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Baby-making ideas tossed up at dialogue

One participant asks for financial help for couples who have trouble conceiving.
The Straits Times - September 27, 2012
By: Phua Mei Pin
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Baby-making ideas tossed up at dialogue Mr Iswaran (left) and Mr Tan interacting with participants at the dialogue on population last night. Only one participant at the session, which lasted more than an hour, raised an issue related to the economy. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

ONE man asked for more financial help for couples who have trouble conceiving. A social worker suggested that more resources and support be made available to those wanting to adopt children.

And one young man jokingly suggested that all single MPs get married before the next general election, to set a good example.

From light-hearted to serious, many ideas were thrown up by participants at a dialogue on population last night, with most fixed firmly on one goal: to get Singaporeans in the family way.

Although the organisers had intended for the session to discuss the economic implications of Singapore's ageing population and shrinking labour force, most of the 100 or so participants were more interested in coming up with ideas to encourage Singaporeans to start families.

The session, which lasted more than an hour, was held by the National Population and Talent Division as part of a series of dialogues to get people to talk about what Singapore's population strategy should be.

Attending the dialogue were Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran and Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin.

A 26-year-old woman said she was single not because she did not want to start a family, but because she needed to build her career first, to ensure a minimal standard for her future family.

A mother said that by the time her 20-year-old daughter was done with school and comfortable with her career, her daughter would probably be past her child-bearing years.

To sympathetic looks and nods around the room, she confessed: "I really have no clue how to solve this."

The young man drew laughter when he said: "Last year's GE, we saw quite a lot of MPs who are singles. I think it would be good if they set an example and get married in the next five years." To which Mr Iswaran said: "Don't look at us! We're both married with kids."

Only one participant raised an issue related to the economy, and it was to point out the pressures that small and medium enterprises faced after the Government tightened the tap on foreign manpower.

Responding, Mr Tan said he understood their concerns, but added: "One of the big steps that we feel companies can do is to wean ourselves off the access to a fairly free-flowing inflow of labour from before, to one that's a tighter labour market."

Both he and Mr Iswaran also tried to highlight the interplay between personal choices and the larger economic considerations of foreign manpower, unemployment and slower growth.

Mr Iswaran acknowledged that Singaporeans need to have a fundamental conversation about their values and families, and that some would choose to emphasise careers while others would prefer to focus on their families. But he also reminded the group that they would only have such options in a lively economy.

"We should not leave these discussions with the presumption that somehow, Singapore's economic future is a certainty," he said.

"The fact of the matter is, it will have a profound impact on the way we live our lives in the future."

Consider 'not so palatable' facts in foreign worker debate too: Minister

WHILE the population debate is an emotive one, Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran yesterday urged Singaporeans to consider the implications of their choices as they joined the conversation on the issue.

Even as he acknowledged people's concerns about the influx of new immigrants and foreign workers, he stressed the need for an "honest conversation" that took into account the facts.

That was why, he told reporters last night, his ministry released a paper this week laying out the implications of cutting the inflow of foreign workers.

It warned of limits to the growth of the local workforce and its impact on the economy, while also highlighting the potential fallout from an overly liberal foreign worker policy.

Said Mr Iswaran: "Now that does not mean that we are being prescriptive about it because, at the end of the day, it is a choice we have to make collectively, to try and build a consensus around the path that we think is most suitable for Singapore.

"But it's important... we take into account these sorts of facts, and some of these facts may not be so palatable. But it's important we all hear them and digest them, and factor them into our own thinking."

The minister also made these points to dialogue participants.

Singapore, he indicated, needed to take a calibrated approach to population and economic policies so that they were sustainable.

For instance, striving for high growth would stress the country's resources, while low rates of growth would mean less opportunity and therefore require redistribution.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Trade and Industry put up answers to frequently asked questions on the issue at its website:

http://www.mti.gov.sg/MTIInsights/Pages/MTI-Occasional-Paper-on-Population-and-Economy.aspx

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