Archive for April, 2013

The superficial better angel

April 27, 2013

I refer to the 22 Apr 2013 Straits Times article “Choosing the better angels of our nature” by Janadas Devan [1].

Mr Devan remembers singing God Save the Queen first, then Majulah Singapura, then Negara Ku and then Majulah Singapura again during his school days. But when he describes his citizenship journey, he says he was British first, then Malaysian and finally Singaporean. There is a mismatch between his chronicle of the anthems he sang in school and the citizenships that he held. Somehow, Mr Devan didn’t consider himself Singaporean but British instead when he sang Majulah Singapura in Primary 1. But why would any British want to sing Majulah Singapura? How can anyone who sings Majulah Singapura not be Singaporean? Singapore attained full internal self-government in 1959 and our status was elevated to that of a state. With statehood, came our state flag, state anthem and a head of state, Yang di-Pertuan Negara. Singaporeans became citizens of the new State of Singapore while remaining British subjects [2]. Therefore, Mr Devan should have been British first, then Singaporean (under British), then Malaysian and finally Singaporean again.

According to Mr Devan, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr S Rajaratnam all began their political careers believing there was no such thing as a Singaporean until they themselves became Singaporeans and hence “new citizens” in 1965. It is not true that there was no such thing as a Singaporean prior to our independence. Newspaper archives reveal thousands of references to the term “Singaporean” by Singaporeans even during colonial times [3]. It is unlikely that the trio of Lee, Dr Goh and Rajaratnam failed to read newspapers regularly and failed to detect the widespread use of the term “Singaporean” prior to the start of their political careers. Even if they didn’t believe there was such a thing as a Singaporean, many other Singaporeans already saw themselves as Singaporeans and have been referring to one another as such. The trio were not only Singaporeans already prior to the start of their political careers; they were citizens twice over, first in 1959 and again in 1965. They were thus not “new citizens” but “second time citizens” in 1965.

Mr Devan also refers to the trio as the founding fathers of Singapore. But the trio did nothing to deserve that title. Washington, Sun Yat Sen and Ghandi all earned their titles of founding father by dedicating their lives to fighting for the independence of their respective countries. Mr Lee, Dr Goh and Mr Rajaratnam never once fought for Singapore’s independence. Instead, they gave away our full internal self-independence cheaply to the Malaysians. Luckily for us the Tungku rejected us after a brief union. Mr Devan also refers to the trio as the Old Guard. But which guard, old or new, would give Singapore away?

Mr Devan reasons that the natural thing would have been for LKY to base his political legitimacy on appeals to Chinese identity but LKY did not. LKY could not appeal to Chinese identity at first because he was English educated and could not connect with the Chinese educated masses. LKY had to go through Lim Chin Siong to appeal to the Chinese educated masses. Once in power, LKY started to crush the Chinese educated so as to destroy the power base of his foremost political enemies. So contrary to what Mr Devan says, Mr Lee’s political moves to first ride on the Chinese masses before cutting them down is race (Chinese) based.

Mr Devan says there would have been no Singaporean nationalism without the Chinese revolutions of 1911 and 1949, the Indonesian revolution or the Indian national movement. Singapore’s first general election in 1948 was the result of Singaporeans’ awakening nationalism and anti-colonialism post Japanese Occupation. Since Singaporean nationalism had already taken the first big step in 1948, why should it depend on the subsequent 1949 Chinese ‘revolution’? Furthermore, 1949 wasn’t a Chinese revolution but the conclusion of a Chinese civil war. There is similarly no evidence that our nationalism would have been impossible without the Indonesian revolution or the Indian national movement.

Mr Devan contradicts himself when he says on the one hand that culture has never been allowed to drive public policy but says on the other hand that policy is sometimes not race blind as in the case of the GRC, in other words policy had to accommodate race.

Mr Devan says that our juggling of cultural nationalism and Singaporean nationalism is neither natural nor inevitable but a human miracle that we engineered. But he goes on to say that people do not have close friends of different races and that we do not really live out this human miracle, meaning this ‘human miracle’ is merely superficial only. Why even call it a miracle when it is merely superficial only and not real?

Mr Devan suggests that the Singapore identity is forever expanding and not contracting as we enlarge our common space through greater overlap of separate identities. However, if decades of so-called human miracle social engineering only results in superficial overlap without growing deep roots, how can any future expansion be anything but superficial only too. Should the Singapore identity be an incessant quest to expand on the superficial?

