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10 million population was planning benchmark and my personal opinion: Liu Thai Ker

Former Chief Planner weighs in on issue that aroused much controversy during the recent General Election

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– Former Chief Planner Liu Thai Kher has commented on the 10 million population issue that aroused much controversy during the recent General Election.

In an interview published on Friday (July 17) with the Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, Mr Liu said that the long-term urban development plans for Singapore are dependent on the ability of the nation to accommodate a large enough population. This is important for land and resource-scarce Singapore.

Mr Liu, who is 82, left public service in 1992.

In the interview, he emphasised that the 10 million figure was not a target set by the government but a scenario that Singapore should plan and be prepared for. He said: “If you don’t make preparations now, when you need more expressways and MRT lines, where will the land come from?” He said that it was a planning benchmark and his personal opinion.

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He added that if the country is able to accommodate this large number of people, more plans need to be made in the present to prevent adverse impacts on Singaporeans should the country eventually reach this number.

Mr Liu acknowledged the concerns over the number of immigrants entering Singapore and the ability of the country’s infrastructure to meet the demands of increasing population, but he said train services are an administrative and management issue rather than related to population.

More than just urban planning, he shared his thoughts about the attitudes towards foreigners. Singaporeans should look at the positive contributions by the foreigners as well, he said.

He added that the government should explain its principles and rationale seriously and clearly.

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The 10 million issue rose to prominence during a televised pre-election debate on July 1, when Singapore Democratic Party chief Dr Chee Soon Juan referred to a dialogue session between then Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and students at the Nanyang Technological University in March last year. A Straits Times report the next day had the 10 million figure, which was mentioned some years earlier by Mr Liu.

Dr Chee had asked the People’s Action Party’s Dr Vivian Balakrishnan if he could “categorically tell Singaporeans right now that your party has no intention of raising our population to 10 million by continuing to bring in foreigners, especially foreign PMETs, into Singapore to compete with our PMETs for jobs”.

Dr Balakrishnan responded by referring to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office that day advising people not to indulge in falsehoods. He added: “Let me state for the record. We will never have 10 million. We won’t even have 6.9 million. The government doesn’t have a target for the population. What we want is a Singapore core that is demographically stable, able to reproduce ourselves, able to create opportunities and jobs for ourselves and able to stay as a cohesive whole. It is not a target and it’s certainly not 10 million and you are raising a false strawman. That is a false statement.”

Subsequently, the SDP declared that it had succeeded in attaining the “1N” in its “4Y1N” election manifesto because the PAP government had affirmed that it did not intend to increase the population to 10 million. This claim by rejected by the PAP. /TISG

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