Friday, 8 February 2013

Parliament Highlights - 7 Feb 2013 - Debate on the Population White Paper Day 4

MPs try to define Singaporean core
By Woo Sian Boon, TODAY, 8 Feb 2013

The Singaporean core is defined not by whether these Singaporeans are born and bred here, but by whether these are people who have made the Republic their home, where they serve and contribute to society, said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

Rebutting Workers’ Party Chairman Sylvia Lim’s definition on Monday that a Singaporean core should be “made up of Singaporeans who grew up in and with Singapore”, Mr Tan asked: “I am not sure how far back we should go before Singaporeans count?”

Citing the examples of Members of Parliament (MPs) Irene Ng and Chen Show Mao, he questioned if not being born in Singapore makes them “second-class citizens”. “We have many Singaporeans who are not born here.

“They may not have grown here, but they have decided to make this place home, and serve and contribute to this society,” said Mr Tan.

And even as some choose to leave, Mr Tan said they “leave as friends and will look out for us because they remember the friendships forged”.

“Taking too nationalistic an approach can and sometimes brings out the worst in us. We are much more than this as a people,” he said. “I believe we Singaporeans are an open-hearted and kind people. We are generous, we are warm and we embrace those that are around us.”

While Singaporeans are concerned about the future, such as over the competition for jobs with “all these foreigners in our midst”, Mr Tan noted that “competition is there whether we like it or not”.

But the Government, he pledged, will continue to ensure that “jobs will be created to meet the aspirations of our children, of our young”.

Opportunities will be created for locals to move up the ladder to form the core of the workforce, he added, and various education and training programmes catered to “early-career Singaporeans” will be intensified.

“We will restructure, we will take comprehensive approaches to make sure that our people continue their good education and (have the) facilities to continue (their) education and training,” he said.

“I do believe that, as we restructure, as we evolve and build a better future for ourselves and our people … we will have a Singapore that we can be proud of. A place where our Singaporeans can find jobs, good jobs, opportunities to pursue different avenues for them to achieve their own dreams. And they can find fulfilment here.”

Mr Tan also reiterated that the foreign workers that the White Paper states will continue to be let in, albeit at a slower pace, are here “to augment areas where we need them, especially in the areas where, increasingly, we find less Singaporeans”.

These are transient workers who will not grow old here and their numbers will expand or contract depending on how situations evolve over time, he added.

MP Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC) also touched on the definition of a Singaporean core in his speech yesterday. He said: “The core is also not about how big or how small, but how important it is.”

Noting how an apple would not be able to function without a core, Mr Yam pointed out the importance of Singapore’s “physical and cultural heritage”.

He said: “For ours is a young country, still attempting to root the Singaporean-ness in each of us, the importance of a shared heritage and history cannot come at the expense of growth, neither can we be prepared to welcome more newcomers if we have no firm culture or heritage of our own to speak about.”

'Don't be gung-ho about slower growth rate'
Acting Manpower Minister warns against losing foreign firms to regional cities
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2013

SINGAPORE will slow down and forego some growth opportunities in the years to come, but this is not something to be too "gung-ho about", Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday.

Otherwise, the outcome will be costlier because the Republic sits "right smack in the middle of the fastest-growing region today".

He cautioned that "relativity matters" when foreign companies looking to invest in the region have their pick of neighbouring cities, from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Chengdu in China.

"And when one goes, another goes. If the network unravels, whole sectors can shift. Human resources, accounting - all can be outsourced to another city," Mr Tan said.

This could see the exodus of whole swathes of white-collar jobs from Singapore, he added.

His words of caution come as Singapore embarks on a more calibrated growth rate and foreign worker intake - moves that will mean turning away investments.

Mr Tan also urged MPs not to "demonise" multinational corporations (MNCs) or make businesses out like they are in a "class war" against workers.

MNCs not only provide direct jobs to Singaporeans, but also feed a whole network of jobs through local companies that support their functions.

"So when companies go, it is not trivial," he said. "We can be very heroic, tell the people: 'Let's bite the bullet.' But sometimes when you bite too hard, the bullet will kill you."

Mr Tan acknowledged that Singaporeans have expressed concern that companies discriminate in favour of foreigners.

He took pains to reassure the House that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will "look after Singaporeans even as competition becomes more keen".