[1] Straits Times, 22 Apr 2013, Choosing the better angels of our nature, Janadas Devan


[3] Singaporeans using the term “Singaporean” during colonial times

The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 17 Aug 1848, page 3
While the peculiarities of his Predecessor, amounting almost to eccentricity, had laid us unfortunate Singaporeans under his ban …

The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adverstiser, 15 Feb 1850, page 2
Do then the Singaporeans acquiesce in the opinions of the Straits Times?

Straits Times Overland Journal, 27 Apr 1869, page 4, “The Coming Races”
And last but not least comes “Snoutt-a-Goosta,” also new to Singaporeans …

Straits Times Overland Journal, 6 Dec 1871, page 4, “Reception of admiral Kellet”
I should be much surprised if it were found that the Singaporeans approve of this scant politeness shewn to a meritorious officer …

Straits Times Weekly Issue, 20 May 1891, page 13, “The Raffles Library”
The library is visited by large numbers of passing visitors and by numerous Singaporeans …

The Straits Times, 4 Nov 1925, page 10, Singapore Courtesy
… there certainly appears to be an overwhelming majority of Singaporeans in favour of the “Cuss you, Jack, I’m all right” spirit I had the misfortune to encounter …

The Straits Times, 21 Dec 1925, page 10, News Services
As another Singaporean, I wish to say that his last remark was quite uncalled for …

The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 25 Aug 1928, page 10, Fullerton Building
Sir, it is curious how illogical, I almost wrote obtuse, are the minds of some Singaporeans.

The Straits Times, 1 May 1939, page 15, Waterloo Street in Singapore
The degradation of Waterloo Street here is known to every Singaporean …

Our ‘biggest’ blessing is not a miracle

April 23, 2013

I refer to the 13th Apr 2013 Straits Times article “Singapore’s biggest blessing: Safety” by Mr Kishore Mahbubani [1].

Mr Mahbubani asserts that Singapore’s safety is a miracle because unlike Switzerland, we are not surrounded by places with the same level of safety. But such so-called ‘miracles’ are quite common place around the world:

• Suriname’s homicide rate of 4.6 per 100,000 people is much lower than that of its neighbours Guyana (15.5 per 100,000) and French Guiana (13.3 per 100,000) and Brazil (21.7 per 100,000) [2].

• Martinique’s homicide rate of 4.2 per 100,000 is much lower than those of many of its Caribbean neighbours including Saint Lucia (22.6 per 100,000) and Dominica (19.1 per 100,000) [2].

• Niger’s homicide rate of 3.8 per 100,000 is much lower than that of its neighbours Burkina Faso (18 per 100,000) and Chad (15.8 per 100,000) and Benin (15.1 per 100,000) and Mali (8 per 100,000) [2].

• Sao Tome and Principe’s homicide rate of 1.9 per 100,000 is much lower than that of its neighbours Equatorial Guinea (20.7 per 100,000) and Gabon (13.8 per 100,000) and Cameroon (19.7 per 100,000) and Nigeria (12.2 per 100,000) [2].

• Djibouti’s homicide rate of 3.4 per 100,000 is much lower than that of its neighbours Ethiopia (25.5 per 100,000) and Eritrea (17.8 per 100,000) [2].

• Uzbekistan’s homicide rate of 3.1 per 100,000 is much lower than that of its neighbours Kazakhstan (10.7 per 100,000) and Kyrgyzstan (8.0 per 100,000) [2].

• South Korea has a low homicide rate of 2.3 per 100,000 people compared to its neighbour North Korea (15.2 per 100,000) [2].

• Finland has a low homicide rate of 2.2 per 100,000 compared to its neighbours Russia (10.2 per 100,000) and Estonia (5.2 per 100,000) [2].

• Poland has lower homicide rate of 1.3 per 100,000 compared to its neighbours Lithuania (7.5 per 100,000) and Ukraine (5.4 per 100,000) and Belarus (4.9 per 100,000) [2].

• Argentina has a low homicide rate of 3.4 per 100,000 compared to its neighbours Brazil (21.7 per 100,000) and Paraguay (13.4 per 100,000) and Uruguay (6.8 per 100,000) and Bolivia (6.9 per 100,000) [2].

• Chile has a low homicide rate of 3.7 per 100,000 compared to its neighbours Peru (10.3 per 100,000) and Bolivia (6.9 per 100,000) [2].

