SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has acknowledged that the government could have done better in presenting the Population White Paper to the public.
Together with the Land Use Plan, the White Paper forms a roadmap, charting the country’s future policies amid an aging and shrinking population.
Mr Lee was speaking to reporters after visiting staff at Tan Tock Seng Hospital on Sunday morning.
This year, the Prime Minister paid tribute to hospital staff in his traditional visit to essential services facilities, during the first day of the Lunar New Year.
The last time Mr Lee visited a hospital during Lunar New Year was some seven years ago at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
Mr Lee said it’s important to show appreciation to this group of workers who have worked hard and are under a lot of pressure to take care of patients.
His visit to Tan Tock Seng Hospital comes days after Parliament ended a week—long debate on the Population White Paper which was endorsed, after amendments.
Communication, Mr Lee said, could have been better.
He said: "We will be examining our experience with this White Paper very carefully to see how we can do better next time."
The White Paper had caused concerns among some Singaporeans when it was initially presented.
At the centre of it is the projected population figure of 6.9 million by 2030.
The government later made clear that 6.9 was never a target.
Mr Lee urged Singaporeans to keep the conversation going and said the Our Singapore Conversation Committee will drive this effort.
Mr Lee said: "It will take some time. It’s a very emotional issue. Understandably, it’s an issue which the views are very strong. It’s also a very complicated issue.
"So I hope people will think about what has been spoken in Parliament, all the views which have been expressed and not only understand what this is about, and the intricacies, but also understand what we are trying to do is to try to help Singaporeans have a better life for the future in the best way possible.
"We have to choose, we have to decide, what is the best path to do it. Every path has a choice, a consequence. If you say no foreign workers, no immigration, I think we have some big problem. If we have a lot of foreign workers, we let companies have all the workers they need, we will have other problems.
"So how do we find a solution in between, and most importantly, solutions which are good for Singaporeans, which Singaporeans will benefit from. And not just today, but over the next 15, 20 years.
"So we are not deciding for 15, 20 years. We just deciding for the next few years, what we need to do, and we will review again what the status is, and how to move next.
"So I think this is something we will continue discussing with people, the different aspects of it, and its a continuing effort of the government."
Mr Lee reiterated that the government will review its population strategies for the long term.
He has also apologised for a mistake made in the footnote in the Population White Paper that described nurses as a low skilled worker. Mr Lee acknowledged that nurses are an important, highly skilled profession and he also shared his personal experience as a patient.
"It’s unfortunate there was this mistake in the White Paper. DPM Teo Chee Hean has apologised. If I can, I should say I’m sorry that it happened too, because I know how important the nurses are in the hospital. When I was ill with lymphoma, I needed chemotherapy. It was a nurse, a specialist who administered the drugs for me because they are trained, they know all about it and they are critical to the whole system of highly skilled, highly professional," he said.
Apart from ushering in the Lunar New Year, Mr Lee also turns 61 on Sunday. When asked about his birthday wish, he said: "I hope there will be many more babies and children this year."
He also didn’t give away much when asked what businesses and Singaporeans can look forward to in the upcoming Budget. "The Minister for Finance has some ideas. I think you wait for Budget Day, you will see something interesting," he said.
Singapore’s Budget will be delivered on the 25 February.
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