Sunday, 13 July 2008

Food For Thought On What Could Become Of Singapore

Our forefathers who migrated to Malaya and Singapore in the late 1800s and early 1900s fended for themselves.  They built their own businesses and social organizations; they established schools.

.............Most stayed in their adopted country. ...........Today, migration is economics driven.  The best and the brightest move around the world searching for higher paying jobs.  We risk having them use us as a stepping stone.  Foreign fathers may advise their sons born in Singapore to leave when they reach the national service age of 18.

Singapore will be left with the second tier of average people.  Educationally, they would hardly measure up to the Singapore average.  When they are given citizenship and the right to vote, they will use their new-found electoral power to demand equal access to social services as other Singaporeans.  The difference is existing citizens would have paid for those social services over a lifetime of tax payments; the new citizens would not.

The population planners need to remember that international economic competitiveness is now knowledge-based.  It is no longer a numbers game.  Why the haste in adding to the population?  Do we have the absorptive capacity to accommodate a million new people within a decade?

I believe we should make haste slowly.  We should avoid repeating the 1960s mistake of "stopping at two" - but this time in reverse.

The above is an excerpt from a "fireside chat" delivered by former senior civil servant, Ngiam Tong Dow to the Singapore chapter of the World Presidents' Organization; and published by The Straits Times, titled "Lest we become strangers in our own land" on Sept 24, 2009.

There are now a total of 4.84 million people living in Singapore.

Of these, 35 per cent are foreign-born: new citizens, permanent residents(PRs), and non-residents. In the first six months of this year(2008), Singapore granted citizenship to 9,619 foreigners. The total number of new citizens since 2001 is 81,553. There are 478,200 PRs here.

Figures from the National Population Secretariat (NPS) indicate they tend to be better-educated than born-and-bred Singaporeans. Take those granted PR and citizenship this year, for example: 77 per cent of the new PRs and 62 per cent of the new citizens aged 20 and above have post-secondary education. The corresponding figure for existing Singapore citizens is 36 per cent. The NPS says most are from South-east, South and East Asia.

Public data shows that the number of new immigrants from South Asia is so significant that it has caused a shift in the ethnic make-up of the population.

Ethnic Indians now comprise 8.9 per cent of the resident population, which is made up of both citizens and PRs, up from 7.1 per cent in 1990. The bulk of foreigners here are non-residents. Their numbers have risen to 1.2 million - an all-time high.

Within this pool, there are two groups.

  • The first is here on a transient basis. This group is made up of work permit holders here to work as construction workers and maids. As of December last year, there were 757,000 work permit holders.

  • The second group of people are regarded as potential PRs and new citizens. There are 143,000 such foreigners here on employment passes and another 85,000 foreign students. NPS stresses that the criteria for securing a Singapore passport are "no less stringent" than before.

But, Rikvin Consultancy which helps facilitate immigration here, observes that the time it takes to obtain permanent residency has fallen. In the past, employment pass holders would apply for permanent residency only after working here for two years.

"Now, they can apply after just six months - and about 60 to 70 per cent will get it."

If Singapore stopped accepting immigrants right now, deaths among citizens and PRs would overtake births in 12 years, says veteran demographer Saw Swee Hock.

Prof Saw stated emphatically: "We need foreigners, forever and ever." Singapore Management University economist Hoon Hian Teck said that with the growing prominence of the services sector, the shortfall in skilled labour has become more acute.

"In addition, the economy has undergone an important shift from being a technology follower to one that also creates new technologies." That means placing a high value on skilled researchers, both local and foreign.

In an interview last year, National Population Committee chairman Wong Kan Seng calculated that for the economy to grow at 6 per cent annually, Singapore needs an extra 87,300 workers each year.

Some experts said that one way to keep the economy growing is to increase labour productivity.......... Government leaders have sought to remind Singaporeans that Singapore has always been an immigrant society.

Prof Saw, however, draws a distinction between the first-generation immigrants and today's. "When our grandparents came here, they were pushed by poverty. Though some went back, many stayed on to make a living, and their children were brought up as locals," he said. "Today, we don't know how many of those who come in will continue to stay," he said, noting that many are highly mobile. A crucial factor is how these immigrants raise their children.

With PRs making up an increasing share of the population, the government will need to relook various policies, he said. For instance, PRs now do not need to send their children to local schools. But encouraging them to do so will help the integration process. "But if a high proportion of those who settle down here go to the international schools, they don't grow up as true citizens. "Then, will the second generation stay?"

Yet, there must be a balance between measures to aid integration and the need to ensure Singapore's rules are not so onerous as to turn off would-be PRs.

The resident population - citizens and PRs - now stands at 3.64 million. That is projected to go up to 4.8 million by 2030. "For Singaporeans to remain as the core, we must have more babies and encourage more suitable immigrants to become Singapore citizens" - NPS.

ST Political correspondent Li Xueying on "Foreign Bodies", ST October 4, 2008

".........we need a liberal and accepting society. We need people to feel at ease here, to be willing to settle down here and bring their families. To do that, we must provide a liberal, peaceful, law-abiding and systematically organised nation."

"In 10 years, we hope to see a different Singapore. We hope it will be a Singapore possessed of greater culture, with a transformed economy and a new generation of political leaders who understand the wants, needs and habits of a new generation of voters."

Running the 'endless marathon' by PM Lee Hsien Loong, ST September 4, 2008

" In a Straits Times survey of 413 Singaporeans aged 21 to 34 in March 2006, six in ten said they would not be disappointed if they didn't get to vote in the May election that year if there were walkovers in their constituencies.