It has already raised the qualification criteria for Employment Passes (EPs) to ensure that companies are discerning about who they bring in.

Last year, EP pass numbers fell for the first time since 2003, he said.

This will continue, he promised: "Our EP criteria will be a moving bar and the pay threshold will move up."

He made clear that the MOM will act against companies that engage in discriminatory practices, like "recruiting their own kind regardless of merit".

Singaporeans who feel they are victims of such practices should report the incident to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP), he said.

Mr Tan concluded his speech by objecting to WP chairman Sylvia Lim's point that the citizen core must be made up of born-and-bred Singaporeans rather than new citizens.

He pointed out that both sides of the House have MPs who were not born in Singapore, like PAP MP Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) and WP MP Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC).

Quoting former deputy prime minister S. Rajaratnam, he said: "Being a Singaporean is not a matter of ancestry. It is conviction and choice."

Economy faces major transition: Iswaran
Big changes will be needed in face of nation's ageing population, he says
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2013

SINGAPORE'S economy cannot go on like it is business as usual and must change course for slower growth, given the population challenges it faces, said Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran yesterday.

But it will still aim for quality growth with good jobs for Singaporeans, he told Parliament during the debate on the population White Paper. "It is not an easy adjustment. It will affect all of us," he said, noting the economy will have to find a new equilibrium.

Businesses will have to adjust with tighter access to foreign manpower and they will get assistance from the Government to make the transition to what he forecast will be a vibrant economy.

"Without that vibrancy, we cannot attract the new activities or companies that can create the types of jobs that better educated and qualified Singaporeans aspire for," he said.

Also joining the debate yesterday, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin too pledged that the Government will meet the aspirations of Singaporeans with good jobs, and uphold fair employment amid unease that foreigners here tend to hire their own.

The two ministers' interjections came on Day Four of the week-long sitting to scrutinise the Population White Paper, a road map that has drawn the ire of many given its eye-popping projection of a population of up to 6.9 million by 2030. The two men sought to focus attention on the economic imperatives of the document which projects the economy expanding at about 3 to 5 per cent a year up to 2020, and 2 to 3 per cent after that, both ranges lower than the annual average of 5.6 per cent in the last decade.

Even as they tried to focus minds on the economy, Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang continued his party's attack on the White Paper. This time, the veteran opposition leader accused the PAP Government of kicking the can of economic restructuring down the road. How? By still relying on immigration as a solution to the population challenges, when it had in fact been the problem that caused the infrastructure crunch of recent years.

Citing the WP's self-assigned role of "co-driver" of Government, he said: "It is our duty to tell the driver that he's reading the road map upside down."

His remarks prompted questions about his previous calls for the Government to ease up on its curbs on foreign manpower, and how this squared with his party's latest proposal to freeze the foreign workforce numbers until 2020, and encourage more women and seniors to work.

Mr Iswaran warned that the WP plan of freezing foreign manpower will have a "chilling effect" on the economy, tipping it into a downward spiral of business closures and job losses.

"The Workers' Party is taking an extreme risk of the livelihoods of Singaporeans and the survival of our businesses. In contrast, the Government is advocating a measured and balanced approach to bring about the transformation of our economy," he said. He added: "Our approach will give our businesses and workers more time to adjust, and a fighting chance to survive this transition, with assistance from the Government."

Workers' concerns for good jobs and wages were also raised by labour chief Lim Swee Say, the first of six labour MPs who expressed worries that workers might be hurt by overly rapid economic restructuring, and offered ideas to boost the local workforce.

Yesterday, Mr Laurence Lien was the second Nominated MP to oppose the White Paper, saying it did not go far enough in restructuring the economy and suggesting a smaller six million population figure. But he disagreed with the WP's plan to freeze foreign workforce growth.

Joining former Cabinet ministers who have lent their support for the White Paper was former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng. Previously overseeing population matters, he said the document was not about the parties' differing population projections, but keeping Singapore's economy going at a sustainable rate. So far, 60 members have spoken. The debate is expected to wrap up today.

Iswaran: WP plan could send economy into tailspin
It would speed up business closures, cost jobs, damage nation's reputation
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2013

THE Workers' Party's alternative population road map came in for sharp criticism from Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran, who called it drastic, risky and one that could throw the economy into a tailspin.

