Saturday 24 August 2013

PM Lee's post-National Day Rally 2013 dialogue with young Singaporeans

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterates the message that "good things need to be paid for"
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 23 Aug 2013

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said the government needs to strike a balance between taking the lead and moving people along when it comes to tough policies.

He was speaking to young Singaporeans at a post-National Day Rally dialogue on Thursday evening.

The dialogue was an occasion for PM Lee to exchange views with his young audience and for him to hear what they think of his recent National Day Rally speech.

The conversation was free-flowing, touching on a range of issues such as housing, education and volunteerism.

One participant said there is a sense of entitlement among youths in Singapore who want the government to do more for citizens.

Mr Lee reiterated that while the government will do more, "good things need to be paid for".

He explained that whatever the government gives out, will eventually come from the citizens.

The government "does not have a magic source from heaven", he said.

PM Lee noted that the country's revenue is now in balance. But beyond a point, he said, Singapore can get into trouble like the American and European economies.

And with the government doing more to help citizens, participants acknowledged that relations between state and the people will be more challenging.

For example, Mr Lee said the government cannot carry out extensive consultations like the Our Singapore Conversation exercise for policies that need urgent attention.

He cited the issue of tax.

He said: "If I'm discussing whether to raise taxes or not, I think I will never finish that discussion. So, one day when we have to raise taxes, the government will just have to make up its mind and say, 'ok, I have to decide, I have to do this, I have to persuade people', because otherwise it's not workable.

"(In) some other countries, they went round consulting 'shall we, shall we not, shall we, shall we not raise taxes?' In the end, you don't have to be very well-informed to guess what the answer was. In the end there was no conclusion and no tax increase."

A good part of the discussion was centred on youth involvement in the community.

Participants questioned if volunteer work should be institutionalised or free flowing and asked what sort of role the government can play.

Mr Lee replied that some form of support for youths who want to volunteer is useful.

And that's what the new Volunteer Youth Corp will provide.

He said: "You need some organisation to back you up. And if you can fit in, you can push it where you want to go. There's a framework there, and within that framework, if you're interested, you can come and do good work. So I think there's a nice balance, a nice way to do it. If I prescribe you having to do this, well, it may not be exactly your cup of tea."

Wrapping up the dialogue, Mr Lee again urged Singaporeans to have faith in the future of the country.

In two years, Singapore will mark its 50th anniversary of independence.

Mr Lee said it's an important milestone.

He said: "We should mark the occasion properly; 50 years is an important milestone from where we started to where we've come.

"It's been a very exciting journey and we've changed ourselves and we've changed Singapore. I don't think we should just have a fireworks display and a party. I think that would not be at a right level.

"It's an occasion for us to look back...over 50 years... What have we done? What has made this work? What do we want to do in future and also to commit ourselves to say, 'I do want to commit this for the future, let's make it happen together'."

Mr Lee announced that Education Minister Heng Swee Keat will head a committee, called S50, tasked with rolling out programmes to mark Singapore's 50th birthday.

He added that youths will be part of this celebration through community and social projects.

Channel NewsAsia will broadcast highlights of the "Prime Minister's Dialogue with Young Singaporeans" on Monday, 26 Aug, 8pm.

Singapore's Lee learns to 'fist bump'
AFP, Published 23 Aug 23

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's efforts to connect with younger voters may finally pay off after a photo of him doing his first fist bump went viral on Facebook.

The photograph circulating on the popular social networking site on Friday showed a gleeful-looking Lee performing the greeting with a young woman at a youth forum.

"Huh, fist what?" Lee asked when asked by Jasmine Yeo if he would go through the ritual with her, according to the woman's account of their encounter on her Facebook page.

Yeo said she explained to Lee the intricacies of the greeting: bumping fists then slowly pulling them away while making a "psssshhh" sound.

Lee, 61, did not make the sound on his first attempt so she told him he must try again.

The prime minister asked if he could use his left hand, she said, and the next attempt was a success.

"Maybe next time I can use this to greet people when I meet them," Yeo said Lee told her.

"This will definitely be a moment to remember. Am really happy that the PM is so willing to entertain my nonsensical request," Yeo wrote.

The fist bump -- a signature move of United States president Barack Obama -- is said to have originated on American inner city basketball courts as an alternative to high-fives.

PM: Two elements key to online resilience
He says one must not be ashamed of what one is doing and be thick-skinned
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2013

BEING proud of what you are doing, and having thick skin: these are the two elements of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's resilience in the face of a hostile cyberspace.

At a dialogue last night with 60 youth leaders, PM Lee was asked by a participant from the Singapore Kindness Movement how he remains positive, for example on his Facebook page, when online commentators are unkind.

"First of all, you must not be ashamed of what you are doing," he said. "If there are some naysayers, you must decide if you have the majority with you or not."

