Channel NewsAsia
Updated: 02/07/2013 05:08 | By Channel NewsAsia

MPs tackle issues of declining TFR, ageing population and cost of living

HAVE YOUR SAY: What aspect(s) of the Population White Paper are you most concerned about? Tell us why.

MPs tackle issues of declining TFR, ageing population and cost of living

SINGAPORE: Fifteen members of Parliament on Wednesday tackled the issues of a declining total fertility rate (TFR), an ageing population and cost of living in the debate on the Population White Paper.

MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, Zaqy Mohamed argued that an area which the White Paper on Population has not addressed substantially was Singapore’s cost of living and economic competitiveness from a cost perspective, and how these will be projected into the 2030 scenario.

Speaking in Parliament during the debate on the White Paper on Population, Mr Zaqy said he appreciated the plans for Singapore to provide quality housing, quality education, attract quality investments and so forth.

But reading the booklet, he noted that while there is a lot of mention of ’quality’, concerns on ’affordability’ is not covered in the same depth.

Mr Zaqy said Singaporeans appreciated the government being upfront and transparent on its planning projections.

However, he added this has also created fear not just about the perceived lack of space but also on managing costs as Singapore tried to move towards high value—add industries, higher quality housing and education.

Mr Zaqy said the narrative about ’quality’ lifestyle became synonymous to high—cost.

Mr Zaqy said: "The government needs to make clear where we stand on managing our cost structure. Should we make it a goal to reduce our cost structure to move our ranking down the ladder? And on the wages benchmark, we should be conscious of how real wages move in line with inflation and cost of living indices.

"In fact, the government should avoid statements that aim to compare our costs to other global cities as the primary indicator. On February 5, I noted the Transport Minister’s statement that our public transport fares have not increased compared to other global cities. It is a credit that the ministries try to keep our costs low by comparing to similar economies. But in addition to such comparisons, the government should consider and share with the public how our fares and other public costs are also benchmarked to increases in real wages, especially at the median and the lower income groups."

In his speech, MP for Bishan—Toa Payoh GRC, Hri Kumar touched on the Workers’ Party plan which places less emphasis on foreign workforce growth and focuses more on local workforce and productivity growth.

Mr Kumar said: "What about other effects, would we have to pay more taxes, what will it mean to our retirement age, would we have more workers in essential services like domestic, health and geriatric care and construction to meet the additional infrastructure and healthcare services we needs. These are all important for the daily lives of Singaporeans.

"Under the Workers’ Party plan, there will not be enough and it is a pipe dream to think that Singaporeans alone will make up the difference. These and other questions will have to be answered if there is to be a credible alternative or at least a meaningful debate. It is not enough to say simply there has to be structural changes.

"It is simply not enough to say you empathise with SMEs which kill off with your plans and say it is for the government to find a solution to help them. It is also not intellectually honest to suggest that shareholders will suffer and Singaporeans will not when what we are dealing with is Singaporean owners, Singaporean employers, Singaporean shareholders, all Singaporeans supporting Singaporean families in Singapore."

Pritam Singh from the Worker’s Party urged the government to take the White Paper back to the drawing board and seek the views of ordinary Singaporeans.

Mr Singh, who is MP for Aljunied GRC, said: "The White Paper needs to be reworked with more aggressive measures to raise TFR as a start and it has to be populated with more detail about the quality of life of Singaporeans should anticipate when the projected figure is reached."

For newly—elected Punggol East MP Lee Li Lian, her maiden speech focused on tackling the declining total fertility rate.

Ms Lee said: "Singapore sees an average of 12,000 abortions a year and four out of ten women who went for abortions were single women. Reducing the discrimination against single mothers may reduce the likelihood of single mothers having to resort to terminating their pregnancies for fear of lack of support. Furthermore, for a country suffering from a fertility crisis, each child should be valued and not punished because he or she is born to unmarried parents."

A sobering picture of an ageing population and shrinking workforce was of concern to Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan.

"Singapore is not operating in silos. The world around us will continue to move forward regardless of Singapore’s demographic and internal problems. In fact many Asian cities will grow, attracting talents, ideas and capital from their hinterlands. It is against this dynamic and larger picture that Singapore has to define its path forward," said Mr Lee.

In his first speech since he became a backbencher, veteran MP and former National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan urged the government to deal with the White Paper in two parts.

"Leave the debate on post—2020 scenarios to another date but continue to improve our infrastructure. Second, in five years’ time, review the White Paper’s assumptions and estimates for post—2020. This will give everyone a clearer picture of whether our trains and buses are getting less crowded, our housing prices have stabilised, our people having more babies, our companies more productive and learning to cope with less foreign workers, will these happen and if so by how much. It will be a much more informed and meaningful debate by then," said Mr Mah.

