Speech at Parliamentary Debate on Population White Paper
Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower and Senior Minister of State for National Development, Parliament House
- Madam Speaker, we are all aware of the reactions towards the notion of an increase in our population. Many of you have written to me on Facebook and through emails.
- Some are shocked - they can’t imagine what life would be like, especially with what they are going through today, crowded buses, MRT stations, crowded spaces at peak hours – how could we imagine living a life with 6.5 to 6.9 million people? You would have seen the creative pictures circulating of double-decked MRTs, foreign workers clinging on for dear life to crowded buses.
- Some are sceptical. Why can’t you grow the economy at a slower pace? Are there really no alternatives?
- Some feel anxious because some would feel that life is competitive as it is – how do we deal with the competition when more people come?
- Some have said that, “I’m going to emigrate, I’m going to go somewhere else.”
- Some are angry that foreigners are being brought in instead of looking out for Singaporeans. We are uneasy sometimes when there are too many people whom we are less familiar with.
- Some feel disappointed – "What’s wrong with this government? It should be looking out for us instead of pursing growth at all costs."
- And a number really fall into all the above categories.
- Many have also asked, why table this now? This is not very politically astute, the ground is perhaps not ready for this, why don’t we sort out the present problems?
- These are all valid and fair concerns. So why the White Paper and why does this need to be addressed?
The White Paper: Two Fundamental Shifts
- Our demographics are a reality – we cannot change that. All these things happened in the past. They have serious ramifications for our people and our well-being. That is what is at stake – it is all about Singaporeans and it is all about our collective future. For example, in my portfolio covering manpower policies, we have to tighten today. How far do we go, how do we manage this? These are critical issues. So the White Paper is all about looking out for Singaporeans as we move forward to the future. And it is a different stage of life for Singapore. It is a different stage of economic development – and the demographic change is a significant one.
- I would like to thank Yi Shyan for sharing with us real-life examples of how ageing is unfolding as we speak, and the impact in countries like Japan, China, Taiwan, as well as how populist politics are coming into play and having a real impact on societies and their future. What do we learn from these countries? Of course context is important – they are not all the same – but there are certain trends.
- Ageing populations will result in greater social spending. Healthcare, for example. That’s something we envisage will go up. Looking after the elderly. I know that the elderly will live longer, healthier, but at some point we will reach a stage where we do and will become frail. How do we finance this? I know that it’s not very popular, it is not the most aspirational thing to talk about. But all of us who are responsible, we know we need to deal with the practical issues of governance. How do you finance these things? The costs will go up. Where will your tax base come from? This will be our children’s generation, much smaller than we are today. They will bear the brunt of that tax burden. And this is not to say that the elderly is a burden – it’s our responsibility to look out for Singaporeans as they grow old, but it’s also our responsibility to look out for our children, because they will have to bear the consequences of this. And that’s why it is important to plan long term. It is about ensuring a sustainable and stable Singaporean population.
- We talked about TFR (total fertility rate), and we totally agree with the Workers’ Party that this is critical. We should do all we can and we should not let up. But even with whatever ideas that they may suggest – and we would be quite happy to look at practical ideas – they are looking at 1.3 TFR. What does a 1.3 TFR mean? And even with the 10,000 immigration numbers that they talk about on a yearly basis, by 2030-plus, the Singaporean population will decline. How do we deal with these realities? These are not trivial issues, which is why this White Paper is important and we need to table it.
- As I listened to Yi Shyan – and I do urge all of us to read his speech and examples shared – it sounded quite bleak. But then I also quickly realised that it is not so bad, because all the people that left the ageing cities, they were still in their country. But for us, it is a bit different – we will all grow old here, because there is not another place to go to. So we need to make this work.
- We are the next big ageing story. What will be our story be?
- Actually, our demographics have been scribbled on the wall for some time now. When I was in the SAF, we looked at the demographics, because 18 years ahead of time, you actually know what the size of your SAF will be. There was a massive transformation of the SAF into one with third-generation (3G) capability, because we knew that in order for us to be able to defend ourselves, we needed to change the way we operate. And we did.
- Various agencies and ministries have been working hard on the issues actually for a number of years. And it is very clear that they are interconnected, and sometimes pulling in very different directions.
