The Straits Times
Published on Feb 06, 2013

Take long-term view in debate


AFTER reading yesterday's reports on the first day of debate on the Population White Paper in Parliament, I noted that some MPs chose to raise the same old issues.

What is new about the declining citizenship ratio or dilution of identity? We want to hear more fresh ideas to solve or mitigate these problems.

In the debate, the policy paper was wrongly and unfairly construed as a means to boost the economy at the expense of citizenship ratio.

This will distort the intent of the White Paper, and if this distortion is not rebutted, it could later affect Singaporeans' acceptance of its various proposed measures.

We should view low fertility, an ageing population, depletion of the local workforce and our increasing reliance on foreign labour as our nation's problems.

Regardless of political affiliations, parliamentarians should show more empathy; we have had enough of finger-pointing.

The White Paper does not just aim to solve problems for the next 20 years; it was drafted with our nation's long-term future in mind. It is better that this generation shoulder more of the inconveniences now than pass an irreversibly doomed demographic landscape to future Singaporeans.

We must always bear this in mind when discussing the White Paper.

Also, let us not allow the 6.9 million population projection to divert our focus, as it is just a planning parameter. Our focus should be on the proposed measures and programmes - the real substance of the White Paper.

Already, nine foreign commerce chambers here have protested against tighter government curbs on foreign labour, and warned that our reputation as an open economy could be hurt ("9 foreign chambers oppose labour curbs"; yesterday).

The world is watching how we debate these complex and controversial issues, not just the content of the White Paper or what the Government would do.

We must show that we, as a people, understand the depth of our long-term demographic problems, and are far-sighted, creative and united in tackling them.

I hope that the quality of debate improves as we go along, and that we can establish more common ground, amid the different views, after the debate. This is the ultimate purpose of the debate and our democratic system.

Ng Ya Ken