The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) on Friday evening (3 July) questioned why former Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat did not raise issues with a report by The Straits Times, in which the latter was quoted as having cited a former master planner of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore on the prospect of a 10 million population in Singapore.
Speaking at a ministerial dialogue at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on 28 March last year, the People’s Action Party (PAP) First Assistant Secretary-General was reported by ST as having referred to Liu Thai Ker who mentioned in 2014 that Singapore should plan for 10 million people for it to remain sustainable in the long term.
This is in spite of Singapore’s population density not being as excessive as some other cities.
Mr Heng reportedly said — on the estimated population of 6.9 million by 2030 as set out in the 2013 Population White Paper — that the figure extends beyond how densely populated Singapore would be, and that the social space is just as important.
Based on the above, the SDP reiterated its stance that it did not come up with the ’10 million population’ idea.
“Did Mr Heng refute and correct the report at the time it was published? If not, he can hardly accuse the SDP of making a false claim now?” said SDP.
SDP also referred to a letter penned by an ST reader in 2018, who was concerned about the population figures cited by Housing and Development Board chief executive Cheong Koon Hean in a lecture.
Dr Cheong estimated that Singapore’s population density will increase from 11,000 people per sq km to 13,700 people per sq km between now and 2030.
“Given our land area, this means that our population would go up to nearly 10 million by 2030,” SDP asserted.
SDP highlighted that Dr Cheong “refused to answer” Ravi Philemon — a Red Dot United Party co-founder and Jurong GRC candidate — on her planning principle behind the higher population density projection.
Former GIC chief economist and adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Yeoh Lam Keong, according to SDP, has also previously criticised Dr Liu’s “views on planning for a 10mn population for Singapore” in 2018.
SDP also pointed out that Mr Yeoh last year had subsequently expressed disappointment “that Minister Heng, who I have much respect for as an economist and should know better, so uncritically cites this poorly reasoned view based on bad, outdated economic policy that implies a return to excessive immigration that has created so many problems over the last 2 decades”.
As recently as Thursday, said SDP, Mr Yeoh argued that “it can reasonably be inferred from the ST article below that DPM Heng Swee Keat at his talk on March 2019 was at least open and sympathetic to an eventual 10 million population in Singapore”.
Mr Yeoh added that “it is entirely reasonable for Dr Chee to ask him to clarify again publicly and give reassurance of the government’s policy and resolve not to allow such a 10 mln policy outcome given DPM Heng’s recent reported glib statements and underlying economic trends”.
Mr Yeoh expressed apprehension on how “this shows both Minister Vivian and DPM Heng underestimate the policy and concrete policy measures eg clear immigration quotas and constant policy resolve needed to prevent us creeping towards such an inimical population scenario over the long term [sic]”.
“Given the above, there is disquiet among the public that Singapore may, indeed, be moving towards a 10 million population,” said SDP.
SDP stood firm with its stance that it has achieved its ‘1N’ or ‘One No’ goal in its GE 2020 campaign, which is to reject the idea of a 10 million population in Singapore.
“We are gratified that Dr Vivian Balakrishnan categorically said at the political debate on 1 July 2020 that the PAP will not increase the population to 10 million or even 6.9 million.
“As far as our ‘NO to a 10-million population’ in our 4Y1N campaign is concerned, it is mission accomplished. This is the kind of opposition that we strive to be, one that keeps the PAP in check.
“We now ask voters to get us into parliament to ensure that the PAP does not change its mind and renege on its promise,” SDP concluded.
Mr Heng, however, told the media after his walkabout at Blk 216 Bedok North St 1 Market and Food Centre on Friday that the SDP had erected “a bogeyman” only to “declare success”.
“I personally feel all along that integrity is very important … The reason why so many of our businesses have been doing well overseas is that Singaporeans are known to have integrity, so we must keep honesty and integrity in our system. And we must expect that of all candidates,” he said.
Responding to queries on why he had chosen to address SDP’s claim now, Mr Heng said: “What is very important is for Singaporeans to judge whether you are saying something serious, or you are just spreading statements like this with no basis whatsoever.”
“We must be sincere and honest in seeking to serve our people. The country is facing major challenges ahead. So let’s not get distracted, let’s focus on the key issues at hand. Let’s see how we can create a better life for all Singaporeans,” he added.
Background on the ’10 million population’ fiasco
The debacle began after SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan mentioned in a political debate by CNA on Wednesday that Mr Heng was “toying with the idea” of increasing Singapore’s population to 10 million people.
“And over and above all this, Mr Heng Swee Keat then comes up to say, in an interview, toys with the idea of bringing our population up to 10 million,” said Dr Chee.
He added that Singaporeans are “deadly worried about this proposal”, before subsequently questioning PAP’s Vivian Balakrishnan: “Will you categorically tell Singaporeans right now that your party has no intention of raising our population to 10 million by continuing to bring in foreigners—especially foreign PMETs—into Singapore to compete with our PMETs for jobs?”
Dr Balakrishnan dismissed Dr Chee’s point as a “false statement” and accused the latter of raising a “false strawman”.
A day later, Mr Heng denied mentioning that Singapore intends to increase its population to 10 million people.
“As the Straits Times clarified this morning, I did not say that Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million people, nor did I mention the figure,” he wrote in a Facebook post yesterday.
Mr Heng added that he did mention former chief planner Liu Thai Ker –- who publicly said that Singapore should go for a higher number of population –- at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Student Union Ministerial Forum in 2019.
“Far from endorsing this, I had explained that our population size was not just about physical space, but also about social space and how we can preserve a sense of togetherness,” he asserted.
Mr Heng said that the Government has “never proposed or targeted” to increase the country’s population to 10 million.
“And if we look at today’s situation, our population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030,” he remarked.