Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on Wednesday applauded Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his team for tabling a white paper now, rather than kicking the can down the road.
Making his first speech as a PAP backbencher since leaving the Cabinet in 2011, Mr Goh said that the "politically expedient alternative" would have been for Mr Lee to leave the issue to his successor, given that the demographic challenge is unfolding "imperceptibly over one or two decades like a slow, sinking ship."
"But that is not the responsible way to govern Singapore. My experience in government has been to be upfront with Singaporeans, face the unpleasant facts and work together to overcome problems and crises," he said.
Mr Goh said that his challenge as Prime Minister during 1990 to 2004 was to "keep Singapore going." During his tenure, the country weathered crises like the Asian Financial Crisis and Sars through the bond and trust between the people and the leadership.
In those periods, the people could "see and sense the immediate danger," and thus the country came instinctively together.
The difficulty for PM Lee and his team now is that they must think long-term and plan ahead, while "it is understandable that many Singaporeans worry more about the present than the future."
Feeling the effects of over-crowding, Singaporeans want these pressures eased now and have reacted with alarm to the White Paper's projections.
But Mr Goh said that Government should always be "upfront with Singaporeans, face the unpleasant facts and work together to overcome problems and crises."
"PM and his team did the right thing by laying out the problems, the trade-offs, and our options in a transparent manner so that all Singaporeans can become more aware of our demographic destiny, debate it and build consensus on the way forward."
He personally did not like the thought of 6.9 million, said Mr Goh, but it is not the number that matters but the White Paper's broad approach, which is to switch down to a lower gear of economic growth and foreign intake and build infrastructure ahead of needs.