• Australia has a low homicide rate of 1.2 per thousand compared to its neighbour Papua New Guinea (13.0 per 100,000) [2].

• The US has a much lower homicide rate of 4.8 per 100,000 compared to its neighbours Mexico (22.7 per 100,000) and a multitude of high crime rate Caribbean states [2].

• Canada has a much lower homicide rate of 1.8 per 100,000 compared to its neighbour Greenland (19.2 per 100,000) [2].

There are too many such ‘miracles’ happening around the world with some countries facing even greater odds than Singapore does for this blessing to be considered a miracle. Selective comparison using just one example of Switzerland proves nothing.

To say that the best minds in America do not go into lifetime public service is to insult people like Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke [3]. Furthermore, best minds going to public service isn’t necessarily the best thing. If Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, the Google founders, John Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie were to all have gone into public service, America would not have become the most powerful nation in the world it is today. Having our best minds go into lifetime public service has deprived us of entrepreneurial achievements and has rendered us dependent on foreign multinationals even till this day.

The suggestion that we may have a riot or two due to MRT breakdown and decline in trust in public institutions is unsubstantiated speculation. Singaporeans are so thoroughly tamed after 48 years of PAP rule that the only strike in the last 25 years is one organised by foreigners.

A messier Singapore isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the French writer Benjamin Constant once wrote: “With newspapers, there is sometimes disorder; without them, there is always slavery.” So it should be the other way round: with messiness comes the freedom to become happy butterflies; to remain stifled and controlled is to remain an unhappy frog in a well.

[1] Straits Times, Singapore’s biggest blessing: Safety, 13 Apr 2013, Kishore Mahbubani

[2] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime statistics, international homicide rate
Latest data used where possible as long as all countries compared have data for the latest year.

[3] The word “lifetime” is probably more applicable to Timothy Geithner than Ben Bernanke although the distinction is irrelevant as many of our ministers aren’t lifetime public servants too but came from other professions instead.

Opening minds to better governance

April 19, 2013

I refer to the 6 Apr 2013 Straits Times article “Opening eyes to good governance” by Mr Kishore Mahbubani [1].

Mr Mahbubani espouses that democracy is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for good governance. That is a statement that misses the forest for the trees. In a truly First World nation, citizens should enjoy both good governance and democracy. They should not have to choose one over the other. To be denied democracy is to be denied our rightful status as masters of our country. Good governance without democracy can be likened to a well fed servant while good governance with democracy can be likened to a well fed master. Saying it is possible to have good governance without democracy is like saying it is possible to be well fed without being the master. But who is more well fed, the servant or his master?

Good governance without democracy can also be likened to a kingdom ruled by a good king. A good king rules well so there is good governance. Yet there is no democracy because the king alone decides and the people have no say. But the good times depends on the continued goodness of the king. The people are at the mercy of the king. If the king ever turns bad, the people have no choice but to put up with the king’s bad behaviour. Herein lies the importance of democracy. It allows for bad governance to be bloodlessly removed and gives renewed hope that the replacement governance can be better. It may not guarantee good governance but it guarantees our right to reject poor governance.

China’s so-called uplifting of more people than any other society ever had over the past 30 years has left even more people un-lifted. It’s not hard to see why the democratic government of Taiwan wouldn’t have lifted even more people or wouldn’t have lifted them higher had they not been ousted from the mainland. What remains forever inconceivable by Mr Mahbubani and which leads to his eternal disconnect from Western minds is the fact that although good governance can be dissociated from democracy, good governance with democracy is so much better than good governance without democracy. Good governance with democracy is better governance.

While Mr Mahbubani claims that democracy is a desirable goal and that he doesn’t want to live in a non-democracy, his concept of democracy is very different from the Western concept of democracy. Simply put, there can be no democracy without press freedom. Thomas Jefferson once said “If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be [2]”. Without press freedom, there can only be ignorance. An ignorant people cannot be trusted to make an informed choice at the polls. Having democratic elections without press freedom is like giving North Koreans a chance to vote. The North Koreans who are completely devoted to their Kim dynasty leaders despite poverty and famine can be trusted to overwhelmingly vote for their leaders if ever given a chance at democratic elections without press freedom. Our own vote shift in recent years can be attributed to online freedom helping to clear away some of the fog of ignorance that have clouded our minds all these years.

The Singapore civil service has performed brilliantly both before independence and after independence. One brilliant civil servant was Dr Goh Keng Swee who served brilliantly before independence and would have continued to serve brilliantly as a top civil servant had he not been inducted into politics.

