Too many Singaporeans, too little Singapore

The country's population currently stands at just under 5.4 million which includes 3.38 million citizens, nearly 0.5 million Permanent Residents and over 1.5 million temporary residents (foreign workers, long term visa holders etc.)

Now, most countries endeavour to control their population to varying degrees. In most cases, governments want their population growth rates to stay somewhere around the natural replacement rate so as to avoid a rapidly growing or shrinking population.

But in Singapore's case, our natural growth rate (which means the number of Singapore citizen babies contributed by Singapore citizens) is abysmal. The current fertility rate - the number of children born (on average) per woman - hovers at around 1.4 while natural replacement rate is actually around 2.4.

You'd think the result is that we Singaporeans are quickly going extinct but you'd be wrong. In fact the population of this island has grown precipitously decade on decade.

In 1986, the total population was around 2.7 million and 30 years later it has doubled. At this rate in another 30 years, we're looking at 11 million Singaporeans.

One word accounts for this increase: immigration.

Singapore is a nation of immigrants and the island continues to attract new residents and citizens at quite a pace. At far too rapid a pace according to many long-term citizens.

Some mornings when a foreign national bus driver can't tell me where the bus is headed because we don't share a single language or he has no idea what the city is laid out like beyond his trained route, a part of me understands the frustration. But I remind myself this is a rather hypocritical attitude as the vast majority of Singaporeans were themselves immigrants only a generation or two ago.

In 2013 it was revealed that the government was targeting a population of 6.9 million by 2030.This was seen as the number required to sustain our economy and growth; in fact it would have brought us near the population of Hong Kong - currently 7 million - our long-term rival.

A typical scene in Singapore: a crowded train station. - AFP archive picA typical scene in Singapore: a crowded train station. - AFP archive picHowever, the revelation in a White Paper released by the National Population and Talent Division sparked an immediate uproar on a scale (quite unprecedented in Singapore) Yahoo! News summed up as "fury over 6.9 million population target for Singapore."

Perhaps the public's indignation was so severe that the government backed down as so little was heard about the 6.9 million population target after that the opposition party, Worker's Party, queried it last year asking: "Has the PAP changed any direction and policy... are they still intending to open the floodgates in the next three, four, five years? What's the scenario?"

In the same year, Liu Thai Ker (the former chief urban planner of the city state) shared that the target population needs to be bigger with CNBC. He estimates 10 million people saying, "We should allow Singapore to grow and plan for a much bigger population like 10 million people. We should ask ourselves: How long do we want Singapore to remain as a sovereign country? Even at 10 million people and assuming a population growth rate of 1 per cent, we will only last slightly over 100 years and that's not a long time."

Ten million people on a tiny little island one degree north of the Equator - it already sounds sweltering and crowded right? But I have to say I agree with our technocrats.

Singapore has to look to immigration to sustain and increase our population. At the simplest level, more people (properly managed) means a bigger more powerful economy and nation.

I know that for many long-term Singapore citizens including a lot of my friends and family this sounds like heresy. What about the kampung spirit of the little nation that could? Won't Singlish become something else entirely? What happens to our national identity when we become a true global metropolis?

I agree, I too love old Singapore - the eclectic bits of heritage scattered around our island - but I also know growth is our nature and that it is our future. And while I understand it's not that easy to assimilate scores of new citizens without losing the Singapore we are familiar with, I would argue our city state is very well placed to succeed.

We've done it for most of our history, we have economic resources, planning capacity and we have a diverse base culture which means a broad range of people will feel comfortable calling Singapore home.

Population growth has been a historical limitation but it's one we've also historically overcome and with open discourse, generous inclusive policies (that don't favour one ethnicity over another), planning and some foresight we have a good shot at remaining Singapore - just bigger and bolder.

Source: The Malay mail Online