Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chen Show Mao on PAP's population policy


by Chen Show Mao (source)
Chen Show Mao
In Parliament today (5 Feb 2013), we received numerous question-comments on our views on the population white paper.

Core to my speech is this principle : Unlocking Existing Value in Our Current Population. For the Workers' Party, the people is the heart and soul of the nation, and it the duty of the government to provide the conditions for a dynamic people to thrive. A sustainable economy is a must, but it must be one that serves a dynamic Singaporean workforce, not the other way round.

Over the longer term we should target to increase the existing labour force participation rate -- currently at 66.7% -- instead of immediately turning towards importing new workers to supplement any shortfall in the growth in the resident labour force.

We can target groups of our existing population that are currently economically inactive and remove the barriers that may be keeping them from entering or even re-entering the labour force.

I cited figures to show our reasoning. Well, government schemes were cited to us to show that there were already efforts made. But my point is , have we TRULY put our hearts and minds to it to still be in the situation we are in today with such high foreign labour dependency, low birth rates and income disparity? Have we tried AS IF OUR FUTURE DEPENDED ON IT?

We are not advocating, as claimed, "no foreign labour" nor "turning off the tap". But just look at our everyday situation around us, hand on heart, have we truly done our best to improve productivity and to improve our labour force participation rate of citizens and residents?

Reminds me of water rationing in the 1970s. We became so much more careful and innovative in our usage of water as a nation. Scarcity, mother of invention.

My speech is below
. I first summarized the WP position in Chinese (English translation interspersed) and then spoke in English.

A Dynamic Population for a Sustainable Singapore: Reclaiming Back Singapore

by MP for Aljunied GRC, Chen Show Mao (source)

[Delivered in Parliament on 5 Feb 2013]

Madam Speaker, the White Paper states that “To be a strong and cohesive society, we must have a strong Singaporean core.”

议长女士,白皮书指出‘ 新加坡人是国家和社会的核心成员’, 还有‘我们要有一个坚强和团结的社会,就必须由新加坡人组成坚 实的核心。’

It also states that"our population and workforce must support a dynamic economy that can steadily create good jobs and opportunities."

白皮书也指出 ’我国的人口和劳动队伍的组合必须有利经济发展,使经济保持蓬勃,为国人创造良好的就业与进取的机会‘

Our experience over the past few years suggests that to achieve these objectives would require much planning.


Our population will eventually reach the limit of our island’s space.

It would be more responsible to plan now for economic growth that would rely on fewer labour inputs, while maintaining a Singapore core, than to leave the underlying economic and social issues till later.


我们现在就得开始规划一个减少依赖外来劳动力 的经济成长,同时维持一个新加坡核心的劳动队伍, 这是一种负责任的态度。

The Workers’ Party proposes that we target to increase our resident workforce growth by up to 1% per year from now until 2030. This includes Singapore citizens and permanent residents. The foreign workforce should be held constant and increase when we do not achieve our target for growth in the resident labour force.


We should focus on growing our Singapore core of workers over time through efforts to increase our TFR (total fertility rate) and LFPR (labour force participation rate).

在短期,我们依靠每年进入劳动队伍的新加坡居民及必需引进的外劳来扩大我们的劳动力。长期来看,我们应藉着提高总生育率和劳动人口参与率 ,建立一个以新加坡人为核心的劳

The government has recently announced additional incentives for having babies. However, there are structural problems that require longer term solutions, which also affect Singaporeans’ decisions to have babies. These include the lack of work-life balance, escalating housing prices, the stressful education system and even a crowded environment and others. Other governments have been more committed and have shown significant success in reversing declining fertility.


How will we grow our resident workforce if the number of new entrants is not increasing due to declining fertility trends? We need to look into ways to increase our labour force participation rate, so that more residents of working age are encouraged to enter the workforce. Our current labour force participation rate was 66.6% in 2012.