The Singapore success story hasn’t been properly studied by the Western mind because it hasn’t been properly told. The problem isn’t so much of seeing things in black and white but that of covering up the black with white and painting over the white with black.

[1] Straits Times, Opening eyes to good governance, 6 Apr 2013

By Kishore Mahbubani
FRANCIS Fukuyama has done the West an enormous favour with his essay titled What Is Governance? He is subtly introducing a distinction between democracy and good governance, a distinction which is almost inconceivable in Western minds.
To put it bluntly, democracy is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for good governance. And yes, it is possible to have good governance without democracy.
Anyone who doubts this should look at the record of China’s government over the past 30 years. It is not perfect but it has lifted more people out of poverty, educated more people, increased their lifespans and generated the world’s largest middle class. No other society in human history has improved human welfare as much as the Chinese government. It would be insane to deny that China has enjoyed “good governance”.
The reason why Western minds cannot state this obvious fact is that they believe that good governance without democracy is as inconceivable as a semi-pregnant woman. Yet, as Professor Fukuyama delicately argues in his essay, it is “more of a theory than an empirically demonstrated fact” that “the current orthodoxy in the development community” is right in believing that “democracy and good governance are mutually supportive”.
For the record, to avoid misunderstanding, let me emphasise that democracy is a desirable goal.
I do not want to live in a non-democracy. This is why China too will eventually become a democracy, especially after it has developed the world’s largest middle class. The destination is not in doubt but the route and timing are.
This is why it is essential to draw a clear distinction between democracy and good governance and try to understand what good governance is. Prof Fukuyama’s essay introduces many key elements we have to pay attention to. These include procedural measures, input measures, output measures and measures of bureaucratic autonomy.
But these measures are not enough. They focus more on the methods of good governance than the results. To state the obvious, there is no point having the best processes in place if the results are bad. At the end of the day, the people want to know if they are better off.
Prof Fukuyama asserts that “the quality of government is the result of an interaction between capacity and autonomy”. And on the next page, he shows that Singapore stands highest on the axes of capacity and autonomy.
Curiously, he does this without any explanation or reference to Singapore in his article. Having worked in the Singapore civil service for 33 years, I believe that Singapore has done well because it scores high on capacity and on the culture of service.
The Singapore civil service has performed brilliantly but it has not done so because it is the most autonomous. It has done so because it has imbibed a culture which focuses the minds of civil servants on improving the livelihood of Singaporeans.
Sadly, the Singapore success story has never been properly studied because most Western minds – with their usual black-and-white mindset – cannot conceive of “good governance” as an independent and desirable good.
The greatest contribution that Prof Fukuyama’s essay can make is to open the Western mind to new possibilities. And when the Western mind opens up, it will discover a treasure trove of examples of good governance, a treasure trove which has become even more relevant to the West given the travails that both the American and European governments are having in delivering even basic levels of good governance to their populations.
The writer is the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
His piece and the original commentary by Professor Francis Fukuyama can be found on The Governance journal blog

[2] Quotes on the importance of press freedom for democracy

Thomas Jefferson
“If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”

“Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.”

Information is the currency of democracy.

Winston Churchill
“A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny. … Under dictatorship the press is bound to languish, and the loudspeaker and the film to become more important. But where free institutions are indigenous to the soil and men have the habit of liberty, the press will continue to be the Fourth Estate, the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen.”

Adolf Hitler, Dictator of Nazi Germany, 1933-1945
“The organization of our press has truly been a success. Our law concerning the press is such that divergences of opinion between members of the government are no longer an occasion for public exhibitions, which are not the newspapers’ business. We’ve eliminated that conception of political freedom which holds that everybody has the right to say whatever comes into his head.”

Benjamin Constant, French writer (1767-1830)
“With newspapers, there is sometimes disorder; without them, there is always slavery.”

Peter Howe
The act of witness is very important. Without journalism there’s no democracy. Without journalism, there’s no freedom.

Alastair Farrugia
Freedom is when the people can speak. Democracy is when the government listens

Tarja Halonen, President of the Republic of Finland
A free press is a fundamental prerequisite in the implementation of democracy.

Gerhard Schröder, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
Democracy is impossible without freedom of the press, for freedom of the press is the basis of democracies.

KH Abdurrahman Wahid, President of the Republic of Indonesia
I do not wish to sacrifice freedom of the press in the learning process, which we have to undergo, for in the end it will all bring forth a true democracy in Indonesia.