It would speed up business closures, cause Singaporeans to lose their jobs, and result in a loss of the country's reputation in the business and investor community, he said yesterday.

"This abrupt move will derail our efforts to boost productivity and restructure the economy," he added.

On Tuesday, the WP proposed to freeze the number of foreign workers at current levels until 2020 on condition that more residents enter the workforce - a proposal that drew swift criticism from several business groups.

It would issue new work passes only to replace passes that expire, or to supplement shortfalls in the local labour force.

The opposition party would also rely on raising the resident labour force participation rate by 1 per cent every year, by luring retirees, housewives and foreign spouses of Singaporeans to work.

Mr Iswaran compared the WP road map to the "extreme freeze" scenario Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean painted in his speech on Monday when he launched the Population White Paper for debate.

"According to their proposal, we would not even have one more foreign domestic worker in Singapore, and certainly no additional workers for the construction sector which is critical to our infrastructure plans," Mr Iswaran said.

Already, businesses are going through painful restructuring, because of tightened manpower restrictions.

Many have already talked about relocating, he added.

Using a driving analogy, which WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang had made in the 2011 General Election, Mr Iswaran said the WP proposes "to jam-brake", and put the economy into a tailspin. The Government, however, is slowing down growth in a way that will achieve a smooth landing, he added.

Mr Iswaran also zoomed in on WP chairman Sylvia Lim characterising the trade-off of sacrificing 0.5 percentage point of gross domestic product growth for one million fewer people than the Government's projection of a 6.9 million population in 2030.

Calling this a clever soundbite, he said it does not give Singaporeans the full picture of an "extreme and risky proposal".

Mr Iswaran also wondered why the WP had come up with these ideas, when Mr Low had in Parliament last year urged the Government to be cautious in restructuring and expressed worry that small businessmen would eventually be unemployed.

Responding, Mr Low said the WP proposal was careful and calibrated, and not the extreme model the minister had made it out to be.

"We're very careful (as) we don't want to rock the economy."

He wants the Government to resist calls by businesses to loosen manpower restrictions, or the trade-off would be an even bigger population beyond 2030.

"Come 2030, what (happens)? You need more foreign labour to continue to grow the economy, to provide good quality of life for Singaporeans. Same argument. Then the road map: 10 million in 2050."

Mr Iswaran countered that the Government was accountable to companies and citizens.

"If we arrived at some point in the future with a low population number but bereft of opportunities, I think we would equally be asked why didn't you do something about it when you could."


We are not fixated on growth as some have suggested. Neither do we take growth for granted. We seek quality growth so as to create the best possible opportunities for Singaporeans.
- Second Trade and Industry Minister S. Iswaran

At odds over local workforce expansion
Minister presses WP for firm ideas; Low denies flip-flop on foreign labour
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2013

ACTING Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin and Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang yesterday crossed swords on whether the WP had concrete proposals on how to expand the local workforce.

Mr Tan also charged that Mr Low was flip-flopping on the issue of the intake of foreign labour.

The minister pressed the WP again for concrete initiatives, beyond the slew of measures the Government has in place, to attract more senior citizens and homemakers back to work.

Boosting the resident workforce in this way is a key plank of the WP's alternative population road map. It envisions a cap on additional foreign labour if the resident workforce can be expanded by 1 per cent every year.

Mr Low retorted that Mr Tan's challenge was akin to saying 'nothing can be done, and if something can be done, can the WP do something about it?'

'(Mr Tan) should go back and look at his programmes.

'If he thinks the ministry can't do very much and wants the WP to do more, perhaps he ought to consider putting his ministry's resources under the WP,' he said.

Mr Tan, in turn, urged WP MPs to 'read about some of these initiatives'.

He said they have helped make Singapore's elderly labour force participation rate one of the highest in the world.

Still, he is keen to hear proposals on how to improve this further, and 'would appreciate if there are concrete ideas accompanying some of the (WP's) broader statements'.

Mr Tan also noted that during the Budget debate last March, Mr Low and other WP MPs had asked for differentiated foreign worker quotas by sector.

This was to give sectors reliant on foreign workers more time to restructure. This jarred with the WP's current stance, he said.

