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Detractors on Day 2

I wish The Straits Times had excerpted Inderjit Singh’s speech. It’s amazing how he swung both ways – hit the G and hit the Workers’ Party. But his words resonated with me although I wonder quite a bit about his call for a “breather’’ on growing the population.

He said that we should stop getting in new citizens and PRs for a while and get going on correcting the mistakes of the past, that is, ramp up the infrastructure. So let Singapore be like Dubai for a while, with transient workers. Sounds interesting. But this still doesn’t mean Singapore won’t be crowded, however transient those workers are. I am not sure whether Singapore is more worried about the rising number of foreign-born new citizens and PRs, or the absolute number of people crowding this space.

The New Paper had a lot more detail on his speech and in fact, focused parliamentary coverage on the veteran MP who has been known for speaking his mind and speaking up for small businesses. It seems like he wants some measures to make sure that PRs and new citizens are “committed’’ to the country. So much so that he actually suggested jailing PR boys who don’t do national service. He also wants a $50,000 levy on PRs who buy HDB flats on the open market and to sell them to Singaporeans only if they moved. Also, to tighten rules on the number of dependents a new citizen or PR can bring into the country.

You know, this is going to make Singapore pretty unattractive to foreigners who want to set down roots here – or maybe it will drive them to think harder about committing to Singapore. This isn’t just a place you can make money, you have to pay an admission price too.

Business Times chose to highlight MPs who like Mr Singh talked about fixing the current problems first. This was one way to gain Singaporeans’ trust that the G put the people first, they said. Some might say that this was refreshing, and even a little sad, to have even PAP MPs say that the G should do more about tearing down the cynicism gap. I find it tragic that ministers have to keep reiterating that the White Paper is for the benefit of Singaporeans. Call me naïve (okay, I am) but why would any elected G dependent on votes do things to earn the ire, rather the fury, of its voters? Unless there is a view that the G somehow aggrandises itself in the process…you know, infrastructure brings in big bucks… Now, whatever one might say about the PAP G, I don’t think it’s “like that’’.

I wouldn’t question the motives of the G at all, but I would question its methods. In this regard, I wondered at the way the PAP tackled the WP on its own proposals. It’s the usual strategy: Don’t talk so big; show me “how’’. I hope I don’t have to hear Mr Low Thia Khiang say, as he had before, that the WP’s role is to check the G, not to propose policy alternatives since it doesn’t have the resources at its disposal and is not ready to form the next G for some time…

But I think some of questions posed to the WP can be posed to the PAP too. I still have no clue how some of those projections are made. If labour force growth and productivity growth is so low, doesn’t it mean that it hasn’t done enough or the measures to raise both don’t work or won’t make much of an impact? How did it come to such conclusions? After a year of work, there must be some “numbers’’.
By the way, there was a bid to amend the motion on endorsing the White Paper yesterday to delete the words “population policy roadmap’’ so that the White Paper wouldn’t look like a population target but a land use plan to meet population projections. It’s a simple change and some would say even just cosmetic, but no harm done if the G is intent on “clarifying’’ that 6.9m number as something we all hope will not be reached.

So how should the debate proceed after Day 2? There is a letter in the ST Forum Page today that’s pretty useful methinks. Let’s put those big population figures out of the way on focus on just a few things – the low fertility, aging population, reliance on foreign labour, depletion of local workforce. That 6.9m number is too distracting, said the writer.

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I agree.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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