Sunday 30 March 2014

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's dialogue at Chatham House on 28 March 2014

Outlook for PAP rests on performance: PM Lee
It also depends on what S'poreans want, he says at dialogue in London
By Zuraidah Ibrahim, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

WHETHER or not the People's Action Party (PAP) can continue to run the Government depends on how well it acquits itself and continues to build on the successes of the past, and on Singaporeans themselves, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Similarly, there can be no straight-line predictions that because the opposition has 40 per cent of the vote, it will not be long before it takes over government, he said, during a dialogue at Chatham House, a think-tank, yesterday.

He was responding to dialogue chairman and former British secretary of defence and transport Malcolm Rifkind, who commented that given that the opposition had scored 40 per cent of the vote in the last general election in 2011, it was "not a long way from overtaking you and taking over power".

Mr Lee replied: "I don't think you can draw straight lines like that. In politics, things never progress in linear fashion. In the end, people will have to decide in Singapore on what government they want and whom they want to run their government.

"And the opposition in the last election did not stand to run for government, in fact the contrary, they made a point to say they are not going to run for government, please vote for me."

To this, Mr Rifkind said it was either not to be believed, or there was a "very odd thing going on".

Mr Lee's rejoinder: "The odd thing going on is that in Singapore, people actually know that the Government generally is doing the right thing.

"But they'd like somebody to be there to put a bit more chilli on the Government's tail."

The exchange began when Mr Rifkind noted that the PAP had been in power for more than half a century and if this was healthy.

Mr Lee said that there were advantages in ensuring continuity but also change within that continuity. For a small country, discontinuous change could be disruptive and dangerous.

Importantly, the system has been renewed with several changes of the guard and leaders who can "move with the times with the population".

"Whether we can do that, whether we can maintain that position of trust and dominance in the system over the long term depends on Singaporeans and also how well we acquit ourselves and we establish ourselves in our own rights, not just as heirs to the success, but creators and builders on what the previous generation achieved."

Pressed on whether it was tenable that if 40 per cent of opposition votes still ended with, say 10 seats in Parliament, given the first-past-the-post system, Mr Lee said the system seeks to be representative with Non-Constituency MPs and Nominated MPs.

He said that for the opposition, it was "politic not to propound policies or alternatives" in Parliament but to snipe from time to time and when elections are held, to try and rouse the people.

During the one-hour dialogue, Mr Lee was also asked wide-ranging questions on matters from China-Japan ties, to regional politics in South-east Asia and global economic growth.

On how Singapore managed to survive the global financial crisis of 2008 and whether it would be able to avert future crises such as the effects of a debt crisis in Japan or a banking meltdown in China, Mr Lee said there was "no armour". As a small country, it feels the effects of any global downturn quickly and one result of the outflows of capital from that crisis into Asia has led to Singapore's own property market moving.

"We have had a very tough fight trying to manage this and hold back the waters and stabilise the property market," he said.

Singapore also had resources to quell any sudden panic and to help workers and companies cope, including helping them pay workers Central Provident Fund contributions in the Wage Credit Scheme, for example.

"We sailed through with hardly any increase in unemployment and the storm passed faster than we expected," he said.

On any other "cataclysm" happening any time soon, he said: "It depends what exactly happens; we keep our powder dry, we have reserves, we have people who are hard-working, we have unionists with us to solve problems in a way which is win-win and benefits workers...we are not at odds within ourselves, so we can unite to fight the problems which face us from the rest of the world."

Despite Opposition gain, Singaporeans know Govt doing the right thing: PM Lee
By Lin Yanqin, TODAY, 29 Mar 2014

Singaporeans know the Government has been doing the right things, but they want Opposition representation to add some “chilli” on things, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

While it is up to Singaporeans to decide who they want to run the government, he noted the Workers’ Party made it clear in the last General Election it was not contesting to take over from the People’s Action Party (PAP).

Mr Lee was responding to a question on whether he was concerned about the gains made by the Opposition in the 2011 polls, including winning a GRC for the first time.

Responding to the question from Mr Malcolm Rifkind, a British Member of Parliament, during a dialogue at Chatham House in London yesterday, Mr Lee said: “In Singapore, people actually know the Government generally is doing the right thing, but they like somebody to be there to put a bit more chilli on the Government’s tail.”