Later, Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC) of the People's Action Party (PAP) made the same point, quoting what Mr Low had previously said of curbs on sectors with a high reliance on foreign labour: 'We tighten it slowly rather than tighten it at one go.'

Mr Low later rose to defend himself, emphasising that his earlier call for differentiated foreign worker quotas by sector is not in conflict with the goal of curbing the overall foreign labour contingent.

'I have said many times in this House that we need to control the foreign worker inflow, and questioned the foreign workers' levy. I have said that foreign workers depress Singaporean wages and take away Singaporean jobs. So I don't see any contradiction.'

He added that if the minister thought his department was unable to come up with ideas and wanted the WP to do so, he should 'consider putting his ministry's resources under the WP'.

Mr Tan countered that Mr Low's concern that low-productivity businesses would be unduly squeezed by foreign worker curbs runs counter to the WP's present line of forcing them to restructure now rather than later.

Minister Iswaran's Speech at the Parliamentary Debate on the Population White Paper from NPTD PMO on Vimeo.

Govt will not take chances with jobs: Iswaran
He says govt is resolved, but cautious as many jobs, firms involved
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2013

THE Government has not lost its resolve to make hard decisions, Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said yesterday, as he categorically dismissed a suggestion from Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang that the PAP had gone soft.

"In fact if you look at our track record, we do it and we don't shirk away from it," Mr Iswaran said in an exchange with Mr Low following the minister's speech.

But the Government is being cautious about the direction economic restructuring should take as "millions of jobs and hundreds or thousands of companies" are involved, he added.

Mr Low had earlier brought up a story from Singapore's early years, recalling how former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee said to "stand firm" to a company that wanted to invest in the country, but threatened to withdraw if it was not allowed to put a diesel tank in Singapore.

Likewise, Mr Low called on the PAP to "stand firm" to the tremendous pressure from businesses, which were resisting policies to restrict the intake of foreign manpower.

"If you don't do that, then what is the consequence, what is the trade-off? You will reach 6.9 million and then come 2030, what?" asked Mr Low.

"You need more foreign labour in order to continue to grow the economy to provide good quality of life for Singaporeans. Same argument. Then the road map: 10 million in 2050."

Responding, Mr Iswaran said that Mr Low clearly understood the gravity of the situation, but this was "not just about a diesel tank", with the livelihoods of many Singaporeans at stake.

In his speech earlier, the minister had also pledged to help businesses through the current difficult period as the economy restructures.

For instance, about 5,700 companies have benefited from programmes under the National Productivity Fund, a $2 billion kitty set up three years ago to spur productivity improvements.

Nearly $1 billion has also been set aside to support a range of productivity programmes.

"We can and will do more," Mr Iswaran said.

Tightened foreign manpower restrictions have led to companies crying for workers, and looking to relocate elsewhere or closing down altogether, leading to job insecurities among Singaporean workers.

These worries have been voiced by several MPs since the debate began on Monday.

But Mr Iswaran said the Government remains insistent that productivity must be raised, as outlined in the White Paper.

It projects that productivity will grow by 2 to 3 per cent annually in this decade, and 1 to 2 per cent in the next decade.

He cited examples of how the Government is trying to help citizens secure jobs.

For instance, an initiative was started to provide skills-based continuous education and a certification framework for precision engineering craftsmen.

Seeking to frame the White Paper's goals on the fourth day of divisive debate, the minister added that it is essentially a "middle path" that reconciles the various challenges Singapore faces and best secures options for the future.

WP's call to freeze foreign manpower growth will hurt Singaporeans: Tan Chuan-Jin
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 7 Feb 2013

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin has said that instead of aiming for past economic growth rates, the country has chosen to slow down to a pace that is more sustainable.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, he said the Population White Paper does not aim for growth at all cost.

He also took issue with the opposition Workers' Party's proposal for a zero-foreign manpower growth in this decade, saying when put in practice, it will hurt Singaporeans.

It was an impassioned speech by the Acting Manpower Minister as he sought to explain the stark realities presented by the Population White Paper, which charts the country's future policies.

He said Singapore is at a different stage, both in its life and economic development.

Mr Tan added: "Singaporeans have also indicated a desire to slow down because they feel that pace of growth, because we have crossed that physical and social threshold. We cannot continue on as before. We can't.

