Sometimes the PAP does things that demonstrate how politically tone-deaf it is. It’s population white paper is one such example.
But first things first. If all you know about the latest population white paper came solely from what you’ve read in the newspapers or in online media, then you should immediately drop everything and read the ACTUAL white paper itself. Or at least read the executive summary of the paper. Newspapers and online media are designed to have eye-catching headlines so they will always state the most alarmist sound-bite to get the reader’s attention. (and yes, that includes this post)
Hopefully by now, you would read the paper yourself and achieved a more objective view than simply reading off an anti-PAP website. If you did, you will notice that the paper actually starts off sounding pretty reassuring. It talks about a strong Singaporean core, why there’s a need to create a home with good jobs to meet rising aspirations and why measures are needed to improve the local birth rate.
The paper also tries to paint a scary picture to show how a Singapore with zero immigration will gradually get older and increase the burden on the working population:
Where the paper fails to reassure readers is when it begins talking about immigration. Which is really stupid when everyone knows that immigration is a “hot potato” item. The paper talks about reasons why foreign labor is needed, such as to replace Singaporeans in lower-end or social services work, kick-start sectors that locals have little expertise in etc. But alarm bells start to ring when it talks about how population growth will still be at 1.3% (albeit down from a high of 2.5%) and how locals will end up being barely more than half of the population by 2030.
At its core, the paper has failed to sufficiently address alarm bells by leaving too many questions and trade-offs unanswered. This has led many readers to lean towards the worst case assumption that the PAP is out to replace “true-blue Singaporeans” with “loyalist new citizens”. That their jobs are being stolen by foreigners.
The paper should have covered the following issues to paint a more reassuring picture:
- What are the specific trade-offs that would happen with zero population? The paper tries to tells us that Singaporeans will be in a world of hurt with zero population. But it doesn’t tell us what this “hurt” means in dollar and cents. If for example, the paper said that each working adult would have to pay a few thousand dollars more in taxes per year to support the elderly in future, that will help readers decide if the trade-off between zero immigration and some immigration makes sense.
- Give a breakdown of the type and number of jobs that the foreigners/PRs are expected to take up. Most foreigners are working in the low skilled or social service sectors that locals do not want to work in because we are going for the higher-skilled jobs. But it is insufficient to say that you will need 2.3 million foreigners in 2030. The paper should give a ballpark breakdown of how many maids, construction workers and service staff (at restaurants/shopping centres) will be needed in future. These low-skilled jobs should number in the millions, and the message to locals is that these foreigners are necessary to help you get the conveniences and services that you want.
- When PMET foreigners are imported to work with dwindling Singaporean numbers, how do we know for sure that locals’ jobs are not being stolen? The message should be that “there are enough jobs for everyone”. Where are the numbers to prove this?
- Why is there a need to have 1.3% population growth? Why not zero, since you acknowledge that we have infrastructure constraints? The answer is probably an amalgamation in the earlier 3 questions. If readers can see that the government is forced to make a trade-off between higher taxes (which are quantified) versus immigration, it is easier to be sympathetic to the white paper’s message.
In this day and age of instant soundbites, the PAP government should double-check all its public communications. The white paper, as it stands, is vulnerable to all sorts of misinterpretation because it lacks the details that are needed to reassure voters that the PAP has its best interests at heart. For a better idea of how the PAP’s soundbite could have been more reassuring, try reading this blog instead.