He said that in cyberspace, "some generally disagree, some are just looking for things to disagree with you about".

"But if you want to do something for Singapore, you should not be deterred because there are some nasty postings. In public life, you must learn to have thick skin at the right places, in the right times."

While noting that it can be intimidating for those not in public life to be flamed online, he said: "I am in public life. You flame me, I'm flame-proof!"

Mr Lee also told the audience that there are limits to how widely, and for how long, his Government can consult the public before deciding on policy.

An excessive amount of time spent consulting could mean "the opportunity passes you by", he said.

While he thought that the Our Singapore Conversation mass engagement exercise was very successful, Mr Lee noted that if there was an emergency or "if you have a difficult situation and you must move quickly, you cannot spend one year talking about it".

Citing as an example the issue of whether to raise taxes, he said "we will never finish the discussion".

He noted that some other countries have premised such decisions on a public consensus but, predictably, the answer has always been not to raise taxes.

"Of course, if you ask me as an individual, ask Singaporeans as individuals, do you want to raise taxes? Of course I would say no.

"But one day, if I need to, I have to decide and do this, and persuade the people."


I think everyone wants to pay less tax and get more. But the Government has to get money from you, we have no other magic source. Today, our balance is good. But beyond a point, like the US or Europe, we are in trouble. In my Sunday speech, after talking about good things, I have to remind everyone that all good things have to be paid for. Which I think all working adults know.

- PM Lee


If in society, we look down on somebody because of the way he dresses or the way he talks, you make him feel uncomfortable to be with you, I think that's not a good thing... You can be of any family background but when you go to the hawker centre, you sit down, you eat together. If a stranger comes, he sits with you.

- PM Lee

Parliament mid-term break next year
Next half-term will be fresh starting point, Government will set direction
By Janice Heng And Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2013

PARLIAMENT is set to take a customary mid-term break next year to take stock of its work and let the Government map out a new legislative programme.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday he intended to prorogue Parliament in the coming year, a move which would terminate the session and effectively hit the reset button.

"When Parliament sits again (in the second session) we will set out the next half-term, establish a fresh starting point for the rest of the term, set a direction - which I think, most likely, we will do next year," said Mr Lee at a dialogue on the National Day Rally last night.

Singapore's 11th Parliament was prorogued in 2009, three years after it was sworn in. The current Parliament was sworn in in 2011.

Mr Lee made the announcement in response to a question from National University of Singapore student Soh Yi Da, 24, who asked for the Prime Minister to give the Government a "mid-term report card" with marks out of 10.

"Students never give themselves report cards. They wait for the teacher," quipped Mr Lee.

But he added that a "progress report" was on the way - when Parliament is prorogued. While saying he would not "try to give (himself) a grade", he did note that the past two years have been busy in policy areas such as housing, health care and education.

Grades were on the minds of some of the other 60 young people taking part in the dialogue held by the National Youth Council in the Lasalle College of the Arts. One asked if doing away with the Primary School Leaving Examination T-score would nurture "youngsters who cannot stand up to competition or comparison".

To this, Mr Lee said doing away with the T-score did not mean doing away with grades or results: "I don't think we are in danger of sitting back under the coconut tree and relaxing... I think we should help children in school set the right balance."

Volunteerism was another hot topic, with Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong also taking part in the dialogue and many participants involved in voluntary work. Some worried that the formation of a volunteer youth corps might over-institutionalise volunteerism.

Mr Wong said that policy-makers, too, had that worry. "We were cautious, we didn't want to end up stifling that spirit."

But rather than institutionalising service, the youth corps aims simply to provide opportunities and resources, he said.

PM dialogue: Community spirit topmost on youths’ minds
By Tan Weizhen and Amir Hussain, TODAY, 23 Aug 2013

Some wondered if it was wise to institutionalise volunteering in the form of the recently announced volunteer youth corps. Others debated whether the new generation of Singaporeans have a sense of entitlement and do not care enough for others.

At a dialogue session attended by about 70 young adults to talk about matters raised during Sunday’s National Day Rally, the majority of the 30 participants who spoke raised issues relating to volunteerism with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong. A few, however, touched on housing and other concerns, but it was clear among this crowd that building a sense of community was topmost on their minds.

The 90-minute session was held at the LASALLE College of the Arts.

Ms Deborah Yogeshwari, 26, an executive with Singapore Indian Development Association, said she was concerned that the intention of developing the spirit of volunteerism by setting up a volunteer youth corps may not be fulfilled.

“When I was in school, Community Involvement Projects sometimes ... didn’t really become an involvement with the community ... the activities could have been more meaningful,” she said. “There is a fine line between institutionalising something and allowing ground up initiatives from youth.”

She noted that her work with youth had shown they get “turned off” if it was an “institutionalised response”.

