Sunday 26 July 2015

PM Lee Hsien Loong interview with TIME magazine, July 2015

PM Lee sees Singapore moving forward confidently after 50
He talks to TIME magazine about getting economy to next level and future challenges the country faces
By Wong Siew Ying, The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2015

Although founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's influence on Singapore runs deep, he made sure he prepared the country to move on and not "be stuck in the Lee Kuan Yew mode" of governance, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

There was a tremendous outpouring of grief when Mr Lee died in March this year, but confidence in Singapore was not shaken.

On the contrary, it was strengthened, PM Lee noted in an interview with TIME magazine, a transcript of which was released to Singapore media yesterday.

"The stock market didn't crash, investors didn't panic, confidence was maintained. In fact, at the end of that, I think confidence was strengthened. I think we're not in a bad spot," he said.

PM Lee also disclosed that his father had a great deal of influence on his own thinking on politics, culture, world affairs and life itself.

But he noted Mr Lee was very good at giving his successors "room to do things their way and pursue policies as they felt necessary".

"Only very rarely did he assert a strong view and ask us to please rethink something... Otherwise, he allowed an evolution to take place so that Singapore would carry on beyond him," PM Lee said.

Mr Lee, who died this year at age 91, stepped down as prime minister in 1990 and left the Cabinet in 2011.

In the interview, PM Lee noted that as independent Singapore turns 50, the country has kept its mission "substantially intact". That, he said, is "quite an achievement".

Singapore, however, needs to get its economy to the next level as other Asian countries snap at its heels.

"If we don't, then we will have malaise and the angst, and even disillusionment, which you see in many developed countries."

He sees the 30 per cent attending Singapore public universities rising to 40 per cent and, after graduation, they expect jobs as PMETs (professionals, managers, executives or technicians), he said.

"For us to have an economy which can generate that quality of jobs and uplift their living standards, and at the same time uplift those who didn't go to university, where you don't have a wide gap between the tertiary-educated and the rest... that is a big challenge."

Resolving it requires growth and people as well as "qualitatively different jobs, qualitatively more efficient overall economy".

Another issue raised during the interview was freedom of expression.

PM Lee was asked how he reconciled his awareness of youth's aspirations with the conviction of 16-year-old Amos Yee for an offensive video and the legal action taken against blogger Roy Ngerng for a defamatory blog post.

PM Lee said there is "always a balance between freedom and the rule of law''. Freedom is never totally unlimited. It operates within certain constraints, he added.

Giving offence to another religious or ethnic group or language is a serious matter in multiracial and multi-religious Singapore. "We've seen many cases where one Internet post injudiciously can overnight cause a humongous row," he said. It is necessary to "learn where the limits are".

On the defamation case, he said: "You can criticise the Government as much as you like on policy, on substance, on competence", but it is a serious matter to make a defamatory remark that the Prime Minister is guilty of criminal misappropriation of Singaporeans' pension funds.

"If it's true, the Prime Minister should be charged and jailed. If it's not true, the matter must be clarified and the best way to do that is by settling in court."

He added: "In an Asian society, particularly, if the leader can't maintain his standing, he doesn't deserve to be there. He will soon be gone."

He also said the Government welcomes criticism, but the problem is "the critics know they don't always have a good argument and prefer to do this by whispers and nudges rather than direct, open debate".

"When we face the critics across the aisle in (Parliament) with the television cameras on, their criticism withers. It's very sad."

Asked about future challenges, he said it depended on the timeframe.

In the next 10 years, it will be about growing the economy. Demography will be a big challenge on a 25-year timeframe and in 50 years' time, it is about having a sense of national identity, he said.

On whether he was a rebellious teenager, he said: "You don't always agree with your parents, but I never had long hair or wore bell-bottoms."

“A government that is pragmatic — it looks for solutions that work, rather than starting out from any ideological presumptions.”
Posted by TIME on Thursday, July 23, 2015

Singapore could see a non-Chinese PM
The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was asked by TIME magazine whether a non-Chinese could be prime minister, and whether Singapore's development experience could be emulated by others. Here are edited extracts of the exchange.

TIME: You talked about the diversity of Singapore; of course, as you have said, it is a majority ethnic Chinese society. Can you see a future in which a non-Chinese could be prime minister?

PM Lee: It could be, it depends on the person. You must have the right person - you must have the politics worked out, you must be able to connect both with the Chinese as well as the non-Chinese population. With the new generation, I think chances are better.

Even today, if you go to the constituencies, most of the time, you would be speaking some Chinese. In your markets, certainly, with the old folks, certainly. Even with the younger ones, a significant proportion of them would be more comfortable speaking in Mandarin because that's their home conversational language.

I have young people who write to me in Chinese. I am quite surprised. So on the ground, if you cannot communicate in Mandarin and if they feel you cannot communicate in Mandarin, that's a minus.

Now, I don't make that many Mandarin speeches, but people know that I speak it and when they meet me, they spontaneously address me in Mandarin, I respond in Mandarin. Sometimes, they address me in dialect, I try my best to understand. That's the ground reality.

TIME: Do you think this Singapore approach (to development) should be and can be emulated by other countries?

PM Lee: The political situations are very different; the economic situations are very different. What we can do in Singapore may not be doable elsewhere.

Some things you know you need - you want efficient government, you want clean government, you want to do away with corruption, you must educate your people. They are not such secrets, not so special to Singapore. But how you can do it is very difficult and very different.

For example, we have worked very hard to bring together our government, our unions and our employers. We call it a tripartite relationship.

It's a bit of an ungainly term, but it means something valuable to us. We bargain, we discuss, but in the end, there is a significant amount of give-and-take and mutual confidence and trust built up... So we have the trust to move forward and when we say we want to unionise a company, it's not a hostile move, it's actually a positive move, it's helpful.

I give you one example: casino company Las Vegas Sands. They are not unionised anywhere in the world.

They resisted being unionised here, but the workers were organised. In the end we said: In Singapore, the unions are different. You must understand that here we work together and many companies are unionised, including American ones, and there is a cooperative relationship. They have become unionised and I think it will work out.

We are different. Could you do that elsewhere?

Some unionists come to visit us and we show them what we are going to do and they say: Well, when our government behaves like your government, we will behave like your unions. So that will take some time.

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