Also in 2011, according to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), “Singapore welcomed a record 13.2 million visitors last year - 13 per cent more than the 11.6 million in 2010.” That’s an average of 1.1 million visitors each month.
A simple, back of the envelope calculation shows that there would be about 6.3 million people on the island each month.
One could imagine the strain on the physical infrastructure, including that of the transport system. In fact, as any commuting member of the public will tell you, it is self-evident everywhere, on the train and buses.
So, when the government earlier this year announced it is pumping in S$1.1 billion into helping the transport operators purchase buses, and more recently, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) dishing out a further S$900 million to help SMRT “upgrade the train system”, you wonder if we are not barking up the wrong tree, so to speak.
The question is: will the problems with the transport system end by pumping in S$2 billion dollars, without the government also addressing the population issue? It would seem that the White Paper may indeed look into this. However, very few would expect the government to reduce the population numbers so drastically just to relieve the strain on infrastructure.
Economic progress is still the number one priority for the government and its ministers have said so. It is a belief which former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew espoused. “Once you have growth, all problems can be managed,” he said in 2007. The government’s focus on this led to accusations of its policy of “growth at all cost”, leaving other concerns on the bottom tier to be managed later.
But its economic policy is fundamentally based on population growth. Without the worker ants, as it were, economic progress is not feasible. So, it becomes a vicious cycle or, as the government may think, a virtuous cycle.
One thing is for sure, the infrastructure is straining to keep up. As the government adheres stubbornly to its belief that only with an increase in population numbers will economic growth be possible, and the tourist board goes all out to attract even more visitors – which is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way – there will continue to be problems creeping out of the woodwork, as long as we do not take a holistic view of economic progress, its upsides and its downsides.
Without any clear direction about where Singapore’s population growth is headed, those at the frontline like Mr Quah will be struggling to keep things running.
It is not fair to these hardworking people.
The real culprit, therefore, of all these infrastructural problems facing Singaporeans now are, truth be told, vague government policies. Policies which details the government is not sharing with Singaporeans.
Hopefully, the White Paper will provide some concrete and clear directions, going forward.
Until then, it is doubtful that pumping in money will solve anything. Perhaps the government should listen to what Mr Quah said, for he has hit it right on its head.