Wednesday 25 September 2013

Ask The Prime Minister 2013

Significant progress on hot-button issues: PM Lee Hsien Loong
PM Lee calls on Singaporeans to play a role in shaping the country they would like to see
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 25 Sep 2013

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday said the Government has made “significant progress” in addressing hot-button issues following the 2011 General Election, but called on Singaporeans to play a role in shaping the country they would like to see.

He felt that while the sense of identity, for instance, has strengthened among Singaporeans, the willingness to sacrifice individual concerns for broader national goals “is probably less” when compared to the previous generation.

“So when an issue comes up, there is less willingness to say: ‘Well, this one I lose, but what to do, it is for the national good’. There is much more desire to say ‘How can this one hurt me, how can you take care of me if you want to do this,” said Mr Lee. “It is a different generation; I think attitudes have changed over the years.”

The Prime Minister made these comments during Channel NewsAsia’s Ask the Prime Minister programme last night, during which he was asked a series of questions on wide-ranging topics concerning governance, forging a social compact and future challenges confronting Singapore.

On the hot-button issues of foreigners, housing and transport, Mr Lee said it “took a while both to manage the issues and also manage the sentiments, and get people to look at it in a more positive and constructive way” as the Government embarked on efforts to address these concerns.

On housing, Mr Lee noted that the Government has built “a lot of units”, reduced the queues for new flats and stabilised prices. “There is more assurance now that you can afford an HDB flat,” he said.

In public transport, the S$1.1 billion Bus Service Enhancement Programme has led to more than 200 new buses being introduced, resulting in fewer crowded services. “We still need to get some more buses on the roads, we still need to get more drivers hired, we are working at it,” he said.

“The trains will take a bit longer because the train upgrading, to get the new signalling laid, to get the new lines running, to get more trains, rolling stock to arrive, that will take a few more years, 2015, 2016, but we are making a lot, as much haste as we possibly can.”

Asked if there is one attitude among Singaporeans that he would like to change, Mr Lee said he had two. First, he noted how Singaporeans’ first reaction would be to turn to the Government to solve all problems. While the Government must think ahead, the Prime Minister also urged Singaporeans to think of what they can do to solve the problem together. “I think that is the more resilient, more sturdy approach which will see us through the long-term,” he said.

Second, he felt that Singaporeans should keep a closer tab on issues affecting other countries, beyond those happening here. He cited the recent terrorist attack in Kenya, which did not garner much attention in local media. Instead, the ceiling collapse at JEM shopping mall made the newspapers’ headlines here.

“We need to have an external orientation, an openness to check what’s happening and to be psychologically ready to deal with things as they happen, before they happen,” Mr Lee said.

As significant shifts are made to social policies, Mr Lee said Singaporeans need to share a sense of collective responsibility in ensuring that policies designed benefit everyone. “What we have announced, what we want to do, we can afford to do, can’t all be out of Government coffers or from the Finance Minister writing a cheque,” he added.

“Individuals still have a responsibility and they ought to pay some part of it, and the community also ought to take some responsibility for helping to make some things happen and helping to support the projects.”

Mr Lee also looked ahead to Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence in 2015. And he said he was confident for the country’s future.

Mr Lee said: “I think we should give thanks, 50 years, we have had a successful half century, tremendous achievement. There must be a spirit of commitment, dedication of ourselves to the next phase and a resolution that ‘I want to take this further’. Fifty years is not a long time in the history of a nation, but at the beginning of a nation, 50 years is a long way to go.”

PM Lee working to build successor team
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 25 Sep 2013

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong intends to put in place a leadership team, as well as a successor, before he turns 70. He said this, in response to a question on Ask the Prime Minister programme on Channel NewsAsia last night, during which he was asked if he intends to stay on as Prime Minister beyond the age of 67 — the age at which Mr Lee Kuan Yew stepped down and handed over the reins to Mr Goh Chok Tong.

Mr Lee, who is 61, said: “I do not have a specific date, but I have said that I shouldn’t really be Prime Minister until the age of 70.” He added: “I think we must have a successor, a successor team in place and ideally a successor in place well before that.”

Mr Lee noted that the Prime Minister position is both a physically and mentally challenging role, which an older person might not be suited for.

Noting that he was “very, very lucky” to have 20 years of apprenticeship, Mr Lee pointed out that the future prime ministers of Singapore might not have a similar privilege.

“I think Singapore will have to get used to the idea that you have people come in, you have a leader who has not been there quite such a long time, you have to operate in a different sort of way but he can make it work,” he said.