More than half of those polled did not know who their Member of Parliament was, while only two in 10 could name the three political parties in Parliament.

If we are that apathetic, can we claim to be patriotic ? Surely not.
What has given rise to this situation ?

One reason is the good life that many Singaporeans today - especially the younger generation - have enjoyed, thanks to an efficient Government that has taken good care of almost every aspect of their lives.

Many have become content with building up careers and families, leaving matters of governance and politics to players in the political arena. Such mindsets may seem harmless in peaceful times, but what happens if bad times hit Singapore ? "

Kor Kian Beng on "Patriotism wilts in apathy's harch glare", ST August 8, 2008

"Every year, 1,000 Singaporeans are
withdrawing their citizenship.

This poses economic, social and
political costs for Singapore."

MP Denise Phua, "Youth Forum Discusses How To Stem Brain Drain," ST July 14, 2008

"We have made him (Singaporean)
viable, employable anywhere in the world

"This outflow (of Singaporeans) is
more than offset by an influx of 'even larger numbers of bright people from the

"But a majority of 'born and bred Singaporeans' is
still needed to ensure the new immigrants are rooted here."

"You need 65 per cent of the
population to be born and bred Singaporeans, steeped with the culture, steeped
with instincts of what a Singaporean is.

They will slowly influence the
migrants who join us to become like us."

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, ST July 12, 2008

"While this (Sweden's fertility rate of 1.88 last year) is below the 2.1 replacement rate for a population to maintain its current size in the long term, it is far above Singapore's rate of 1.29 last year..."

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, ST July 11, 2008

".....if we have more immigrants than genuine Singaporeans, you become a different people."

"We must have that core, at least 65 per cent of people born and bred who understand this place, who are part of this society and who know how we got here and why we must do these things."

"With globalisation, our Gini coefficient (measure of rich-poor gap) has widened. The people at the top are getting more because their skills, their knowledge, their abilities, their expertise command a premium.

The people at the bottom have to fight against the cheap labour costs of China, Vietnam, India and the region.

I do not see this problem being solved quickly because I think it will take some time for wage rates in China, Vietnam and India to go up and not be so devastingly competitive.

Maybe it will take five, 10 years."

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, ST July 10, 2008

Left: Nee Soon East Community Club

Right : Yishun Ring Road, Block 807

"It found that divorces rose in
tandem with marriages - which swelled to a five-year high of

There were 7,226 divorces and
annulments last year, up from 7,061 in 2006, a far cry from the 4,888
dissolutions a decade back."

Report based on figures released by Singapore's Department of Statistics, ST July 10, 2008

Displays at Cheng San Community Club, AMK GRC

"It's a spirit which will hold us together as one united people, each one doing his part, each one contributing to remaking our nation and building our home and, together, we will make it a vibrant, global city called home."

PM Lee Hsien Loong on Singapore Spirit in his National Day Rally speech in 2005, ST June 19, 2008

"What the Singapore
Spirit captures is the nation's resilience, its can-do attitude, and the will to
build a nation where there was none."

"Defining a nation and its people", ST June 19, 2008

"In fact, if the economy continues growing on the back of such open immigration and living costs hit the level of global metropolises, Singapore could become like London - a cosmopolitan city with prices to match, a yawning rich-poor gap and immigrant enclaves that resist integration into the wider society."

".....particularly striking to me as I recall the city (London) of my post-graduate days, full of economic and cultural buzz but also unliveably expensive, snooty and fractious in its class and racial divides."

"I dare say Singapore cannot afford to become a London because it has no hinterland to absorb less affluent or struggling workers."

"The Government is in a bind because it needs foreigners to plug labour shortages, bring down business costs and keep the economy growing. But Singaporean jobs are displaced in the process, particularly among the older, less-educated workers."

"An underclass of our own may well be emerging, warned Mr Yeoh Lam Keong, vice-president of the Economic Society of Singapore, in a paper published at the end of last year."

"His is one of no small number of voices urging a rethink of the Government's ideological objection to too much welfare spending for fear of eroding the work ethic or draining the budget. Mr Yeoh has also called for a review of outsourcing policies."

Previously, the public sector was a source of employment for many lower-educated workers, who worked as cleaners and service staff in hospitals and airports.

However, to cut costs, the Government outsourced the hiring of these workers to private contractors, who found foreign workers that were willing to work for less.

Noting this development, blogger and retired NTUC Income chief Tan Kin Lian has called for legislation to ensure that local workers be paid an 'adequate salary for a hard day's work', one that is 'commensurate with the cost of living' and enough to feed a family 'in a frugal way'.

There is also the matter of civic identity and belonging.

The country has been built, thus far, on the assumption that economic growth is necessary and sufficient to hold the country together.

Signboard at Upper Thomson Road, near Lakeview

Now, in these inflationary times and with discontent and envy festering among people unused to economic hardship, there is the real danger of Singapore sinking into a quagmire of every man for his money-grubbing self.

Such cynicism and disillusionment are rife on the Internet.

Who will stay on to rebuild the country if the economy collapses - and you never know, because there are forces in the global economy much bigger than us.

Will Singaporeans - and the foreign talent in their midst - simply pack up and head for other shores ?

In the language of governments, what this means is that we may need to rethink our growth-at-all=costs economic model, because that is no longer the only thing needed to build a resilient society and engaged citizenry.

In you-and-me-speak, we have to work harder at creating the conditions where people are proud to be Singaporean, and not just residents of some global Anyplace.

ST Journalist, Clarissa Oon on "What discontent on the Net says about growth policy, ST July 11, 2008

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey your blog design is very nice, neat and fresh and with updated content, make people feel peace and I always like browsing your site.

- Norman