The 6.9 million population figure – behind all that rhetoric, the government says that we need 6.9 million people in Singapore so that Singaporeans can have a better life. Immediately, any sensible person can tell that this doesn’t quite make sense. How does having more people on this tiny island allow us to have a better life? Even the government is tripping themselves over trying to create logic behind what is essentially illogical.
The real reason? The fundamental reason we need 6.9 million people in Singapore – our government has babied the businesses in Singapore so much that businesses in Singapore expect that to grow in Singapore, the ONLY solution that they have is to get more people in. But hold on a minute! Whose Singapore is this? Does Singapore belong to the businesses or does Singapore belong to Singaporeans?
You see, essentially, the government gave itself two choices – should we pander Singapore to the needs of businesses or should we pander to the needs of Singaporeans? If we pander to businesses, we get more money. If we pander to Singaporeans, we get more love, commitment, passion – huh? OK, let’s get the money in. Let’s make Singapore a business haven. And so, the government has decided.
In a statement that the Singapore Business Federation (SPF) released, they had said that, “The population projections in the Population White Paper are already tough for companies. It is unthinkable if Singaporeans choose to further limit immigration and the number of foreign workers. This will damage our competitiveness and Singapore will lose its shine.” According to the Today newspaper, “THe SBF’s chief executive officer Mr Ho Meng Kit said: “There are many sectors in Singapore which are unattractive to locals for example construction companies.”
And the SBF’s solution? More workers. 7 million in 2030. Even Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office S Iswaran asked Mr Gerald Giam from the Worker’s Party (WP) if, “the WP (would) still advocate zero growth in foreign labour if it means construction and other sectors are unable to hire Singaporeans for the job.” In response, “Mr Giam said he believed Singaporeans could be attracted to various sectors “if wages are raised and if there’s proper retraining (for) workers” and that “one area that is a very important way of increasing the labour force participation rate is to raise wages.”
I think Mr Giam hit the jackpot. With a cost of living that’s increasingly priced beyond the reach of a $1,000 salary, or even a $1,200 or $1,300 salary, many Singaporeans would prospect to find a job that can accord them a standard of living that is at least manageable, or decent. This is something that most of our PAP MPs who earn at least $15,000 monthly would not understand or can even empathise with.
The problem with Singapore is this – we’ve allowed businesses to become so embolden that they think that whatever they want, they get away with. No minimum wage policy. No anti-discrimination laws. The government has pandered so much to them that at this tipping point, the businesses are angry and the government is like toothless nannies trying to put the businesses back into their cots, while asking the Singaporean maid and manservant to work harder and do more so that our businesses can be happy in a country where the people has lost their right to their country. It doesn’t help that, by some estimates, the Singapore government owns possibly 60%, or even more of the Singapore economy, which is the very reason why they are pro-business, in the first place.
A responsible government would tell the businesses to hold their horses, to remember their place in Singapore, and to restructure themselves so that they will continue to grow, even with a stabilising population in Singapore. A responsible government will look out for the people’s needs and welfare, first and foremost, before allowing businesses to trample all over them. By 2030 (chart below), Finland expects to grow their population by 3.9%, from 5.2 million to 5.4 million. Denmark expects their population to grow by 5.6% from 5.4 million to 5.7 million. Even Norway expects their population to grow by only 17.4% from 4.6 million to 5.4 million. Singapore? We want to grow by 30.2%, from 5.3 million to 6.9 million. By our government’s logic and by the SBF’s logic, the Nordic countries will all fail and collapse in 2030. But the Nordic countries have acknowledged what the problem is and how they need to resolve it – they need to reform their labour market.
SPF’s Mr Ho had said that, “If businesses go under, jobs will be lost, Singaporeans will be affected. If businesses cannot raise productivity and sustain profits, they cannot afford to pay Singaporeans higher salaries.” Mr Ho got it right there – “if businesses cannot raise productivity”. I don’t get Mr Ho. So, he believes that the more people Singapore gets, the higher our productivity will be? Mathematically, this doesn’t make sense. The more the people, the lower the productivity. If the company wants to become productive, it will restructure itself, employ the same number or lesser number of people, and find ways to become more efficient in their work processes. Then, they will become more productive.
