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Online 28 Feb 07
6.5m is planning figure, not a target
Quality of life for S'poreans won't be compromised: Mah
THE revised projection on Singapore's population, which factors in the possibility of 6.5 million people, was met with concern in Parliament yesterday. Several MPs questioned the feasibility and practicality of the Government's plans, citing reasons such as the fear of overcrowding, inadequate housing and the possibility of higher taxes.
National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan, however, clarified that the 6.5 million figure "was not a target", but rather a planning barometer for Singapore's land use and transportation framework in the next 40 to 50 years.
Singapore's population was 3.9 million in 2001, and with the increase to the current 4.5 million, the Minister said it was "timely" to revise those estimates as it plans for the next 40 to 50 years of growth.
Madam Cynthia Phua (Aljunied GRC) voiced her worry that the new parameter would "impact on land use and land prices" in Singapore. "There will be competing demands between land use for social, business and infrastructure projects and this will cause land prices to rise. Eventually, the accordion impact will be felt across the whole economy," she said.
With each Government ministry having to possibly spend more, it was likely that the public could shoulder part of the higher costs through higher taxes, she said.
For Dr Ahmad Magad (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), the feedback he had received from the man on the street included the fear of limited land to build homes and having to endure overcrowding on public transport.
"With such limited land, surely something has to give. One only needs to visualise the cramped apartments in Hong Kong, the crowded streets in Chennai and the high property prices in Central London, in order to get a sense of what it's like living in an overcrowded city," he said.
Mr Mah had said earlier this month that the quality of life for Singaporeans would not be compromised, despite the competing demands for land.
Yesterday, he promised that Singapore had "sufficient land" to cater to current and future needs, provided the space was used "judiciously and wisely".
"We will need to optimise land use ... through reclamation, building upwards, or using subterranean space. We will also need to invest in necessary infrastructure such as roads and rail networks, and power and utilities," he said.
Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong wondered if the population growth would affect Singapore's ethnic mix. Mr Mah replied that the country's social stability would not be undermined, even as the Government moves ahead to encourage more foreigners from diverse backgrounds to live and work here.
"This is a genuine concern. But let us remind ourselves that this is not something new. We are a nation of immigrants, our forefathers came from many parts of Asia and even beyond," he said.
Even with all the new immigrants, Singapore's social stability and cohesion "had not been affected", but instead strengthened over the years. "If we continue to remain true to our key principles--meritocracy, multi-racialism--our schools, public housing estates, grassroots networks, National Service--this will all help to maintain the glue that binds us together," he said.
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