Friday, 15 February 2013

Roadmap to an UNWANTED DESTINATION.... : Population White Paper

15th February 2013

Happy Lunar New Year.
I'm sure many of you had this experience when you visited friends and relatives  this week - a large group of people gather to talk about various issues, catch up on each others' lives and at some point someone brings up the population white paper and the torrent of negative views about it pours out and keep going until someone reminds everyone else that it is Chinese New Year and we shouldn't be so angry. I haven't met anyone who is positive about the White Paper. Never in my life have I seen such an overwhelmingly negative reaction to a govt proposal. Every single opposition MP in parliament voted against it and all NMPs present during voting, except Eugene Tan who abstained, voted against it. 
But he urged the public to not just understand the details of the White Paper but also the government’s aim in putting it out, which is “to help Singaporeans have a better life for the future in the best way possible" 
- Straits Times Report[Link]
"Perhaps now right-minded Singaporeans might get over thatemotional hump and the 6.9 million figure and take the White Paper at face value for what it is trying to do"
- Straits Times Report [Link]
The MSM  urges Singaporeans to get over their "emotional hump"and PM Lee urges Singaporeans to try to understand what the White Paper sets out to achieve which is a better life for Singaporeans. At the end of all the debate and discussion, the PAP and our PM say they have the right rational answer and Singaporeans are viewing the White Paper in an emotional manner failing to see that it is a plan that will improve the lives of Singaporeans and bring about a brighter future for Singaporeans. Actually nothing can be futher from the truth. If you speak to ordinary Singaporeans, they have followed this issue very closely and have good grasp of the trade offs and understand there is no perfect solution. The reason for the anger is not irrationality but the proposal of the PAP to double down on a strategy that has not delivered. Singaporeans are all too familiar with the kind of GDP growth achieve through population growth - they have live through the period when our population grew from 3M to 5.3M. They understand the economic implications of growing the economy by importing labor. It is not just the strains on our infrastructure that is felt in recent years but the deep economic effects such as stagnant wages, widening income inequality, structural unemployment,  rising poverty and increase in cost of living. There is overwhelming evidence that if we continue to go along this path, despite the promises of better infrastructure, life will get worse for most Singaporeans. Today we have 400,000 Singaporean workers whose wages have been depressed to the point that they depend on Workfare to survive.
The anger among Singaporeans does not come from failure to understand what the White Paper aims to achieve but from an understanding of the negative outcomes we will get from what is proposed in the White Paper. 
If you take your time to read the speeches by PAP MPs and ministers during the White Paper debate, you will find the one clear ideological belief that stands out is that we need faster economic growth to achieve a better quality of life for Singaporeans. The PAP believes we need to have this growth for the lives of Singaporeans to improve. For this reason, the proposal by the Workers' Party to freeze foreign workers at today's level, aim for slower growth of 1% and allow the economy and businesses to restructure, was attacked by PAP MPs. 
If you examine the economic growth of the last 10 years achieved through population expansion, you find that most of the benefits goes to a small concentrated number at the top while those at the bottom suffered from the negative effects of this growth. If you examine the economic data of the last 3 years, you see the negative effects seeping into the middle class [Link] which is now under pressure. If we continue along the same path of growth by importing labor, we will not achieve the outcome of better lives for Singaporeans.
Through its thick ideological lens, the PAP has failed to see the real problems faced by our society. If they wanted to improve our lives why did they not have a White Paper on how to narrow the income gap, a White Paper on keeping medical care cost affordable or a White Paper on how to care for our seniors and ensure they can retire gracefully. 
If the proposals in the White Paper is followed, our problems will grow and become even more unsolvable. Our economy that is now over-dependent on foreign labor will become even more dependent on foreign labor. The income gap will rise further and the quality of life of Singaporeans will decline in an irreversible manner. Our common identity will be threatened and so will our future.  I believe Singaporeans are right to oppose the White Paper and many have been mobilised from the sidelines to speak up for what they believe is right. The White Paper debate has allowed many Singaporeans to clearly understand the PAP govt's position and its assumptions ...much of this goes against the experience they have been through in the last decade and Singaporeans know it will take us to a future we do not want for ourselves and our children.

Source: Lucky Tan on his blog Diary of a Singaporean Mind

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