Friday 28 September 2012

S'pore tips for Russia in wooing investors

Mr Lee's advice to Russian governor: Ensure investor security and cut red tape
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2012

A RUSSIAN governor on the brink of launching economic reforms yesterday sought the advice of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who gave him two tips from Singapore's story on attracting investors.

First, ensure security for investors and their property. Second, remove bureaucratic hurdles that prevent them from carrying on their business.

While there were countries in the region that take investors "hostage", Singapore had made efforts to help the latter succeed, said Mr Lee.

"We take the opposite line. An investor who comes in, it is our duty to help him succeed, and when he succeeds, his friends will know about it and they will also come in," he told Mr Andrey Turchak, governor of the north-western Pskov region, which is engaging Jurong Consultants to help set up a special economic zone.

"If you do the same in Russia, you will succeed."

Mr Lee was addressing 600 guests at the 7th Russia-Singapore Business Forum organised by the Singapore Business Federation at the Marina Bay Sands. The four-day event, which started on Monday, gathered businessmen from Russia, Singapore and the region.

At the 40-minute dialogue, Mr Lee was asked for his views on a broad range of issues, from the territorial dispute in the South China Sea to how the young should prepare themselves for the future.

Replying, Mr Lee noted that the dispute boiled down to two alternatives.

"The safest way and also the least confrontational way is to go by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," he said. The other way, he noted, is to have it worked out between China and the individual claimants, as sought by China.

Mr Lee added: "The disparity, size and strength will decide in whose favour it will be."

When a young man from Kazakhstan asked for advice for his generation, Mr Lee said: "Well, I can't give advice to young people in Kazakhstan and Russia because I don't know their condition and how fast it's changing. But for Singapore, we tell them: Expect change and expect rapid change."

One finance entrepreneur wanted to know Mr Lee's vision of the world in 50 years, but the former prime minister said: "I can't tell you what the world will look like in 10 years, let alone 50 years."

But he did note that technology was changing the way people communicate, making it a truly globalised world.

One participant appeared to be worried about recent moves by Singapore to cut the inflow of foreigners. Mr Lee assured them that the Republic was still taking in foreign workers, but also highlighted Singaporeans' concerns over being squeezed out of their own country. "We will continue taking in foreigners at a pace which the rest of the population, Singapore citizens, will find comfortable," he said.

"We are short of workers. Today, we have 5.2 million people, of whom 1.5 million are foreign workers, and we need more. And although they are coming in at a slower pace, they are coming in."

One question, however, was a bit more personal. Entrepreneur Sergei Beloussov asked when Mr Lee's books will be available electronically on Apple iBook or on Kindle, so more people could know the Singapore story.

Mr Lee laughed, saying he would ask his publisher to consider, prompting moderator Michael Tay to ask: "Maybe we give ourselves a one-year deadline - by next year we hope to get your book online in e-books and Kindle?"

"Okay," replied Mr Lee with a laugh.

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