"And we are also at a stage, from a profile perspective, different stage of economic development. This is where we need to change in terms of the direction we are going. So the White Paper is the product of this desire to get it right and chart the course for the next lap."

He said the key is in coming to a consensus about what level of growth is sustainable and will bring about quality of life for Singaporeans.

It is a judgement, he said, that 3 to 4 per cent of growth for this decade is a realistic one to allow the country to transit as it restructures while at the same time providing a buffer for slower growth beyond this decade, to 2 to 3 per cent a year.

Labour force growth will also be halved from the current rate to about 1 per cent from 2020.

Mr Tan said the Workers' Party's proposal to freeze the foreign labour force growth rate immediately is an "alarming" one.

He said: "When companies go, it is not trivial; we can boldly be very heroic, tell people, 'let's bite the bullet'. I think sometimes if you bite too hard, the bullet will kill you. ... With zero manpower growth, I think that will kill off a lot of companies."

Mr Tan also asked for details on how the opposition party proposes to keep the foreign workforce growth rate at 1 per cent for the next decade, especially when there are limits to how much the resident labour force participation rate can grow with an ageing population.

Workers' Party chief, Mr Low Thia Khiang, said: "He mentioned about the programme we have -- like ... asking seniors to go back to the workforce and all that and whether or not we have any other programmes.

"I would advise that perhaps the minister goes back to his programmes -- if it is not effective, set a hard target, the numbers and the KPIs, and if he thinks that his ministry can't do very much and wants the Workers' Party to do more, perhaps he can consider putting his ministry's resources under the Workers' Party."

Mr Tan said: "I'm fully committed in terms of raising labour force participation rate. I would use Mr Low and his colleagues to read some of these initiatives.

"And some of these initiatives are not just on paper, have a very high labour force participation rate, and it is increasing and it is improving. But what I'm highlighting is, there are also some challenges and we continue to emphasise and we hope labour force participation rate will continue to improve.

"But that is different from saying that we have no more ideas, we will continue to work on that. What I have been asking is, I'm curious as to some of the very practical suggestions. So we would also appreciate if there are concrete ideas accompanying some of these broader statements."

Mr Tan also rejected the Workers' Party's proposal that the government could dip into the country's reserves to help fund the productivity efforts of businesses.

He said the government needs to be careful when dealing with the reserves and that this "is not a rainy day".

Even with more foreigners in the midst, the acting minister said Singaporeans will be taken care of. He listed the various Continuing Education Programmes, for example, to give local workers a leg up. And if employers are found to be discriminatory toward locals, Mr Tan said they will be taken to task.

He said: "Let me be clear. We are putting in place safeguards against irresponsible employers and irresponsible practices. We are not erecting barriers to foreign employment because it remains part of our landscape.

"This will go a long way to assuage the concerns that we have, and these are valid concerns, perceived or otherwise. We know pockets of this happen and it cannot be accepted."

However, Mr Tan also cautioned against being overly nationalistic when dealing with foreigners and immigrants.

He said: "I understand that we all are naturally concerned about competition. But competition is there, whether we like it or not.

"Just because an individual from Philippines, Vietnam, China is not here, (it) doesn't mean that he's not competing with us. They are competing with us in their hometowns. In some sectors, good quality white collar jobs, PME jobs for Singaporeans, accounting, HR -- some of these have left Singapore."

As to the Workers' Party's notion of a Singaporean core -- being those who were born and grew up in Singapore -- Mr Tan said: "I guess this is one way of looking at it and I suppose it resonates with some Singaporeans.

"I honestly don't know how far back we should go before Singaporeans count. I think even here in this House, some of us are not born in Singapore. Ms Irene Ng is not born in Singapore, Mr Chen Show Mao is not born in Singapore. Does it make them second class citizens?

"We have many Singaporeans who are not born here, they may not have grown here but they have decided to make this place home and serve and contribute to our society. Should this be what defines us as Singaporeans? Are these the values we subscribe to?

"I do not subscribe to these values. Taking too nationalistic an approach can bring the worst in us. We are much more as a people."

Parliament will wrap up the debate on the Population White Paper and Land Use Plan on Friday.

Stop resorting to immigration for growth: WP chief
Low: Govt using cause of today's problems as solution for tomorrow
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2013

WORKERS' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang yesterday accused the People's Action Party Government of kicking the can of economic restructuring down the road and resorting to immigration as the easy way out.