When Mr Rifkind asked whether he felt it was healthy for any political party to be in power for more than 50 years — the way the PAP has — Mr Lee said a system should have continuity, as well as change within that continuity.

Noting that the PAP has managed to keep up with the times and ensured the system stayed “renewed” throughout several changes of the guard, Mr Lee added: “Whether we can do that and maintain that position of trust and confidence and dominance in that system over a long term, that depends on Singaporeans and also on how well we acquit ourselves and establish ourselves in our own right, not just as heirs (of the previous generation).”

Several questions on Singapore’s political system peppered the one-hour dialogue, which involved more than 200 academics, diplomats, students and civil servants. Questions such as the lessons China could learn from Singapore’s reputation for clean governance, as well as the road ahead for the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), were also raised.

Mr Lee said that while the Chinese leadership recognises the need to clean up its house so as to not jeopardise its legitimacy to run the country, its challenge lies in how to do so “without bringing it down”.

He added that apart from ensuring the mechanics for reporting and punishing wrongdoing exist, a system must also have “honest and resolute people” who will keep it clean “even when it’s politically inconvenient”.

On whether ASEAN could, like in the EU, have free movement of trade, services and people in the future, Mr Lee expressed his doubts.

He said: “If 100 million people came to look for jobs in Singapore, I would have a problem. We have legally one million foreign workers in Singapore. We control those numbers ... because there’s a limit to what society can accommodate.”.

Chatham House is an independent policy institute based in London. It was Mr Lee’s first time speaking at the institute, which has also hosted former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

It is people who keep the system corruption-free: PM
By Zuraidah Ibrahim, The Sunday Times, 30 Mar 2014

Singapore has a strong anti-corruption system and values but it is not the system that will continue keeping it clean. It is the people who run it who will do so, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He made this point last Friday during a dialogue at independent think-tank Chatham House, while responding to questions from Mr Malcolm Rifkind, the chair, and an audience of academics, diplomats and London's intellectual elite.

Mr Rifkind, a former minister in the Conservative government of prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, asked what Mr Lee felt was Singapore's unique selling point.

He replied that it was a First World system in a very complicated and non-First World part of the world. Things work, people are well educated and the Government is incorruptible and efficient, and tries to be consistent over a long period.

"So if you come to Singapore, and you want to do business, you can count on what we promise you, and what you see is what you get and that's not bad," Mr Lee said.

Mr Rifkind noted that the abhorrence of corruption went back to the days of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. Were there strains in the system now?

Mr Lee said that the system and people's values were fairly well-entrenched. The public's expectations were also such that if something was not quite right, the alarm would be sounded, investigations begun if indeed there was real suspicion, and consequences followed.

"It doesn't mean that the system runs by itself. In the end it is still people and you must have very capable, honest and very resolute people who will operate the system and follow through and keep it clean even when it's politically inconvenient.

"And that's what we tell Singaporeans: You cannot assume that whoever happens to be the minister or prime minister, all will be well because we've got all these rule books and laws built up. It depends on what sort of person he is and who is going to make it work."

On what made it possible for Singapore to be corruption-free when so many others had failed, Mr Lee said that the British did leave behind a system, but the People's Action Party also felt it important to win the first elections in 1959 "because by the second time, the system may well have gone corrupt".

He said that Singapore had an exceptional team with the resolve to keep things clean and build a system to maintain it, and with a track record of investigating anyone at fault, whether a policeman or a minister.

But he acknowledged that it was easier for a small country with just one level of government to weed out corruption. Other countries, he said, can decide to go about it gradually or through revolution.

An audience member asked about China's anti-corruption efforts. Mr Lee said that the Chinese were taking it very seriously because they knew it went beyond administrative efficiency, but to the Chinese Communist Party's authority and legitimacy. The challenge was "how to clean the house without bringing the house down".

On what the Chinese could glean from Singapore's experience, he said that they have to set up a system that minimises the opportunity for arbitrary discretion and rent-seeking behaviour, and to have open, transparent systems. They are moving in this direction, Mr Lee noted.

Also, Singapore opted to pay people properly and ensure they did their jobs properly. "And if you don't, you will be replaced or removed or demoted. And then there will be integrity in the system.

"But to get from a position where people have a low trust in the civil servants, to one where you will be able to pay them properly and people accept that, I think that's a very difficult journey to travel... in China you have to progress gradually."