There are 1,063,400 economically inactive residents, 306,100 or 29% due to family responsibilities, 163,800 or 15% are retired. The numbers for the latter will increase due to ageing workforce. Both represent scope for LFPR increase — getting stay-at-home parents to reenter/enter workforce and reemploying elderly workers.

在我们当中有100零6万的人没有从事所谓“经济活动”,其中的29% 是因为要照顾家庭,另外有15% 为退休人士,随着人口老化退休人口将逐年增加。鼓励这两个群体重入职场应该是提升劳动人口参与率的重点。

Historically, in the last 10 years from 2003 to 2012, LFPR increased by 3.4% points, or 0.34% points per year. We should focus on fostering LFPR increase in the future.


Under the WP proposal, assuming the Government meets its current productivity growth target, we could enjoy 2.5 to 3.5% GDP growth per year up to 2020, and 1.5 to 2.5% GDP growth per year from 2021 to 2030, which is in line with the growth rates of most mature economies.


In this scenario, we are looking at a projected population of 5.3 to 5.4 million in 2020, and 5.6 to 5.8 million in 2030. Most importantly, we will not need to take in so many foreign workers and immigrants to supplement the local workforce, which will help us maintain a Singapore core.


The Workers’ Party does not endorse proceeding headlong into the government’s suggested path.

Underlying its plan is that population injections of that magnitude are required for a dynamic economy. Instead, we believe we should focus on growth through a Singapore core. To quote a population expert, immigration is “essentially a one-way policy tool with permanent or long-term social, economic and environmental consequences, and it cannot be reversed without human rights violations” . The land use data prepared by the Urban Redevelopment Authority shows how little room we have to move if the White Paper is endorsed. Under the plan, we will use up significantly more land, with only 4% of land reserve left for future generations. By then, we would be even worse positioned to meet the challenges of a sustainable population policy, we will have less room for error in planning, with a population of 6.9 million on the island.

At this critical time, we urge calmness and caution.

工人党不认同政府所建议的路径。在那计划下,引进大量人口才可以带来充满活力的经济。相反的,我们认为,我们应着眼于增长新加坡核心来带动我们的经济。引用人口专家的话:移民“本质上是一个单向政策工具,要逆转它往往要作出侵犯人权的行为”。市区重建局土地使用数据中,我们看到在白皮书的计划下,我们将只有4%的土地储备留给我们的下一代。 到那时,我们将在一个更艰难的处境面对如何继续发展新加坡的挑战。当我们有690万人口时,我们将会更没有任何犯错的空间。。。



Unlocking Existing Value In Our Current Population

Madam, The Workers’ Party is not being facetious when we reversed the wording of the white paper title to A Dynamic Population for a Sustainable Singapore to describe our alternative approach.

For the White Paper, population growth has to be sustained to feed into a dynamic economy like so many pieces of coal into the furnace to drive the Orient Express. For the Workers’ Party, the people is the heart and soul of the nation, and it the duty of the government to provide the conditions for a dynamic people to thrive. A sustainable economy is a must, but it must be one that serves a dynamic Singaporean workforce, not the other way round.

Our model hinges on resident workforce growth over the long term through the encouragement of local labour force participation, the principal aim of which is to get more Singaporeans to be economically active and independent. And also structural reforms to set the Total Fertility Rate on the path of recovery to replacement rate.

For the Workers’ Party, A dynamic Singaporean population is the very purpose and meaning of our existence as a nation and economy, an existence that should be sustainable.

We believe that any labour force growth should take place via a targeted 1% per annum growth in the resident labour force. Over the short term, our resident labour force grows only when young citizens or permanent residents enter the labour force. Over the longer term we should target to increase the existing Labour Force Participation Rate — currently at 66.7% — instead of immediately turning towards importing new workers to supplement any shortfall in the growth in the resident labour force.

We can target three groups of our existing population that are currently economically inactive and remove the barriers that may be keeping them from entering or even re-entering the labour force. These are: resident foreign spouses, stay-at-home parents and also the elderly.