He called on it to stop using immigration as a policy tool to grow the workforce - an approach he said it has relied on for the last 30 years, and is the cause of today's problems.

"When 2030 arrives, what solution are we going to turn to? Immigration again? Another White Paper to project a population size of 10 million in 2050 as a road map?" the secretary-general of the opposition WP asked.

He said his party's proposal to focus on getting more Singaporean women and seniors working is more sustainable.

With enough Singaporeans in the workforce, the WP will freeze the number of foreign workers at today's level.

In his speech, delivered in English and Mandarin, Mr Low did not mince his words in opposing the Government's White Paper on Population, a road map to take Singapore to 2030.

Referring to the WP as a "rational and responsible co-driver", he said: "It is our duty to tell the driver that he's reading the road map upside down."

Among his criticisms: The Government is sticking to handing young couples incentives to have more babies, when the method has not arrested a decline in birth rates and "serious roadblocks" remain in the form of high housing costs, lack of family and social support, and poor work-life balance.

He also charged that the Government was "trying to go forward and backwards at the same time" when it tells businesses that they are addicted to cheap foreign labour and need to improve productivity, but at the same time proposes to grow the foreign workforce to boost a slowing economy.

The White Paper's proposals, he warned, will also result in Singaporeans becoming a minority in their own country.

He also was not very confident that the Government could integrate new citizens with "thoroughbred Singaporeans", whose national identity was formed over decades of nation building.

He said in Mandarin: "Some ministers said our ancestors were all foreign immigrants, so we should be able to take in new immigrants like what we did in the past.

"It's like saying we were part of Malaysia in the past, so we should be able to go back to Malaysia as and when we want. There's no logic."

Mr Low also accused the Government of downplaying the 6.9 million population figure in its White Paper as a worst-case scenario, saying it should clarify "once and for all whether it has control over immigration, or is immigration an impending tsunami we have to plan for".

He said: "The problems of low birth rate and ageing population lie in the social and physical environment that is not conducive to family life. Therefore, the solution must be sought by focusing on promoting the quality of life of Singaporean families.

"By focusing on immigration, the Government is using the cause of the problems today as a solution for tomorrow. What the Government is doing is kicking the can down the road."

NMP proposes cap of population at 6 million
Laurence Lien gives own projections which he says could still elicit growth
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2013

NOMINATED MP Laurence Lien opposed the White Paper on Population yesterday, saying it did not go far enough in restructuring the economy and the population projection was too large.

Mr Lien, chief executive of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, then produced his own projections which he argued could still bring about growth.

He proposed a cap of Singapore's population at six million, with a workforce growth rate of 1 per cent each year till 2020 and 0.5 per cent thereafter.

Also, the intake of new citizens would be kept to about 10,000 to 15,000 a year, to lessen the adverse impact on social cohesion while raising productivity.

His growth model also proposes to merge smaller firms for greater scale, upgrade blue-collar jobs to attract more Singaporeans to them, and move lower-skilled companies and workers out of Singapore.

In addition, he wants the Government to dip into the national reserves to invest in strategic industries, as well as free up more of the savings of Singaporeans to boost consumption.

Mr Lien, the second NMP to oppose the White Paper after Ms Faizah Jamal, said: "I think we can live with a cap of the population at six million by 2030 and still be very dynamic."

He said he doubted the Government's proposals, because for 10 years, it had failed to achieve its own workforce growth and productivity targets set in the Economic Review Committee of 2003 and reaffirmed by the Economic Strategies Committee of 2010.

"Is this Government now able to boost productivity and is it really serious about moderating the growth of the foreign workforce, when it has failed to do so previously in the previous two attempts?" he asked.

Companies were still addicted to cheap, less-skilled foreign labour, he noted. They therefore needed "restructuring, or rehabilitation, not more 'drugs'".

But they needed time to adjust, he said. So, he disagreed with the Workers' Party proposals that involve freezing the foreign workforce growth till 2020.

Explaining why a six million cap was appropriate, he noted that many top cities today have a small population.

Cities like Toronto, with 2.6 million, and Stockholm, with 870,000, are challenging the traditional cosmopolitan cities such as New York, London and Tokyo, he said, pointing to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Even some of the most competitive countries have populations under 10 million, including Finland, which has a population the size of Singapore's.