On China's rise, and more
The Sunday Times, 30 Mar 2014

At the think-tank Chatham House last Friday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fielded a host of questions, from international relations to domestic issues. Some excerpts:

Q: Is the rise of China causing nervousness among its neighbours?

It's a very big change in landscape. When you see mountains grow, you talk about millions of years. When you see a country rise, here you are talking about less than a century.

A powerful country, a continental power, will have commensurate defence forces. What posture those forces take, whether you are benign, whether you are restrained, whether you take an aggressive approach when issues come, that's a matter of policy and also of history and the thrust of the zeitgeist of the country.

Q: Aren't ties becoming much more fraught between China and Taiwan, Japan and South-east Asia?

I would take a more nuanced view.

First, Taiwan, which a few years ago looked like a real hot spot: Things have stabilised considerably with this KMT (Kuomintang) government over the last couple of terms. It is much less likely now you are going to have some conflagration across the Taiwan Strait. Compared to 10 years ago, I think things are much better today.

China-Japan: Things are worse today.

China-ASEAN: There is the issue of the South China Sea, which is a very serious one with several of the ASEAN countries, but all of the ASEAN countries in fact want good relations with China. And, other than the South China Sea issue, China is actually making a considerable effort to cultivate these countries and to get them on China's side.

So it's a multifaceted relationship. Would we prefer China to be weak and poor? I'm not sure. Different sets of problems will come.

Q: Can Myanmar make the transition to democracy?

They are much better off than they were a few years ago. The leaders know that the old path was a dead end and that they have to move forward, but moving forward goes into quite complicated territory too. Once you have gone for freedom of speech, democracy and elections, Pandora's box is open, you have 135 nationalities, not counting the Rohingyas. You have to count your votes and even Aung San Suu Kyi has to watch her Buddhist votes and can't side with the Rohingyas. In that sort of situation, we wish them well. They have a very difficult task ahead. I think the omens are good, but nothing can ever be certain.

Q: How do you see Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's role in economic policy?

We've had 10 years of stability and growth in Indonesia under President Yudhoyono. And it's been a great benefit to Indonesia, it's been a great benefit to Indonesia's neighbours. And Indonesia has enhanced its standing in the world. It's a member of the G-20, it plays a role in many international affairs.

We hope that whoever comes after President Yudhoyono will establish the same standing and have the same mindset and international outlook to fit Indonesia into an ASEAN and an international environment in a way which will benefit Indonesia and also make your neighbours prosper.

If you look at the popularity polls, (Jakarta Governor) Jokowi is the most popular of the candidates but it's still several steps down the road yet. Whoever he is, he will have to face the same challenges of creating jobs and growth within Indonesia, of holding a complicated country together, which has very different parts.




'More time needed' for EU-Singapore trade pact

By Zuraidah Ibrahim, The Straits Times, 31 Mar 2014

THE European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will likely take longer than this year to be ratified, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In several meetings with leaders such as the Dutch, British and Luxembourg prime ministers during his visit to Europe last week, Mr Lee received their support for the trade pact that will benefit all 28 EU member countries and Singapore.

"There is a process to go through, and the European Parliament, and the countries, will need time to deliberate on this," he said.

Singapore had hoped to clear this hurdle soon, but may have to wait until after European Parliament elections in May before collecting the 28 ratifications. And Singapore is "very systematically going country by country to lobby for their support, and explain why this is a good deal for them", said Mr Lee.

The pact's text was initialled last September, and it has been described as a state-of-the art FTA that is adapted to modern service-driven economies. It covers tariff-free access for goods, reinforced intellectual property protection, technical barriers to trade and government procurement.

It will be the EU's first with an ASEAN country. The EU is Singapore's third-largest trading partner, after China and Malaysia. Bilateral trade has grown more than 60 per cent in the last decade, and the FTA will reap billions in trade over the next decade, according to analysts.

Noting the pact's scope, from fair competition to cheaper food "with special names", like Parma ham, Mr Lee said: "The governments we have lobbied have all expressed warm and strong support, and we look forward to doing this as soon as we can."

During his talks with European leaders, Mr Lee also expressed Singapore's keenness to pursue an open skies agreement with the EU.

This will bring the two regions closer together, he said.

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