Population White Paper: Still not listening to us

TOC Editorial –

The Population White Paper published by the National Population and Talent Division could have just focused on the biggest problem that Singapore is currently facing – that of excessive immigration and our over reliance on the foreign workforce – and proposed ways to tackle that situation.

Instead, what we had was an unnecessarily complex proposal that first projects an increase in our population to 6.9 million in 2030 without proper explanation, and then compounds the problem by suggesting a slew of measures to mitigate the expected negative consequences of such an increase.

The government’s approach in writing the White Paper seems to have been this:

  1. set a GDP growth target that it wants to achieve.
  2. see how much of that can come from productivity growth.
  3. calculate how much population growth is needed, to make up the rest of the growth.
  4. figure out how much more it is willing to do to increase Singapore’s Total Fertility Rate.
  5. calculate how many immigrants are needed, to make up the rest of the population growth.
  6. figure out what policies are needed by this increased population.

It ignores the most fundamental question, which is what The Online Citizen asks: who does this type of immigration-fuelled GDP growth benefit? Does it benefit ordinary Singaporeans, or does it benefit the richer and higher-income Singaporeans and foreigners?

The answer must be crystal-clear from the last few years, where we have seen impressively high GDP growth numbers coupled with minimal improvement, if not outright deterioration, in the lives of ordinary Singaporeans.

And yet, the Government continues to insist on walking down this path, a path that Singaporeans have already very clearly and loudly said – in our votes in the 2011 General Election and the recent Punggol East by-election — that we do not want to go down anymore. So much for the Prime Minister’s promise after GE2011, to “listen carefully to different voices, understand the day-to-day difficulties and strains facing Singaporeans, address their concerns and be open to inputs on what Government can do better”.

This government, led by the ruling People’s Action Party, has evidently not changed – it still thinks that its policies are right, and it is only the way in which such policies are communicated to us that is an issue.

Since GE2011, it has held many sessions of the National Conversation, yet it would appear that our views on population growth have not been taken seriously. Our cries for a slower pace of population growth remain unheard by our political leaders. We again face the same policies that cost PAP its massive loss in votes. What an absolute waste of effort in public consultation.

Are our accusations valid? Since the White Paper was launched, TOC has received many articles and links that criticises what the White Paper puts forward. Among the comments that poured in was the view that the PAP has reneged on its promise to listen more.

For the sake of Singapore and Singaporeans, this must stop.

TOC will monitor document and summarise the positions taken by our elected representatives during the Parliament debate on the White Paper, and the final vote cast by each Member of Parliament on whether to endorse it. We will publish a summary, and encourage our readers to use it to question the actions of their MPs and push for a complete review of our long-term population policy in line with what Singaporeans really want.

We believe that setting population policy to support a GDP growth target puts the cart before the horse. Instead, we should define our population policy based on what Singaporeans want and are comfortable with for Singapore, with a fully-informed understanding of what this might mean for our GDP growth.

The PAP is fond of talking about the need to make hard choices and trade-offs. We know that Singaporeans are very capable of doing this. But the PAP is not giving us a chance to make our own choices, instead of imposing their choices upon us.

TOC believes that Singaporeans can reclaim our aspirations for our country only by holding our political leaders accountable. They need to fulfil their post-GE2011 promises, and really start to listen to the people and what we want, instead of simply telling us what is really good for us.

We need to turn this White Paper into a Green Paper, where our political leaders consult honestly and openly with the people to understand the real problems and aspirations and find the right solutions. Otherwise, this Population White Paper will push Singapore further down a path that we already know we do not want.