Saturday, July 28, 2007

Impact of Population & Immigration policy

Workers Party NCMP Sylvia Lim has raised a very important point in her speech in parliament. She was questioning the aggressive population policy of jacking up the population size to 6.5 million targeted by the PAP government. Could our social infrastructure cope with such aggressive increase in population?

As far as we know, Singaporeans' birth rate is dropping beyond self-replacement level. So how do we do magic by increasing our population by more than 50% when we could not even replace ourselves? The only way to achieve such aggressive population policy is to open the floodgate wide to allow foreigners to come in, work, get permanent residence or even citizenship.

To cope with such aggressive population policy, there are few areas of concerns:

Jobs & Economy

Although the influx of foreign workers could create internal demands on local services, but Singapore is basically an economy that depends very much on foreign investment and trade. Could our economy creates enough jobs for these foreign workers? If not, then the next question is, would our citizens be replaced by cheaper foreign substitutes?

Health Care

The pressure and stress on our health care system is already showing signs of collapse. To aggravate the problem, the PAP government is pushing for "medical tourism" and this would only worsen the pressure on the local health care system. Those government "restructured hospitals" are encouraged to earn more money from these "medical tourists". But what's the priority and focus here? Government "restructured hospitals" should serve the interests of local citizens first. If there is no excess capacity, why should these hospitals engaged in these lucrative "business" of taking in medical tourists?

On the other hand, PAP government government is reluctant in building new hospitals. It took nine years for it to build a hospital in the North, after much pressure from electoral campaigning. The West side, which house the heavy industrial parks, is still lacking a decent hospital.

When the supply of health care services like hospital is kept stagnant, with an increase in population and extra demand caused by the promotion "medical tourists", the rise in health care cost is inevitable. And we are seeing shortages of hospital beds and blood quite frequently in recent years.


Education is the pillar of Singapore's progress. This is especially so when we are a small country that depends very much on human resources. And it is only logical that the quality of life of Singaporeans could only be improved if the education level of Singaporeans at large is improved.

From a historical perspective, those countries that put consistent focus in education excel well for their citizens and economy. Finland, Germany, Japan etc. So much so that many others try to emulate them. eg. Hong Kong is targeting 60% of their student cohort to get post-secondary education, even go to the extend of introducing "associate degree" and pushing for more institutions to provide higher diploma and degree courses.

In contrast, our PAP government is giving more places and scholarship for foreigners/ permanent residents to get into our universities! The argument that MTI of USA has 40% foreign students is absolutely flawed. There are hundred of universities or colleges in USA that provide tertiary education for Americans and they could afford to have a few colleges that could have high percentage of foreign students. But in Singapore, we only have 4 universities and we are giving 20% of our TOTAL university places to foreigners? Hong Kong has a population of 7 million to 7.5 million and they have 12 universities now and still trying to increase the numbers. So how many universities should we have to cater for a population of 6.5 million that provides at least 20% of places to foreigners?

Public Transport

We are facing a stress on our bus and train services right now. During peak hours, these basic public transport system are packed with people. Off-peak hours, frequency of buses and trains are pretty much lower.

Hong Kong is a good example for us to examine as its population is about 7 million. At that population level, its train consists of 8 cabins instead of 6 (that we used here in Singapore). However, its frequency of train services is pretty much higher, regardless of peak or off peak hour, compared to Singapore. During peak hour, its frequency could be as fast as 30 seconds to 1 minute per train. Off peak hour, average waiting time will not last more than 3.5 minutes.

Looking back at our train system, are we ready to cater to a population of 6.5 million? 6 cabin-train system is definitely insufficient to cater to a population of 6.5 million! If we are to increase the number cabins, it may need massive modifications to our existing rail and stations infrastructure!

Housing, Property & Space

I do not know whether our housing policy could possibly cater to a population of 6.5 million with about 40% or 50% foreigners. this is basically because there will be bigger fluctuations in demand while supply is sticky. The recent spike in housing prices and rental is a testimony of such demand fluctuation in play. Housing supply normally lacks behind demand changes basically due to time lag of realization of supply to cope with demand structure.

