White Paper or White Elephant?

by singaporearmchaircritic

If the clamor of the Punggol East voters was not audible, the uproar over the Population White Paper reverberating on the Internet should be loud enough to be heard, even to those who are habitually hard of hearing.

To the dismay of Singaporeans, the White Paper proposes to take in 15,000-25,000 new citizens and 30,000 new PRs per year, growing the total population to 5.8 – 6 million by 2020 and 6.5 – 6.9 million by 2030 (see infographics).

So what happened to the 2,500 pieces of feedback the NPTD received over the last year? You mean participants/contributors were all for opening the floodgates wider?

This is what the NPTD website says about the feedback pertaining to the immigration issue:

“Many contributors said that it was important to prevent our citizen population from declining, to maintain our Singaporean core and identity, and sustain the Singaporean workforce. However, many preferred to do this by increasing our birth rates, rather than through immigration.

Some called for the Government to reduce the inflow of immigrants. They expressed the view that the rapid pace of immigration had adversely affected our social harmony, diluted the Singapore identity and increased the cost of living. A number questioned the motivations and loyalty of new immigrants to Singapore. Others were concerned that Singapore’s land size and infrastructure could not accommodate further population growth. However, others acknowledged that immigrants added to the vibrancy of our society.” (emphasis mine)

In case you haven’t read my previous post, this is a summary of the key suggestions as posted on NTPD’s website:

1. Set tighter controls on the inflow of new immigrants

2. Set more stringent criteria to ensure quality and commitment of immigrants

3. Greater differentiation in benefits for Singaporeans, commensurate with National Service obligations

4. Provide more information on our immigration framework and criteria

These are fairly predictable suggestions any Singaporean would give. Simply speaking, what most Singaporeans want is to curb the influx.

The White Paper claimed that this has been done: “We have tightened up significantly on the number of PRs granted each year. We have come down from a high of 79,000 new PRs in 2008 to about 30,000 each year currently. We plan to maintain the current pace.” (p.27, 2.29)

Yes, you didn’t misread the figure. A staggering 79,000 new PRs were granted in just one year in 2008!

Choosing the highest point and saying that the influx has been reduced from there is trying to pull wool over our eyes. I am sure feedback contributors did not mean this when they asked for tighter controls on the immigration inflow. Were they consulted about the annual intake of 30,000 PRs or the 6.9 million population target?

Another thing: how are the immigration targets in this White Paper different from last April’s Occasional Paper, presumably written before the National Conversation was underway? Readers can compare the two papers yourself (see p. 7 of the Occasional Paper).

And I was right. The slew of goodies announced during the campaign period in the Punggol East by-election are meant NOT to ease the current problems but to prepare Singapore for a faster growing population through immigration. Am I glad the smart Punggol East voters were not enticed by the government’s “carrots” which are not carrots at all!

Underplaying the Most Contentious Policy

Considering that the government’s liberal immigration policy is the cause of Singaporeans’ disgruntlement and our top concern, you would think that the White Paper would address this issue at length. Yet out of 76 pages in the White Paper, only 4 pages (pp. 26-29) are devoted to the controversial immigration policy and the integration of new migrants.

This is grossly inadequate because the White Paper rests on a fundamental premise: growing our economy through growing our population. Since raising our Total Fertility Rate of 1.2 takes time and the results of the pro-natalist policies (the marriage and parenthood package) are uncertain, importing more foreigners is key to increasing our population, without which the premise of the White Paper is untenable.

Singaporeans’ fast and furious responses to the population figures prompted our national mouthpiece, now almost on par with Burma and Iraq according to the 2013 Press Freedom Index, to get the propaganda rolling.

On 30 January, a Straits Times report claims that “Key figure is growth rate, not headcount,” citing “experts” and Members of Parliament who said “the more important figure to focus on was the anticipated lower growth rate.”

NUS sociologist Paulin Straughan proposed, “The Government has to ask citizens, are you comfortable with a more modest growth rate? Because if you are not, to go even higher would require an even bigger population growth.”

How ridiculous. I bet this will be PAP MPs’ ludicrous argument when they try to confuse Singaporeans with their warped logic and defend the White Paper in Parliament on 4 February.

Why not ask Singaporeans if we are comfortable with the bigger population influx? Why not ask if there is an alternative way to grow the economy instead of seeking a quick fix by opening the floodgates? Why not ask if population growth is a Ponzi scheme?

My MP will win my vote if he or she poses these difficult questions and presses for satisfactory answers. Let’s keep our eyes and ears wide open on the forthcoming parliamentary debate on the White Paper.

If time permits, I will discuss other problems with the White Paper in another post.