So now you have ministers stumbling over themselves and each other to explain the 6.9m figure. It’s not a target, not a prediction, not a projection. It’s a planning parameter, a worst case scenario. In other words, we might not hit it. So please don’t worry. Thing is, if we don’t hit it, the White Paper makes it seems like we will not even make 1 to 2 per cent growth (which is really low going by the standards we’re used to). Is that really the case?
In any case, Parliament sits today and a whole bunch of people are speaking up, including all the opposition MPs. I hope they dispense with the niceties and cut to the chase and don’t all start lauding the White Paper for its comprehensiveness and then immediately go on to do the popular thing of talking about the people’s worries of living in a crowded space.
Can we hear some substantial views instead about how to keep Singapore going, an analysis of the assumptions the White Paper has made, and deeper look at particular parts of the paper?
Based on what I’ve read online and offline, some strands of thought have emerged. And yes, some are contradictory.
a. Is the G too fixated on GDP growth and have simply worked backwards to come up with the numbers? Does GDP growth equate to higher standard of living? Some have pointed to Nordic countries which have kept populations small while still achieving a quality life style.
b. Is the G paying enough attention to the baby front? Should we be devoting even more resources to have more babies?
– Take a look at Singapore’s adoption processes and see if things can be made easier for couples who can afford it to adopt an “instant’’ Singaporean brought up in the Singapore way. And who will serve NS.
– Or put all our effort into raising the fertility rate, that is, really, really subsidize potential parents. (Then you have to deal with where the money is coming from – single taxpayers?)
– Convert long-staying foreign spouses to PR and then to citizens (TNP had a story last weekend about a poor Indonesian who has been rejected time and again even though she’s bringing up Singaporean children as a widow of Singaporean husband) Of course, some would make the point that these foreigners are not economically active, hence why give citizenship…? (That’s the problem when Singapore men marry down. Serious.)
– Slay the sacred cow of the ban on dual citizenships. After all, it’s not uncommon to hear even Singaporeans saying they will jump ship if things get too crowded. And some 200,000 already living abroad anyway. Plus there are long-staying foreigners here married to Singaporeans and think that giving up their citizenship marks a betrayal of their homeland. Usually the better-educated men. (That’s the problem when Singapore women marry up. Serious).
c. Cost of living versus standard of living is something that should be explained. Are they necessarily opposed to each other? An ST Forum Page writer raised this matter today and it’s worth elaborating that keeping cost down means somebody else is going to suffer. I mean, if taxi fares remained low, you wouldn’t have so many people wanting to be taxi drivers because they realise they can now make a decent living driving…But of course, I would STILL complain leh. Human nature.
d. Another point on cost of living. Dare we slay the sacred cow about “home ownership’’? Our home ownership push is so successful that every newly formed family expects to own a new home asap if not immediately – and then they scream about high prices. Thing is, is renting or leasing such a bad thing? If something is out of reach, then you settle for the next best before you can afford what you want. I am not talking about rental flats from the G which should only be for those who are in real dire straits. But renting from the rental market. Why should only foreigners be tenants? Can’t Singaporeans rent homes too? Or too paiseh?
e. Businesses are screaming about tightening of foreign labour in the immediate term and how they will have to close down or relocate. This is in contrast to the ordinary people’s views: They think already too many here. I guess some business people figure that this is “forced’’ restructuring of the economy into the higher value-added services sector although it wouldn’t be politic for any G man to say so. Then, there’s this question of productivity. It would be good if we have an update on whether the productivity incentives are bearing fruit – and whether more can be done to make it easier for businesses to access. Even the planners admit that 2 to 3 per cent growth is a stretched target – which begs the question of why it is in the paper in the first place. And what would change if the target isn’t met? We bring in more foreigners to achieve GDP growth or throw in even more incentives for baby-making?
f. All those plans for more rails, reclamation etc is nice. But one wonders how we are going to pay for them. So the projected GDP growth is enough to cover the cost of laying rail lines and building new homes? Or are we looking at the possibility of dipping into reserves on the premise that we’ll be investing in Singapore’s future and averting a future crisis? By the way, who’s going to sell us sand?
I’m sorry if I’m not very coherent. I guess the subject matter is so vast that to come up with something sharper is difficult. Or I’m just stupid. You know, I’m looking forward to hearing the MPs speak. A couple of opposition parties have already said their piece but not the Workers’ Party. I know Mr Low Thia Khiang is trying to project a moderate image and seems to expect to only serve as a “check’’ or co-driver. You can bet everyone will be watching the party’s performance in this regard. With so high a margin of victory in Punggol East, we expect a rigorous performance. No less. And from the PAP MPs too, if they don’t want to labour under the perception that they merely parrot the G’s line which is why the G needs a “check”. And from Nominated MPs as well given that they have picked because they have some level of expertise in some areas. Bring that expertise to the fore please.