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Singapore's projected population rise raises concerns
Publication Date : 31-01-2013
The trade-offs inherent in the population debate crystallised sharply yesterday in the divergent reactions Singaporeans had towards the Government White Paper released on Tuesday.
While there were concerns across the board about the prospect of the population figure coming close to seven million in 20 years' time, the worries of businesses and ordinary Singaporeans pulled in opposite directions.
For employers, the issue was the possibility of further cuts to what they consider to be an already tight foreign worker quota. For the man on the street, the worry centred on what a larger population might mean in the competition for homes, jobs, health care and education.
Meanwhile, some economists began to project that contributions from the manufacturing sector here could shrink from about 25 per cent to 15 per cent.
On Tuesday, the government unveiled the Population White Paper that set out a road map on how it plans to tackle the problems of an ageing society and low birth rate over the next two decades. The headline-grabbing scenario involved a projected population of up to 6.9 million in 2030, with 55 per cent making up the Singaporean core.
Even then, that population size only translates into more modest economic growth rates of between 2 per cent and 3 per cent, down from the 3 per cent to 5 per cent growth projected in the past.
Many have now had a day to digest the 41-page document, but different stakeholders are drawing very different conclusions.
Businesses, especially small and medium-sized firms, said they had been grappling with recent curbs on foreign workers and now fear that more cuts could come as soon as next month.
The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry said: "We agree that Singaporeans must remain the fulcrum... However, a dynamic economy, which is our ultimate goal, also requires the right mix of Singaporeans and foreign talent whose skills combine to keep the economy functioning well."
In the same vein, Singapore Business Federation chief operating officer Victor Tay warned: "With slower economic growth, worse business performance, workers' increments and bonuses will be correspondingly smaller. Is that what we all want? We have to come to a compromise."
For ordinary Singaporeans, the promise of two-thirds of future jobs being white collar or the pledge to provide a high quality of life might sound hopeful, but it also raised fears about heightened competition in the future.
Some 85 out of 100 people polled were either opposed to or unsure about the idea of the population growing by some 30 per cent from its current 5.3 million.
MPs said it would be tricky finding the right balance between workers' needs and concerns about overcrowding and competition. But they stressed that the White Paper scenario was by no means a firm target set in stone.
Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa said he is still formulating his arguments for the parliamentary debate on the issue next week, but added that the key question has to be what the projections mean for Singaporeans.
"Is this better off for Singaporeans or not, to grow at this pace? And as we look to move ahead, we also need to satisfy ourselves that we are able to solve problems like the infrastructure bottlenecks."
The White Paper can be found at http://population.sg/