The Straits Times
Published on Feb 06, 2013
Inderjit Singh, Population

Delay population growth for 5 years: MP

Focus instead on infrastructure and integration issues, says Inderjit Singh


Veteran PAP MP Inderjit Singh wants the Government to delay population growth for five years.

Political leaders should focus instead on fixing infrastructure bottlenecks and social integration issues caused by the rapid expansion of the past, and earn back the trust of citizens, he said yesterday.

If economic growth is imperative, he suggests slowing the intake of new citizens and permanent residents (PRs), and adopting Dubai's model of a transient workforce.

That means Singapore can continue to expand its economy, but have more flexibility in managing population numbers in the longer term.

The Ang Mo Kio GRC MP, giving a speech that was critical of the Population White Paper and had many in the House listening in rapt attention, felt that many in Singapore were diffident about a new surge in population.

"At this stage, many Singaporeans from all walks of life don't have the confidence that we can handle another steep growth of the population, so let's not push it," he said.

To illustrate, he pointed out that Singapore's resident population has grown by more than a million in the last decade. The total population soaring from 2.4 million in 1980 to 5.3 million today could also be the world's fastest rate of growth, he said.

Mr Singh then turned his gaze on the number of new citizens and PRs to be taken in each year, saying that he had a "big issue" with it.

The White Paper projects that 15,000 to 25,000 new citizenships will be given each year, similar to the average of 18,500 each year in the past five years.

As for PR status, it plans to give it to 30,000 foreigners annually, as it has done in the past three years.

But adding another 500,000 to 800,000 more PRs and citizens in the next 17 years, as proposed, will be "disastrous", said Mr Singh. He believes it will further worsen the current infrastructure and social problems.

Calling for a better balance between economic growth and social cohesion, he said he was willing to adjust his growth expectations for a more comfortable life for all citizens and stronger social cohesion.

Time and energy should also be channelled towards achieving the goal set by former prime minister Goh Chok Tong of a Swiss standard of living for most Singaporeans, he added.

He then used an analogy from one of his parliamentary speeches in 2008, and urged the Government to abandon the "instant tree mentality" in trying to grow the population to counter the declining birth rates.

"Instant trees cannot grow strong roots and can be uprooted in difficult times. I don't think we can live with a 6.9 million population in 2030.

"We may be able to handle it in 2050, no one really knows.

"(But) I'd rather we err on the side of caution when it comes to growing our population. We cannot keep paying a high price for planning misjudgments."