Increasing the number of people is a lazy way of resolving an issue that businesses in Singapore have come to take for granted in Singapore. The reason why businesses want to come to Singapore? Cheap labour. All your problems are solved by hiring cheap labour. No need to think about new ways of doing things. In the long term? Lower productivity. Because there’s no innovation, no need to think differently, or work differently. More people = lower productivity. The chronic problem of Singapore’s low productivity? An unwillingness to think of new methods but relying on labour, and increasingly relatively cheaper labour to solve all problems.
But what the government doesn’t seemed to have linked is this – businesses are only in any one city for short term interests. There are many cities in this world but there is only one Singapore. Once Singapore becomes irrelevant, businesses can always set up shop in another city. But once Singapore closes shop, Singaporeans have no where else to go but Singapore. Do you want to put businesses first? Or do you want to put Singaporeans first? Who will stay in your country for the long haul? If there isn’t a core citizenry population, who will be your permanent workforce that you need your economy to be rooted in?
Already, at this point, we seem to have come to a breaking point for Singapore’s future. If we do not increase the number of workers in Singapore, businesses are threatening to leave. So, what should we do? 7 million workers in Singapore in 2030. 8 million in 2040? 9 million in 2050? and 10 million in 2060? Is that what businesses want? More and more people, regardless of how the people living here will actually feel? Looks like it. Why, because they think that Singapore is just a city. People come, people go. Who stays here? Well, by 2060, the 20% or so Singaporeans who are still around.
Like Mr Gerald Giam had said at parliament yesterday, “Global cities attract many young migrants from their hinterlands and around the world. Even though their fertility rates are low, their populations continue to increase through immigration. But it is expensive to live in a global city. Many cannot afford to live in such expensive places upon retirement, so they move to other parts of their country with lower costs of living. Will our retirees have such options when they are too old to work, since Singapore does not have any hinterland to speak of?”
Again, Mr Giam has hit the jackpot. How do you want to value your people? How do you want to make Singapore a home, and not just a company? If you look at the countries which have more than 50% of foreigners in their population, you will see that most of them are in the Middle East – Qatar (25%), the United Arab Emirates (30%) and Kuwait (40%). Now, if you truly value your citizens as the core of the country, then you take care of them first before you take care of the businesses. Again, who will be in the country for the long haul? In all these three countries, their measures are almost all the same – free housing, free education, almost free or cheap healthcare and an almost guarantee to a high income in your own country. Indeed, Sheikh Mohammed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, had stated that, “We have a firm belief that a leading position for our emirate and nation can only be achieved in association with an appropriate addressing of national issues and aspirations as a basic theme of our development plans. In this regard, our wise leadership will make every effort to provide integrated development and welfare for our future generations in the educational, medical and social fields that reflect favorably on our country’s development.”
Am I saying that we should provide everything for free in Singapore? Perhaps not. Granted that these Middle Eastern countries have their own human rights transgressions, but what they have in common is a focus on the social welfare, at least in terms of very generous financing of their people. You see, if you want to make money off your country, you make sure your people enjoy the wealth with you, so that they will learn to stay in this country with you for the long haul. This is all the more important when they become less than 50% of the population. According to Ms Sylvia Lim, Chairman of WP, by their estimates, in 2030, there will be less than 50% who will be born in Singapore. What is there for them to want to stay in Singapore if they continue to be treated like workers in an economy where their rights and social welfare rights aren’t observed? What is there for them to want to stay when there are other countries which will treat them better?
