Monday, February 11, 2013

Marathon debate over Population White Pap

Feb 10, 2013


By Jessica Cheam Political Correspondent

It was a marathon debate spanning five days and featuring more than 70 speeches from MPs as well as ministers, past and present.

As Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean noted: "This is the longest debate we have had on any single motion in Parliament in my memory."

In the end, the White Paper on Population was passed on Friday, but not before it was dissected and amended.

The process dominated headlines this past week and all manner of discussion on Singapolitics.

The Workers' Party's alternative proposal generated a heated debate, with some cheering its suggestion to prepare for 5.9 million instead and freezing the growth of the foreign workforce until 2020, among other ideas.

Others, however, were not convinced. One netizen called Lu James asked: "Can WP explain how they derive the figure 5.9 million to be the optimum population in 2030?... Is it a figure plucked from thin air just for the sake of argument?"

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the White Paper marked a major shift in strategy as the Government was now building ahead of demand.

This sparked many responses on Singapolitics, with netizen James Koh saying: "It is a good sign that Minister Khaw has admitted the inadequacy and a valuable lesson learnt... (but) it is best that adequate infrastructure be built for the current 5.3 million population first before considering expanding to 6.9 million."

Nominated MP Tan Su Shan's observation that the White Paper could have been pitched differently also struck a chord. Reader Flora Moo noted that the way the White Paper was delivered was hard for ordinary people to understand and felt MPs need to do more to explain to their residents.

For some others, Nominated MP Laurence Lien's call for a population cap of six million and an acceleration of economic restructuring stood out. Reader "Penguin2010" gave Mr Lien a thumbs up, saying: "Your view is the most balanced - head and heart."

Overall, it was a difficult national conversation to have. Even Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua admitted that a few People's Action Party MPs would have found it difficult to support the motion if it had not been amended.

Consensus was also elusive online.

Neitzen Peter Yeo spoke for many when he said: "I'm not quite prepared for the proposed White Paper, and I don't quite agree with WP's arguments. I just hope there is a compromise solution somewhere and all Singaporeans on both sides can look at this issue... in its entirety."

Amid the debate, Singapolitcs' Robin Chan wrote in a post that attracted the most reads this week that there were three big questions missing: What is the population limit? How much growth is enough? And, is this the only path?

It seemed many agreed with him that questions remain and the conversation on the White Paper is far from over.

Reader Michael Lee said "any population growth must be sustainable and racial harmony must be maintained... please rethink".

The debate was also marked by fiery exchanges in the House, and battles over comparison tables issued by WP chief Low Thia Khiang and Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin. Both can be found on Singapolitics.

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