People’s Action Party’s deputy party whip Inderjit Singh on Tuesday urged the government to stop the growth in the number of permanent residents and new citizens, and focus on improving the lives of Singaporeans.
The call by the Ang Mo Kio parliament member was made Tuesday in response to the population white paper tabled for discussion in Parliament proceedings this past week. The paper’s estimate of a population of up to 6.9 million by 2030 -- of which nearly half would be made of foreigners -- has drawn heavy flak from Singaporeans, many of whom have been complaining about the rising cost of living and overcrowding in public transport.
Among the few MPs of the ruling party that have come out to criticise the white paper, Singh argued in Parliament that the government should “take a breather” from population growth for five years and solve the problems created by past economic and population policies.
“Yes, there will have to be tradeoffs of economic growth but I would rather trade some of these for a cohesive, united nation where people feel taken care of at home and are confident of their future,” said Singh.
He cited the increase of more than one million people living in Singapore over the past decade as precedence that “adding another 500,000 to 800,000 more PRs and citizens… will be disastrous and add to our already difficult infrastructure and social problems”.
Privileges and responsibilities
He also noted that Singapore already has too many PRs and are enjoying full citizen privileges without the citizen’s responsibilities. In an example of the latter, he said only around 30 per cent of all boys of PRs do national service.
In line with this, he said children of PRs must be made to do national service and that the government should make it an offence for them not to do so.
In addition, he proposed a levy of about $50,000 chargeable to PRs who buy HDB flats from the open market. Such flats could then be only resold to Singaporeans and the levy would be refunded within five years if the PR took up citizenship.
“The differentiated privileges will separate the genuine ones from those who are here for a ride. We should grant PRs to those who are most likely going to take up citizenships so these differentiated privileges should not stifle our plans to attract quality PRs and new citizens,” said Singh.
Singh also sought for more Singaporean-friendly policies such as a “Singaporean first hiring policy” as well as school and healthcare fee reductions for citizens. He also wanted the dependents policy to be reconsidered such that new young PRs would not bring their older family members to the country.
Young citizens he spoke to felt ‘demoralised’ at depressed wage levels across many income levels due to cheap foreign talent, even at the professional level, he said.
Singh also attacked national development minister Khaw Boon Wan for using a banquet analogy of overestimating population targets to cater sufficient resources for them. “If (we) overdo things and end up with a population of more than 7 million, it may be too late to stop the fast moving train of population growth when we fire up the engines of growing the population,” cautioned Singh.
High price being paid
Recalling his similar concerns in 2008, Singh urged the government once again to abandon the “instant tree mentality” of growing the population to counter declining birth rates.
“Instant trees cannot grow strong and can be uprooted in difficult times… as we cannot afford to make Singaporeans lives more difficult as a result. (I’d) rather we err on the side of caution when it comes to growing our population. We cannot keep paying a high price for planning misjudgements,” said Singh.
His ‘instant tree mentality’ remark was also voiced in Budget debates last year, when Singh called for less extreme fluctuations in foreign worker policy so that small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) would not incur high labour costs from workflow shifts.
In a similar vein, Singh attacked the Worker's Party proposal of not accepting any more foreign workers and accused it as a “zero-growth” foreign labour policy. He encouraged Dubai’s model of a transient workforce and was worried that shutting off the foreign labour tap would hurt SMEs.
“(Economic) restructuring is going to take some time. Business models cannot change overnight. If you really care about companies, you would not tighten the labour workforce any further. That is not going to accelerate restructuring; that is going to kill companies,” said Singh in response to a rebuttal by NCMP Gerald Giam.
Despite his remarks, Singh stopped short of calling outright for the white paper to not be passed in Parliament.
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