In proposing to create a better economic model, he said businesses and people need to do things more creatively.

Temasek Holdings, which manages a portion of the reserves, could play a role by investing in local industries of significance.

He also urged the Government to focus less on gross domestic product growth, and to pay attention to issues of identity, values and belonging. "We want to build a home, not a hotel... When we live in a home that we are proud of, we can then be more welcoming of foreign guests... And maybe then we feel in a happier frame of mind to have more babies."


The White Paper before the House today is the effort made by the Government to prevent a repeat of history. The point is not whether the population size should be 5.9m or 6.9m. It is about how we keep our economy growing at a sustainable rate, create better paid jobs for Singaporeans and provide care and support to our elders who have contributed much to our country. These objectives are the key responsibilities of the Government. But they must have the people's support. We must build a consensus on these objectives in order for the Government to act for the benefit of Singaporeans... Amid the debates, let us also not lose sight that we are working for the benefit and future of Singaporeans. Not for growth targets, not for foreigners, but for Singaporeans. We are working to ensure that our children will be well-educated and brought up in a safe and secure environment. That our young adults can realise their aspirations, find good jobs and take care of their families. That our elderly can spend their twilight years in comfort and in dignity.
– Former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng


May I know if efforts to attract Malay PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) from other countries are being done, and are these efforts effective? If they’re not effective, how will the percentage of Malays be maintained? There are those who said that citizens from the Philippines (who are) accepted as Singaporean citizens will be categorised as Malays because historically they are considered to have the same roots as Malays. Is this true? If it is true, this would mean that even though the percentage is maintained, the identity and the meaning of the label ‘Malay’ will change.
– Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), the latest Malay-Muslim MP to raise the issue of whether immigration will cause the proportion of Malay citizens to fall


Because of the perception that the Indians speaking other Indian languages come in large numbers, more than the number of Tamils living in Singapore, I understand that the Tamil-speaking Singaporeans fear that the Tamil language may lose its importance... The Tamil-speaking Singaporeans feel that if their ratio is maintained and kept the same as at the time when the language was recognised as an official language, then their language would continue to be a living language here.
– Nominated MP R. Dhinakaran, on the concerns of Tamil-speaking Singaporeans

Ageing Singapore must keep doors open to talent: NMP
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2013

A GREYING Singapore needs to keep its doors open to workforce talent, Nominated MP Tan Su Shan said yesterday.

Otherwise, it will lose its competitiveness at a time when other countries are fighting for the same pool of talent.

Singapore then risks going the way of Japan, which has lost a record number of jobs in manufacturing.

Said Ms Tan, managing director and group head of wealth management at DBS Bank: "Countries which face an ageing population (and) do not embrace labour mobility risk long-term deflation, and low job prospects.

"Rather than worry about immigration, shouldn't we worry about migration? Many young people I have spoken to have all mentioned migration as an option."

Capital and business may also flee if Singapore is divided by politics. "Our success is built on open trade flows with the world," she said. "If we allow politics or inflation to cause social divide, or the rest of the world starts to perceive us as unstable, we can expect capital and business to move out."

Ms Tan said the White Paper, for instance, has "amplified the social and political divide".

The angst and frustration among citizens could have been avoided if the Government had first focused on improving infrastructure to fix current bottlenecks before revealing the population projection figure of 6.9 million in 2030, she added.

"If these extreme views continue to fester and the fundamental concerns are not addressed, this lack of balance could destabilise Singapore."

'Suicide for PAP vs euthanasia for Singapore'
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2013

AMID talk of an impending silver tsunami, PAP MP Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC) predicted yesterday that the "political tsunami" would come first.

The results from the 2011 General Election, and the last two by-elections in Hougang and Punggol East - both of which the PAP lost - were "loud and clear warnings" of the shifting of the political tectonic plates, he noted.

And in the face of a "rising tide of anti-PAP sentiment", he said, some had called the Population White Paper a "suicide paper" for the party. Yet, he stressed that the Workers' Party's (WP's) plan was worse.

"The feedback I received from my friends was that the alternative plans would kill the economy and this is euthanasia for Singapore. Between suicide for PAP versus euthanasia for the country... my choice is clear, I support the White Paper," he said.