Which is why it concerns me when at the parliamentary debate, how the discussion on promoting parenthood is panning out. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Grace Fu, had “stressed that “encouraging marriage and parenthood is fundamental to ensuring a strong Singaporean core, and this is central to our population policies”.” But what is the Singaporean core? According to Ms Fu, “a strong Singaporean core is one where Singaporeans have a sense of well-being and belonging in a place where we can all call ‘home’ … Well-being comes both from the tangibles — having fulfilling jobs and a good quality living environment — as well as the intangibles — strong supportive families, values that connect us and a collective hope for a brighter future.” It’s very easy to pay lip-service to these ideals but in which of her definitions of well-being does Ms Fu expects Singaporeans to feel as she does? The very definitions of “well-being” that she has fashioned is precisely what Singaporeans are saying they are not currently and would not be able to enjoy by 2030 – “a good quality environment and values that connect us and a collective hope for a brighter future.” I am not sure if Ms Fu actually understands the concerns of Singaporeans or if she has become so detached that she can no longer connect with the rest of us, the real Singaporean core.
I reiterate, as I have in many of my articles, that if the government is truly sincere about increasing the fertility rate in Singapore, it needs to reduce work hours, ensure work-life balance truly, allow Singaporeans to feel that they have an ownership in their own lives and in the country, by allowing for them to express themselves and offer solutions to the country, and by feeling that they are not just workers in the Singapore factory, but people in their own home. Indeed, Ms Lim has also mentioned in her speech in parliament that, “The Korean government then set explicit hard targets to remove institutional obstacles to boosting TFR. These targets centred on providing institutional support for family life and promoting gender equity within the family. The government tracked hard statistics such as reducing parents’ share of childrearing costs, increasing GDP share of family-related spending, promoting arrangements for mothers to continue working, and even encouraging fathers to share housework.” She had also said that, “The commitment and approach of the Korean government is worth study.” In fact, Mr Faisal of WP had also suggested that, “The Government should commit to reducing the number of working hours to 40 hours a week.”
Is it all that hard to imagine that in order to build a Singaporean core who will be committed to the country, that you put their interests first, value and respect them, so that with that, they will have a stake in the long term future of Singapore, and put their hearts and soul into making Singapore work not only for them, but for the sake of one another and for their children?
Look, our government has gotten it wrong. You do not put the interests of businesses first because their long-term interests isn’t tied to any city. Their interests are tied to wherever can give them the highest profits. You do not let businesses dictate the decisions you make as a government because the businesses care only for monetary growth and they do not care about the people’s needs. You do not create only policies for business viability and none for the rights of the people because if the people feel marginalised, they will lose their motivations to work and contribute. They will not be productive. They will not stay. You do not put the people in second or third place, make them work like horses, and expect them to feel loved by Singapore, to love Singapore, to feel that they have a stake in Singapore, and feel that they are so committed to Singapore that they are willing to produce more babies for the country. You simply do not. Is it so hard to understand? This is logical, practical human psychology. This is common sense. If you are human, your basic human needs and wants will tell you this.
But unfortunately, our government is so blinded by their own power and their own rule, that the principles that they have so attached themselves to – in making money, and more money – have created this bubble that they’ve learnt to live with, that they aren’t able to see the reality of what the other real Singaporeans are feeling. They’ve grown up in a fanciful world they’ve created for their own, where life is all smooth-sailing, where their believe that their policies are unfailing and require only tweaks, that they do not realise how disfranchised the large part of Singaporeans are feeling from the effects of their policies. A government which claims to have foresight, but foresight of only 30% or 35% of the devoted PAP supporters who have voted ardently for them, and the other Singaporeans who feel isolated and cheated by policies which set them back in their own country.
We can debate, but where will this debate go, if PAP continues to live in their own padded world, unaware of how the people are feeling and the moods are swinging. How can PAP continue to ask the people to trust them when the very trust that the people are nested in is no longer built in the same nest that PAP has laid all its eggs in? And that’s why the people have started to put their eggs in another basket, or baskets.
Many have said that PAP needs to change its mindset, but some have given up that PAP can. For the sake of Singapore’s future, it should be hoped for that PAP learns and moulds itself with new ideologies. But when power has ruled the head, and the ego has filled the soul, one wonders if a attachment to the riches of power can allow anyone to find a sane way out of the muddles they’ve created.