even as Singapore readies the physical infrastructure for a bigger population.

One, more can be done to assure citizens they are not discriminated against. The figure of 6.9 million people in 2030 may be a planning parameter, but it is hard to swallow it psychologically, given current bottlenecks, she said.

Two, Singapore's social deficit, she said, was a result of rapid immigration, and puts the country at risk of racial and class divisions. Finally, she highlighted the "glaring omission" of the arts in the Land Use Plan, linked to the White Paper.

Ms Koh, a TV and stage actress, noted the White Paper wants Singapore to be a liveable, lively and well-loved city, but does not earmark new spaces for heritage, culture and the arts.

Making a point that was picked up by PM Lee, she added: "It is one thing to build a liveable city. The harder question is how do we build a loveable one?"

Ms Faizah, speaking on Wednesday, accused the Government of stressing economic expansion at the expense of the environment. The nature advocate wants infrastructure plans to undergo an environmental impact assessment and its findings made public.

On Thursday, Mr Lien said the White Paper did not go far enough in restructuring the economy, and the population projections and intake of new citizens were too large.

He produced his own forecasts, insisting they could still bring growth. "We can live with a cap of the population at six million by 2030 and still be very dynamic," he had said.




Limits to raising resident workforce: Chan Chun Sing
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2013

THE minister in charge of social development yesterday indicated there were limits to how much Singapore's labour force participation rate could go up, given that it is already at or near the levels of other mature, developed countries.

Mr Chan Chun Sing, the Acting Minister for Social and Family Development, also argued that Singapore needs to continue letting in foreign workers, although at a slower pace, to meet the needs of its older and weaker citizens.

While he did not mention the Workers' Party, he was in effect responding to its alternative proposal, to boost the resident workforce by 1 per cent a year from now to 2020, and freeze the size of the foreign workforce.



Mr Chan countered with figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a grouping of many of the world's advanced countries. Singapore's labour force participation rate for men, he said, has reached the levels of mature OECD economies and is likely to fall in the coming years as the population ages.

Its rate for women may grow by 6 per cent more, he added.

"I cannot assume that increasing the labour force participation rate will solve our problem," he told the House.

In trying to get more Singaporeans to work, "we have to be realistic of what we can achieve". Many mothers who remain at home, for example, do so to care for the old and the young.

Foreign workers are needed to care for the old and the weak, he said.

They also help build senior activity centres, studio apartments and institutional homes.

Turning to the downsides of slower economic growth, he said those who made such calls should bear in mind that below a certain rate, the low-income group will find their wages not keeping up with inflation.

"So please be mindful about what we say about foreign manpower and slower growth. These choices affect our poor much, much more than it affects the rest of us," he said.

Mr Chan also promised to keep up with measures to promote families and early childhood development, even as he agreed that having a family goes beyond monetary and housing considerations.

He also spoke of national identity, and warned against drawing lines between citizens born here and those born elsewhere.

The former chief of army said he once asked a unit made up of 32 soldiers, 24 of whom were not born or raised here, why they would fight together.

"None of them gave me a high-brow answer, like how many Singaporeans there are in Singapore," he said.

"They fight because their buddies fight alongside them. They will defend this place because this is their home - where they share common experiences, common values and most importantly, a common vision for a better tomorrow."




Don't talk down motivation to defend Singapore
This is an excerpt from a speech in Parliament yesterday by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development.

WHEN I was in the army, I had a unit where only eight out of 32 soldiers were "true-blue Singaporeans", as some of you may call them. The rest were either not born here or not raised here. I asked why they would fight together. None of them gave me some high-brow answers like how many percentage of the people staying here are Singaporeans.

They fight because their buddies fight alongside them. They will defend this place because this is their home - where they share common experiences, common values and most importantly a common vision for a better life tomorrow.

Our job is to do our best to support our NSmen in their duties to our country. Our job is not to constantly talk down their motivation, deflate their morale and question their sacrifice.

Will members of this House fight for Singapore if there are x or y million foreigners living here with us? If our answer is yes, then the answer from our NSmen will be an equivocal yes as well. But if your answer is no, then I do not need to ask my NSmen further.

This is not politics. This is leadership.

It is not easy. Our NSmen sacrifice time and effort to uphold our defence. Often our NSmen feel the competition from the foreigners here. They wonder if they will be disadvantaged. It is a heavy price to pay for independence. But I am confident that most of them understand this price that we pay. Because this country belongs to us.



Let us also not start drawing lines to divide who is a true Singaporean and who is not. Is someone born a Singaporean but lived overseas for 15 years, speaks with a foreign twang and came back to serve his NS any less Singaporean? Is a foreign child who came here at the age of 10, embraces our values and systems, speaks Singlish and goes on to serve NS any less Singaporean?

We have always been an open society. We draw strength from this. Unlike others who are defined by their tribal lineage or those who define their nationhood through many years of history, we are a young country with 50 years of history.

If we believe that the Singapore Dream of multiracialism, meritocracy, incorruptibility, rule of law, society before self are all things we value, then we have the ingredients to build a nation.

The 1965 generation taught me an important lesson. Nationhood is not defined by what the country can give us.

