Commentary

Reframe the Great Population Conversation

TODAY file photo
The council reviewing public transport fares has been directed to look more deeply into the issue of affordability, especially for low-income earners, the disabled and polytechnic students. TODAY file photo
The council reviewing public transport fares has been directed to look more deeply into the issue of affordability, especially for low-income earners, the disabled and polytechnic students. TODAY file photo
Published: 4:00 AM, February 21, 2013
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Controversy followed the Government’s White Paper on Population, from its introduction to the last day of Parliamentary debate, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed Parliament. Even after the clear Parliamentary majority in favour, that public debate continues, a fact Mr Lee welcomed. But from which departure point should the Great Population Conversation continue?

Last Saturday, an event was organised at the Speakers’ Corner to protest the 6.9 million population projection figure, which has become a lightning rod for many. The numbers who turned up sent a message of opposition and ire.

There are, however, other points from which to continue the discussion. Some of these will allow future policies to be more closely considered.

NOT SET IN STONE

One starting point is to note the clarifications subsequently made to the 80-page White Paper. The speech by Mr Lee in Parliament gave a considerably different emphasis, stressing the aim to strike a balance rather than to maximise capacity. The Government also gave the assurance that 6.9 million is not set in stone and that future governments would look at the situation afresh.

Additionally, the Parliamentary motion was amended by a backbencher to re-emphasise issues of concern for many. These included encouraging Singaporeans to have children, the Government resolving infrastructure crunches and taking steps to ensure Singaporeans benefit from growth.

These reflect the Government’s concessions in part to public concerns. We can anticipate further adjustments to both the content and the manner in which the main issues are discussed. The upcoming Budget Debate and the ongoing National Conversation will no doubt pick up threads and key points.

Three aspects would bear particular attention and merit prompt action.

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