Last year Heng Swee Keat’s office got in touch because it objected to a published line of mine: “With Singapore’s prime-minister-in-waiting eager to again double the city’s population to ten million…”
I had based this comment off a Straits Times article that reported:
“Singapore’s population density is not excessive, he [HSK] 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.”
This was my thinking. If you ask somebody a question, and they cite somebody else as an answer, a reasonable person would conclude that HSK concurs with Liu.
It’s like if you ask me what my favourite TV series this year is and instead of giving you a direct answer, I say: “Well critics consider Crash Landing on You to be the best.”
No. HSK’s office disagreed. They had also shared the official transcript with me (bottom of this post). After reviewing the transcript, I concurred with HSK’s office. Indeed, my original formulation was factually wrong. Based on words alone, HSK never said or gave the impression that he was “eager”.
My mistake. I’ll correct.
So I changed my statement to: “With Singapore’s prime-minister-in-waiting receptive to plans that would double the city’s population to ten million”.
Again No. HSK’s office disagreed.
So I changed my statement to:
“In 2014 Singapore’s former chief planner suggested an ideal population of ten million. And earlier this year Singapore’s prime-minister-in-waiting cited this proposal in response to a question on immigration.”
Again No. HSK’s office disagreed.
I also asked his office: can HSK just confirm what his target population size is?
This would just save everybody a whole lot of time, honestly, and moreover, it is something Singaporeans deserve to know.
Importantly, do note that I have no issues with HSK’s office requests, with me having to make the corrections. I appreciate the conversation with his office. (And, separately, he is by far my favourite of the 4G leaders, flaws notwithstanding.)
I am just sharing all this simply to lay out the facts here so readers can understand the sometimes convoluted news and information flows that exist in Singapore.
HSK made a statement at a student forum. The Straits Times reported it succinctly, as a newspaper must do. Readers like me then drew conclusions from ST’s reporting, as is fair to do.
And now, because of last night’s political debate, the question of fact versus falsehood has again emerged, honest discourse undermined because of imprecise answers (from him) and imprecise assumptions (from us).
So, I kindly again call on HSK to clarify what immigration rate he is targeting for Singapore. Voters deserve to know.
Relevant aside: You, as a thinking citizen, can now see how the government’s messaging flip-flops to suit the needs of the day. Just over a year ago, HSK was saying that Singapore’s population density is not excessive and that other cities are a lot more crowded. Why? To open up your mind to population growth.
Fast forward a year. The entire government apparatus, Chan Heng Chee included, is now selling you the message that Singapore is the most densely populated country on earth bar Monaco. Why? They want to deflect blame for the COVID-19 mess.
Classic PAP tactic: define Singapore as a city when it suits; and a country when it doesn’t.
You as voter can be sure of one thing: statistics and messaging will be marshalled and massaged to sell you an idea.
The obvious retort would be: that’s what politicians everywhere do.
And my response to that would be: fine. You’re right.
Then just admit that the politics you practise is the same as everywhere else. The Singapore exceptionalism is gone. And once you admit that, we can review a whole bunch of things, starting with your astronomical salaries.
Audience Q: Probably one of the reason is, if we keep it small, we can maintain a quality of life for our people. Probably the quality of life is better. Even Australia now, under the new Prime Minister Scott Morrison, is dramatically reducing immigration from 400,000 a year to 100,000 a year. Definitely there are some reasons why they are doing it. Of course we cannot deny the fact that immigration will bring benefits to the society but we are not advocating excessive immigration. Currently Singapore has low birth rate, I personally acknowledge the need for immigration to replacement rate but anything more than that, I think we need to have more discussions.
Heng Swee Keat: Okay. Maybe that should be the topic for the next NTU forum for more discussions. But seriously on the population issue, 6.9 million number that was put out earlier on. In fact, I met Mr Liu Thai Ker, our former chief planner, I think he had publicly said, it has been reported in the papers that we should go for even higher number and that how this little red dot can accommodate many more people. Now whether this little red dot can accommodate many more people actually is not strictly just a physical constraint. We cannot be thinking of 50 million people on this little red dot because it will just be so dense and unpleasant. But the population number is not just about physical space, it is also about the social space, it is about the sense of togetherness. //
So, back to your question, what should be the population number, I would say that it is a discussion that we must have and in particular, in the university….
Image credit: ST