Dubious footnotes in the Population White Paper

By Gordon Lee

TCH MediacorpLast week, the Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean (who heads the National Population and Talent Division) apologised for the error in footnote 12 in the population white paper which misrepresented nursing as being low-skilled.

Yet, the misrepresentation is not limited to just footnote 12. Here is a selection of other misleading footnotes in the contentious White Paper.

Footnote 2 states that “A comparison of advanced countries shows that incomes grow faster when economic growth is good. Poor growth may also affect employment prospects, especially for lower-educated workers.”

Yet, this in no way supports the erroneous point that the white paper was trying to make – that without economic growth, unemployment would rise. What the white paper should have instead claimed is: Without economic growth, and with a growth in the labour force, unemployment would rise. This simple omission is an important one. If there is no growth in the labour force, unemployment levels would be less susceptible to a lack of economic growth.

Footnote 3 claims that “Economic growth has allowed the Government to introduce various transfer schemes to help lower-income Singaporeans, such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Voucher scheme.”

GST was introduced at  3% in 1994, and raised over time to 7% in 2007.

What the footnote should have said was “Taxing consumption via GST has allowed the Government to introduce the GST Voucher Scheme, i.e. take with one hand, and give back with another.”

Footnote 5, that “The World Bank has ranked Singapore top for ease of doing business”, was used to support that point that “Our well-educated and skilled workforce, good connectivity, reliable public services, stable government, and rule of law make us an attractive place to do business and give us a competitive edge globally.”

Yet, reading the World Bank report revealed that Singapore was ranked highly for legal and procedural effectiveness, and NOT for some of the reasons claimed by the white paper (i.e. educated and skilled workforce, stable government, etc.) Nor does the cited PWC report support the points made. The White Paper should not have misrepresented the World Bank and PWC.

Footnote 7 is plainly ridiculous. It states that the labour productivity forecast for 2010-2020 of 2-3% is simply the target of the Economic Strategies Committee. The ESC report says “We can achieve productivity growth of 2 to 3 percent per year over the next 10 years, more than double the 1 percent rate achieved over the last decade. This is a challenging target.”

It is good and ambitious to have a “challenging target”, but surely Government report and policies should be based on a more reasonable target.

Footnote 7 goes on to claim that their forecast for 2020-2030 “is assessed to be 1% to 2% per year, similar to the experience of OECD countries over the last decade (i.e. 2000-2010).” How NPTD assessed the accuracy of this statement is not elaborated upon.


It is deeply regrettable that the NPTD would go public with such a poorly-substantiated documented. Doing so only encourages speculation that the White Paper is little more than an attempt to create an illusion of robust support, by quoting evidence out of context.

Sadly, the lack of public support is still evident. Donald Low, a senior fellow at the LKY School of Public Policy and a former top civil servant, has criticised the white paper saying that there “wasn’t even a References section to show what research the writers of the paper had done, what social science theories they relied on, what competing theories/frameworks they looked at… There was also a surprising lack of rigorous comparison with other countries that have gone through, or are going through, a similar demographic transition.”

The poverty of intelligent thinking in Government policies makes us all the poorer.

[Image credit: Channel NewsAsia]