A week after the Parliamentary White Paper on population was released, Parliament has voted to endorse it. The results are decisive and indicate that an overwhelming number of MPs have voted in favour of it. 77 for, 13 against and 1 abstention.
As a layman observing the furore, I find the results startling. All the PAP MPs voted for the White Paper while all the elected opposition MPs and “pseudo opposition MPs” (NNPs) voted against (barring one abstention). However, from the debates, it is clear that the various PAP MPs hold divergent views, some vigorously opposing the White Paper. It is therefore surprising that more MPs, particularly those from the PAP camp, did not abstain.
We’ll never know for sure why the MPs voted the way they did and perhaps it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, the voting procedure was above board and the MPs exercised their votes.
While I am personally undecided on the contents of this White Paper, I can see why it has generated so much controversy amongst Singaporeans. Indeed, much discontent has been express online, and I cannot help but question why our MPs do not seem to be similarly worried?
Let me first state that I am not against immigration per se. My only concerns relate to how immigration is handled, how our infrastructure is developed and assimilation.
The government has certainly been working hard to ensure that the White Paper comes across convincingly. Statistics, numbers and studies were all painstakingly presented and a system of citizen engagement was also put in place to consult Singaporeans before the White Paper was formulated. I applaud these efforts but I wonder if the premise for the White Paper is slightly misguided?
DPM Teo Chee Hean in his opening speech on the White Paper repeatedly used Japan as an example. He emphasised the problem of Japan’s aging population and the consequential economic and social impact this would have. In attempting to make his point, he said, ”One Statistic jumped out at me. In 2011, for the first time, Japan’s largest diaper maker, Unicharm Corp, reported that it sold more adult diapers in Japan than baby diapers.”
To me, this seems to be fear mongering without comparing like for like. We all know that babies are wholly dependent on their parents or caregivers. To liken the aged in our community to babies needing 24 hour care is DPM Teo’s way of telling us that if we don’t increase our population, we will find ourselves saddled with a floodgate of the feeble aged who will be a drain on our resources.
The first fallacy I would like to point out is on the usage of Japan as a comparison to Singapore. Japan has had a long history of welfare provision to the aged and disabled in their community. Singapore on the other hand, does not come close to providing the same level of social welfare. From that standpoint alone, the problems faced by Japan’s aging population cannot be imported wholesale and used as a reason for why Singapore should increase its population!
DPM Teo asserts that as the population ages, taxes will have to be increased to ensure that the elderly are cared for. Is there a direct correlation between tax increments and an aging population in the context of Singapore? As a country, we don’t provide much by way of financial support to the elderly. Instead, we rely on CPF and the family network to ensure that the elderly among us are cared for. With that logic in mind, I fail to see how an aging population will lead to a drastic increase in taxes?
Secondly, DPM Teo claims that as the population greys, we will expect to need more healthcare, eldercare and domestic services workers to support our aging population and working families. Again, I fail to see how this relates directly to a need for a population boost unless DPM Teo is suggesting that the government intends to focus mainly on immigrants from the health care sectors?
DPM Teo also took great pains to stress that the results of the White Paper were drawn from engagement with 2200 Singaporeans from various groups. A look at the “Our Population, Our Future” website confirms this, but has what the government proposed so far been reflective of the aspirations of Singaporeans?
Indeed, when we examine the Summary of Feedback and Key Suggestions on Immigration, we found that participants have listed the following as important factors:
- Tighter controls on the inflow of new immigrants
- More stringent criteria to ensure the quality and commitment of immigrants
- Greater differentiation in benefits for Singaporeans, commensurate with National Service obligations
- The provision of more information on our immigration framework and criteria
It would appear that the government has not taken these views seriously while drafting this White Paper despite Singaporeans repeatedly voicing their concerns.
A large part of why the population White Paper attracted such uproar is due to the discontent currently felt by most Singaporeans at what is perceived to be a mass influx of foreigners competing with them for space, jobs, housing and transport.
The numerous transportation glitches served only to frustrate Singaporeans further. In this climate of anger, when Singaporeans are feeling threatened, it does seem needlessly antagonistic to release the figures in the way that they have. Even though both PM Lee and DPM Teo have reassured Singaporeans that the 6.9 million figure is there merely to facilitate infrastructure plans as opposed to a population hard target, the damage is done. Rightly or wrongly, these attempts at reassurance now seem like insincere backpedaling.
Given the results of GE 2011 and BE 2013, it seems astonishing to me that the government has not “packaged” this better.
I don’t know if a population boost from immigration is the way forward for Singapore. But if I were to go solely by what DPM Teo has said, I would be unconvinced.