The Straits Times
Published on Feb 13, 2013

Vital to get numbers right


ACCORDING to the Government, the recently released Population White Paper and Land Use Plan are about the quality of life and not just numbers.

But to achieve quality, we must first get our numbers right.

The Government has got its figures wrong in many areas besides housing and public transportation. Numerous countermeasures have been implemented in recent times, but these have invariably incurred the wrath of the people.

The vehicle population is a classic example. Certificates of entitlement (COEs) had to be clawed back sharply due to over-projections in vehicle de-registrations. COE prices are now at record highs.

In the property sector, multiple cooling measures have ruffled the market. Good intentions aside, their frequency and complexity have disrupted people's housing plans and led to unintended consequences in some cases.

And for years, strict student quotas were placed on the medicine and law faculties in universities, resulting in an under-supply of these graduates. To compensate, many foreign doctors and lawyers have been hired. This goes against the principle of hiring foreigners to take on jobs that Singaporeans cannot or will not do.

The Government should be commended for identifying faults and reversing policy decisions. Unfortunately, these were mostly too little, too late.

Take, for example, Singapore's current population woes. This can be partly attributed to the success of the "Two is Enough" campaign some 40 years ago.

The Government has a reputation for possessing great foresight, but it has somehow become myopic.

Excessive pragmatism and prudence are the chief culprits. In its quest to moderate expenditure and build only what is essential, the Government has allowed for too little buffer.

So we have expressways with three instead of five lanes, HDB flats without lifts on very floor, and Circle Line MRT stations that can accommodate only three carriages. The cost of rectifying these shortfalls will greatly surpass any initial savings.

Grand plans and grand expenditure go hand in hand. Henceforth, I hope that the Government gets its numbers right.

Victor Ng Beng Li