Today, there is clarity that 6.9 is NOT the target growth rate of the administrators. Because, no, even they admit that it is not possible.
But what then are the issues?
We all know that Singapore is turning into a greying nation, similar to other developed countries. Singaporeans are having fewer children due to their demanding careers, and with improved healthcare technology and R&D, people are expected to live longer.
Singaporeans by and large are already struggling to cope with the rising cost of living and other challeges such as increased competition in the workplace with both locals and foreigners. Public transportation is overcrowded. COE prices are at an all-time high. The “sandwich class” can be said to be the hardest hit among all segments of Singapore society.
It’s not that Singaporeans don’t want to have kids; they’re just scared they won’t be able to afford them. It remains to be seen if the marriage and parenthood package enhancements will work, but I believe that it takes more than just dangling carrots to get Singaporeans to be as productive in the bedroom as they are in the workplace.
The whitepaper talks about how taking in too many foreigners will weaken our national identity. Importing people is not a long-term solution and the government knows that. Singaporeans have shown their discontentment about the government’s open door policy with the wave of anti-FT sentiment online.
In recent years, the government has regulated the inflow of foreigners into Singapore. While this has eased the tensions to a degree, social problems still do exist with the more than a million foreigners on the island who fail to assimilate into Singaporean society. Lesson learnt. Opening the floodgates to boost the population can lead to dire consequences.
So if Singaporeans still aren’t making babies and there continues to be tight controls on immigration, what then will be the outcome? Whatever it is, we need to focus on two things (1) the government meeting their self-imposed deadlines on infrastructural developments, and (2) integration of foreigners.
The first factor is something tangible – and absolutely necessary. If people are to make more babies, they have to be assured that the infrastructure can accommodate the additional child or two. Why would they give themselves the additional stress of having one more child who might have to compete even more firecely for their future survival?
Next, the integration of foreigners would be pivotal. Singaporeans tend to be less hostile towards foreigners who come from across the causeway. Malaysians and Singaporeans are almost akin to bickering siblings – close but competitive. But the hostility stops there, probably because we have many cultural similarities.
We tend to take issue with mainland China residents because many of them don’t speak English. In a multicultural nation like Singapore where English is the lingua franca, it becomes a real pain point when a foreigner enters our land and doesn’t make it a point to learn our language, much less our culture.
If all foreigners would at least have a working understanding of English, then I think Singaporeans would not be as opposed to immigration, which was the very core of our growth as a nation in the nascent years.
So we need to be prepared for 6.9m people, if we actually hit that god-forsaken number… at least we’ll be prepared for it. If not, well… then that would be good for all isn’t it?