The Straits Times: Sustainable population ‘most critical’ issue

The Straits Times this week reported on the Singapore government’s plans to develop a strategy that addresses the sustainable population issue. A white paper will be presented in parliament by the end of the year.

Sustainable population ‘most critical’ issue

THE Government is studying ways to develop a strategy that will produce a sustainable population which will ensure the country thrives as well as meets its people’s aspirations in the future.

Coming up with the strategy is the ‘most critical’ issue Singapore faces in the long run, and it is important for the Government and people to come to a shared understanding of how to tackle the challenge, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

The outcome of the study will be made known by the end of the year when it is presented in a White Paper in Parliament.

In announcing it, DPM Teo said the study will be spearheaded by the National Population and Talent Division, which falls under his charge in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). He was speaking during the debate on the PMO’s budget.

The division is ‘comprehensively examining’ the nation’s population goals and policies, he said. It will also discuss related issues via dialogues and online channels with other agencies, stakeholders and the public.

These issues, which include topics like the size and make-up of the population, will have an impact on how the Government plans its land use and infrastructure, said DPM Teo.

The results of its work will be incorporated into the White Paper. He said: ‘Through this process, we hope to bring to light issues that are important to Singapore and Singaporeans, and develop a shared understanding of our strategies to build a sustainable population that secures Singapore’s future.’

Four MPs, including Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), had asked for the Government’s population parameters for planning purposes.

DPM Teo assured the House that Singaporeans’ views, aspirations and concerns would be considered in developing a population strategy.

The strategy would maintain Singapore’s vitality, strengthen its harmonious multi-ethnic society, and ‘enable Singaporeans to achieve their life aspirations’.

He also had good news for those worried about the twin woes of low total fertility rate (TFR) and the foreigner influx.

Slightly more babies were born to Singapore citizens last year compared to in 2010. With 30,922 babies against 30,131 babies in 2010, the TFR rose to 1.2 from a historic low of 1.15 in 2010.

The low number of new citizens last year was partly because the citizenship application process was changed.

Would-be citizens have to go through a compulsory orientation programme before the process is complete. Hence, 4,000 who got in-principle approval for citizenship late last year will get their pink identity card this year.

The pool of new permanent residents last year was also the smallest in five years: 27,521 were made permanent residents, around 6 per cent less than in 2010.

However, DPM Teo cautioned that Singapore is at a ‘demographic turning point’ this year, when the first cohort of post-war baby boomers starts turning 65. This marks the start of an ‘unprecedented age shift’, with more than 900,000 set to retire from now to 2030.

He painted a dire picture of Singapore’s future if birth rates stay at today’s low levels and there is no immigration. The workforce will shrink and there will be less support for a growing elderly pool.

But DPM Teo remained optimistic: ‘While we face serious demographic challenges and difficult trade-offs in managing population growth, Singapore has a good foundation on which we can build our future.’

Image taken from niallkennedy

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