- For example, we know that as we age – ageing in place at home – is emotionally probably one of the best options, and probably a more affordable option with the foreign domestic helper to support. But that pulls in the opposite direction because we also want to reduce the presence of foreign manpower in Singapore. How do you reconcile that? We know that we have an ageing population, we need to restructure. So what exactly does that mean? It is not just the numbers, indeed, it is about the quality of growth. What should that look like to ensure that we have good quality, sustainable growth to provide for our people?
- We need to increase productivity. We all agree on that with a smaller labour force. But yet, we need to improve TFR, we need to give time for couples to be on their own, work-life balance is important. So it is important to have a White Paper to pull things together so that there is an overarching framework and concept to plan forward. And we will evolve this plan with time. We need to capture the main thoughts and ideas so that the Whole-of-Government, as a nation, we have a sense of what that framework ought to be - to guide us.
- And a big reason why this White Paper is important is because we do not want to repeat the experience that all Singaporeans are going through today – the crowded trains, MRT stations, lack of beds in hospitals. We tried hard, perhaps, overdone it - looking back is always 20/20 hindsight. But with that, what we saw was that the infrastructure did not keep up pace with the population, and there was an impact. And the impact is being felt today, and this is something we will and we need to sort out.
- Singaporeans have also indicated their desire to stop, slow down, because they feel that pace of growth, because we have crossed a physical and social threshold. We cannot continue on this speed forward. And we are also at a stage where from a profile perspective, from a different stage of economic development; this is where we need to change in terms of the direction we are going.
- So the White Paper is very much a product of this desire to get it right and to chart the course for the next lap. Of course, the White Paper doesn’t capture everything, there are many other issues we are dealing with, but it sets some of the broad parameters that will guide us. There are two fundamental shifts, I am not sure whether we picked it up, but there are two fundamental shifts:
A Slower Sustainable Quality Growth for a Good Cause
- First, we will restructure our economy to be productivity-driven and to slow down to a more sustainable pace, which is essentially based on quality. It is not economic growth at all costs. It is about slower steady economic growth for a good cause.
- Secondly, we are taking the approach, as highlighted by Minister Lui and Minister Khaw that we will build ahead of demand. We do not want to be caught out by the infrastructural constraints which are impacting the lives of our people today, everyday. We have been prudent, financially prudent, and we try to be that – and I think that’s a strength. But as with all strengths, perhaps when it is overdone, perhaps we could end up with a situation that we have today.
- So what is it that we are trying to do? Economic growth, as I have said, is really just a means to an end, and we all know that. Even in the Workers’ Party’s proposal, they recognised there is a need for economic growth so the issue is how much, and what type? So what exactly do we need? We need an environment which can provide a good quality of life for our people in the future. What is this quality of life? We all have many different definitions of it, just as how we have different definitions of what makes us happy and give us a sense of fulfilment.
- But certain basics must remain - we need to provide jobs, a good range of jobs for our people. Essentially, we need to ensure we keep unemployment as low as possible. We have very low unemployment, but behind every digit there is a real person and a real family. It is not something that we take for granted. The job situation that we have today, we shouldn’t presume that it will continue as it is. We need to support our people so that they can stand up for themselves, as they provide for their families. And let’s provide our people with a wide range of opportunities. You like a faster life? A slower pace of life? You would like Singapore to be a bit like a Perth-type of living environment, or like New York. Well, those cities have options because they are a part of a larger whole. How do we provide that range for our people in Singapore then? Within our space, let’s try to create as much possibilities for our people as possible.
- What does it take for us, as former Minister Mah mentioned yesterday, to generate that level of income, to provide for healthcare, education, housing and so on? We still need to generate income to do the things that we need to do. These are not bad things. These are necessities. So what is it that we need? What is that level of economic growth that helps look after our people?
- Conservatively, we assess that at 3-4% GDP growth for the rest of this decade should realistically perhaps allow us to transit, establish firm foundation as we restructure, providing some level of buffer and to look forward to the following decade where we think the economic growth will slow down to a steadier but hopefully good quality growth at perhaps 2 – 3%. But if we are able to achieve our desired outcome with less, it may well open up the possibility for us to tighten up more. There’s no reason to fill up that space just because there is a number there. It’s not about a number. It’s about the level and quality of life. But we need to tread carefully.
