Minister of Social and Family Development (MSF), Chan Chun Sing, threw up a new figure in the debate on population yesterday.
Speaking at the Economic Society of Singapore (ESS) annual dinner, Mr Chan cautioned that while various population figures have been suggested as optimum or necessary to sustain Singapore’s economic growth, “a lot depends on how attractive people find us as a place to work and live.”
He said it is “not inconceivable that we have a scenario where the transient workers or others may not find us so attractive.”
He then raised the possibility that Singapore may face "another scenario" - a population number "below four million."
Singapore’s current population of 5.3 million is made up of 3 million citizens and residents, while the rest, 2.3 million, are foreigners.
In recent times, various population figures have been suggested by various prominent people – such as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who said Singapore could accommodate a 6 million population. Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, however, preferred a population of 5.5 million as optimum.
Others, such as Singapore’s Chief Statistician, Paul Cheung, viewed an 8 million population as do-able, and most recently, former chief executive officer of the HDB, Liu Thai Ker, said Singapore should plan for 10 million people.
When asked by the event’s moderator, Yeoh Lam Keong, president of the ESS, what he thought was the suitable population size for Singapore, Mr Chan said:
“Will it be 10 million? Will it be less or more? Nobody knows.”
Mr Chan explained that technological advances and changes and the design of housing and living environment are open to possibilities.
“What we hope to do is, first and foremost, not to focus on numbers,” Mr Chan said, “but ask ourselves what are the opportunities we need to create for our younger generation to fulfill their dreams and aspirations.”
Mr Chan said that the Government is “clear in our mind, we can never compete on numbers.”
Since the general election of 2011, when the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) vote share fell to its lowest ever (60%), along with the momentous loss of a group representative constituency, and the subsequent loss of a by-election in Punggol-East, the Government has slowed immigration numbers, and tightened its foreign labour policies.
In Parliament earlier this week, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin revealed that there are currently 1,331,600 foreigners working in Singapore as of December 2013.
The minister, however, said that “the breakdown by nationality is not publicly available.”
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