The people and the Population White Paper

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 30, 2013 at 1:24 am

GETTING the people behind the Population white paper is going to be one tough job. I know the Prime Minister has said that we should look beyond the headline numbers and think deeper about the country’s future.

But as Lydia Lim said in ST, it’s the everyday journey that counts. The instinctive reaction of Singaporeans reading the newspapers today would be to recoil. Yes, recoil. It’s too hard to visualise how even more people can be squeezed into this little red dot. More transport links, more homes, more green spaces – they simply can’t figure out how this will mean you won’t have to be squashed in a train, never mind that a station is a 10 minute walk away.

And while the Paper says that the density is much better than Hong Kong’s – 13,000 people per sq km versus 22,000 people per sq km, all people can think about is the return of shoebox apartments.

Today had analysts all making the point that steps had to be taken to convince Singaporeans. More engagement and more transparency about the numbers, such as exactly where the foreigners would fit in on the jobs-front.

You see, tangled in the emotions is not just that Singapore will be crowded, but also unfamiliar. It breeds insecurity.
The Paper has a chapter on integrating foreigners who want to become PRs or new citizens. It’s the same-old, same-old in my view.

By the way, we should also look at the marriage figures. Those four in 10 Singaporeans who marry foreigners, do they settle down here to have Singapore-born children? Or do they move with their foreign spouses? If their foreign spouses, especially husbands, find it hard to sink roots here, then it’s likely the Singapore wife would move with her husband. But there are no plans now to ease the policy of making them citizens, according to Grace Fu as reported in ST. Seems to me we should be looking deeper into this “leakage’’.

Then those 200,000 Singaporeans living abroad. I don’t suppose they will return to our sunny isle even as steps are made to engage them, especially with news that it might get even more crowded.

I reckon the argument in the White Paper can be encapsulated like this: We are not having enough babies, and we’re hoping for more. Even if this works, we don’t have enough manpower to sustain our economy (which is going to slow down) and standard of living. That’s why we have to educate ourselves to as high a level as possible, so that we can still afford some foreigners to do the jobs we don’t want to do and keep the best jobs for ourselves. This is also so we can support that cohort of baby boomers, who are going to be depending on even fewer young people’s taxes. But don’t worry, we’ll make sure you will live well, in homes that aren’t too small, travel on trains that are not too crowded, and enjoy cycling on green paths.

You think the argument will work on those who won’t be trawling through the White Paper (a very dense paper methinks) I think the on-going Singapore Conversation is going to be hijacked by these issues. I can’t see Singaporeans talking about anything else when they have population headline figures stuck in their heads. Maybe that’s why we are having a Singapore Conversation now? That White Paper is a discussion paper right? Not cast in stone? (See earlier post)

You know, I am wondering if Singapore will become a place where Singaporeans, here and elsewhere, will hold a strong emotional attachment to but, preferably, from a distance.

  1. Maybe those drafting these proposals should experience life on the ground first (e.g. using public transport to work more often). I mean besides an economic Barometer (which seems to be their main tool/focus), maybe they should consider a public sentiment Barometer too.

  2. As one of the 200,000 Singaporeans living aboard (with a child born overseas), I’ve previously entertained the thought of probably returning to my homeland one day, but the overcrowding of the public transport system, job insecurity of local PMETs (of which I’m one of) and numerous other factors have diluted the though somewhat. And now this White Paper! Safe to say I won’t be subjecting myself, much less my child to such a horror scenario by returning to Singapore.

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