Singapore’s population projection of 6.9 million by 2030 is for infrastructure planning and not a target the government is aiming for, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said, as Parliament began a debate on the island’s demographics through the next decade.
The government isn’t deciding a population trajectory beyond 2020, Teo said today as he sought an endorsement of a white paper published last month that set out a framework to address Singapore’s demographic challenges. There may be as many as 6 million people in 2020 from 5.3 million now, and between 6.5 million and 6.9 million in 2030, according to the report.
“What the population will actually be in 2030 will depend on the needs of Singaporeans, and the decisions we make on economic and workforce policy along the way,” Teo said. “This population range up to 2030 provides a common set of parameters so that we can make long-term plans that will be sufficient to cater even to the high end of possible populations. This is especially important for infrastructure plans that may take many years to implement, and once built will be there for decades.”
Record-high housing and transport costs, public discontent over an influx of foreigners and infrastructure strains are weakening approval for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s ruling party. His government is under pressure to placate voters without disrupting the entry of talent and labor that helped forge the only advanced economy in Southeast Asia.
The island’s population has jumped by more than 1.1 million since mid-2004, stoking social tensions as the government used immigration to make up for a low birth rate.
“Singapore is crowded as is,” Seah Kian Peng, a parliamentary representative from Lee’s People’s Action Party said, even as he supported the paper’s recommendations. “The current bottlenecks especially in transport are already there. These are legitimate concerns that Singaporeans have raised and I share them too.”
The government “paid a political price” with the strains on its infrastructure as a result of a bigger population, Lee said last week. His party lost two by-elections after returning to power in May 2011 with the lowest share of the popular vote since independence.
Gross domestic product growth may average 3 percent to 4 percent annually up to 2020, and the economy may expand 2 percent to 3 percent a year in the following decade, the government said in the white paper released on Jan. 29.
“What the government is proposing is to aim for its GDP targets and grow the population to achieve it,” said Sylvia Lim, a member of Parliament from the Workers’ Party, the only opposition with elected representatives in the legislative body. “The well-being of Singaporeans, our quality of life, and our very identity will be put at peril under the government’s proposal.”
Her party, which has seven elected members of Parliament, proposes the nation should have a population of not more than 5.9 million by 2030 and won’t endorse the white paper, Lim said. The People’s Action Party holds 80 of 87 seats.