The situation is worsen by the fact that there are a lot of foreign funds speculating on local housing prices. These funds are fluid and could be withdrew easily. This impact on the quality of Singaporeans at large is yet to be seen. But the crash of 1997 is a good indication of the massive wealth impact on local Singaporeans. Many people who bought a house to stay back then, including me, are caught in the crash and become negative asset holders, even though we are not speculators!


The ultimate question is this: ARE WE TRULY READY for such aggressive population & immigration policy? There are two aspects:

1) Are we investing enough in our infrastructure to cater for such a population boom?
2) Are we having enough laws and regulations to protect our own citizens from the negative impact of waves of foreign influx?

This is something for all of us to think about.

Goh Meng Seng

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Hong Kong Protest March

Yes, this is again the annual celebration of the return of Hong Kong SAR to People's Republic of China. In fact, this year is one of the more important celebrations as it is the 10th Anniversary of the establishment of Hong Kong SAR.

This is also marked by the annual huge protest march organized by the Democratic Alliance of Hong Kong. There are various themes and agenda on the table for this year's protest march but the main theme is still pressing for Democratic changes to the electoral process of the Chief Executive (CE). They are still pressing for Universal Suffrage for the election of the (CE) instead of the electing the CE via the 800 delegates mostly appointed by the Beijing Government.

I have attended the past two years' protest march and I am glad I have the opportunity to attend my third this year. This is a very good exercise for me to feel first hand how "Asian people" could conduct peaceful political gathering and protest march in Asian cities. It also reminds me that in a supposedly "materialistic" Asian cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong, it is still possible to have active participation by its largely middle class residents in such social-political movement. It also enhances my belief that such political-social protest march is not necessarily a source of "instability" but rather, a show of maturity of modern civilization. In fact, even Hong Kong Government is even proud to present this as an "achievement" or heritage of open society to the world in many of their publications. This years' official publication that commemorates the formation of the Hong Kong SAR has put up a big photo of the legendary half a million protest march held in 2003 as an illustration of the kind of freedom that Hong Kongers enjoy under the law.

The following photograph is a powerful demonstration of the political maturity of the Hong Kong society in spite of the fact that it is just a city under the rule of the communist China.

On the background is the big billboard that was constructed for the celebration that has just taken place in the morning where there were a parade of lion dance, dragon dance, performance etc. The protest march is carried out in the afternoon using the same location, Victoria Park, as the starting point.

On the very same day, there are other celebrations like Parachuting show by the Chinese army, people queuing up to see the two new pandas given to Hong Kong SAR, a 23 minute show of fireworks in the evening...etc. But it seems that there are not much of a conflict between participating in the various celebration events and participating in the protest march. I guess it is in fact they have taken the annual protest march as a kind of celebrating the establishment of Hong Kong SAR as well.

On second thought, I think they have not equated going on the street to protest as something "non-patriotic". In fact, there are articles by the protesters that argue that joining the protest march is a show of patriotism or love of Hong Kong. It does not mean that patriotism could only be demonstrated by those joining in those events of celebration.

In fact, the relevant authorities like the police, St John Ambulance etc has been actively engaged with the organizers to make sure that the whole march could be completed successfully without any major incidents. Negotiations were carried on the time that is needed for the whole protest march, weeks prior to the actual day. For a relative new (10 years) establishment like the Hong Kong SAR, it seems that the SAR government are more open to such democratic freedom of expression than Singapore which has declared independence for more than 4 decades.

The Hong Kong society is truly inclusive and tolerant of diverse ideas and freedom of expressions. Although the main theme of the whole protest march is focus on Hong Kong specific domestic political demands like Universal Suffrage, but it also allows voices of the minority activists such as the foreign maids from Indonesia (see photo below).

Most Indonesian maids in Hong Kong could speak Cantonese and they are more conscious of their rights in Hong Kong. In fact, I could say that they are more politically aware and organized than their counterparts in other places. They are demanding fair treatment, higher minimum pay, more off days...etc. But they also show support for the Democratic fighters in Hong Kong as we can see from the following photo, Indonesians standing on the road side, waving their flags and shouting "Ka Yiao" which means "press on".