In response, Mr Wong shared that he was initially cautious about “over-institutionalising”. However, he said that he had received feedback that many volunteering experiences were ad hoc, with “uneven quality” and were unfulfilling.

“So if we leave it alone, I think this will continue. But we are hoping with some framework, through the youth corps, we can ensure that volunteering experience will be fulfilling for the individual and impactful for the community,” said Mr Wong.

Mr Lee added that youths “need some organisation to back you up, and you can push it the way you want to go”. “If I prescribe you having to do this, it may not be exactly your cup of tea. But I organise this, I enable it to happen, I think it channels some of our idealism and desire to do good, and at the same time it makes a difference to the beneficiaries,” he said.

Agreeing with Mr Lee and Mr Wong, some participants said that the youth corps could present an opportunity for like-minded young Singaporeans to get together and collaborate on projects, as well as exchange knowledge.

Youth volunteer Natalie Morris, 29, who works as a State Counsel with the Attorney General’s Chambers, pointed out that while she started off volunteering because her school required her to do so, the process enabled her to meet friends with similar aspirations and led to them starting volunteer projects here. She said of her volunteering work: “It may have started out being mechanical, but eventually, it has become so far, a lifelong passion.”

Tha participants were divided on whether their generation were, in general, apathetic or altrustic. Nanyang Technological University undergraduate Jordan Tan, 24, said that his peers “don’t really have a care for people who aren’t as privileged” and Mr Alan Lai, 34, Deputy South China General Manager at Ascott Limited, said that the younger generation has a mentality that the Government should give more and tax less. He suggested that Singaporeans should spend more time reading up on international developments, in order to understand how vulnerable Singapore can be.

Singapore Management University undergraduate Moses Mohan, 24, however, disagreed. He said that there was a growing trend at his university of students taking time off to volunteer.

Mr Lee said he believed that youth here are, by and large, passionate about causes. But there is “a balance between taking the lead and bringing people along”. “If we say charge, and nobody is following you, I think that’s not a very successful charge. On the other hand if you go around discussing where should we go, shall we do or not do, you may never take the initiative and then the opportunity will pass u by,” he said.

“So the skill is how do you shape it so that people are ready and when you say go, people go happily and willingly, and then as the situation changes, well, you can adapt to it and make sure people are looked after.”

6,000 sought for youth corps
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2013

BEING part of the National Youth Council's (NYC) new volunteer youth corps - which the Council hopes will be 6,000-strong - is more than just signing up for community work.

Participants have to do both an overseas project and a local one.

And although they will be matched to critical local needs at the start, they will have to develop their own projects after doing research on the ground.

"We want the projects to be projects that meet the needs of the community, not just projects that you want to do," said Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) Lawrence Wong yesterday.

The volunteer youth corps was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday, in a move meant to urge more young people to do community work.

Though the eventual target is 6,000 volunteers each year, the pilot will involve just a few hundred when it starts early next year.

"We want to expand the opportunities for young people to serve, and to make that service a vehicle to meet critical community needs as well as national goals," said Mr Wong. These could include caring for the elderly or fighting global warming, he added.

The youth corps, for those aged 15 to 35, is aimed mainly at students in the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities but is open to working adults. They will receive training and mentoring, funding for projects, networking opportunities and allowances if they want to take time out from their studies for full-time volunteering.

They can also get a "pay-it-forward" grant at the end of their youth corps time, which they can use to mentor new volunteers.

The overseas part of the programme will initially be via the Youth Expedition Project (YEP).

The YEP is chiefly for overseas projects, but it will eventually be subsumed and replaced by the youth corps programme, with its more substantial local component. "We don't quite today have a good platform to facilitate community service projects within Singapore itself," said Mr Wong.

The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) will identify specific local organisations to work with volunteers and mentor them. They may also get funding to help build their mentoring capabilities.

The youth corps' budget has not been decided, but it will tap the $100 million National Youth Fund announced in this year's Budget. Over the next few months, MCCY and NYC will hold dialogues for young people and other community partners to work out further details.

ITE student Terence Koh's project, designing mobility devices for the elderly, was held up yesterday as an example of a local project with long-term impact - the sort MCCY wants to fund in the youth corps programme.

But the 19-year-old said he was unsure if he wanted to be part of the programme, given its overseas part. "I'd rather do it locally as I prefer to help those here."

50th birthday committee set up
The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2013

A NEW committee has been formed as Singapore seeks to mark its 50th birthday in style. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled the Singapore50 (S50) committee last night, saying that he wanted to mark the jubilee year in 2015 properly: "Fifty years is a milestone, I don't think we should just have a fireworks display and a party."

Speaking at a youth dialogue, he said: "You need to have the right mix between celebration, party, birthday cake, but also, it's like a Thanksgiving service. We've had 50 good years, let's work together, let's promise ourselves that we will have more to come."

The committee will be led by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and will canvass ideas from the public.

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