It is defined by what we can give, what we can contribute and how we overcome our challenges together.




Ideas to boost birth rate, strengthen citizen core
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2013

MPS continued to come up with ideas on how to encourage Singaporeans to have babies and strengthen the citizen core yesterday, right up to the last day of the debate on the Population White Paper.

To make it easier for mothers to work and have children, Nominated MP and unionist Mary Liew suggested laws to give employees the right to ask for flexible work arrangements, as in Australia and Britain.

NMP Janice Koh, too, cited measures taken by Norway, like making it obligatory for companies to offer benefits to pregnant women and new mothers.

"For instance, expectant mothers get free medical check-ups and breast-feeding mums are allowed to leave early from work," she said.

MP Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) focused on housing issues, recommending a special housing grant for each child of a couple living in a Housing Board flat - provided they had at least two children.



To make public transport family-friendly, Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) suggested providing carriages on MRT trains designed to make it easier for families travelling with young children or elderly parents.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary (National Development and Defence) Mohamad Maliki Osman recommended that the National Population and Talent Division review research that suggests that total fertility rates may be inversely proportional to population density.

The MPs' suggestions came on top of calls for longer maternity and paternity leave, and for the ramping up of childcare and infant care centres close to people's homes.

On strengthening the citizen core, Ms Tin suggested supporting foreign spouses, especially women who are married to Singaporeans and who have raised Singaporean children.

She said: "In helping these foreign spouses, we are not just helping the individuals themselves, but really what we are doing is to strengthen Singaporean families, and therefore nourishing our Singaporean core."

Ms Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) suggested setting up a task force to look into national service, "to address Singaporeans' perceptions that there are free-riders among immigrants".




AWKWARD ENGAGEMENT

'To me, the Population White Paper is a paper that exposes the awkwardness of the Government in engaging Singaporeans in the new normal. 'In its eagerness to meet some self-imposed deadline for land use and infrastructure planning, in its anxiety to offer a framework to curb Singapore’s ever-growing foreign workforce, the White Paper was launched in a hurry. 'It was not circulated in its final draft form for public consultation when this important step was what the Government would typically do when tabling Bills in Parliament. Good intent, bad execution... 'The people have spoken through their MPs and through their direct valuable feedback. Unless the Government acknowledges and acts on this, we may win the battle in this House but lose the war for the hearts of our people outside this House. I am heartened that the Prime Minister has listened -loud and clear. And yes, the Government is not gunning for the 6.9 million and will do all it can to address the top concerns of Singaporeans. 'The original motion has been amended. Had the motion not been amended, a number of us PAP MPs would find it very difficult to support it.

- Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC)





Let's get over that emotional hump
Accept White Paper for what it's trying to do - offer a road map for planners
By Chua Mui Hoong, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2013

AS AN exercise in public communication or political messaging, the White Paper on Population left much to be desired.

It could have been framed better. Its arguments should have been set out more fully, over a longer time. And Singaporeans could have been given more of a chance to come to grips with the demographic challenge at hand.

So, all of that was a bit of a mistake. The Government could have, and should have, done better.

There, that's said.

Perhaps now right-minded Singaporeans might get over that emotional hump and the 6.9 million figure and take the White Paper at face value for what it is trying to do.

That is, provide a road map for planners to gear up for all the extra buses, trains, homes, parks, nursing homes, hospitals, childcare centres that are needed.

Accept that 6.9 million is not a target, just a convenient number for planners so they know how much land to set aside for what. Accept that the Population White Paper (PWP) v1.0 is flawed. But take consolation that it will be up for periodic review and that PWP v2.0 will be better.

After five days of intense debate, the People's Action Party-dominated Parliament endorsed the PWP as the road map to deal with Singapore's demographic challenges. There were 77 "yeses" from PAP MPs, 13 "nos" from the 10 opposition MPs and three Nominated MPs, and one "abstain" from NMP Eugene Tan.

Some Singaporeans will hold grudges against the PAP MPs for voting "yes" to a policy that permits calibrated immigration into an already hypercompetitive, crowded city-state.

There is much muttering about the PAP paying a political price in the next general election due in 2016, and predictions of it losing one-third or more of the 87 elected seats.

More worrying, as several MPs pointed out, is a growing divisive "Us and Them" rhetoric that demonises the PAP Government.

PAP MP Denise Phua, one of the more vocal backbenchers and hardly a yes-woman, referred to this as a destructive trend.

"Stop the government bashing; enough of it already. Stop repeating the narrative that the PAP Government is a heartless common enemy of the people that has brought Singaporeans nothing but misery... The narrative has divided and polarised our country.

"As MPs of the incumbent ruling party linked to the Government, we promise to try harder and work harder for the people. The only promise we cannot make is to turn our cheek every time we are being slapped."

Several MPs made plain that they were only too aware that coming out in support of further immigration could be seen as political suicide. So why push through a policy proposal so evidently unpopular?

Reflecting how seriously they saw the need to win over the doubters, several ministers past and present tried to explain that the impending demographic change is a very real one that will hit Singapore quite suddenly. More workers retiring, too few babies, a shrinking workforce.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, speaking at length in three languages, said he could have left the issue to be tackled by a future PM or government. But that would be irresponsible. It was better to talk openly, frankly and sincerely about the issue.