There are also different groups of people with their own agenda. Some of the more organized ones normally voice their displeasure over some municipal issues like protesting the building of fish market right under their flats or protesting the unfair acquirement of their properties for redevelopment etc. The following photograph shows one of the more organized group of people protesting of the land acquisition of their properties for redevelopment.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) also participate actively in the whole march setting up booths along the marching route, using loud hailers to voice out their concerns. What catches my eyes is the participation of undergraduates from the Hong Kong University's Student Union. They have even published a booklet with collection of essays specially for this protest march.

This is an important observation as it would mean that the spirit of political activism has been successfully passed on to the future generations. In fact, it will become one of the core values of Hong Kong society and its "elites".

One of the basic core values of Hong Kongers is demonstrated during the march:- Creativity. Smaller NGOs with limited resources will use more creative means to attract attention of Hong Kongers to their messages. Some will dance with their messages written on the wooden clips held in their hands (Chinese writing means "Independence of Media").

Some will mimic the traditional dragon dance with white cloth signifying "White Terror" with a banner written "Stability above everything" (note: this is the infamous phrase spoken by the Chinese leaders in the past) pasted on its mouth. They chant a rhyme in Cantonese that means "White Terror celebrating the return of HK to China". Not only that, they have a drumming team accompanying them too!

Of course, there are also those more "traditional" ways of expression by means of simple creativity.

Creativity is also shown in the entrepreneur spirit of Hong Kongers during the march. Who says protest march will definitely be bad for business? The following 7 Eleven staffs have shown extraordinary initiative by capitalizing on the crowds that are brought about by the march itself!

I did not finish the march this year but it is quite a refreshing experience. Every year I have different inspiration from my participation in the march. To think of it, it is quite a sad irony in fact.

My own country, also an Asian city, has constitutions that guarantee our rights to peaceful gatherings but the ruling party uses its administrative power to deny any other political parties to hold political gatherings, least protests or demonstrations except political rallies during election periods. The reasons given, ironically, is in essence, similar to the Chinese Communist Party "Stability above everything else".

We pale in comparison with Hong Kong when it comes to political openness and activism. The right to peaceful demonstration is not merely a process itself. It involves a lot of other implications in terms of identities, grooming of activists, raising political-social consciousness and it even has the power to create common shared values and social cohesion.

Demonstration of differing views or political ideals are not necessary divisive. It may be a demonstration of views that is contrary to the government's stand but it also allows the society to listen to views of the NGOs and those of marginal, minority groups. In the whole process, it will raise awareness that there are certain issues or concerns that the mainstream politicians or press may not touch on for various reasons.

The right to demonstration and the willingness for the ruling party to allow demonstration of differing views is the ultimate yardstick of "openness" of the whole system. There are of course possibilities of rowdy happenings during demonstration but I think if WP could hold political rallies that attract tens of thousands of participants that could come and disperse peacefully and orderly, I do not think Singaporeans are "trouble makers" at all.

Singaporeans are after all, like Hong Kongers, mostly middle class citizens who are mostly well educated. Although there are "racial sensitivity" involves but I think throughout the decades of Nation Building, multi-racism has become one of our key core values. Mutual respect is built upon such shared values. And I believe we could stand the test of radicalism and we could self-regulate extremism.

Alas, I do not think I could see any changes in my lifetime because we are all entrenched in the bogey man fear. Fear is one of the fundamental "core values" of Singapore and it is explicitly expressed by PAP itself "Kia Si, Kia Su, Kia Bo" (fear of death, fear of losing, fear of wife) and of course, "Kia Zhen Hu" (fear of government). PAP understands this very well and their reasoning is always capitalizing on this FEAR... FEAR of riots, instability, withdrawal of foreign investments...etc.. if we allow demonstrations!

One army officer has explicitly told me this, opposition cannot make progress in political contests basically FEAR itself is one of our core values. This is also why Singaporeans generally lack entrepreneurship and the courage to take risks. Well, I will leave this to my coming articles on Core Values.

Goh Meng Seng