When asked about the qualities in the next Prime Minister, Mr Lee said: “Ideally we have another (Mr) Lee Kuan Yew, (but) that’s not going to happen.”

He added: “There’s only one (Mr) Lee Kuan Yew in many, many, many, generations, in many, many countries. We’ve been blessed. We have to work with the talent which we have.”

The Prime Minister acknowledged that social media and negative online comments have made it more challenging to recruit new political talent. The last two General Elections, however, have enabled him to bring in “significant number of good people”, and the current pool of political holders form a “good team”.

And while it will take time for Singaporeans to gain familiarity with the new team, the Prime Minister said that “their heart is in the right place”.

“I think they are shaping up, and around the team we will have to build, and we will build successors,” Mr Lee added. “I hope in the next election, I will be able to reinforce the team further. We are working at that.”

'Untruths spread through social media hard to correct'
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2013

SOCIAL media makes the work of governing harder as untruths spread quickly and are difficult to correct, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday night.

Communication is swift on social media, so when untruths or mistakes are circulated, they are far more difficult to correct than errors in newspapers or on television.

"On the Internet, you put one untruth or mistake out, (it) spreads all over the space. How do you send the truth chasing after the untruth... and catch up with it? It's quite a problem, not just in Singapore but all over the world. We have to think how we're going to deal with these things," he said.

The other problems linked to social media include online bullying, an area where the law has not caught up with technology, as well as the way a political leader's every move is judged instantly, as though in a 24/7 referendum.

But social media also enables people to share information, as some did during the recent haze crisis on where N95 masks were available.

Mr Lee said the flak directed at politicians online could also make would-be candidates and their families more reluctant to take the plunge into public life.

But a significant number of good people had been inducted in the last two elections, he said.

Giving names, he cited Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, Ministers of State Sim Ann and Desmond Lee and Ms Low Yen Ling, who will be appointed Parliamentary Secretary on Oct 1.

"They are a good team. They've learnt well, they've been plunged into very deep, very cold water but they've worked very hard, they've learnt fast.

"It still takes a while for people to... develop that familiarity and rapport with them but their hearts are in the right place and I think they are shaping up," he said.

He hopes to reinforce the team further in the next general election and added that he is focused on building up this team to succeed him and his peers.

"They will have to decide among themselves who will be their leader and then Singaporean voters will have to decide whether they want this team to be their Government," he said.

‘Building trust comes from working together’
TODAY, 25 Sep 2013

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was asked a wide range of questions during last night’s Ask the Prime Minister programme on Channel NewsAsia. Here are some excerpts:

Mr Walter Fernandez, Editor-in-Chief, MediaCorp: What underpins this entire social compact has to be the trust between the electorate and the government. You have said before there have been mistakes made, no perfect 20-20 hindsight, things could have been done differently, how do you rebuild this trust between the electorate and the government?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong: You do it by your actions, by solving the problems, you do it by showing people that on your side and finally it’s a matter of the feeling that you are with them, they can rely on you, you will fight with them. To a certain extent you can do it by talking, and having speeches and explaining what you say and do it well. But to a very considerable extent building trust comes from working together. If I have a crisis, I live through the crisis, I tackle the crisis, we surmount the crisis together, that makes a difference ... it comes from really what you do and not just from what you say, and what you do together is critical.

Mr Fernandez: Let’s take ourselves two years ahead when Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence, it’s a time when the nation is going to be in a celebratory mode and what I really want to know what we have learnt from that first 50 years, looking at other countries who have reached that milestone, do we have reason to celebrate, do we have a certain sense of confidence in our future?

Mr Lee: I think we will have ample reason to celebrate but I don’t think we should stop at celebration, it’s not just fireworks and parties, I think we should give thanks, 50 years, we have had a successful half century, tremendous achievement. There must be a spirit of commitment, dedication of ourselves to the next phase and a resolution that ‘I want to take this further’.

Fifty years is not a long time in the history of a nation, but at the beginning of a nation, 50 years is a long way to go ... after 50 years Singapore is totally transformed, I think we give thanks — and to be pensive after 50 years, to be thoughtful, to have some soul searching, we are at a milestone, where do we go next, I believe we have every reason to be confident and take it to the next stage, ourselves and our children and we will do that.

Everyone must help sustain social policy shift: PM
They must pay their share and shame those guilty of free-riding
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2013

THE Government's big shift to strengthen social support means individuals have to play their part in keeping new policies, like the introduction of MediShield Life, sustainable, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a television forum on Tuesday.

In his first comments on the policy changes he announced in last month's National Day Rally, Mr Lee said that with the move to universal health insurance, those who default on their premiums increase the burden on the rest.

