If the PAP is dying a death from a thousand cuts, the White Paper on Population is going to be an axe-blow. It is no wonder the Government held back on its publication before the by-election, not that it helped much anyway. Again, the problem with the White Paper is not in its content, but how it is being communicated across. When people shoot the messenger, it is often not because of the message itself, but because the messenger puts it across badly.
In the era of social media, nobody shares 41 page white papers full of technical jargon and pie-charts. They share sound-bites. Nobody posts status updates on Facebook with logical step-by-step explanations but instead, one –liners that shout at you and get shared virally. And THE sound-bite, the one liner that is going to get shared and get the PAP lambasted is this one:
Population to grow to 7 million.
Or maybe another one: More than half of residents in Singapore in 2030 to be Foreigners.
Nobody will remember anything else from the White Paper and very few would have taken the time to read it. Instead, social media is going to virally spread this message from one person to another, stirring up emotions until anger boils over and the PAP takes another step towards political oblivion.
People do not understand what it means if the number of Singapore citizens are shrinking. They can only think of the big squeeze that will come from more human bodies on out transport network. People cannot understand how they could possibly live in a ‘thriving’ Singapore, have ‘exciting opportunities’ when THAT headline number of 7 million has them imagining themselves squeezed like rats into a small cage.
The PAP also posted on its website that the three main principles to remember are “to maintain a strong Singaporean core, create good jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans, and have a high quality living environment.” Juxtapose this to a picture of 7 million people in the minds of people and see if it resonates. See if it convinces.
Judging from the reception one sees on social media in the hours since The White Paper has been released, it does not. And it will get worse.
It is quite difficult to fathom how one can look at the report and decide that the way for people to emotionally connect and buy into the policies is to focus on the vague motherhood statement “to maintain a strong Singaporean core, create good jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans, and have a high quality living environment.
Because this is certainly not the message.
Not to me.
The message that comes across very strongly to me is a different one. If we don’t bring in more foreigners, by 2030 we will have very few young Singaporeans looking after many old Singaporeans. In fact, the dependency ratio is going to drop from 6 working adults to 1 old person (over 65) to 2 working adults to 1.
This is a scary thought.
The message that comes across to me is that the increase in adults who can work is also going to slow down to a trickle – 0.1%. A very small trickle. If we don’t bring in more foreign workers, coupled with our many old people and not enough young ones in 2030, we are going to have 70 year old uncles climbing scaffolding to build our HDB flats.
The message that comes across to me is that even if we all start having babies now, it is too late, because it takes time for babies to grow, and our parents will have all grown old by then. Our population will not only have shrunk, but we will be like Japan where you see more grey-haired people than black-haired ones.
If we don’t convince more foreigners to come in, by 2030 either young people have to pay more taxes, work even harder or we have to raid our reserves.
We need these foreigners not because we are nice people who want to make our home a vibrant place, but because without taking them in, Singapore will literally die of old age.
Out of the 7 million in 2030, it is true that only half are Singaporeans, but out of that half there will be very many old people, OUR old people, OUR parents, and maybe even some of US that the other half, the new citizens and the foreigners are supporting.
And so if I were to give a one-liner, a sound-bite here it is:
Foreigners and new citizens to support and pay for old Singaporeans by 2030.
And ain’t that a nice thing.
Even though we are going to have all those New Citizens and Foreigners slaving away to support our old folks by 2030, there are a few critical things that the Government need to do,
1) There needs to be a substantial increase of housing and public transport capacity to support this increase in population. The new citizens and foreigners are here to support our old people, not to push them out of MRT trains and HDB flats.
2) The intermediate step, the Permanent Residents , needs to be monitored closely. For those who are not deemed suitable for converting to New Citizens please revoke their PRs. For those who are deemed suitable but refuse to convert to New Citizens after a certain time span (because they want the best of both worlds, to keep their home nationality and live in Singapore at the same time), please kick them out also. Basically, if you are not here to support our old people, please leave.
3) The government must be more stringent with its immigration criteria. No more New Citizens and PRs working as coffee shop assistants, masseuses etc. If they are here to support our old people, they need to generate enough economic value to not only feed themselves, but also a healthy surplus. So QUALITY immigrants please. Civil servants - please please don't obsess over the 7 million number. It is NOT your KPI.