Tuesday, 4 August 2015

A Conversation with the Prime Minister

PM Lee's interview with Chan Heng Chee
No easy choices on foreign worker, immigrant policies: PM Lee





Government does not shy away from tough decision as it has a responsibility to Singaporeans: PM Lee

By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 3 Aug 2015

Moves to impose curbs on immigration and the size of the foreign worker population are not because the Government has decided to be populist, but are a recognition of real problems that can affect Singapore society and the need to address them, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last night.

Besides how foreign workers and immigrants are fitting in and affecting "the tone of our society", he said that the space, infrastructure and "carrying capacity" of the country were also important factors.

"Last year, the inflow was the slowest it has been in a very long time and I think that is necessary," he said, referring to the increase of 26,000 in foreign employment excluding maids, down from a growth pace of 80,000 in 2011.



Mr Lee was speaking in an interview with former ambassador Chan Heng Chee televised last night which also covered productivity and the Singapore identity.

On managing immigrants and foreign workers, he said that "there are no easy choices".

"There are trade-offs. If we have no foreign workers, our economy suffers, our own lives suffer. We have a lot of foreign workers, the economy will do well, (but) we have other social pressures, other problems... Somewhere in the middle, we have a mix of evils; on the other hand, we may be able to find a spot where, all things considered, this is something which balances our needs as well as our identity, as well as our economic requirements, and enables us to move forward."

The Government will review the situation after a few years and adjust policies if necessary, he added.

The Government does not shy away from tough choices as it has a responsibility to Singaporeans.

"It is our job to think of these issues and to make the best decisions which we can, in our judgment, on your behalf. And to account to you and say that, to the best of my ability, this is what I have decided I have to do," he said. "And you may agree with it, you may not agree with it, but I can tell you in complete honesty that I am trying my best to do this on your behalf. And I cannot avoid doing this, otherwise, I think, I will be letting you down. "

He expressed hope that Singaporeans understood this. "If I did not think it makes sense for you, why should I want to do this? I do not owe hundreds of millions of potential foreign workers from around the world an obligation. I owe Singaporeans a responsibility."

He described resolving the issue as one of "squaring a circle". Many Singaporeans might want to see the foreign presence here diminish, but most have ties with foreigners and would not want their helpers or colleagues to be sent home. This same conflicting dynamic arises among professionals, managers, executives and technicians, and businesses.

He said: "I can understand the sentiments. I think we have to watch to make sure that when we bring in people, we also take care of Singaporeans who may be in that sector and who cannot easily move out of it."




Prof. Chan Heng Chee interviewed me recently about Singapore’s main challenges. One subject we discussed was...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Monday, August 3, 2015





A new gizmo doesn't mean one is going to work smarter
Banking on technology to boost productivity is a risk, but Govt has no choice as S'pore has maxed out the easy ways
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 3 Aug 2015

It is very tough to raise productivity across the board in the Singapore economy, and a risk to use technology to achieve this, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

This is because evidence from places such as Europe shows that technology is not boosting productivity statistics as hoped.

Speaking in an interview with former ambassador Chan Heng Chee which was televised last night, he said that "just because you have a new gizmo does not mean you are going to be working smarter, or doing better, or being more profitable".

"You have to get the right gizmo and it has to fit into a business which is the right business, and you have to know how to make it work."

Studies have shown that technology is not showing up "in terms of the quality of the things you make, or the quality of the articles you write or the quality of life overall".

"It may be that your life has got better because you spend a lot of time looking at your Facebook pages when you are supposed to be working," he said.

While the Government knows that banking on technology to boost productivity is a risk, it has no choice because Singapore has maxed out all the "easy ways" of economic growth, PM Lee made clear.



These include bringing women, older people and foreign workers into the labour force.

"Productivity is very tough to do. And that is what we depend on now," said PM Lee.

He said that the workforce will be growing at about 1 to 2 per cent from now on, and if that can be combined with productivity improvements for overall economic growth of 3 to 4 per cent, he would be "over the moon". Sustaining such growth for two to five years would be an "outstanding achievement".

Asked by Professor Chan to explain why a lower figure of 1 to 2 per cent economic growth would be bad for Singapore, he said that such a situation would change the entire mood of society substantively.

"We are used to high growth, 5, 6, 7 per cent... (which creates) a certain lift, optimism, vibrancy, excitement. New things happening and each time you come back the place is different...

"If you go to 1 or 2 per cent growth, life is not getting worse, but life will not be getting better in the same way," he said.