- The reality is - our economy is not run by dials and levers where we can choose exactly how much unemployment there is, what’s the gini co-efficient, what the wages should be. Unfortunately, it doesn’t operate that way and we know that. So, do we grow when we can, as perhaps we tended to in the past because we don’t take growth and opportunities for granted? Or do we take some risks and forgo this growth while trying to establish a more sustainable path? It is quite clear that where there are opportunities, we will have to turn our back on growth. We will have to slow down. The question is, how far do we go? How much do we slow down? Because we could end up overdoing it as well. We believe that we should halve our overall labour force growth rate to 1-2% for the rest of this decade and will further halve it to about 1% in the following decade. This is a very sharp drop from our historical average of about 3-4%. With these adjustments and the accompanying efforts that must continue – including a relentless effort to raise productivity across the board, we will try to make sure that we will restructure and position ourselves for a slower, sustainable, but good quality economic growth.
- So let me stress again that we are not just forgoing present growth. As you know, companies see opportunities because, unlike Europe, unlike North America, we are right smack in the middle of one of the fastest growing regions in the world today with the greatest potential. And we will take a step back. So we will forgo some of these opportunities and choose to slow down because we cannot just go on just accepting growth as it is. But we need to be careful and we need to be calibrated. And this is not time for us to be gung-ho about it because there are dynamics in play that we do not always have full control over. We are not just an island - we are connected to the world, and we are price-takers.
Difficult Balancing Act and Trade-Offs
- As Minister Iswaran mentioned earlier, foreign and local business groups have spoken up. Some of their members are moving out of Singapore, if they have not already done so and some are planning to. And we will expect that to happen.
- Our unions are concerned because a slowdown in economic growth could lead to unemployment and stagnation of wages. They have also called for special attention to be paid, and we agree, to vulnerable workers to ensure that they too can have better jobs, better pay and lead better lives. And what we have found is that when the economy was growing in the second half of the last decade, that was when incomes for lower-wage workers improved. But that growth also came with a cost in terms of infrastructural and social constraints. So where is that balance? And that is really the challenge at hand.
- So let’s be measured and not throw the baby out with the bath water. Because businesses and jobs could move out of Singapore and this is where I would urge that we should be careful about demonizing MNCs, demonizing business in favour workers, it is not about a class war between the owners, the capitalists and the proletarian. Because these businesses are owned by Singaporeans as well. SMEs, these are salt-of-the-Earth Singaporeans, who built up their businesses, provide employment for Singaporeans. Companies provide jobs for our people. I am both pro-worker and pro-business, but above all, I think we need to be pro-Singaporean and pro-Singapore. So the companies are here, they provide direct jobs, when they are here they also provide a whole network of jobs for Singaporeans. And that allows our economy to grow and generate income, provide for our people opportunities.
- So when companies go, it is not trivial. An environment, with a possible option of zero manpower growth, will kill off a lot of companies. And what happens at that stage? We live and operate in a region of fast growth. Companies and people are deciding – whether they are MNCs or Singaporean companies, where should I be? Should I be in Singapore? Should I be in KL, Jakarta, Mumbai, Chengdu - where there is access to labour and fast-growing opportunities?
- We have a lot of advantages, and when one goes, another goes, the network unravels, sectors can shift, good white collared jobs can shift, whole sectors, accounting, HR, can be outsourced to another city. We need to make sure that we maintain enough so that we can provide for our people. And we will have to transit very carefully - this entails labour growth of 1% to 2% for this decade and 1% thereafter, as it will give us that level of flexibility, because recessions will happen. Cycles are becoming shorter. And this is where, perhaps, let me set aside a bit of time to look at the Workers’ Party proposal.
- Mr Low had categorically rejected the White Paper and offered various options. The Workers’ Party proposal actually is very attractive. Look at the number – the headline number, and scale downwards to hit just under six million. Economic growth targets are also there. They actually overlap with some of the White Paper’s projections. Once again, the Workers’ Party just scaled the White Paper numbers downwards again and worked backwards to see what exactly does it take to achieve that number. And it’s an exciting narrative because we are trading off growth for a smaller population to focus on the quality of life for Singaporeans.
- There are three pillars to the Workers’ Party’s vision, it’s anchored on a manpower policy, of which is also related to raising the labour force participation rate, TFR and keeping foreign worker growth at zero for the rest of the decade. As Minister Iswaran pointed out, what their vision means in real terms is that there will be no, for example, foreign domestic workers up to 2020. When we need construction workers, there will be no additional ones to meet some of the needs.
