Thursday, December 13, 2012

Foreigners, population and immigration were hottest issues discussed by Singaporeans in 2012

Foreigners and population & immigration are the two hottest issues discussed on REACH platforms in  the first eleven months of  2012, but  concerns over housing and transport have eased somewhat from last year. This is according to a press release by REACH.

In 2012, taking over Transport’s top place as the most discussed topic on REACH  is  the “Foreigner” issue. Replacing last year’s second hottest topic, “Housing” is  “Population & Immigration”,  which was  last year’s third most discussed topic.


The foreigner issue remains an overriding concern of many  REACH contributors and cuts across feedback related to other issues such as population, transport and housing. Generally, contributors express unhappiness with foreigners for what they perceive as crowding out public infrastructure, eroding social norms and values, and marginalising Singaporeans in school placements and the job market.  A series of prominent cases involving foreigners, such as the insulting comment by foreign scholar Sun Xu, the Ferrari driver’s fatal accident, and ASEAN scholar Alvin Tan’s sexual fiasco triggered heated views towards foreigners and calls for a more stringent immigration policy.

 Nonetheless, there are also some moderate voices surfacing, reminding Singaporeans not to generalise the behaviour of foreigners as it could damage Singapore’s social harmony and international reputation. They also call for the government to take a more pro-active role to promote integration between foreigners and Singaporeans.

Population & Immigration 

Population & immigration issues, ranked third last year (over 1,700 feedback inputs), emerged the second most discussed topic in 2012 with over 3,900 feedback inputs received up to November 2012.  The discussion last year had then centered on the issues of low fertility rate and putting “Singaporeans First”
in jobs, education and housing, underpinned by concerns on the influx of foreigners.

These issues continued to surface in 2012 and gained traction with the release  of NPTD’s Occasional papers on Citizen Population Scenarios in April and Marriage & Parenthood Trends in June, followed by the NPTD Issues Paper and a 14-week public consultation on population in July.  Among others, contributors cited the high cost of living, lack of work-life balance, and job insecurity due to competition from foreigners as the key obstacles to marriage and parenthood.  Many conveyed that they are not looking for short-term incentives but more holistic, long-term solutions to reverse the declining birth rate.

Singapore's population grew sharply in the past decade 
mostly by a large flow of foreigners into the island nation.


The six train disruptions in April this year sparked a lot of discussion on transport.  Subsequent train disruptions in August and October, however, received fewer responses compared to April.  While some expressed resignation to such disruptions, others talked about the improvements they saw in the response plans of LTA and the public transport operators (PTOs) for such disruptions.

However, there remain concerns of possible public transport fare hikes, triggered by the surge in the construction budget of the Downtown Line from $12 billion to $20.7 billion, the $900 million cost to maintain and upgrade the train system that is to be shared between SMRT and LTA, and more recently, media
reports which highlighted that bus fares might go up in future to help improve the wages of bus drivers.

The possibility of fare increases has not  sat well with most contributors. While many acknowledge the need to improve bus drivers’ pay, they urge PTOs to consider alternative options such as implementing  cost cutting measures and tapping into existing reserves, noting that raising fares should be the last resort.
Since this topic started on  6 December, REACH has received 140 feedback inputs up to 11 December.

The increase in the COE prices, which has been in the news headlines, is another hot issue discussed on transport.  Among others, Singaporeans call for the COE system to be reviewed holistically and the public transportation system to be improved to address car population issues.

On the trend of feedback received, REACH Chairman Dr Amy Khor says, “The continued increase in feedback received even after GE 2011 is a positive sign and indicative of a growing active citizenry and desire for views to be heard as part of the  policy making process.  I am also heartened by the many  well considered and sincere views expressed with a mind to contribute to a better life for all. We have seen various policies that are directed towards addressing some of the public’s concerns.  For example, the move to ramp up housing supply has helped to some extent to reduce the anxiety of HDB flat applicants, especially first time applicants.  This shift in sentiments is a good signal that the government’s continued efforts to listen to the ground and adjust its policies where appropriate to allay ground sentiments and address genuine concerns are welcomed.”

Commenting on the persistent  hot button foreigner issue, Dr Khor says, “Feedback from REACH  contributors have at times been emotive but there are also  no lack of level headed views.  These concerns are understandable.  The government is taking progressive steps to address them such as introducing
measures to steer our economy’s direction towards higher productivity  and tightening our foreign manpower intake.  But we also need to calibrate these adjustments carefully so as to ensure that the economy can grow at a reasonable pace over the long term and create good jobs for Singaporeans.  The impact of many of our  policy changes, such as expanding our transport infrastructure  to alleviate Singaporeans’ concerns about overcrowding, will take time to manifest. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and be prepared to rethink, recalibrate or remake policies when the situation changes.  In this regard, REACH’s role remains relevant.  We will continue to ensure that diverse segments of the population are heard and endeavour to make each engagement an interesting, useful and meaningful one. We anticipate that the foreigner issue will continue to be one of the widely discussed topics going into 2013, especially with the planned release of the White Paper on Population in January 2013.”

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