SINGAPORE, July 2 — The Government has never proposed or targeted an increase of Singapore’s population to 10 million, said People’s Action Party (PAP) first assistant secretary-general Heng Swee Keat today.
“I did not say that Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million people, nor did I mention the figure,” Heng wrote on Facebook, adding that Singapore’s population is instead likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030.
His clarification came after Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan said in a televised debate yesterday that the Government was “toying with the idea” of a 10 million population.
The topic generated some heated moments during the one-hour debate between Dr Chee and PAP’s Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.
Dr Chee had probed Dr Balakrishnan on whether the Government had plans to increase Singapore’s population to 10 million, claiming that this was something mentioned by Heng.
Dr Balakrishan rebutted Dr Chee, saying his claim was a “false strawman”, with both men talking over each other at one point.
After the debate, Dr Chee posted on his Facebook page a March 29, 2019 article from The Straits Times which reported Heng’s remarks made at a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) forum.
The article stated: “On the projected population of 6.9 million by 2030, set out in the Government’s 2013 Population White Paper, Heng said the number goes beyond how densely populated Singapore would be. The social space is as important. Singapore’s population density is not excessive, he said, noting that other cities are a lot more crowded in terms of liveable space. He cited former chief planner Liu Thai Ker, who said in 2014 that Singapore should plan for 10 million people for it to remain sustainable in the long term.”
But Heng clarified today that he did not say that Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million people, nor did he mention the figure.
He wrote: “I was asked at the NTU Student Union Ministerial Forum in 2019 about the Population White Paper. In my response, I mentioned that former chief planner Liu Thai Ker had publicly said that we should go for an even higher number.
“Far from endorsing this, I had explained that our population size was not just about physical space, but also about social space and how we can preserve a sense of togetherness.”
“And if we look at today’s situation, our population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030,” Heng added.
Latest figures put Singapore’s total population at 5.7 million.
Speaking to reporters at Bukit Panjang today, Dr Balakrishnan said there was no basis to the claim that Heng had considered Liu’s proposal to plan for an eventual population that size.
“I think everyone should go back and read (the article),” he said. “In this case there is a video tape (of the forum). Go back to the original source. So there is absolutely no basis.”
He noted that one of the key planks of the SDP’s manifesto was an objection to a population of 10 million, adding that it was “based on a falsehood” which it has to clarify.
Earlier yesterday, the National Population and Talent Division had released a statement saying it is not true that the Government is planning to increase the population to 10 million, after statements claiming so have been circulating.
In a press statement, it referred to a March 4 article by the Government’s fact-checking portal Factually which stated: “The Government does not seek to achieve any particular population size. We monitor our population trends closely, and regularly review our population policies along with infrastructure and social development needs.”
The SDP has used the 10 million figure as part of its campaign strategy for the upcoming July 10 General Election.
Its campaign is titled 4Y1N — four yeses, one no — which includes saying “no” to a 10 million population in Singapore.
In a statement today, the SDP in an emailed statement defended Dr Chee’s assertion and referred again to The Strait Times report.
“The average person reading the report would conclude that Heng was, indeed, ‘toying with the idea’ of a 10 million population as indicated by Dr Chee” it said.
“We take strong objection to Dr Balakrishnan’s accusation that Dr Chee had raised a ‘strawman’ argument,” it added.
“Now that Dr Chee has successfully extracted an assurance from the PAP that it has no intention of increasing the population to 6.9 or 10 million, we invite the PAP to tell Singaporeans what its target population is beyond the vague statement that it would be ‘significantly below’ 6.9 million.”
Local unemployed PMETs
At the televised debate, a statistic cited by the Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) Francis Yuen was also corrected today by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
In calling for the Government to tighten regulations allowing foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) to work in Singapore, Yuen said Singapore currently has more than 100,000 unemployed local PMETs.
“This number is incorrect,” MOM said in a press statement.
It said there were 39,000 local unemployed PMETs as of June 2019, citing its latest labour force report released in January this year.
In response to TODAY’s queries, Yuen said the figure he had provided during the debate was an estimation the party made to include retrenchments in the third and fourth quarter in 2019 and expected retrenchments this year which were not included in the MOM report.
“MOM in the same report also said that 70 per cent of retrenchments in 2019 are PMETs,” he said.
“Given job losses in 2020 are expected to be 100,000 to 200,000 — estimating 70 per cent PMETs — we estimate 100,000 PMETs (are) unemployed.”
He added that the party had also taken into consideration PMETs who have been displaced in the gig economy and more than 30,000 new graduates entering the job market, of which a large proportion will not find jobs.
Addressing the issue, PSP chief Tan Cheng Bock said being on the “alternative side” means having little data to work with.
“Finding this data sometimes can be difficult because it’s not like the ministry is always giving you details,” he said in response to reporters’ questions while on a walkabout at a market in Jalan Bukit Merah with the party’s candidates for the Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency.
He added: “Figures are one thing. But the important thing is the issue. The numbers are there. It may be big, it may be small, but this is the issue.” — TODAY