At present, resident foreign spouses who are on Long-Term Visit Passes or Dependant’s Passes are not eligible to take up employment. If they want to do so, they must apply for work passes and be subject to the qualification criteria and are tied in to a specific job. Those on the new LTVP+ scheme do not need to apply for work passes but instead need to apply for a Letter of Consent. Relaxing some of these requirements may make it more likely for LTVP and LTVP+ holders to enter the labour force. And indeed an average of 19.5% of Work Pass applications by these foreign spouses on LTVP are unsuccessful. It could be even more difficult for these foreign spouses to meet MOM’s requirements if they are hoping to work part-time or on a flexible basis because they have other responsibilities at home.

As for stay-at-home parents, encouraging them to re-enter the workforce can be in the form of introducing better, more affordable and convenient childcare and support, perhaps in conjunction with incentives to employers, and as some have mentioned, also in terms of making flexible working arrangements (for example job-sharing arrangements, increased availability of part-time jobs or working from home) more available and even making them the norm for parents of young children. We see several OECD economies with both higher TFR and higher Female Labour Force Participation Rates than Singapore. Clearly more can be done, and the public sector should lead the way. While current government programmes such as work-life and flexible-work initiatives aim at providing incentives to get economically inactive Singaporeans into the workforce, more can be done in this area and structural changes may be needed in our family-friendly support structures in order to allow a greater proportion to beyond the 35 per cent of employers who were offering at least one form of work-life arrangement in 2010.

Independent Active Ageing

The last group that we should look at are the elderly.

The government has been trying to get more elderly people to remain in the workforce for a longer period and indeed the employment rate for older workers aged 55-64 has increased in recent years. But as we pointed out before in parliament, these numbers only tell us these workers are employed, but not whether there is under-employment.

Studies have shown that older Singaporeans are also healthier.

We believe that our elderly should be able to work for as long as they want to and are able to.

And there is scope for older workers to help grow the resident workforce. The male Labour Force Participation Rate for those aged 60-64 was 74.6%, and 52.6% for those aged 65-69% in 2012. For women, the figures are 41.7% and 26.3%.

Yet, age discrimination in hiring and in the workplace is a common concern of many Singaporeans. The Singapore Workforce reports mention ‘Employers’ discrimination (e.g. prefer younger workers)’ as major reasons why discouraged workers have given up their search for a job.

We should actively investigate if additional administrative or legislative measures could be taken to remove this impediment to our older workers entering or staying in the labour force.

In addition, government incentives for businesses to redesign jobs, processes and also workplaces specifically for older workers should play a larger role in the government’s measures to improve productivity. More targeted measures can be done to help older workers remain as productive as their younger counterparts. When older workers are able to be more productive, employers would be more inclined to retain or hire them.

We have all been shown the charts for growing old-age dependency ratio, which is the ratio of persons aged 20-64 years to persons aged 65 years and over. When we look at it, we should also bear in mind that with improvements in health and life expectancy, many of our elders are healthy and able to work longer, and indeed many want to. Not to mention that many have other economic resources of their own. They are not all economically dependent.

Madam, An ageing population is a triumph of development.

We should stop seeing elderly Singaporeans as just a drain on our economy and as a hindrance to our goal to keep Singapore dynamic. Older Singaporeans have much to offer us, and not all of it can be measured in economic terms.

In fact, our elderly Singaporeans are essential to maintaining a Singapore core. Older Singaporeans are custodians of culture and, as some have suggested, can be employed in schools to teach subjects such as social studies and national education, or encouraged to volunteer to do so. This is also a way of encouraging cross-generational sharing and learning, particularly in a society where family trends are shifting and there may be less opportunities for inter-generational sharing within the family.

Stopping the Waves of Emigration

The White Paper warns us:

“A shrinking and ageing population would also mean a smaller, less energetic workforce, and a less vibrant and innovative economy. [...] Young people would leave for more exciting and growing global cities.”

