THE Government should stop focusing on using immigration to drive economic growth and focus on boosting the quality of the Singaporean workforce to meet its targets instead, said the Workers' Party (WP) East Coast GRC team yesterday.
Referring to the Population White Paper - in which the Government projected a population of 6.9 million by 2030, nearly half of which would be foreigners - WP candidate Daniel Goh suggested scrapping the use of population figures as planning parameters altogether.
"I don't think there is a need to commit to any number. That is precisely the point. (Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say) said, and I agree with him - don't focus on the quantity, focus on the quality (of the workforce)," Dr Goh told reporters during a morning walkabout at a market at Block 16 Bedok South. And this quality, he said, should come from Singaporeans.
His team is contesting East Coast GRC against a People's Action Party (PAP) team led by Mr Lim.
Dr Goh, an associate professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore, also urged the ruling party to stop sending "mixed signals" about immigration policy and clarify if the population projection of 6.9 million by 2030 still stands.
He noted that since the Population Paper was debated in 2013, Mr Lim has reiterated that the Government has cooled the pace of immigration. But the Government has not restated its population policy.
Without more clarity, it is hard to tell if the Government is really focusing on Singaporeans, or if it is "still intending to open the floodgates over the next three years, four years, five years", said Dr Goh.
But at a separate media interview yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen took issue with the tendency of opposition parties to "bang away" at a single issue - such as population - without considering its inherent trade-offs.
He said that no party, including the PAP, should pretend that there are simple answers.
Dr Ng said the key issue was not the population figure, but how much slower growth was acceptable, in the light of Singapore's lower fertility rate and zero local workforce growth after 2020.
He also noted that businesses have been squeezed as foreign labour inflows tightened over the past few years, which has resulted in job losses for Singaporeans as firms struggle with higher costs.
Dr Ng, the PAP organising secretary, said: "If we have zero foreign-worker growth and 2020 comes and we have zero local workforce growth, that means we have zero workforce growth, which means any growth to the economy must come from productivity gains. These are not simple questions that you can 'sloganeer' away."
Additional reporting by Charissa Yong
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