Countries in this position, like Japan, Europe and the United States after the financial crisis, experience "an angst, a fractiousness, a despondency. A whole gloom settles over the society.

"We want so many things to be better - poor people to be less poor, healthcare to be improved, schools and housing to be improved.

"The one way to do that is to grow. If you do not grow there is no way to make ourselves better... Your children want a better life than you. My children want a better life than me.

"But how can all our children have a better life than us, if once it reaches their generation, the economy is smaller than it was today?"





Fault lines growing beyond those of race, religion
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 3 Aug 2015

The number of fault lines in Singapore society is growing beyond traditional ones of race, language and religion, and how these develop will determine whether the Singapore identity holds together over the next 50 years, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In an interview with former ambassador Chan Heng Chee, now the chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, he said:

"You could quarrel over LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) issues, for example, which are very deep fault lines between the right-wing and the left, the liberals and conservatives in America. You could quarrel over rich and poor. You could have distinctions between your party allegiances, and it could become fractious."

He also noted that the next generation of Singaporeans will be born into a world where the people they identify with need not be geographically close. "Are you defined as a Singaporean? Or are you the best World of Warcraft champion in the world, in which case, your network is not Singaporean, but the World of Warcraft community which is all over the world?" he asked.

Singapore's sense of openness among groups and overarching unity that has lasted for 50 years is already a feat, he said, noting that "the mood is very different" in other countries around the same age, such as South Korea or Israel, where the "shades of real life" have overtaken the founding generation's sense of pioneering adventure, limitless boundaries and opportunities.

While Singapore has issues that heat up especially around election time, "we all celebrate National Day and we feel it proudly. In many countries, these things are passe".

To keep things so for another 50 years is a big challenge, he said, one that can be met only if Singapore remains the kind of open and mobile place where "many dreams have the chance of being fulfilled".

Whether it is an Institute of Technical Education graduate who wants to go on to polytechnic and then university, or professionals who want to upgrade themselves, "every Singaporean aspires to something better", he said, "and I think to a very great extent, we should be able to accommodate that".

"It does not mean that anything you dream, you can do. But it means that many dreams have the chance of being fulfilled. If that is the kind of place we are and that is how we think about ourselves, I think that can be one element of the Singapore identity. We may come from a small place, but we dare to dream, and we have the gumption to go and make those dreams come true."





Edited excerpts from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's conversation with Professor Chan Heng Chee, chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities. PM Lee on...


WHAT SLOW ECONOMIC GROWTH OF 1 - 2 PER CENT ANNUALLY CAN MEAN FOR SINGAPOREANS

I think the mood would change substantively. We were used to high growth, 5, 6, 7 per cent ... until the Asian financial crisis (in 1997). If you go to 1 or 2 per cent growth, life is not getting worse, but life will not be getting better in the same way...

Every year, a million people or several million people travel abroad from Singapore. I think that is a lifestyle we have got used to. If you can no longer sustain that lifestyle, I think you are going to feel it very deeply. Not immediately, but it is going to happen.

Your children want a better life than you. My children want a better life than me. But how can all our children have a better life than us if, once it reaches their generation, the economy is smaller than it was today?



MAKING TOUGH DECISIONS

If we were not in the government, it is much easier. We can make recommendations, we can write papers, we can make speeches, and we can rouse arguments, unhappiness, point out all the problems we have where we are standing. But as a government, we have to deal with this issue and it is an issue where honestly speaking, there are no easy choices. There are trade-offs. If we have no foreign workers, our economy suffers, our own lives suffer. We have a lot of foreign workers, the economy will do well, (but) we have other social pressures, other problems with our society which are going to be very real and which we have to take very seriously and which we cannot accept. Somewhere in the middle, we have a mix of evils; on the other hand, we may be able to find a spot where all things considered, this is something which balances our needs as well as our identity, as well as our economic requirements, and enables us to move forward.



THE NATIONAL IDENTITY CHANGING

You ask whether over 50 years, I can assume that, without doing anything, I would still feel the same ... have the same excitement, buzz and cheer when I come to SG100. I would say I am not so certain, because that generation is not yet born. They are going to be born in a very different world, they are going to experience very different growing-up environments and opportunities. They are going to travel a lot more than their parents or grandparents. And their sense of who they are, what defines them. That is yet to be seen... Are you defined as a Singaporean? I grew up here, little red dot, or are you the best World of Warcraft champion in the world? In which case, your network is not Singaporean, but the World of Warcraft community which is all over the world. And in the big, developed countries, there are many people whose closest friends and networks are not their countrymen.



