Go for 5.9 million instead of 6.9 million: Workers' Party

Pedestrians pictured in a downtown financial district of Singapore on January 29, 2013. Singapore has defended its population policies after an outcry over a forecast that it could have 30 percent more people in less than 20 years, with foreigners forming almost half the total

The Workers' Party proposed Monday that Singapore prepare for 5.9 million instead of 6.9 million as detailed in the government's recently-released population white paper.

The document sparked fury among Singaporeans online as in it the government projected that the city-state's population by 2030 could be 6.9 million, of which nearly half would be foreigners.

After the paper was presented by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean to Parliament for endorsement Monday, WP chairman Sylvia Lim in Parliament stood up to explain the party's objection to it, arguing that the proposed population policies outlined would further dilute Singapore's national identity.

She noted that the 3.7 million Singaporeans expected to make up the population in 2030 would include new citizens, meaning home-grown citizens would make up less than half the total of people.

The core of Singapore's population must be strongly Singaporean, cultivated over time through schools, national and community service, she stressed.

Compensating Singapore's low total fertility rate with new young citizens is a flawed policy, she asserted, as new citizens also view Singapore with a different lens, and should circumstances change, not find it difficult to leave the country.

Echoing the recommendation that other groups have made, Lim said the government should focus on improving the total fertility rate.

Government seemed resigned about not being able to raise the TFR though other countries like South Korea have dealt with it though structured institutional reform, she noted.

Lim also advocated prioritising citizenship to those who marry Singaporeans as they will be the parents of the children who will make Singapore's future.

As an alternative to government's white paper, Lim offered this approach: work towards a more moderate GDP growth of 1.5 per cent to 2.5 percent, cut population injections and grow the resident workforce by 1 per cent yearly by tapping on seniors.

If the government continues to aim for GDP growth faster than that, the WP fears that "the welfare of Singaporeans will be at peril".

MPs weigh in on population issue

Other MPs also broached the population issue in Parliament, with some suggesting more creative ways of increasing the workforce without also inviting more foreigners.

MP Foo Mee Har proposed “breakthrough ideas” which she hoped that the government would consider to reduce the need for excessive immigration.

Citing statistics of almost 12,000 abortions conducted in Singapore each year, she suggested that the government should step up counseling services with the aim to get women to reconsider their decision to terminate pregnancy.

Foo also suggested that the government tap into older workers to supplement Singapore’s workforce – as well as women who stay at home.

Marine Parade MP Seah Kian Peng spoke out strongly against the population projection.

"Singapore is already so crowded. Foreigners will take some of our jobs. Do we really want to keep going?" he said.

Seah also raised concerns that the country's infrastructure, especially its transport system, may not be able to support an influx of foreigners, and recommended that the ratio of citizen versus foreigner remain as it is now, and not almost 1:1 as the White Paper projects.

"It's not just more of us, is it? Not more of our own children, but more people, more strangers living in our midst."

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