- Yet we also want more Singaporeans to return to the workforce. We also know that there is increasing need for eldercare. In fact, in our projections, we think that from about 200,000 foreign domestic workers today, it will have to go up to 300,000 by 20301. But we don’t calculate the foreign domestic worker in our overall foreign workforce. But the Workers’ Party has factored that in, much more robust. So that means that the space for our economy and social needs are incredibly tight. How do we manage that space, how do we manage that transition?
- These are real tradeoffs when we need to translate policies into reality in the real world. It is a shock effect. On paper it sounds fine, but when you put it into practice, it will hurt Singapore, it will hurt Singaporeans. Now this is where I am slightly confused because I think Mr Low or the Workers’ Party had talked about how the tightening on foreign manpower growth will cause the cost of living to rise sharply on 5 March 2012.
- And this is in February last year, “as policies that attempt to compel SMEs to transform and raise productivity by limiting foreign workers again, foreign workers will become crucial to the survival of the companies”. In fact, with Mr Low last year at the Budget, we had a long discussion on whether to have differentiated dependency ratios for sectors which are finding it to recruit Singaporeans and to free up the space so they could have access to more foreign workers. My position, and it remains, is that those sectors which find it most difficult are those sectors which actually are demanding and pulling in more foreign workers. So we need to be disciplined and change that. But their position has changed. So it’s a bit difficult to reconcile what their next step will be. But clearly, and quite definitively, this seems to be the final position that the Workers’ Party is taking. But it is a very alarming one. And actually, I do worry about the economy, I do worry about the businesses and ultimately because it has an impact on our people.
- Raising the labour force participation rate is also another important pillar that buttresses some of the assumptions of the Workers’ Party’s model. You know, the other day I was asking about some of the details, and that’s because I actually do share your perspective. I think raising the labour force participation rate is very important. However, how do we bring back Singaporeans who are not in the workforce?
- Actually, our labour force participation rate is one of the highest in the world, in fact higher than many OECD countries. But I think we can do more. The various measures that we have put in place, we will continue to work on it. But raising the labour force participation rate has limits. This is because we know that the labour force participation rates for the older workers, older Singaporeans, tends to be lower than the younger segments of the workforce. As our workforce is becoming older and with a low TFR, our overall labour force participation rate will decrease over time despite improvements across age groups.
- This means that the labour force participation rate will decrease in the future. And we’ll try, as much as we can to improve it. But I think those are the dynamics. However, the WP model, envisages keeping resident labour force growth at 1% in the next decade. This is why I’m very interested to know what initiatives they have in mind because I’ll be very keen to explore them and to put them in place, because if that helps, that will also afford us more policy space.
- And the last one is on raising the TFR. That remains vitally important. But as mentioned earlier even with the 1.3 TFR and 10,000 immigrants envisaged by the Workers’ Party, our Singaporean population will decrease. So we need to try, and the drill of the matter is it is not just cash incentives and I think we know that. It’s a whole range of incentives. It is about work life balance. It is about institutional changes. Incentives, schemes, we will continue to strengthen them.
- My ears perked up the other day when fellow member Mr Pritam Singh talked about using the reserves. Because this is a rainy day, we should boost our productivity effort. I agree that we should really work at productivity effort. But this is not that rainy day. We should be careful dealing with our reserves, because I think when we talk about the ageing population, I think you can see the rainy days that might be ahead. These are built up by fiscal prudence over the years and hard work of our forefathers. I think this is not that day yet, but I agree that we need to pay attention to productivity.
- And ideas, bold, out of the box, I think Mr Pritam Singh suggested that all of us should have 8-hour days, all of us should be paid overtime. It’s bold, it’s out of the box, but I’m not sure if this is something that will happen in real life. Which is why my colleague Mr Vikram mentioned the other day about how we run the town council. I think it’s not being facetious, it’s about how would we translate this into the real world, and in real terms. Every single person in the town council, professional or otherwise, should be entitled to such schemes. So ideally, I would say this: I am a big champion, I believe we work too many hours. And I do want us to work fewer hours, and to strike that balance. Legislation – I’m not sure if it’s a solution to everything, but we will look at some of these, and we do welcome ideas from both sides of the house and all Singaporeans. And I do want us to move off that charts. I think we’re on the wrong end of the charts.