We need to ask ourselves the reasons why Singaporeans are leaving? Are they leaving because they feel Singapore does not offer them the right economic opportunities? That they would need to support their ageing parents or other elderly Singaporeans if they stayed? Or are many of them leaving because they feel Singapore is becoming too crowded, costly and competitive, that they would like to live somewhere and bring their children up in a place with more space and greater well-being? How does increasing the population to up to 6.9 million by 2030 allay these concerns and make it less likely for Singaporeans to decide they have to leave the country of their birth in search of a better life for themselves and their children?

Madam, the assumptions and conclusions laid out in the White Paper need to be looked into again. I oppose the motion.



Parliamentary Speech during the debate on the motion on the White Paper “A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore”

Mrs Lina Chiam, Non-Constituency MP (source)
Madam Speaker,

There has been a lot of media attention on what the 2030 population numbers in this white paper represent – is it a target? is it a projection? or, quote-unquote, a ‘worst case scenario’? Yes, the Minister has taken great pains to explain that the white paper is very much an exercise in infrastructure planning for Singapore.

But make no mistake. The 6.5 to 6.9 million population figure range for 2030 is a planning target set by the government. Subjected to the economic situation in the next 15 or so years, but a target nevertheless. The Minister has given us his justifications for this target set.

As such, the Singapore People’s Party opposes the recommendations of the white paper.

We are also deeply disappointed at the white paper which, as one public policy academic pointed out, did not even contain a References section to show what research the writers of the paper had done, or the methodology employed.[1]  In fact, the only citations we found in this white paper prepared by the National Population and Talent Division, were 7 of their own papers and briefs. Talk about cyclical reasoning.

The white paper raises more questions than it seeks to answer.

If one of the main pillars of the white paper is to maintain a strong and stable Singaporean core, since we are told that the current Total Fertility Rate puts that under threat, then why is it necessary for the non-citizen population to keep growing? Is it so that we will have a bigger pool of foreigners to audition to become Singaporeans?

Is the non-citizen population expected to grow after 2030? Or stagnate at the 2030 level? If it stagnates, what will happen to economic growth, as this government’s model would dictate?

Ten to 20 years is indeed too long a period to make any realistic policy. But the logic underpinning the white paper’s recommendations necessitates a clearer policy direction for Singapore post-2030 to be made now.

Does the government intend to freeze the intake of foreigners in 2030, or at a point when it realises that no new Land Use Plan will work any more?

That is, of course, if this government still expects to be in power in 2030.

Let us take a look at four assumptions used in the white paper:

The Minister has emphatically stated that the government is not going for “Growth At All Cost”. Nevertheless the white paper perpetuates the mindset of dependency on labour. It assumes that there is still a good chance for productivity growth to get better, whereas all the productivity enhancement schemes have not worked.

Singapore is a city-state with no hinterland, a point with many consequences for recreation to national security. This sets our situation apart from just about every other high developed cities in the world. It would be alright for those cities to have half a population of foreign residents.

For Hong Kong S.A.R., which is perhaps the only comparable city-state entity, their population density currently stands at only about 6,400 persons per square kilometre. Compare that with Singapore’s current population density of about 7,200 persons per square kilometre. Even city-state entities like Hong Kong or Monaco do not have to take care of their national defence, a crucial point I will return to.

The White Paper is based on a very unique event in human history, namely, that of the Baby Boomers phenomenon. Given that Baby Boomers is a unique event in history and is transient in nature albeit for 10 years or longer. Is it wise to plan for a country’s population and infrastructure based on this event?

Or put otherwise, can we justify bringing in more migrants to support aged Singaporeans, knowing that the new migrants will themselves contribute to the aged population?

Which leads me to the fourth point;

The white paper assumes that bringing in more migrants is the solution to our worrying Old Age Support Ratio (OASR), through increased tax revenue collected and so on. But I do not know how this is applicable in Singapore, where the government believes families should be the main source of financial and social support for the elderly, where the state is unabashedly anti-welfare.

How then can the new migrants support our elderly? How then can the increased revenue collected from them be channelled effectively to Singaporeans? Even if this is the case, we see no projected figures for the increased revenue expected, for substantiation in the white paper.