Mr Mah added: "Let us not be sidetracked by numbers. Numbers can change, numbers are not targets. The real target and the objective of the White Paper must be the well—being of Singaporeans — happy, confident, optimistic, hopeful now and into the future. Population is a means to that end."

Another 25 more MPs have been slated to speak on the debate which continues on Thursday.

— CNA/fa

HAVE YOUR SAY: What aspect(s) of the Population White Paper are you most concerned about? Tell us why. Sign in with your Windows Live/ Hotmail ID below, and post your thoughts now!


The fundamental focus of the White Paper is definitely erroneous in centering its focus on the economic growth of the country. While I can appreciate that we need to remain competitive against the global landscape, I question what level of competitiveness do we need to be. More importantly, what is the opportunity cost of achieving that level of economic competitiveness ?


Personally, I have seen that Singapore has sacrificed a lot to be where we are today. We sacrifice our sense of humanity, we sacrifice the bonding of a nation, we sacrifice the ability to celebrate life in its splendor (We now live to work rather than we work to live). More importantly, what have we made these sacrifices for ? More money and wealth ? We are our own greatest enemy. Wealth is should not be measured by how much we have in the bank but by how rich we lived our lives.


I don't believe we need to remain competitive to the point where we need to sacrifice what is truly important to be a human being. There is nothing being just competitive enough without being #1 or #2.


The government has tried to exercise some level of damage control by now rephrasing that the White Paper is a "discussion paper". Frankly, when it was first released, the verbage doesn't not seem like a discussion paper but more of a plan. Our government has lost the plot of what is truly important to its citizens.


I personally yearn for a life where things are affordable, that I do not need to be touted as a millionaire just because i have a million dollars property and that I can enjoy the simple pleasures of spending time with the family, indulge in my personal pleausre and that I do not feel pressured to have to keep up with everyone else around me.

Feb 7, 2013 2:25AM

Why the need for more transient workers? Those that are here today will leave in due time as they are not permanent residents on our tiny island. When they leave, we replace them with younger ones and these transient workers can be consider an ageless work force for our economic planning.

Our infrastructures are at its breaking point and causing social cohesion problems among residents. So why take in more now? Shouldn't we pause and take stock of current situation before moving forward. 

Instead of growing the population further and crowd ourselves out of this little red dot, we should plan our economy base on the minimum population growth and grow our economy with transient   workers like some nations in the Arab world. 


Feb 7, 2013 2:20AM
It's also getting more difficult to get an Employment Pass approved or renewed:
Feb 7, 2013 4:19AM

 I am concerned that this govt has still not been completely forthcoming when they admit that they did not foresee the infrastructure problems of such a rapidly expanding immigration. Every govt and stat board has its officials who perform work on Capital n Renewal projects for the depts and the state based on at least 5 year projections and then set at actual for incoming years. This is one of the highlights of the British system of governance which we inherited. It paves the way for all futuristic planning and ensures that projects on agenda are financially sound and principled all the way to approval.


Why also has Parliament failed to raise issue at an early stage 10 years back at least ? A standing committee within Parliament to oversee the immigration rules and respond to the situation as it unfolds could have been set up. It can still be established !


Increasing the population in a straight line immigration method will not solve the problems as inefficient industries should not be supported by cheap labour imported for the purpose. Companies in Singapore enjoy first world returns on sale at third world costs of production- nothing beats this.But it is against economic logic and cannot sustain into the next decade - either a revolution results or other countries intervene.


What we should do is to relocate "inefficient" industries which require lower labour costs and re-site them as an assistance to neighbouring countries giving them management expertise and market entry.Hence there is use for our management personnel and capital.


What we see now at its worst in the foodselling business where hawker stalls are garnered by a highly-capitalised entity such as Kopitiam and then rented out to bona fide hawkers **** themselves by simply hiring two imports( one import is risky) to run the hawker stalls as cheap labour but costs to the consumers at first world pricings.

Where but in Singapore can you get such a deal?


 I recommend herein that Singapore adopt a minimum wage structure which will obviate all such problems and ensure parity in our industries and in employment.






