SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said all ministries are now focused on planning ahead.
It’s a strategy the government has said it will stick to, with the launch of a White Paper projecting a 30 per cent growth in population by 2030.
Can Singapore support a 6.9 million population by 2030?
That’s a key concern raised by Singaporeans since the White Paper on Population was released.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a community event on Saturday, Dr Balakrishnan said the reaction is understandable.
He added all the questions raised by Singaporeans are valid and the government has to reassure people that the plan is a long—term one and for the good of all Singaporeans.
Dr Balakrishnan stressed that the discussions over the next few weeks, months or even years, will be essential.
He said: "The problem is that in the short term, if you look at congestion, look at house prices, look at infrastructure, this is far from satisfactory. As long as we have problems dealing in the short term, people will have difficulty accepting long term plans.
"But the point is that although we’re slowing down, in the medium term, in the next 10—15 years, there will still inevitably be some growth in the population.
"The key reason for that is that our population that’s aged over 65 is going to travel over the next 17 years from about 300,000; we’re going to end up with over
900,000 people who like me will be over 65 in 2030 and this enlarged population of seniors will need a top—up of both younger Singaporeans as well as selected foreign talent and labour, who will work with us, serve us, pay taxes, create opportunities for us."
Hence, Dr Balakrishnan said, the government has to commit to Singaporeans to improve their quality of life in the short term.
In the medium term, it has to assure Singaporeans that the country can accommodate a larger population if need be.
And in the long term, it has to ensure that Singapore will continue to be a vibrant country with opportunities.
So whether it’s housing or transport, the key is to build ahead, said Dr Balakrishnan.
As for his ministry, he said Singaporeans can be reassured that there will be enough water resources in the future.
He pointed to technology such as reverse osmosis and the ability to enhance water recycling.
"So, water is not a limiting factor. But it does mean we have to plan ahead of demand and we have to be prepared to implement projects," said Dr Balakrishnan.
He added: "In a way, we’re buying insurance for the future. So whatever happens, whatever the needs for the country, in the next 20, 30, 50 years, we will have enough infrastructure and then, it will really be a matter of seeing how the future unfolds.
"So, for instance, with greater, higher productivity, with greater automation, perhaps we may not need so much staff or such a large labour force in the future. This is a possibility. But the point is whatever happens, to be prepared."
That also means being flexible.
Dr Balakrishnan stressed that the government’s plans are not "written in tablets of stone".
But its key guiding points will be to ensure Singapore remains a vibrant, exciting place of opportunities, and to enhance the quality of life of every citizen.
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