There must be strong social pressure against such free-riding, he added.

The national health insurance scheme MediShield will be extended to cover everyone, including those with pre-existing illnesses.

The current age limit of 90 will also be scrapped and the scheme renamed MediShield Life.

Before the switch to universal coverage, those who did not pay their MediShield premiums lost their benefits and were no longer covered.

"But now, we're making MediShield Life universal," Mr Lee said on the Channel NewsAsia forum. "Everybody is covered. You cannot drop out. So if you don't pay, then your benefits will effectively have to be funded by all the rest of us who have not defaulted.

"I don't think that is fair. So not paying becomes a serious matter and then we will have to find ways to encourage people very hard to pay their premiums."

He cited three ways: social pressure, rules as well as schemes to make it convenient for people to pay and meet their obligations.

He said the community should make clear what it considered to be acceptable behaviour: "Whether they think he didn't pay, that's fine, or whether if you don't pay, there is a certain amount of social disapproval...

"You're not carrying your burden, you're really free-riding. That is a very important attitude which we must develop as a community."

Mr Lee acknowledged that with the state and society stepping in to provide more social support for individuals, there was a risk that people could become increasingly reliant on government intervention.

Some countries in Europe have gone overboard in providing welfare and gone bankrupt as a result, he noted.

These very generous schemes also sapped the will of the people, with even those who were working depending on government welfare to make ends meet.

But Mr Lee made it clear he and his government would work hard to avoid repeating such mistakes. "My government is going to try very hard, not just making the right policies, but persuading people what is needed and where we should pause and think carefully and not rush forward headlong," he said.

Singaporeans will also have to play their part, he said.

"It's really also... the attitudes each population takes towards personal responsibilities, family responsibilities, what the community will do and the sense that I want to look after myself, I don't want to be just reliant on handouts from somebody else because I have pride.

"I think the older generation was very much like that and we hope the young generation will be, too."

Work-life balance? 'Know trade-offs too'
PM warns S'poreans that overseas competitors seek to steal their lunch
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has sought to inject some balance in the national preoccupation with work-life balance, warning Singaporeans that competitors are out to steal their lunch.

At a televised forum last night, he said the idea of work-life balance has become so popular it is now a tag phrase.

"They call it a meme on the Internet," he said, adding that people who used the phrase did not seem quite sure what they meant by it except that they would like more free time and less stress.

It was also not clear if people knew the trade-offs, he said.

"If you look at other countries: Vietnam, China, even in India, they're not talking about work-life balance; they are hungry, anxious, about to steal your lunch. So I think I'd better guard my lunch."

He did not agree with the generalisation that younger people want an easy life.

"I would not write off young people," he said. "I think there are a lot of very hard-working young people and very altruistic young people who do a lot of good work beyond themselves."

Among the questions he fielded during a one-hour broadcast on Channel NewsAsia was one on who would foot the bill for new policies to increase support for the vulnerable members of society.

He said the State cannot pay for all the measures and that individuals and the community have to play their part.

Citing the move towards universal health insurance coverage, Mr Lee said more must be done to encourage people to pay their MediShield Life premiums as otherwise, others on the scheme will have to pick up the tab.

Besides rules and schemes to make payment convenient, social pressure from the community is also important, he said.

"If you don't pay, there is a certain amount of social disapproval... You're not carrying your burden; you're really free- riding. That is a very important attitude which we must develop as a community," he said.

On succession, he said it was now more difficult to recruit people for politics, given greater uncertainty of a win at the polls and intense public scrutiny.

Mr Lee, who turned 61 in February, also reiterated a point he made in last September's "Ask the PM" forum with current affairs website Singapolitics: He would not want to still be Prime Minister at the age of 70.

A successor should be in place well before then because of the emotional, mental and physical demands of the job, he said.

He ended the programme on a high note, saying that when Singapore turns 50 in 2015, it should not just be "fireworks and parties", but also thanksgiving for a successful half century of tremendous achievement.

In its first 50 years, the People's Republic of China suffered huge upheavals in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution before economic reforms set it on the path of growth, while Israel fought four wars and celebrated its 50th year in a pensive mood, with the Palestinian issue unresolved.

Singapore had a tough first decade with the withdrawal of the British, but found its feet.

On marking the 50th anniversary, Mr Lee said: "There must be a spirit of commitment, dedication of ourselves to the next phase and a resolution that I want to take this further.

"I believe that we have every reason to be confident that we can take it to the next stage, ourselves and our children, and we will do that."

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