News

Fast five with PM Lee

As S'pore approaches its 50th birthday this year,
 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shares his thoughts in a wide-ranging interview with local media

1 ACCEPTANCE

Much like how there is a general consensus on what is acceptable behaviour among the races and religions here, there is a need to develop norms between native-born Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The reaction to the projected number of foreigners by 2030 - almost half of the 6.9 million population - is understandable because of the "direct contact" people experience at work, on public transport or at public places where foreign workers may gather.

"They have a reaction and they say things have changed," said Mr Lee, who was sworn in as prime minister in August 2004.

But it is "not practical" to do away with foreigners who build homes and provide services, hence the need to explain to Singaporeans why we should welcome them and how the Government is adapting policies to minimise the impact.

Foreigners, too, should learn the rules, norms and customs here.

Said Mr Lee: "It takes a while. There will be some people who will behave badly on both sides. But we should not let these bad behaviours affect the overall relationship."

2 MY MOST SATISFYING DECISION

The "continuing and consistent" emphasis on education in the past decade has paid off.

Through efforts like making sure every school is a good school and developing tertiary education, there are now more pathways and opportunities to the top, he said.

There is also talk about going beyond formal education, like lifelong learning.

But Mr Lee cautioned against the over-emphasis on tuition, an ailment in today's education system.

"We think that if we hothouse our children, it will make all the difference. I am not so sure," he said.

3 MY REGRET

Our infrastructure - trains and flats - should have been built faster, Mr Lee conceded.

"At the time, we thought we were doing the right thing - pacing it, measuring it out, building it when we needed it, and not spending resources until we needed to spend them.

"It turned out that things did not pan out the way we expected," he said.

There is a need to plan "less conservatively" in future, he said.

4 YOU CAN'T WIN 
THEM ALL

There will be cynics in every society, Mr Lee acknowledged.

But the Government works on the basis that most Singaporeans are reasonable and want to work with a government that can help them reach the goal of living a good life.

"We are not trying to win over every single last critic because that is not possible and if you try to do that, I think you will come to grief," he said.

"You have to decide what is right and you fight for that."

5 CHOOSE WELL

In Parliament, there are non-constituency and nominated MPs, ensuring alternative views are voiced. On the Internet, blogs and social media platforms have their own following.

But the ones you should vote for are those you think can best represent you, Mr Lee advised.

"If you are voting for somebody and you think he is going to be a good 'check', make sure that person is up to the standard that you are expecting," he said.

"A person who can be in Parliament and can... debate and intelligently question what is the Government doing. That is what you need when you are talking about checks and balances."