An Taoiseach Mr Bertie Ahern T.D., Prime Minister of Ireland
Freedom of the press is one of the rights that is fundamental to democracy. No country that systematically interferes with or restricts freedom can be considered fully democratic.

Yoshiro Mori, Former Prime Minister of Japan
The people’s Right to Know is a universal principle that secures democracy, and Freedom of the Press is the basic freedom that guarantees this right.

Wolfgang Schüssel, Federal Chancellor of Austria
Freedom of the press has remained the condition sine qua non of democracy ever since: every cultural and political development is based on freedom of opinion.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, President of Brazil
Most of all, it includes the inalienable right to live in a society in which truth is sought after and achieved through a free and informed public debate. This is the core of democracy

Alan Barth, columnist, Washington Post (1906-1979)
“If you want a watchdog to warn you of intruders, you must put up with a certain amount of mistakened barking. Now and then he will sound off because a stray dog seems to be invading his territory … or because he is outraged by a postman, and that kind of barking can, of course, be a nuisance.
But if you muzzle him and leash him and teach him decorum, you will find that he doesn’t do the job for which you got him in the first place. Some extraneous barking it the price you must pay for his service as a watchdog.
A free press is the watchdog of a free society. And only a press free enough to be somewhat irresponsible can possibly fulfill this vital function.”

Nothing extraordinary about 34% increase in electricity tariff vs 220% increase in fuel price

April 12, 2013

I refer to the 6 Apr 2013 Straits Times letter by EMA’s Ms Juliana Chow [1].

Ms Chow explains that electricity tariffs have increased by only 34% since 2001 compared to 220% increase in fuel prices over the same period. A simple example below shows why this is nothing extraordinary:

$50,000 COE $100,000 COE Percentage increase
Toyota Camry without COE $90,000 $90,000
COE $50,000 $100,000 100%
Toyota Camry with COE $140,000 $190,000 36%

In this example, the price of a Toyota Camry with COE increased by only 36% compared to 100% increase in COE price itself. Yet, the price of both Toyota Camry and COE increased by the same amount – $50,000. Would anyone feel fortunate that car price increased by only 36% compared to 100% increase in COE even as the dollar increase in car price and COE are the same?

It is the same story for electricity tariff versus fuel price. The following graph shows that when expressed in the same units of dollars per barrel, electricity tariff and fuel price have fluctuated in tandem since 2001 [2]. The gap between electricity tariff and fuel price has remained relatively constant even as electricity tariff and fuel price fluctuated wildly together.

Tariff VS fuel price

The following table shows that although the swing in fuel price is much higher in percentage terms compared to the swing in electricity tariff, the swings in dollar terms are about the same.

Fuel price Electricity tariff
Low ($/bbl) $32.10 $93.40
High ($/bbl) $155.10 $213.70
Swing in dollar terms ($/bbl) $123.00 $120.30
Swing in percentage terms (%) 483% 229%

Hence, just like the Toyota Camry example, there is nothing extraordinary about the 34% increase in electricity tariffs compared to the 220% increase in fuel prices. Although the percentage increases are different, the dollar increases are the same as the dollar increase in fuel cost is simply passed on to the consumer as the dollar increase in electricity tariff.

What is important to note from the graph above is that despite efficiency gains over the years from 38% to 44% [6], electricity tariff continues to be driven primarily by fuel prices. The reason why electricity tariff has been trending up all this while is because fuel price has been trending up all this while. This is so even though Singapore is using more natural gas now because natural gas contracts are signed based on pegging to fuel oil prices.

Ms Chow also explains that since more than half of electricity tariff is due to fuel cost, the 220% increase in fuel prices since 2001 will lead to more than 100% increase in electricity tariff had there been no efficiency gains. The following table shows that if we take the 2001 fuel cost and increase it by 220%, the increase in electricity tariff would have been 71% without efficiency gains and 57% with efficiency gains [3]. Either way the increase would have been less than 100%, contrary to Ms Chow’s predictions [3].