- So these are some of the ideas that underpin what the Workers’ Party proposes. And I think the details are important. We are not looking at detailed concept plans, or conceptually, how do we realise it. I think that you’ll find that there are commonalities. But how do we actually realise those kind of numbers? I’m not sure if it actually works, and I think the cost is considerable.
- So we will transit, and I think this is where we need to plan not for the theoretical best, but I think we need to anticipate the unknown. We need to anticipate what if things do not quite work out. Let’s have a buffer. But let me say this: if we are able to achieve the desired outcomes, without having to embark on those types of numbers, I’ll be quite happy to be quite far away from the 6.9 million figure. But those parameters are important because we do not want to end up with the problems that we have today.
- So Singaporeans are concerned with the future, because what are we going to do? What are my children going to do when there are all these foreigners in our midst? Are they going to take away jobs? So let me reassure all of us here, that we will continue to ensure that jobs are created to meet the aspirations of our children, of our young. As part of this framework, there will be a level of labour force growth, foreign manpower to augment industries, to augment areas where we need them, especially at the lower skilled ends, where increasingly we’ll find lesser Singaporeans there. But we will also make sure that we develop the opportunities for locals to move up that ladder to form the core of the workforce.
- We’ve undergone continuous economic transformation since the 60s, and at each stage we want to make sure there are higher valued jobs, opportunities for our Singaporeans. And to ensure that our people are able to take up these jobs. Ms Low Yen Ling mentioned briefly yesterday that EDB has been running the Strategic Attachment and Training Programme since 2007 where we co-found overseas training of Singaporeans, we equip them with the necessary skills and expertise to take on high-value jobs in new-growth areas.
- Ministry Iswaran shared about the biomedical science industry, one industry that developed and created good jobs for people. Let me share one short story.
- Ms Grace Yow, she’s Executive Vice-President of Fluidigm Singapore, a pioneer in microfluidic technology used in biomedical research. Grace graduated from Singapore Polytechnic with a diploma in Electrical Engineering. She began her career as an engineering assistant in the semiconductor industry and worked her way up before transiting to the life sciences industry in 2005. Since then, she has held directorships within Fluidigm before assuming her current Executive Vice-President role, overseeing manufacturing operations for the company globally.
- These are opportunities that we have created over the years and these are the opportunities that we aim to continue to create for our Singaporeans going forward. So, we will intensify these efforts.
- In the financial sector, we are making concerted efforts. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has put in place programmes and initiatives to develop a strong Singaporean core. This includes efforts to raise competencies of Singaporeans in areas where perhaps we may not have that much competency in areas such as Compliance, Corporate Banking and Wealth Management. We need to grow that and create those jobs for our people. MAS will also provide more scholarships to enable early-career Singaporeans to develop specialist tracks in areas like quantitative finance, risk management, actuarial science and specialty insurance. These are done with the support of financial institutions and programmes to nurture Singaporeans for leadership roles.
- I understand that we are all naturally concerned about competition. But, competition is there, whether we like it or not. Just because an individual from Philippines, Vietnam or China is not here does not mean that he is not competing with us. They are competing with us in their hometowns. In some sectors, good quality, white-collar, PME jobs for Singaporeans like accounting and HR – some of these have left Singapore. And when the whole department leaves, there are jobs that were there for Singaporeans that are now somewhere else. And all the associated services, supporting these departments, get affected. Those are Singaporeans in that whole chain of things. So do we prefer to try and have some of these investments and some of these people here to augment, complement and supplement, so that at the same time, on a net basis, good jobs are created for our people. Or do we take a much more protectionist and seemingly nationalistic position?
Support for Singaporeans to compete for and take up good job opportunities
- So we will restructure. We will take a comprehensive approach to make sure that our people continue to have good education and facilities for continuing education and training. This is complemented by our adaptive calibrations of foreign manpower policies from time to time.
- MOE has already announced that the cohort participation rate will increase from 27 to 40 percent by 2020 with six universities offering full-time degree programmes.
- We will also continue to invest in building a world-class Continuing Education and Training (CET) system. As part of these efforts, we will invest $2.5 billion over the next five years to enhance our CET system.
