The uncanny wisdom of population augmentation

~ By Howard Lee ~

Something felt wrong about the latest suggestion by the National Population and Talent Division, when it projected that new citizenships need to be given out at 1.4 times faster than the current rate in order to maintain "population stability".

At its base emotive level, such a suggestion flies in the face of the measures that the current administration had taken to give citizens more priority, such as in childhood education and housing. Personally, I cannot help but think that all the seemingly positive steps taken to value citizens over Permanent Residents have been little more than feel-good tokens, sweetening the deal for this revelation that, in my view, hints at bolstering another jab at tweaking our immigration policy against the benefit of current citizens.

But there are other serious implications of the wisdom, or seemingly lack of it, that informs such a proposal. For a start, the reason given for necessitating this increase - the decline of our total fertility rate - does not ring sound. Comparing economically viable migrant adults to babies in a blind population numbers game is skewing the argument even before it begins. Why even use it, if not simply to pin the "blame" for a higher immigration rate on Singaporeans who refuse to have babies?

And here is another catch. Assuming that the bulk of these new citizens, foreseeably in their mobile 30s, continue to remain as citizens, but for the same reason as current citizens refuse to have children, they will eventually feed into the elderly pool. We have only compounded the problem, not resolve it.

Not just quantitatively, please

As such, population stability needs to be considered not just quantitatively, but qualitatively. NPTD's paper did not outline measures that would make it sustainable in the long term for the organic replavement of our population, such as encouraging an efficient, pro-family economy.

We have also yet to see assurance on how such an increase in population will be matched by concrete plans to ensure social integration of this renewed influx of citizens into Singapore society.

Nor does this suggestion answer the bone of contention that has been nagging at a corner of my mind since population increase became a national issue: What is the criteria for awarding these citizenships, such that the new citizens will be able to contribute to, not compete with, the local economy?

With these questions in mind, I attempted to clarify on NPTD's background position on the Occasional Paper, and sent the following questions to NPTD.

Did NPTD ever considered that this approach might effectively increase the total citizen pool and effectively nullify the earlier policies to give more priority to citizens in areas such as housing and school placement?

Has NPTD considered what to do with this new migrant population when they, too, eventually become old and, like citizens in current conditions, refuse to give birth?

Did NPTD consider pro-family solutions for increasing birth rates, before proposing population augmentation as an answer?

Has NPTD mapped out any definite policy for integrating this larger influx of immigrants into Singapore society?

What will be the selection criteria for these new citizens? (Re-clarified with a specific focus on economic contribution)

An NPTD spokesperson replied with the following. I am not sure it provides a very direct answer, but do judge for yourself.
NPTD’s Occasional Paper on Citizen Population Scenarios presents the possible demographic characteristics of our citizens under various assumptions and scenarios.  The issues raised in your first four questions are important, and are taken into account in policy making.  We hope that the information released in the Occasional Paper, can help to facilitate further studies and discussion on population-related issues, including those which you have raised. These studies and discussions are part of our public engagement leading up to the White Paper on Population which is targeted to be ready at the end of this year.
Economic contributions refer broadly to an applicant’s ability and potential to contribute positively to the economy; which could include investments and/or employment, amongst others.  We look at applications for Singapore citizenship holistically.  Other than economic contributions, other factors for consideration include the applicant’s family ties to Singaporeans, ability to integrate into our society and commitment to sink roots.
Nothing long-term about a quick-fix
I was really looking for a holistic and strategic approach that NPTD might have to the whole issue, but it was clear that that was not the pretext that advised this paper, and further discussions still need to take place. The critical question is whether the discussion will be on "how to maintain population equlibrium given the limits of our social and physical infrastructure" rather than "how to increase our citizen pool".
New citizens are but a quick economic fix, not a long-term plan. We can no longer afford a quick fix mentality, and might I remind that the long-term mindset, rather than short-term gains, has been the mantra and promise of the current administration for us lending it power to govern this country.