White paper encourages society with no heart: NMP Faizah Jamal

Environment and sustainability were main talking points in NMP Faizah Jamal's speech against the population white paper. (Yahoo! file photo)

With all the recent talk in Parliament about how the currently-in-discussion population white paper would have pros and cons in economic growth, one issue has fallen by the wayside: the environment.

Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Faizah Jamal, 53, though, did not forget that issue when she stepped up to the Parliament lectern on Wednesday to deliver her speech, laden with fiery potshots towards plans set forth in the paper.

Faizah was one of two NMPs who explicitly did not endorse the population white paper tabled in discussion this past week. The environmental champion advocated for a paper that looked beyond citizens as “economic digits” and thought of well-being “beyond GDP growth” including environmental and sustainability issues.

“If we continue to act… as if humans are the top of the heap and we think we can get away with it, we will continue to be an egocentric society which has cut off its own heart and then attempts to live without it. How is that ‘sustainable’?” said Faizah.

Faizah suggested that places of nature should be left alone and not torn down in pursuit of building new towns and rail lines. Her example of the upcoming Cross Island Line cutting through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve “is a serious concern” for the lifespan of the reservoirs and rare species in the reserve.

Bringing up how the fight to save Bukit Brown failed, Faizah questioned, “How did the government agencies involved justify the encroachment on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve now, on what are supposed to be areas that are inviolate? Or, is nothing inviolate anymore?”

Of whims and fancies

Faizah cautioned against “heavy intervention of the human hand” in shaping parks and seas, adding that the human touch would cause damage to areas of rich natural biodiversity and Singaporeans would have to pay the price for higher energy and water costs later on.

“It is time that we stop having the notion that natural spaces are good to have but will be set aside ‘when it is practical to do so’,” said Faizah.

As part of suggestions to improve citizen input in land use decisions, Faizah recommended putting up environment impact assessments for public access for “clarity and transparency”.

Presenting an alternate view of her ideal white paper, Faizah said that companies that keep hopping to other countries to attract cheap foreign workers should not be tolerated in Singapore. She did not condone such companies that “(treat) relationships with workers as mere transactions”.

Besides urging the government to address “trust issues”, she advocated for the white paper to change tack and choose a different “economic paradigm” which is geared towards making lives better beyond GDP growth.

“We have been very good at thinking with our heads and devising linear systems from our education to our economic systems, that are efficient and which run well. We have seemed to have forgotten that, in the end, it is about connecting with people, with our natural environment.”

“Environmentalism is not an interest group; it is the foundation to all else,” said Faizah.

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