- We understand the manpower constraint especially SMEs. But do send workers for training to upgrade so that we can become more productive and effective. We urge businesses to take a long-term view. CET is our strength.
- But we will also strengthen employment matching, such as Caliberlink and working with SMEs in terms of jobs placements. These will be continued and strengthened.
- Importantly, we will continue to calibrate our foreign manpower policies to raise quality and slow inflows. Employment Pass (EP) numbers have fallen in 2012 for the first time since 2003. I am not sure I am able to definitively say that this will be the trend, but I think the EP framework’s adjustments that we have put in place are taking effect. And our EP criteria will be a moving bar and the pay threshold will only move up. I am watching this because as I look at the entry-level pay for our graduates, these are things we can shape and influence.
- But even as we tighten, we will continue to provide every support for businesses to transit to a much more productivity-led growth and a productivity-based structure.
- What about the remaining one-third? We must not neglect the rest of the one-third of our people who may not be PMETs. So, what do we do? There will be non-PMET jobs but perhaps some of them will be slightly different from those today. Education profiles will change and improve, so we will move up the value-chain, and we will continue to emphasise on training. WIS and WTS will be strengthened to make sure that training opportunities are available for people to upgrade. Another story - Mr Spencer Ong joined GlaxoSmithKline as an Operator with GCE O’Levels in 1994. He obtained his NTC Grade 2 from the ITE in June 2000. He was subsequently promoted to be Production Superintendent in 2006 and then Senior Operations Executive in 2012. So we will continue to make sure such stories continue for our people.
- I have received a lot of feedback from constituents, from the public at large, and many of you here in this House who share their concerns about employment discrimination. And that is why they have also expressed concerns about growing the foreign workforce here. Let me be quite clear about this – there is no place for employment discrimination in Singapore. The Government has and will continue to uphold fair employment for all Singaporeans. So we are going to continue to look after Singaporeans even as competition becomes keener; we care about whether Singaporeans are experiencing discrimination in the job market.
- The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has and will investigate cases of employers who are believed to have resorted to unfair employment or recruitment practices, such as those who post discriminatory job ads or who recruit their own kind regardless of merit.
- Singaporeans who believe they have been discriminated against at the workplace should raise their case with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP).
- Employers who are unresponsive to TAFEP or persistently fail to improve their employment practices will be referred to MOM. Employers who refuse to heed MOM’s advice, or recalcitrant, will have their work pass privileges curtailed.
- We are putting in place safeguards against irresponsible employers and irresponsible practices. We are not erecting barriers to foreign employment because it remains part of our landscape. This will go a long way to assuage the concerns that we have – and these are valid concerns, perceived or otherwise. We know pockets of this happen and it cannot be accepted.
- Let me acknowledge some of the points raised by members here about the issue of getting elderly and back-to-work-women to rejoin the workforce. I agree we should explore all ways and means. I think we’re beginning to see some shift – not enough, but I think we will as we tighten the manpower policies, change the business practices. We have put in place incentives to help companies adjust, and companies are taking this route. Special Employment Credit, particularly, I think goes a very long way for the elderly. And also vulnerable groups who are keen to be employed, people with disabilities, our fellow Singaporeans from the Yellow Ribbon Project.
- All of us care about Work-Life Balance and Flexible Work Arrangements. I think we need to continue to work hard at this and figure out how best to enhance support for companies to introduce more flexible work arrangements. Is legislation the way to go? I think we can look at that and how practical that can be. I think more details will be announced at Budget, but we will press on and we welcome all suggestions.
- Now, I will touch on the Singaporean Core, and what it is. All of us, I think in many ways, are tribal in nature. And in some ways, I feel that this anxiety, and this strong response by Singaporeans, in a way, it’s a reflection of a growing strong sense of identity – which is a good thing. But as with all good things overdone, you can become nationalistic; xenophobic if you’re not careful. I don’t think we are there. Singaporeans are not that kind of people.
- Foreign manpower is transient. They will not grow old here. Their numbers will expand or contract depending on how situations evolve over time. We will manage the manpower downwards – halving our overall labour force growth rate to 1 - 2% as mentioned earlier; and 1% thereafter in the next decade. Growth means we will no longer rely on just cheap foreign workers. We have to see how to forgo such growth and change.