During an impassioned speech that earned chair thumps, Dr Lim also outlined the difficult quandary the PAP is in, as he mulled over the prediction that PAP might one day "cede control to govern".

"After the last tsunami warning, I'm beginning to believe that that day may come sooner rather than later," he said.

Members of the public have told him that the Opposition has reasoned itself into the upper hand no matter what. It will claim credit if the Government delivers on promises; if it does not, it will go on the offensive.

WP chief Low Thia Khiang later objected to this portrayal: "I think he gives the impression that the Singaporean voter is an idiot, as if they cannot distinguish and just simply listen to what we have to say at the election rallies."

Dr Lim replied: "I don't think he should use the word 'idiot' in this particular chamber... Of course I'm very sure Singaporeans will make a very decisive choice, a very informed choice, after reading both proposals."

He also challenged the WP to "walk the talk" of its proposals and extend to employees of its town council the work-life balance measures it suggested in the past week, including an eight-hour workday and two weeks of "bonding leave" for fathers.

The two also clashed on Mr Low's supposed flip-flopping over the foreign worker intake.

At one point, Dr Lim said that Mr Low had misheard him, and should "turn his hearing aid up". He later apologised for the remark.

Work together for workers' sake: Labour chief
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2013

ON THE fourth day of a debate that has seen heated disagreement over the right way forward on population and economic growth, labour chief Lim Swee Say called for consensus - and reminded the House that workers' livelihoods were at stake.

"Let us work together regardless of parties," said Mr Lim, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

Unionists had asked him what would happen after Parliament's five-day debate on the population road map.

Mr Lim said that if MPs still held on to their separate views after discussion, Singapore's demographic challenges could not be solved.

Urging MPs to "reach a consensus and walk together and serve the country", he identified three points of agreement between the People's Action Party Government and the opposition.

These were: it is better to have more babies than more new citizens; a smaller total population is better than a larger one; and living conditions for Singaporeans must improve.

Labour MP Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC) also warned against a lack of consensus, saying that trade unions in Taiwan were worried that their country was being pulled back and forth by fragmented and fluctuating opinions.

Many opinions may seem reasonable on their own, "but if you put them all together, they form a very conflicting picture," he said.

Underlying the labour MPs' drive for consensus was the recognition of how important "a good salary and a good job" are to workers.

Those, said Mr Lim, were top concerns of unionists and grassroots leaders.

One flashpoint in the debate so far has been the Workers' Party's proposal to freeze foreign worker inflows in favour of resident labour growth and continued productivity gains.

But Mr Lim warned yesterday that if economic restructuring is carried out too hastily, as suggested by "some MPs", businesses could be hurt and workers will eventually be the ones who suffer.

"Our union leaders reminded us that yes, we can slow down the pace of economic growth, yes, we can slow down the pace of the introduction of foreign workers.

"But when we discuss this, we should not forget that the unemployment rate should not go up and the salary should not go down, should not stagnate," Mr Lim said in Mandarin.

Jobs were also on the minds of workers in the electronics industry, said NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How (Whampoa), who is also the United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries executive secretary.

"Workers in the industry are not worried about growth," he said.

"They are worried about their jobs, and how to provide properly for their families if something should happen to their jobs."

The six labour MPs who spoke yesterday also threw up various policy ideas. Mr Heng, a member of the Ministerial Committee on Ageing, focused on older workers.

He called on tripartite partners to start work on extending the re-employment age limit from the current 65 to 67.

For working parents, Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC) suggested paying out a Special Employment Credit to employers who hire working mothers.

Mr Yeo suggested changes to the foreign labour policy to require bosses to try to recruit locals for jobs before turning to foreigners.

He also proposed that skills certification be a requirement for work pass renewal, and renewed his earlier call for training and job-search support for the foreign spouses of Singaporeans.

"They are a strong alternative source of manpower for employers," he said.

But such talk - and indeed, the whole week's debate - "means nothing" to low-wage workers, who face stagnating pay and rising inflation, said Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC).

He called on the Government to be more aggressive in raising wages at the bottom, such as by making it mandatory for companies to adopt the National Wage Council's recommendations.

Things must be changed "if we want the Singaporean low-wage workers to believe in the vision we have for 2030", he said.

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