SINGAPORE: After five days of intense debate, Parliament on Friday passed the amended motion to endorse the White Paper on Population with 77 ayes and 13 nays.
Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Eugene Tan abstained from the vote.
The paper charts the way forward to tackle Singapore’s critical challenge of an ageing and shrinking population.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also weighed in. He stressed that the conversation on population does not end on Friday.
Mr Lee said Singaporeans are at the centre of the government’s plans and that everything else — economic growth, population policies — is just a means to that end, to enable the government to improve the lives of Singaporeans.
The vote on the White Paper underscores just how strongly MPs felt about the issue.
Over the course of the week, various concerns were raised — for example, the issue of over—crowding, with a projected population of 6.9 million by 2030.
PM Lee said the government is not deciding on population trajectory beyond 2020 and that this should be left to future governments and Singaporeans to decide.
He then offered his own assessment on how the total population may eventually add up.
"In my view, by 2030, 6 million will not be enough to meet Singaporeans’ needs as our population ages. But the total population in 2030 should be significantly below 6.9 million and beyond 2030, in the very long term, it should not increase beyond that," he said.
Mr Lee spoke in Malay, Chinese and English. In his English speech, he highlighted three groups of particular concern — older Singaporeans, the low—income group and the young.
For future generations, Mr Lee said the country must come to a consensus on the right population mix.
On that note, Mr Lee acknowledged that one worry over the projected 6.9 million figure is that citizens will only form 55 per cent of the total population, down from the 62 or so percent today.
He said he appreciates that numbers do matter and that the government will track and control the numbers of non—Singaporeans.
But he added the Singapore core is not just about numbers, but the spirit. He added it is critical to imbue younger generations with that Singapore spirit.
Ultimately, the Singaporean identity needs to be strengthened, he said. New citizens, too, need to put in effort to integrate and commit their loyalty to the country.
"People who embrace our values, our ideals, who have sunk roots here, who have given their loyalty to Singapore, for whom when you say the pledge and you see the helicopter flying past on National Day, it’s a special moment," he said.
"Many will have been living in the heartlands, been to school together. We will share memories and experiences.
"ESM Goh talked about some recently in this debate — national servicemen, SARS, the global financial crisis, 9/11 — fears as well as joys, people willing to defend our nation, our families and friends, our way of life because we feel as one together.
"We share sorrows together even if it’s not our own personal immediate family. When two young boys were knocked down (by a truck) in Tampines, we all grieved with Mr and Mrs Francis Yap.
"We celebrate successes together. And we want Singaporeans, please, have more children, in fact, please get married and have more children, to inherit what we have built and to build on what you will inherit, to create a community which can trace its roots back through the generations."
Mr Lee promised that Singaporeans will always come first, and be at the heart of the government’s policies.
"It has to be so. Will always be so, because the government is elected by Singaporeans, and responsible to Singaporeans," he said.
"But let me add also that at the same time, Singaporeans cannot afford to be here just for the ride, (be) passengers. We’re not an oil state, where the citizens can live on the oil wealth and non—citizens do the work.
"For Singapore to thrive, we, Singaporeans must always stay lean and hungry. If we lose our drive, we will lose out."
Mr Lee said the future is bright if Singapore makes the right choices.
He reminded Singaporeans of a promise former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had made during the country’s darkest days after Separation in 1965.
"In our darkest days after Separation in 1965, Lee Kuan Yew vowed to Singaporeans: ’Ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear’, and we did it. Together we built a nation. So never fear, we can build an even better Singapore for all Singaporeans," said Mr Lee.
More than 70 MPs spoke during the 5—day parliamentary debate.
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