- So we will manage the manpower downwards, and we need to strike the balance. I do believe that as we restructure, as we evolve and build a better future for ourselves and our people, I think we will have a Singapore that we can be proud of. A place where our Singaporeans can find jobs, good jobs, opportunities to pursue different avenues for them to achieve their own dreams. And they can find the fulfilment here.
- I would want to end by saying this: The present infrastructural crunch, we will ease it. We will deal with it decisively. I think the number of initiatives have been informed. We will take bold initiatives to ensure this. And at the same time, I think we recognise that we will slow down the economy to a sustainable rate. But we need to tread carefully.
- We will manage our space better and I think we can build something special here. Our heart and soul remain important. It’s not just the material. I think this is something recognised by all Singaporeans and all members here in this House. And we need to nurture it – activities in school, community outreach, the arts, heritage, the environment. These things cannot be neglected even as we discuss the practical aspects of governance; the practical aspects that impact our future. The very heart and soul of our nation rest on some of these things, our values.
- This is where I think is important to address this idea of Singaporean Core. My colleagues from the Workers’ Party define this Singaporean Core with a very catchy, Singaporean Singapore slogan. It is meaningful, but the sub-text is actually very important. Ms Sylvia Lim stated that "A strong Singaporean core should be made up of Singaporeans who grew up in and with Singapore. Therefore, the policy of topping up shortfalls in our total fertility rate with younger immigrants to make up the Singaporean core is flawed." They talk of dilution of our citizen numbers – home-born Singaporeans, when they noted that some of these are not from the original Singapore-born Singaporeans. This is one way of looking at it and resonates with some Singaporeans. I am not sure how far back should we go before Singaporeans count? Some of us here are not born in Singapore. Ms Irene Ng is not born in Singapore. Mr Chen Show Mao is not born in Singapore. Does it make them second-class citizens?
- We have many Singaporeans who are not born here. They may not have grown here, but they have decided to make this place home, and serve and contribute to this society. Should this be what defines us as Singaporeans? And this is an important question. Are these values we as Singaporeans subscribe to?
- I do not subscribe to these values and outlook to what it means to be a Singaporean. I believe we Singaporeans are an open hearted and kind people. We are generous, we are warm and we embrace those that are around us. Those who leave here, leave as friends and will look out for us because they remember the friendships forged. Some will choose to live here because they see that this is something they want to be part of.
- As leaders, we cannot be just echo chambers. We lead and set the tone and inspire ourselves and our people to be Singaporeans with a heart. When you ask who do we defend? I defend my family who remain here. I defend my loved ones and friends. And all Singaporeans who are here. Does the percentage make a difference to my duties and responsibilities as a citizen? Our people remain the same.
- Taking too nationalistic an approach can and sometimes bring out the worse in us. We are much more than this as a people. So let me end with this quote.
- "As a Singaporean I have no difficulty, in a single lifetime, forgetting in turn that I was a Ceylon Tamil and Sri Lankan though I was born there. I had no difficulty forgetting that I was a British subject, or the formative years as a Malayan and where most of my kith and kin still are. That I and my colleagues fought bitterly the communists and communalists on both sides of the Causeway to be a Malaysian and am now totally happy that I will die, I hope, a satisfied Singaporean. Being a Singaporean is not a matter of ancestry. It is conviction and choice...Being a Singaporean means forgetting all that stands in the way of one’s Singaporean commitment, but without in any way diminishing one’s curiosity about the triumphs and failures of one’s distant ancestors."
- This quote is by the person who coined the term - Singaporean Singapore - S Rajaratnam.
- Friends, we talk about the Singaporean Core. I think this is what it means, and this is the core of being a Singaporean.
- For all our imperfections, we are a remarkable little nation. We have defied the odds, and have built something special that we all care about. For all of us here, this is our home and this is where our heart is. I for one, do not intend for us to be a footnote in the annals of history. I have hope that our next chapter, will see us all grow old together, here, as one people, and to be young again, as one nation.
- With that, Madam Speaker, I would like to support the amended motion.
Factsheet on how the Ministry of Manpower deals with Employment Discrimination
1 "Occasional Paper on Projection of Foreign Manpower Demand for Healthcare Sector, Construction Workers and Foreign Domestic Workers", National and Population Talent Division, Prime Minister’s Office, November 2012.