I now deal with four points in the white paper we take issue with.

When the proportion of citizens out of the total population nears the 50 per cent mark, as the 2030 numbers project, I do not know how we can convince our young men of the need for National Service, let alone lay down their lives for the nation. In the worst case scenario of war, they will ask – what are we defending? Why defend a country where so many of its residents can leave if they wish?

But we do not even need to go that far. Even right now, many are wondering why they should sacrifice two years of their lives, and in subsequent reservist cycles, only to be beaten in the job search by foreigners.

The white paper foresees that two-thirds of Singaporeans will take on PMET jobs in 2030, compared to 50 per cent currently. Does it mean that foreigners will take up more non-PMET jobs in 2030, compared to current numbers? So, is the plan for Singapore to attract foreigners of lower skill in 2030 as compared to now?

Chapter 5 of the white paper is ‘A High Quality Living Environent’, which ties in with the government’s idea that the quality of life can still be maintained in 2030. But what we find in that chapter, instead, is a focus on how our public transport system will be expanded, the new MRT lines that will be build, hospitals, and so on.

Madam Speaker, that is not what quality of life entails. These are the very basic infrastructure requirements for the influx of people the government wants to bring in!

I was hoping to see more relevant indicators of the quality of life, such as a survey of satisfaction with life among Singaporeans. But alas, no such measures seem to be used.

If the white paper is indeed the guiding document for infrastructure planning, are we doing enough? For instance, the stated plan is to increase the number of acute hospital beds by 2,200, or 30 per cent. Considering that the increase in the total number of hospital beds over the last decade was zero, how can 2,200 more beds by 2020 be enough to cater for the 700,000 increase in the population?

I now turn to the Land Use Plan, on which I have two questions for the Minister.

It was reported in a few media outlets that in this Plan, the Ministry of Defence’s activities will be consolidated on Pulau Tekong, so as to free up the space it currently uses on the Singapore mainland, for development. I do not seem to be able to find any mention of this in the Land Use Plan document, so perhaps the Ministry announced this at the press conference.

Now, I have never heard of the armed forces of any country in the world that concentrates all its activities and, presumably, facilities, on one island, away from the mainland. Does that not make it a very easy target for Singapore’s defence capabilities to be wiped out by a belligerent force?

Perhaps I have not understood this correctly. I will certainly appreciate any clarification from the Minister for Defence.

According to Table 1 of the document, there will be only 4 per cent of land left for, quote-unquote, ‘Others’, in 2030. What happens if the population continues to grow after 2030, and if any efforts of the government to curtail that fails?

Perhaps the government thinks we can always resort to land reclamation. Then the question is – how much more land can Singapore gain through reclamation, thereafter? There must surely be a limit.
In conclusion,

The Singapore People’s Party is most concerned that there seems to be no new substantive initiatives in this white paper to address Singaporeans’ most pressing problems like negative real median wage increase over the last five years, and the relentless rise in the cost of living, particularly for basic goods and services. There is just the same old measures, like life-long upgrading, Workfare, job-matching and placement programmes.

For whom is the white paper? It does not address these concerns of low income Singaporeans.

We are of the opinion the white paper has framed the issues wrongly. A fundamental revamp of Singapore’s economic growth model is sorely needed; not just stop-gap measures to deal with a population explosion which may themselves engender further costs.

Change has to start today. Our immigration policy must change more boldly. Conversion from foreigners to PR and later to Singaporeans must slow down further.

SMEs that perform poorly in terms of productivity should not be allowed to be artificially sustained.

The government must make wise decisions over MNCs threatening to leave Singapore unless supported with foreign workers quotas to their liking.

It is highly regrettable that the government has decided to rush through the debate and approval of such an important plank of national policy.

The government’s programme of the so-called National Conversation has been a P.R. stunt. And there is no better indication of that than in the formulation of this white paper. They tell Singaporeans that they will start listening more to us, but ultimately, they will still tell us they know what’s best.

