SINGAPORE: The Workers’ Party’s Secretary—General Low Thia Khiang on Thursday said that the Singapore government was "driving with an upside down (population) road map".
Mr Low, who is MP for Aljunied GRC, said that Singapore’s low birth rate and ageing population were caused by a social and physical environment that is not conducive for family life. Therefore, solutions should focus on promoting quality of life for families, he said.
The WP chief also pointed out that the White Paper was still proposing incentives to have more babies under the Marriage and Parenthood package, when previous incentives had not worked.
"Without a TFR (Total Fertility Rate) recovery plan with clear targets, our birth rates are not going to go up. So when 2030 arrives, what solution are we going to turn to? Immigration again?" said Mr Low.
"The problem with the government is not that it lacks 20—20 foresight in infrastructure development, but (that) it fails to recognise that the problem is its immigration policy," he added.
Mr Low said that the key plank in the Workers’ Party’s proposal is to increase Singapore’s resident workforce by encouraging women and senior citizens to work.
He noted that economic restructuring is necessarily painful and that the government can help ease the pain by providing more support to local SMEs as they go through the economic transition.
"Based on the upper—end figure in the White Paper, our population is again expected to grow a million a decade up to 2030, and the ’Singaporean core’ will drop to almost 50 per cent. The White Paper is not maintaining a strong Singapore core. It is shrinking it further," said Mr Png Eng Huat, MP for Hougang SMC.
In his speech, Nominated MP Laurence Lien proposed his own population parameter.
"Let me suggest that the long—term policy should be to cap the total population by 2030 at 6 million. We should also slow down the intake of new naturalised citizens to 10,000—15,000 of new births, otherwise, the impact on social cohesion and the building of our social identity will be too adverse," he said.
Senior Minister of State Heng Chee How, however, argued that with about 18,000 deaths each year, 10,000 new citizens would not be enough to even make up for those who pass away. Mr Heng also made several proposals to tap the silver workforce.
"I ask the tripartite partners to start working on further extending the re—employment age limit from age 65 to 67... A key part of this would be to ensure that employers in both private and public sector value their older workers as assets, pay them fairly even as they enter re—employment and not make mechanical cuts to their pay and benefits," said Mr Heng, who is also the MP for Whampoa SMC.
Mr Lim Swee Say, who is chief of the National Trades Union Congress as well as MP for East Coast GRC, called for consensus to address the population issue.
He said: "I hope we can come to a clear consensus on the key priority areas for us to move forward. I hope we can speak in one voice, act in one heart and serve our people in one Parliament.
"Let us serve our people together regardless of parties, regardless of idealism. Let us work together to maximise the upside, minimise the downside of a growing population."
Former deputy prime minister and MP for Bishan—Toa Payoh GRC, Mr Wong Kan Seng, said that the White Paper is the government’s effort to prevent a repeat of history.
He said: "The point is that it’s not whether the population size should be 5.9 (million) or 6.9 (million). It is about how we keep our economy growing at a sustainable rate, create better jobs for Singaporeans and provide care and support for elders.
"These objectives are the key responsibilities of the government. But it must have the people’s support."
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