SINGAPORE: The Acting Minister for Social and Family Development, Chan Chun Sing, said the Population White Paper is about values and families and how Singaporeans relate to each other and the rest of the world.
He said how Singaporeans respond to this challenge will reflect their values and shape their identity.
Mr Chan was speaking on the final day of debate in the House.
The White Paper is not about the population numbers or the infrastructural plans, said Mr Chan.
Instead the White Paper is about the lives of families and the values that Singaporeans hold dear like the meaning of a Singaporean identity.
Mr Chan said: "When I was in the Army, I had a unit where only eight out of 32 soldiers were ’true—blue Singaporeans’ as some of you may call them. The rest were either not born here or not raised here.
"I asked why they would fight together. None of them gave me some highbrowed answers like how many percentage of the people staying here are Singaporeans.
"They fight because their buddies fight alongside them. They will defend this place because this is their home, where they share common experiences, common values and most importantly a common vision for a better life tomorrow.
"Let us also not start drawing lines to divide who is a true Singaporean and who is not. Is someone born a Singaporean but stayed overseas for 15 years, speaks with a foreign twang and came back to serve his NS any less Singaporean?
"Is a foreign child who came here at the age of 10, embraces our values and systems, speaks Singlish and goes on to serve NS any less Singaporean?
"If we believe that the Singapore Dream of multiracialism, meritocracy, incorruptibility, rule of law, society before self, are all things we value, then we have the ingredients to build a nation."
At the same time Mr Chan urged Singaporeans to care for the lower—income groups during times of a slowdown in growth or no—growth.
He said: "We know and we accept that not all can progress evenly in a society. We cannot ensure equal outcomes. But we want to maximise opportunities for our people to fulfil their potential and diverse aspirations.
"We must imbue in our more successful ones the sense of responsibility to help the weaker ones in society. We must agree as a society that those who have the least must be given more help.
"Growth will give us a better chance to help people to improve their lives over time. Growing slower does not mean we will have a more equal society. In fact if we grow below a certain rate, the low—income of our society actually suffers negative income growth in real terms."
The Acting Minister also rebutted calls by the opposition not to admit foreigners into the country.
He cautioned that foreigners are needed to help care for the old and weak and if there are no more increases, then he would have to take the quota to meet the manpower needs of the caregiver sector from other sectors.
In addition, productivity improvements alone cannot fund the manpower needed by the social and family development sectors.
"So please be mindful about what we say about foreign manpower and slower growth. These choices affect our old and poor much, much more than it affects the rest of us," said Mr Chan.
He stressed that there is a need for the entire society to embrace the "family first" philosophy.
He hopes businesses and employers too will support the government when it rolls out more pro—family measures.
Mr Chan said his ministry wants to focus on early childhood development and ensure that children from less advantaged backgrounds will not start too far behind their peers in schools.
So the government will do more by building more child care centres and make them more accessible.
It will also push out even more programmes to support teachers training, curriculum development and operators management.
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