2.17.2013

what's with the hoo-ha?

Slowly but surely, various friends and their friends and their friends start this stream of protest pictures and opinions about this Population White Paper over in Singapore. Without even having to do Google searches or any blog-hopping, I am pretty sure that the usual suspects floating around the Singapore blogosphere would have many opinions (witty or otherwise), analyses and of course, pictures adorning each blog or website.

All of this hoo-ha got me curious. I've got a million questions!

What is this magical 6.9 million number that keeps getting mentioned? What exactly is this Population White Paper and why is it suddenly such a huge piece of news now, and not.. say, last month or last year? Why are people so agitated over it? Why do people care enough to stage a protest in Singapore?

So I went and went straight to the horse's mouth and learnt a thing or two.

Some parts of it got me so agitated, I was rebutting every sentence I had read. 

From what I've gleaned, there are three components to the Paper. One's to do with the population and family planning. The second's to do with the economy and the last is to do with the quality of living. Within each section, there are more specific issues that are highlighted.

With regards to family planning and the population issue, the Paper wants to
  • encourage marriage and parenthood 
  • remain open to immigration
  • help new immigrants adapt to the local way of life and "reinforce our values and sense of belonging"

So great! This Paper proposes to make it easier to couples to have kids and help young families settle into places of their own. How noble. How dare it assume that the norm is the traditional nuclear family, or that one needs to marry and then have children to be considered a family. What about those who do not want to get married, but are happily with the love of their life.. with or without kids? What about those who cannot have kids? Or the ones that live with extended family members and various generations under one roof, but have just started their own brood? Why are these families penalized for not conforming to the supposed "norm" the Paper sets, and therefore misses out on some of the potential benefits outlined?

The Paper also wants to allow immigrants to arrive and take root, with an annual quota declared to have some control of how fast the population will boom. The last point baffles me. Who exactly is deriving benefits from adapting local ways of life here? The local population, who can feel better about themselves compared to the newcomer and therefore, have a reinforced sense of belonging in an "us vs them" mentality? 

As to the economy, the Paper wants to
  • create good jobs for the Singaporean Core 
  • complement the Core with foreign workforce
  • moderate the workforce so it doesn't "outpace infrastructures" and "to drive necessary" restructuring and productivity improvements

What does the Paper define as "good"? What does the population define as "good"? Do the two coincide? It's quite appalling that more and more people seem to view less and less jobs as appealing, or good. Apparently, word on the streets amongst the young'uns is that being the checkout chick is just as "bad" and "beneath them" as being a janitor, and the ideal job is one that garners the greatest fame/power/respect coupled with the fattest pay check requiring the least amount of effort to gain the aforementioned two criteria. This doesn't exactly leave a lot of jobs to pick from. Of course, one solution as the Paper proposes, is to import foreigners to fill in the gaps and work the jobs the locals don't want. There presumably will also be foreign imports to fill in so-called "top" jobs until there are local equivalents to match the level of expertise required, if possible. It's no wonder that the local workforce is scared of the foreign competition and losing out. It's no wonder that people feel compelled to work long hours to be ahead of any perceived competition amongst both local and foreign colleagues just to stand out amongst the crowd and earn their level-ups. And then you wonder why people aren't busy making babies to boost the population and why the Paper needs one section to address purely numbers... d'oh.

Local mentality has to change because currently, I don't think there's a long term solution that is viable. I'm in no way defending the Paper, but I can see where some of the plans stem from. The locals are so picky about the jobs available, they leave no other choice but for the powers that be to import foreigners. And then the locals complain about these foreigners competing with them for jobs and crowding their country. And THEN, the locals complain about the Paper when it tries to provide a stop-gap solution for this downward spiral as the locals become even more prissy and decline jobs that are no longer "respectable" or "fashionable." We haven't even begun addressing the issue of the ageing workforce yet! The local mentality has to change.

 Then, there is this quality of living business that the Paper addresses. It wants to
  • plan/create infrastructure ahead of demand with projected population in 2030 hitting 6.5 - 6.9 million
  • implement infrastructure programs to expand transport etc
  • explore new technology and solutions to optimize land use/create new land etc

Good for you. Good luck in making it work. I don't see why the Paper proposes to create unnecessary work for everyone. Why would you be so ambitious and increase the population by that  much, and then be pressured into developing new tech/solutions to cater for the population increase? Why are such pressures required to spur improvement? What about focusing on the current population and try figuring out what would make their lives easier to live, instead of ignoring them to focus on generations that may or may not come into existence? 

The long and short of it, in my view, is that the Paper outlines reasonable issues that have been identified as potential problems in the near future. It is certainly not wrong to highlight these concerns and formulate plans to circumvent future problems, although it seems to me that some of the plans appear to be temporary stop-gap measures without sufficient think-through of consequences or "nipping the problem in the bud" approaches. Have I also mentioned... the local mentality has to change or else, the Strawberry generation will be finding it harder and harder to attain any quality of life in the near future.

No comments: