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Why right population matters
Publication Date : 31-01-2013
It would be unfortunate if the scenario of 6.9 million people by 2030 becomes a catchword for perceptions of an overcrowded island. Such a number is an essential one to work out so the implications can be weighed by all and planning can proceed. In looking ahead, the Population White Paper usefully
fleshes out what might transpire if nothing is done and what is possible if the nation seizes the opportunity to act.
Given the public mood, it is essential for the government to carry the ground, as it did during an earlier era of transformational change. Matching population growth precisely with physical improvements is never easy, and any lag in the latter might stoke passions revolving around immigration issues, the cost of living, and public transport service lapses.
Any disquiet must be addressed sooner rather than later and sceptics must be won over, lest political impediments become constraints on what Singapore might otherwise be able to achieve as a country. One way of doing so might be to encourage people to look beyond present-day concerns, pressing as they are, to an envisioned future for their children and themselves.
Today's newborns will be in their late teens and preparing to enter the workforce by 2030, when two-thirds of Singaporeans are expected to hold professional, managerial, executive and technical jobs. The threat to the economic and social well-being of families in the future would lie in an ageing society, a diminishing pool of Singaporeans and a shortage of skilled labour to keep the nation running.
In repopulating the country, the White Paper rightly visualises a strong Singaporean core, with a periphery of skilled permanent residents and another layer of foreign workers for social, health-care, construction, retail and food sectors. While it is wise to make Singaporean birth rates and labour productivity main planks of the nation's strategy, it cannot afford to ignore the helping hand of immigration.
Understandably, there is considerable public concern over increasing competition for jobs, housing, access to public transport and places in education. Some also wonder whether the social compact can be preserved with more immigrants. The government has ramped up the supply of public housing, and plans to double the train network by 2030. Much more work lies ahead and the authorities will be judged by their ability to plan and implement ambitious schemes smoothly and efficaciously. Importantly, the public has to support future-ready programmes and offer views and ideas, both at Our Singapore Conversation sessions and elsewhere, on this crucial goal of keeping Singapore vibrant.