"We want tomorrow to be better than today, otherwise why are we striving? And to make tomorrow better than today, we have to get our population policies right so that we give ourselves the best chance of success."

And what is the gist of that policy? Switch to a lower gear that still allows for growth. Raise population numbers with higher birth rates and limited immigration.

Many Singaporeans would not disagree with those fundamentals.

Some disagree on the degree of growth. A few prominent economists have suggested a near zero growth rate, so the population can be below six million.

I'm not an economist. But I am always mindful that a loss in income of 2 percentage points from slower growth when you earn $10,000 a month is a paltry $200 you will not notice.

For a worker scraping by on $1,200, $24 less a month may mean his daughter can't go to a neighbourhood tuition centre to get help with her homework. Or no broadband subscription at home.

As PM Lee said, growth still matters, and most of all to the low- and middle-waged families.

Singaporeans can also disagree with the way this paper was formulated. Many have said it lacks depth and rigour. It comes across as more simplistic than any number of critiques circulating online. Singaporeans these days want better arguments, as PAP's youngest MP Tin Pei Ling said.

Example: Can domestic services and the care sector be the driver of growth, and not multinational corporation (MNC) activities which are so dependent on foreign labour? Isn't raising fertility rates, not immigration, the real and better long-term solution to the demographic challenge? The Government has by no means won every intellectual argument.

But the key policy of going for some, not zero, growth despite a shrinking indigenous population, is one that is worthy of support.

In 2030, I will be in my 60s and hope to have a slower pace of life. But I also have nieces and nephews. Unlike the supersmart children of the globe-trotting elite, they are average youngsters who will need good jobs in Singapore. It's for their sake - and the sake of youngsters like them - that I hope Singapore will still be growing in 2030.

The PAP Government is like a geeky government, strong on the engineering of a product, but not so good on the marketing. PWP 1.0 is a beta version. But there will be upgrades and fixes. As the PM and other ministers have promised, there will be ample ongoing discussions on the direction of population policy.

Singaporeans have a choice. Throw out PWP v1.0 because it was released without being perfect. Or accept it as a best effort for now, and work together towards an improved version down the road.




MORE UNHAPPY?

I think the amended motion was positive but truthfully, I don't think it will make a difference to most Singaporeans. The most damaging thing to happen is that most Singaporeans will now feel there has been a break of trust because of how the White Paper was initially presented. It gave the strong impression that the PAP did not hear them. That's very sad because we're going to get a lot more unhappy Singaporeans now than before.

- Former Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong, on the amended motion




BRAVE ACT

The Government demonstrated that it is willing to do this very hard discussion at a time when there is a very heightened emotional feeling about population. It takes courage. I am not sure that people were prepared to listen to the long-term trends, nor were they prepared to be sympathetic to the discussion about the well-being of seniors and low-wage workers.

- Dr Gillian Koh of the Institute of Policy Studies





Give Govt time to work on its plans: Inderjit
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 12 Feb 2013

A WEEK ago, he made waves with a forthright rebuke of his party, criticising the People's Action Party for policy misjudgments in population growth that led to current social problems.

But over the weekend, veteran backbencher Inderjit Singh sought to calm the waters.

He urged citizens to recognise that the Government had responded positively to views raised during the debate on the Population White Paper, including critical ones like his.

He called on Singaporeans to exercise patience and allow the Government time to work on the plans - including fixing infrastructure bottlenecks - and cast judgment at the next General Election.

The Ang Mo Kio GRC MP made the points in a Facebook post on Saturday, which he wrote to "put in perspective" what had been an eventful week.

Mr Singh, who made a hard-hitting speech last Tuesday but did not vote on the amended motion three days later, told The Straits Times yesterday: "It's clear that it's going to be a working paper, and that there is a chance to work more on it.

"That's more important than who voted what."

His Facebook post also drew attention to the Government's commitment to Singaporeans.

He wrote: "If we all read the details in the White Paper carefully... there are many excellent plans which spell out the Government's desire to rebuild Singapore, so that we will make Singapore a strong nation where we all can enjoy a good quality of life."

His speech last Tuesday had called on the Government to delay population growth for five years and focus on easing infrastructure strain and building social cohesion, to win back the trust of citizens. It went viral and was termed bold and courageous.

But when he was among the eight MPs absent during the vote on the amended motion, questions swirled as to why.

He admitted he was in Parliament earlier on Friday, but did not want to say if he had intentionally left the chamber before the vote.

He declined comment on whether he had considered registering an abstention on the motion.



Related
Population White Paper 2013
Population White Paper: A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore
DPM Teo Chee Hean's Opening Speech at the Parliamentary Debate on Population White Paper
Parliamentary Debate on the Population White Paper -Day 1
Parliamentary Debate on the Population White Paper -Day 2
WP proposals on foreign labour 'disastrous' for economy: SBF
Parliamentary Debate on the Population White Paper -Day 3
Parliamentary Debate on the Population White Paper -Day 4
PM Lee's Speech at Parliamentary Debate on Population White Paper

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