SINGAPORE IN 25 YEARS' TIME

I think you have to work at both the head and the heart. We are efficient but I feel there are things we can do better and which we must do better - in delivering services, whether it is public transport, whether it is government services or whether it is services at private counters, even in Sim Lim Square, the possibility for improving, and the necessity to improve.

At the same time, we have to work at the heart part of it. We have to be efficient but at the same time, there must be that human touch. And the human touch is not just in terms of the Government showing their good heart, but individuals and their own lives, not being self-centred and being prepared to work with one another and go that extra mile to help their fellow men and women.

We have that, we can see it in the stories which have come up recently, but sometimes we also see clear off stories where people have not been so big-hearted and I think that we need to work at that.








Singapore watching Malaysia situation very closely: PM Lee
The Straits Times, 1 Aug 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore is watching the political developments in Malaysia very closely, and hopes that the country remains stable.

Speaking to former ambassador Chan Heng Chee yesterday in an interview to be aired tomorrow, he said Singapore and Malaysia remain closely inter-connected not just in economic links but also through ties between their people.

Asked about the impact on Singapore of the political crisis unfolding in Malaysia, he said: "Malaysia is our closest neighbour, not just geographically but very big trading ties and investments. We have a lot of people who live and work in Malaysia, a lot of Malaysians work in Singapore.

"I think our Causeway and Second Link are the busiest international borders in the world, in terms of the number of people who go back and forth every day.

"And so when something happens in Malaysia, we watch very carefully and are very concerned how it affects us. We have very good relations with Malaysia, I personally have very good relations with Prime Minister Najib (Razak), so we hope that Malaysia will remain stable, that we will be able to have a government there which we can do business with and cooperate with, as we have been doing the last few years.

"When something happens which could cause either a political upset or social or security worries, I think we have to watch very carefully. The generation which experienced the 60s and 70s knew how intertwined we were, instinctively. The new generations have grown up separate so our societies have become more distinct but, in fact, the inter-relationships are very close and we do have to watch."

Separately, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam was also asked yesterday about the impact of the situation in Malaysia on Asean stability.



Speaking at a press briefing on the upcoming Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, he told reporters: "Malaysia and Singapore, we are linked by an umbilical cord. We are each other's closest neighbours.

"When any two countries are as close as Malaysia and Singapore, round the world, they will want stability in each other.

"The total trade between Malaysia and Singapore is $111 billion, we are amongst each other's top trading partners, amongst each other's top investors, tens of thousands of Malaysians come to Singapore for work, a lot of Singaporeans do business, go over to Malaysia.

"Any instability in Singapore will deeply affect Malaysia, any instability in Malaysia will deeply affect Singapore, both economically and in other ways. We depend on Malaysia for water every day, protected by a treaty, but we really don't want any instability.

"So what I can say is that we follow developments very closely, we hope that there will be stability - that's good for Malaysia and good for us."





Singapore worried about ISIS pull: PM Lee
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 1 Aug 2015

Singapore is very worried about the effectiveness with which terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has used social media and the Internet to indoctrinate and recruit people from this region, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Speaking just days after news broke that a 51-year-old Singaporean, Mustafa Sultan Ali, had been detained after attempting to join the conflict in Syria, Mr Lee said that ISIS has been able to "very intelligently" use social media and the Internet.

He noted that these tools were less available to terrorist groups of an earlier time, such as Al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

"ISIS has been able, very intelligently, to use the Internet and social media to reach out, to indoctrinate, to recruit and to subvert - including in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore," he said.

"We are very worried, we take it very seriously."

He was speaking to former ambassador Chan Heng Chee, now chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, in an interview which will be televised tomorrow.

ISIS has attracted 30,000 foreign fighters to territory it controls in Syria and Iraq, including about 1,000 from South-east Asia. PM Lee noted that Singapore has a good programme run by local Malay/Muslim leaders that helps to rehabilitate those influenced by extremist ideology, but that it is not possible to identify everyone at risk.

"We have a good programme with the Religious Rehabilitation Group, working with people who have been led astray, people who have been detained. Working with their families, helping their families to see through a difficult time and working with the community, so that the community is not led astray," he said.

"But I think, no matter how good our programme is, it is not possible for us to identify every last person who typed ISIS on Google and found some link, some preacher, and got led astray.

"We just have to be vigilant and work hard at it (and) hope that we catch them earlier."


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