Friday, February 1, 2013

6.9 million in Singapore - how to fit?

These days, I can’t go through my Facebook newsfeed without being assailed by chatter about the recently released Population White Paper. For the most part, sentiment has been “6.9 million?!?!? @#$*^%”… or something to that effect. I think to myself that “6.9 million sure does sounds like a lot of people” but I believe in getting your facts right and hearing both sides of the story before jumping on the “anti-population growth” bandwagon – which actually seems to be an anti-government one rather than looking at the issue on hand. But that’s another story for another day.

First of all, everyone needs to take a chill pill. The Population White Paper is in no way something that is set in stone but rather – in their own words – a roadmap “that puts us on possible population trajectories”. Unless you can point out to me where in the Marriam-Webster dictionary (pretty much the authority in the English language) does the word “possible” equate to “definite” or “certain”. In addition, the paper is making projections rather far into the future. Honestly, the world may not even be around in 2030 #justsaying so all the heated debates we have now may still not be able to accurately pinpoint if the Population White Paper’s recommendations will be beneficial or “not as beneficial” as previously thought. Why waste time and effort poking holes at just one of the myriad alternate possibilities . As long as the Population Paper is re-evaluated and calibrated every few years with the input from Singaporeans, I am willing to give it a chance and when the time comes to evaluate its effectiveness, I would not hold my tongue.

That said, I read a disturbing and misleading article put up by the SDP and I wanted to point out some mis-conceptions that they proliferated. Below is their article which I have dissected and you can decide for yourself.

1) “The Government cites three pillars on which its policy rests: (1) maintain a strong Singaporean core, (2) create good jobs for Singaporeans, and (3) provide Singaporeans a higher quality of life. 
These pillars were used to defend its policy of increasing the population to the current level of 5.3 million. The results have been unsuccessful.

A strong Singaporean core

According to the World Bank, in 2010 the emigrant population in Singapore was 6.1 percent of the total population of about 5 million people which is about 10 percent of native-born Singaporeans. Skilled tertiary-educated Singaporeans were leaving at a rate of 15.2 percent. The figure was higher for medical doctors at 15.5 percent.

A survey conducted by Mindshare in 2012 found that 56 percent of the 2,000 Singaporeans polled agreed or strongly agreed that, "given a choice, I would like to migrate". Between 2000 and 2010, an average of 1,000 Singaporeans renounced their citizenship every year.

The PAP's population policy has not succeeded in maintaining a strong Singaporean core with the current population mix of 38 percent foreigners in our population. Achieving this objective by increasing the population to 7 million with nearly 50 percent made up of foreigners is unlikely to be successful.”
In all the articles I have read about the Mindshare survey, none have made a mention of the sample demographics or the methodology used. This makes it a figure that isn't quite so credible.  When compared with the percentage that actually emigrate, this figure seems many times over-inflated so I’m not sure whether it’s that accurate a statistic to use to substantiate. In my own life, they have been many times that I thought of emigrating to another country just because and if we are honest about it, many of us admit to a "grass is greener on the other side" mentality when we face hardships.

Ultimately, the issue on hand is not our emigration rate but rather changing mindsets that support a good work-life balance and starting a family. Many friends whom I have spoken to think starting a family and having “a life” is important and are gradually taking steps towards that direction – choosing to leave work to spend time with the family, taking a lower paying job that affords them time to better interact with their children etc. I believe that this is the only way we can have a sustainable and strong Singaporean core, and not to have to rely on foreign immigrants.   

2) "Creating good jobs

The second reason of creating good jobs is not convincing. According to a survey conducted by the International Labor Organization (ILO), Singaporeans work the longest hours among 12 countries surveyed. The same study reported that at the same time our real incomes have declined.

Singaporean workers are one of the unhappiest in the world. In a survey of 14 economies, Singaporean workers were found to enjoy going to work the least, are the least loyal to their employers and have the least supportive workplaces. Only 19 percent of those polled look forward to their work each day; the global average is 30 percent."

Again, working long hours does not necessarily mean a job is "bad". Granted, Singapore is a country where there can be a significant amount of stress due to a culture of excellence has been so ingrained in us. But it is a mindset that we ourselves must want to change. A survey released by AsiaOne yesterday showed that a significant 60% of those surveyed chose career progression before work-life balance and you know what they say - as you make your bed, so you must lie it in.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel - with more emphasis being placed on work-life balance, a gradual shift in mindsets and cultural norms would be able to ensure we have more fulfilled and happier employees. With a 4.4% jump in job vacancies in the last quarter of 2012 and a whopping 129,600 new positions created in 2012 alone, it's clearly an employees market and the onus is on each and every worker to grab better opportunities. I earnestly hope that employers in Singapore will also recognise that more satisfied and happier workers will also bump up productivity and  decrease the time and money wasted with a high employee turnover. This would only spell a win-win situation for all.

3) "Higher quality of life

The Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) of Singaporeans workers is one of the weakest. A UBS survey showed that Singaporeans’ PPP was 39.9 compared to Zurich (106.9), Sydney (95.9), Luxembourg (95.4), Tokyo (82.2), Auckland (68.9), Taipei (58.9), Hong Kong (58.1) and Seoul (57.4).

According to a worldwide Gallup poll, Singaporeans were found to be the unhappiest people. We were even unhappier than Iraqis, Afghans and Haitians. In the Happy Planet Index, we polled a dismal 90th out of 151 countries surveyed.

There are no justifiable reasons for the PAP to raise the population by such a large number in such a short span of time. The population explosion will cause further economic, social and psychological stress for the people, as well as add to national security implications.

For the sake of a safe and secure Singapore, the Government must rethink its population policy. There are alternative measures which can achieve prosperity and happiness without resorting to such an unsustainable programme. The SDP will offer these alternatives in a population and immigration paper which will be released in the near future."
 
I want to point out that this might have been completely mis-read. In the Population White Paper, the third portion relates to a "higher quality living environment" and delineates how it would be done by investing in infrastructure, quality urban spaces and innovative technologies for optimising space. In addition, they have plotted the land use plan to support this growth by mapping out 700,000 new homes to be built by 2030, further development for outlying areas, reclaiming more land and buffing up the public transport system such that 80% of homes will be within 10-mins walk to the MRT. I personally have some reservations about how this is going to squeeze into what I deem a still-very-tiny island and I cannot imagine Orchard Road more crowded than it currently is. So while I remain unconvinced about this, I will bide my time and see how things pan out.

Ultimately, I understand that we need a foreign influx to keep the economy growing and support our ageing population yet at the same time, I am not looking forward to bearing the brunt of having a decreased personal space and overcrowding. Because Singapore’s population woes are so complex, I foresee that the population policies would require multiple stages of refinements with input from a vast majority before achieving their intended effect without alienating and causing undue unhappiness to those who call this island home.

 And while we figure that out together as Singaporeans, I urge everyone not to get caught up in the moment but to see how best you can contribute constructively to a discussion. And if all else fails, a least start by doing your national duty - and yes, by that I meant make babies!