Fuel cost at 2001 fuel price and 2001 efficiency of 38% (¢/kWh) Fuel cost at 320% of 2001 fuel price and 2001 efficiency of 38% (¢/kWh) Fuel cost at 320% of 2001 fuel price and improved efficiency of 44% (¢/kWh)
2001 non-fuel cost (¢/kWh) 13.5 13.5 13.5
Fuel cost (¢/kWh) 6.4 20.5 17.7
Tariff (¢/kWh) 19.9 34 31.2
% increase 71% 57%
Fuel cost as percentage of tariff 60% 57%

[1] Straits Times forum, Info on electricity tariffs readily available online, 6 Apr 2013

[2] The chart has three graphs. The fuel price per barrel graph was plotted using data taken from the various EMA annual reports. The gap graph is simply the difference between electricity tariff and fuel price. To obtain the electricity tariff graph, electricity tariff information in ¢/kWh is first taken from the various EMA annual reports. This is then converted to $/barrel by applying the knowledge that 7.333 barrels of fuel oil contains 1 metric ton of oil [4] which in turn contains 11.630 kWh of energy [5]. We also note that overall power generation efficiency has increased from 38% to 44% between 2000 and 2006 [6] and has remained around 44% since then because the fuel mix has remained relatively unchanged since then.

[3] To obtain 2001 fuel and non-fuel cost components, first convert fuel price from $ per barrel to ¢/kWh based on [4] and [5]. Then factor in efficiency [6] to obtain the fuel component. Subtracting fuel component from electricity tariff yields the non-fuel component.

International Energy Statistics
7.333 barrels per metric ton for USA (assume Singapore’s high sulphur fuel oil is equivalent to US crude oil)

Society of Petroleum Engineers, Unit Conversion Factors,
7.33 barrels per metric ton

Department of International Economic and Social Affairs, Studies in Methods, Series F, No. 44, Table 8, page 24
7.32 barrels per metric ton

[5] International Energy Agency,

[6] E2 Singapore, NEA, page 8

‘Rojak’ TFR

April 9, 2013

The Population White Paper recommends immigration as a means to make up for population shrinkage due to our low total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.2. In a letter to the Straits Times [1], Mr Ng Ya Ken makes a similar calling for us to find the ‘true’ reason for its formulation, which is our ‘dire’ demographic situation if foreigner intake is insufficient. It is Mr Ng’s hope that those who can see the ‘big picture’ help the rest see it.

The so-called ‘big’ picture rests on a single number – TFR of 1.2 in 2012. The TFR for any particular year is obtained by adding up the age-specific fertility rates for that year (and then dividing by 200) as shown in the table below.


The problem with this approach is that we end up with a ‘rojak’ TFR that combines the fertility of women from different generations at different stages of their fertility cycle. This ‘rojak’ TFR doesn’t reflect the fertility of any particular generation of women. To find out the fertility of any particular generation of women, we need to trace its fertility diagonally downwards across years. To do so more easily, we can align the age-specific fertility rates according to generation to create the table below which shows the ‘true’ TFR for each 5-year generation of women.


The importance of aligning age-specific fertility rates to obtain the ‘true’ TFR can be illustrated with an example. If we refer to the original, non-aligned TFR table, the ‘rojak’ TFR for 1985 is 1.59. But when we refer to the new, aligned TFR table, the generations of women that contributed to the ‘rojak’ TFR of 1.59 had ‘true’ TFRs ranging from 1.72 to 2.29, all higher than 1.59. Herein lies the problem with the ‘rojak’ TFR: it may not give a true picture of the fertility of our women. In a society where marriage and child bearing are being delayed, the bulk of the children of the younger generations of women may only come much later but this contributes to a lower ‘rojak’ TFR today. At the same time, the older generation of women who already had the bulk of their children earlier will also similarly contribute to a lower ‘rojak’ TFR today. The way to avoid all these distortions is to make use of the ‘true’ TFR instead.

The ‘true’ TFR approach is only available for those generations that have completed their fertility life cycles. These have to be extrapolated to obtain the ‘true’ TFRs of future generations. The following tables show the ‘true’ TFR data points of women who turned 15 between 1963 and 1987 (that means born between 1948 and 1972) and then extrapolated for another 73 years to the year 2060. Two models of extrapolation are used here: the log model and the power model (both provided by Excel). We can see that in the case of the log model, our true TFR hasn’t reached 1.2 yet even at year 2060. For the power model, our true TFR is about 1.4 at year 2060. Both models show that our true TFRs are far from as dire as our ‘rojak’ TFR suggests.

True TFR

It is worrying that our nation is being huddled along in accordance to a number that may not even reflect the true picture, let alone big picture. Previous governments have experimented with population control and ended up being off by a mile. Is the present government so much more prescient that they will not be off by more than a mile?