Feb 7, 2013 8:39AM

The POpulation Problem WAs created By the Past PAP, trying to following the world tren.  THe biggest Worry Is They will created another diaster for the future generations to tackled.  More PEople , Beter Economy For who. I m in my 60's- I have seen thru the Sg. bom times. But that had not provide me with an easy life since the time of PaP. IN fact I was very much more relaxed n down to earth during the Lim Yew Hock or David MArsgall Era. not to say I was very old then . but I did noticed the serene that was present then.With too much crowding, There is no mention of Holistic n better life 4 us, especially the elderly.Better Ecoomy, better jobs doen't tranlate into better lives. Thru out the PAP rule, It has been the burden of the  ppl. to take care of the govt. n its ppl.thru high taxes n the like. I see it as an attempt to pursue that course. There r no fresh ideas or initiatives coming from most of the Pap MPs n MIns That make feel they r worth that much.


 Take a Small Advise FRom This Beggar- An Ancient wisdom said- Adverse Critisms r More Desired THan THe Enthusiatics Approval From Fools. Judge your self. Another Wisdoom of Old- A good Leader Is One who Considered The Will of The PPl. Infront OF HIs.


Mar 2, 2013 12:12AM

Hmmm....come to think of it.....

In the near future, our nation may even be govern by foreigner By the influx of the so called "Foreign Talent ".

Go to any establishment that are cared, run or operated by foreigner, we'll be treated like 3rd grade citizen bothering the 1st & 2nd grader.

By then, can SINGAPOREAN born on this soil by ancestral still proclaim ourself SINGAPOREAN here and when we are oversea???  I wonder...

Now, I'm not proud to proclaim myself a Singaporean when my little country has been INFESTED by many UGLY and UNRULY foreign talent as i was in the 80's and 90's.

Your aged parent whom have gone thru life's as a Singaporean in the 80's and 90's would agree with me.


Feb 18, 2013 9:23AM

Big POpulation, Big Returns n More money. Wats wrong With less Money , less PPL.  If Seize Matters, Isn't Better To be Small, rather than huge, It be more Manageable, more Natural Environment. THis All  Will Boils Down TO Greed- The wise old saying Is :- Be Satisfy, N U r forever Rich. Not Satisfy, Given U -the Whole World - Will Still Not Enough.  Why Have More IF u Cant Spend It. - UNless They  all R sic****eed it. Another Trent Thats Occuring:- U know Why PPl. R not Afraid To Die, Cuz The Govt. Promotes Too Much LIving, -- Look At The TVs Shows, The Entertainments Outlets. 

 Besides All THose Talk of Prosperoty In the Country  r Only 4 The Govt. PPl.  Not To the Poor, the Next Generations Unless U go Into Govt. Services. N Certainly, Not 4 The Elderly, Like Us., For If It Is, There is no reason A welfare For Us- Old Folks Can Be Done, Why The Stat Can AAfford it, By giving it to Those perhaps Above 75 years. All this White Paper- r For Themseives N their Lots. They r In their Ivory Towersn Castles. They r Unable To feel with Us. Thats It.  It Is High Time THey Take Care Of Us, Instead WE - They.



Feb 15, 2013 10:20PM
White Paper ?
Do not waste time
97% of man are non intelligent
Yes, i am one of them
So what ?
if you are the 3% of the intelligent, You known what to do. 
( as what their doing now ! )
else you have Time to read my comment or write comment
you are the 97%
Feb 8, 2013 3:43AM

he most damaging part of the White Paper is the contention that by simply increasing immigration all the economic problems will be in hand.

Immigration is a dangerous ploy in the hands of the uninitiated and the govt under the PM has stated clearly a few days ago that they failed to realise the implications of the open immigration policy and did not build the infrastructure accordingly. What this means is the govt does not think of every conceivable

situation and they need the opposition to buttress their thinking and planning..

The other major problem is that Singapore is not a homogeneous society of one or two races  and lack of proper management will simply create a situation that will blow the population asunder.This is a major problem which is already rearing its head albeit gently.

Immigration brings in its train several major problems such as social graces, understanding of the racial  divide and its history, religious difference , etc  

 A Singaporean is not a foreigner who wants to be a Singaporean for usually personal and selfish reasons but someone born here or who has integrated into the society by dint of reality and acceptance of the norms that difference in races, culture and history and will naturally create and immerse himself into the differences of the races. A Singaporean who cannot feel the differences in the races will be a fish out of Singapore waters. Do we have a majority of foreigners in our midst claiming to be Singaporean but clinging to their old world way of living.

There are many types of fish in Singapore now but

Feb 7, 2013 2:01AM

Not overly worried...... Hong Kong's population as of July 2012 is approximately 7.15 million with a land size of 1,054 km sq., however, Hong Kong is also hilly as such liveable space could be lesser.  If you can walk in Hong  Kong for shopping and love it there..  chances are that you will be able to live here comfortably in the year 2030 when the population hit 6.9 million.  Of course, I am over simplifying things but the truth is not far if we start planning now...... 

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