A 76-page coffee table book. That's how I would describe the latest White Paper. After 11 months of research, planning, and feedback from 2,500 Singaporeans, the National Population and Talent Division has nothing to show for - at least nothing that we don't already know. Just 2 weeks prior, DBS Vickers had pre-empted the paper by predicting that the population target will be raised to 7 million. By now, we are all too familiar with the usual government rhetoric on the necessity of foreigners to make up for our falling fertility rate, and most of us accept that. What we really want to know is how the government is going to walk the tight rope between the increase in alien population and the scarce resources that our small island can afford.
Maintaining a Strong Singaporean core
At the heart of a strong Singaporean core, is a strong Singaporean identity. Yet, it is hard to see how Singaporeans will form the core when they are projected to make up only half of the 6.9 million people squeezed in a little red dot in 2030. The trend of a declining TFR will also likely continue due to other intangible socio-economic aspirations despite monetary incentives dangled at married couples. Will this mean a possible dilution of the Singapore identity? Salt is further added to this gaping wound when the paper offers nothing more than a standard textbook solution to address the assimilation of naturalized citizens into Singapore. With all the brains from top scholars in the admin service, surely they can come up with more than just videos, booklets, and courses to integrate foreigners into the cultural norms and practices of the country?
Maintaining Good Opportunities for Singaporeans
Economic growth appears to be the main impetus behind the increase in population. However, the government has to balance the task of economic development with its social development. Just as how it would be difficult to plan and have children without a stable income, it seems equally difficult to plan and have children if people are treated as economic digits.
Maintaining a High Quality Living Environment
While it is heartening to know that plans have been made to upgrade Singapore's hardware, it unfortunately left out her software. Indeed, it is puzzling that the paper did not include a section on how the projected change in population numbers will affect the socio-political landscape in Singapore. Issues such as national security, law and order, nationality-race tensions and environment impact how we go about our daily lives. Already we are experiencing more cases of nationality prejudice (e.g. Chinese nationals vs Chinese Singaporeans), crime and strikes involving foreigners (e.g. SMRT strike by Chinese bus drivers), what more is to come in the future?
White Paper or Blank Paper?
After all that has been said and done by the government, it seems that the White Paper on Population raised more questions than it answers. Or perhaps it was poorly put together coupled with poor timing (riding on the burdened back of Lee Hsien Loong and his lack of 20/20 foresight). Either way, the paper did not go down well with Singaporeans and expectedly so. The government has to buck up on its policies and PR campaign if it wants to regain the trust and respect of its electorate.