Why is 10 million people the target for Singapore?


 

This is a number that keeps coming up every now and then. Sometime in January 2013, a white paper released by the then government (which happens to be the same now) about pegging the population on this 720 sq km island to about 6.9 million people – and that number is to be arrived at by about 2030.

Lots of debates have been held, and the PAP-dominated parliament endorsed the paper with 77 yes, 13 nos and 1 abstention – for some reason, the Hansard does not show Inderjit Singh’s absence and hence his non-vote. Inderjit was highly critical of the paper and since the whip was not lifted, he “did not attend the vote”.  Personally, the fact that I am not a member of any of the parties in Singapore is because of this archaic notion of a party whip.

Anyway, this post is not about that white paper, but about the 10 million we keep hearing.

I was privileged to have had the opportunity to work for a really wonderful person, Ong Wee Hock, who at that time was the General Manager of CSA Holdings (now part of CSC)  and I was his Chief Technology Consultant (in fact, I was the only techie in CSA Holdings). This was the period of 1993-1995. Wee Hock and I would spend most mornings from about 10 am till almost noon talking about technology, society and the economy. All of the discussions were both a conversation as well as a debate. There were things that I did not quite agree with him and he readily welcomed the contrary view and accepted it when it was clear to him that the argument was better. One of it had to do with the how the Internet will take off and completely sideline TV (the traditional broadcast TV). I told him that I much rather have audio (via radio broadcasts in this case) for it allows me to continue to do things that I needed but have an ear out for the audio. This was a conversation specifically around broadcasts that involve the Parliament. The Singapore budget was due to be announced by the Finance Minister and since it was broadcast on TV and radio live, he wanted to be able to catch it in the office. It was a challenge to set up a TV point in his room but a radio was trivial. When I got both of it going for him in his room, he conceded that since the budget speech would be just a speech, the radio would be more than sufficient and with his usual smile said, “Harish, you are right. There are times when just audio is sufficient.”

The reason I am mentioning Wee Hock here is about some topics we spoke about in the morning meetings. One specific item keeps coming back to me – that “EDB in the 1980s was working on a plan that at Year X, Singapore would have 10 million people”. Wee Hock was a scholar (Colombo Plan I believe) and was EDB Chief in Europe in the 1980s. He was also an author of an EDB plan around some manpower projections or something that he and his co-author appreared on local TV explaining in the 1976 or 1977. I recall that because that topic came up in GP class – although I am not sure what my class concluded.

He was explaining to me that EDB’s planning considered what was the ideal number of people in a population that will ensure sustainability in many areas – arts, culture, science, engineering, business, finance etc. It turns out that 10 million is that magic number. I challenged him asking how would we fit that many into Singapore. Mind you this was when were were about 3.5-4 million (1995 or so). His argument was that we could build “floating islands” off of the East Coast that could house townships that are linked to mainland via a combination of bridges and tunnels. The engineering for these islands would be from what was being done for the Japanese Kansai airport.  We could also harness wave power to generate electricity and even contemplate some form of nuclear power generators. [He was not aware of the, IMHO, a safer and simpler way to generate nuclear power via molten salt reactors.]

He felt that the 10 million was a doable number but it needed some critical development both in terms of technology for land reclamation, housing technologies, agro tech innovations, transport and energy generation. He was of the opinion that the underlying enabler of all of this is advances in computing technology.

To his credit, he did also say that, ultimately, it is upto the political leadership to sell the idea in a manner that the population could accept. As an economic planner, he knew what were the key buttons that needed to be pressed to make things happen. The biggest button was public trust.

So, let’s fast forward to 2018. Today, Sunday 19th August, as I write this up, I am reminded by a tweet that there is a National Day Rally event happening

The National Day Rally was something I looked forward to. It reminded me of my principal, Philip Liau, when he spoke at the school assembly on Wednesdays, His topics were varied and interesting. Everyone paid attention. It was like that for the National Day Rally. Sadly, this current PM does not have that import unlike LKY. GCT who had some of it and Loong who has none. If this was being delivered by Tharman, I would have eagerly watched.

Long story short: this 10 million issue will come up I am sure. Will it be part of today’s National Day Rally? Probably not. Would the million dollar ministerial salary on going train wreck by GCT be addressed? Probably not. [It is telling that as far as I know, no PAP minister has made a single comment about GCT’s statement. The silence is very loud.] We are about 2 years from the next General Election. The one party in power model has to be broken. It will not be sustainable.

Don’t bother watching the live broadcast of the National Day Rally. Go out to the parks. Enjoy the evening. Spend time with family. Read this http://www.newmandala.org/lky-legacy/ The remarks of the PM will be summarized, regurgitated, digested, put on visuals etc – it has already been done I am sure. Just wait for that.

Majulah Singapura.

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