SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has said the conversation on Singapore’s future continues even after the debate in Parliament on the Population White Paper is over.
Calling for support as he wraps up the debate on the White Paper on Friday, Mr Teo said the government must keep an open mind and continually review its approach and adapt strategies as domestic and external circumstances change.
More than 70 members in the House gave their views on the population roadmap over five days.
Wrapping up the debate, Mr Teo said it has been a passionate one, with useful points that reflect the views of Singaporeans.
He said: "It has been an intense five days. Seldom have I seen members on both sides of the House rise and speak with so much intensity and passion. We have heard more than 70 members share their views, concerns, and suggestions on this important issue of population.
"This is the longest debate in memory that we have had on any single motion in Parliament. And so it should be. It reflects the importance that members have placed on the far—reaching implications of our population challenge."
Throughout the debate, MPs discussed the government’s plans to maintain a strong Singaporean core by encouraging more Singaporeans to get married and have children.
This will be supplemented by a calibrated pace of immigration to prevent the citizen population from shrinking.
Mr Teo noted that there is agreement on the number of permanent residents to be taken in each year, but not on the number of new citizens.
Still, he said, members do agree to the plan in principle.
He added that the ageing population is happening at an unprecedented scale and speed.
A quarter of the population will cross the age of 65 years between now and 2030. And after that, Mr Teo said the senior population will stabilise and eventually will decline.
Mr Teo said the government sought to find the right balance, given the many demands and constraints.
He said: "Our population challenge is complex and multi—faceted, with many inter—linked parts —— raising birth rates, taking care of our ageing population, creating good jobs for Singaporeans, ensuring a good living environment for everyone.
"In drawing up the White Paper, we sought to balance many demands and constraints. There are no easy or simple solutions. We need to find the right balance."
He added: "The White Paper is proposing a major shift —— a significant slowdown in our rate of workforce and population growth, and GDP growth, compared to the path that we were on.
"This is a carefully balanced path between two extremes —— neither carrying on with the rapid growth rates of the last three decades which would take us beyond our capacity, nor having a freeze which would stall the economy and be harmful to Singaporeans.
"Hence, support for the motion is to support making this significant shift, but in a balanced way, and signals that we should not take either extreme."
Mr Teo said the government is not deciding now on the population trajectory beyond 2020.
He added projections are for the purpose of land use and infrastructure planning and plans are not cast in stone.
He said: "The conversation on population did not start this week, in this House. It started, surely but earnestly, about a year ago, when we started consulting Singaporeans of all ages, from different walks of life.
"Similarly, the conversation does not end in this room today. The end of this debate does not mark the end of the discussion on this very important issue. The discussion should and must continue.
"I invite you to keep an open mind as the conversation on the future pathway continues. We must continually review our approach and adapt our strategies depending on Singaporeans’ changing social and economic needs, and how our domestic and external circumstances change, while always putting the interests of Singaporeans at the heart of everything that we do."
Mr Teo said with leaders, businesses and the people working together in a concerted manner, he is confident there can be a dynamic Singapore with a sustainable population for many more generations to come.
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