Madam Speaker, the Singapore People’s Party cannot support this white paper and the accompanying Land Use Plan, and I am voting against the motion.

[1] Donald Low, Senior Fellow, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Reported in TODAY, 4 Feb 2013 (see below).


Expert Weigh in on Population Projections

Today, 4 Feb 2013 (source)

SINGAPORE — As Parliament sits today to debate the White Paper on population, some experts have questioned the soundness and accuracy of the projected population figures, given the difficulty in forecasting population growth.

Citing the Government’s track record of underestimating population growth, they noted that external factors, such as the global economy and the demand for labour, would likely throw such forecasts off the mark.

Nevertheless, others felt that policymakers would have gleaned lessons from past instances and factored in a buffer in their latest projections.

In particular, demographer Gavin Jones from the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS) pointed out that the population projections for 2030 factored in more than two million non-residents. This would give policymakers some “flexibility”, he noted.

The White Paper projects that by 2020, there could be between 5.8 million and 6 million people in Singapore. By 2030, the range is projected to increase to between 6.5 million and 6.9 million.

But Economic Society of Singapore Vice-President Yeoh Lam Keong reiterated that population growth “always tends to exceed projected forecast”.

“Because, firstly, there is very strong demand for labour from existing labour-intensive industries, and industry has a strong influence on immigration policy,” he said.

“Secondly, given economic uncertainty, during the times when we have growth, the Government tends to err on the side of caution and go for more growth. Given these two tendencies, we tend to systematically overshoot population growth, not intentionally, but because of circumstance and current institutional practice.”

While SIM University economics professor Randolph Tan noted that such forecasts are “always notoriously inaccurate”, he felt that publishing the White Paper was a “responsible” move by the Government, as it allows Singaporeans to air their concerns and hear “both sides of the debate”.

But he said that policymakers could have come up with a less definitive forecast. Instead, Singaporeans could be informed about the probability of reaching a population of 6.9 million by 2030, he suggested.

“The question therefore … is, what is the precision of the projections? What is the potential error range? How far can we afford to be wrong?”

The Government’s past population projections have been below the mark. For example, the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Concept Plan in 1991 projected a population of four million to be reached after 2010.

By 2000, however, the Republic’s total population had already crossed that mark.

In 2001, the population was estimated to hit 5.5 million in the long term. When it reached 4.6 million in 2007, the projection for planning purposes was adjusted to 6.5 million. The Government had acknowledged that it was caught off guard by the surge in the number of immigrants.

NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser felt that the Government, in learning from its past experience, “would have built in some buffers and not cut (the projection) too close”.

Agreeing with Dr Tan, NUS Department of Real Estate professor Tay Kah Poh added: “In other words, the plan assumes some degree of over-shooting, which is a huge change in thinking from before.”

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan noted last week that the projection was “aggressive” so that the Government “will not be caught under-providing, as we are experiencing currently” — a stance that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Facebook that he fully agreed with.

Still, Mr Yeoh proposed capping the total population to 6 million in 2030 and 6.5 million by 2050.

He said: “A population of 6.5 million will be very cosmopolitan, (there will be) a lot of foreigners but it will still have significant indigenous components. And it will be relatively wealthy so it might resemble … Switzerland, with significant social cohesion and national identity.”

He added that, should Singapore ever reach a population of 8 million to 9 million, “it would look more like Dubai”. There could be “extreme income inequality, extreme dependence on foreigners and would be extremely crowded and unpleasant”, said Mr Yeoh.

Meanwhile, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Senior Fellow Donald Low criticised the lack of scholarship and academic rigour in the White Paper.

Writing on Facebook, Mr Low, a former high-flying civil servant, noted that there “wasn’t even a References section to show what research the writers of the paper had done, what social science theories they relied on, what competing theories/frameworks they looked at”.

Citing Australia’s recent White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century or reports by the British government, which he said are “always complete with references to the social science literature”, Mr Low added: “There was also a surprising lack of rigorous comparison with other countries that have gone through, or are going through, a similar demographic transition.”


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