Thursday, 11 October 2012

First Hand Acccount : Population Dialogue Session with Ministers

I was there at the dialogue session, it was so well orchestrated that it felt like a multi-level marketing "sales" event. It started with DPM Teo giving the presentation on fertility rates, immigration numbers etc and reinforced that immigration is needed to fill in the missing babies since 1980s. Charts, numbers and graphs were all used to appeal to the head to assure that infrastructure was being upgraded, immigration was calibrated etc. There was also an innovative use of an instant survey to ask a couple of questions.

Kicking off the questions was Dr Amy Khor with whether the two child policy was so successful to cause the problems today. It was textbook answer of that the policy was needed at that time etc etc and they changed it in 1987. Then came the questions fast and furious. Out of the 35 questions I estimated, about one or two thanked the government, the majority about twenty questions were harsh and upset with the government, the rest were relatively neutral. The quality of some of the questions were quite weak, either unprepared or too narrow in focus. But some were thought provoking and related, e.g. Would Singapore return to Malaysia in the future if we did not have enough Singaporeans ? Why are PRs allowed unlimited time to decide if they want to be Singaporeans or not? Why still have landed properties if there is so constrained land in Singapore? Make it non existent for everyone. Why are we still selling our property to foreigners and the highest bidders when there is such a crunch ? Now the urban planning says 6 million in Singapore, but similarly in the past, Singapore was designed for 4 million, now we have 5.3 million. Who will know if the government screw up again and increase it to 8 million ? Would the government be ready to accept non traditional families like lesbians and single moms ?

The mood was definitely not kind to the Ministers. Whenever someone said something supporting Singaporeans, the audience would clap and cheer. One young Singaporean even addressed Dr Amy Khor's clarification that he was okay with 10 million in Singapore, he quipped,"I am okay with 10 million in Singapore with the appropriate infrastructure, ten million SINGAPORE citizens!" to loud applause. Another guy at the end of his question even said," I will be more comfortable with a Singaporean lesbian and her kid, then a foreigner!" The final blow was from a small business owner that even chided the Ministers Grace Fu and Tan Jin Chuan calling them managers rather than leaders and not having conviction to set a path forward or vision (Grace Fu on non traditional families) and unsure what economic growth is for Singapore (Tan Jin Chuan, which led him to return with a lengthly merry ground defense of himself)
So much so that DPM Teo had to admit that we are so used to scoring 99 percent that when we score 75 percent we get upset.

To be fair, I have to give credit to the Ministers and organizers for staying an extra hour till 10.30pm to try to address all the questions. I think some of the audience members should reflect how they wasted their opportunity to ask in-depth questions. Only two suggestions were picked up, one possible re-zone of the land use to increase land for housing and a special needs person as an NMP in the future.

From my perspective, the most disturbing was the wrap up by DPM Teo, he asked three questions, where Singapore wants to be in the future? What is the definition of a Singaporean ? And how these two questions affect the population in Singapore. For the first question, he painted an appealing vision that now 50 percent of the world's population lives in urban cities, and the future even more will live in cities, and that Singapore wants to be one of the key global cities in the world - vibrant and dynamic and cosmopolitan. The answer to the second questions is that the Singapore identity is always in flux and we are a migrant society. Everyone of us have some relative or parent or grandparents that were immigrants to Singapore. And the third question, was the text book answer that we needed a core of Singaporeans with the values and mores for society but we need to continue to supplement with young dynamic immigrants who provide the economic drive and the foreigners will return home and not be a burden to our society. All of these questions and their answers are logical and true, but it begs the question....

IS THE SURVIVAL OF SINGAPORE OR THE SURVIVAL OF SINGAPOREANS ? The key focus for our existing government ?

I pondered on this question as I took the Somerset MRT train north bound to the suburbs at 10.50pm after the dialogue session and found the train packed including a group of merry Americans, a loving Filipino couple and a Malaysian watching Ipoh parody of Gangnam style.

Then I realized the message I got from the dialogue session and the path our current leaders are taking us down, and the sad reality being, "Singaporeans are essentially migrants helping the survival of Singapore for the next batch of migrants."

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