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  Business Times 22 Sep 07
Singapore on his mind: PM Lee shares thoughts with students
Other challenges include finding good leaders, he tells NUS student forum
By CHUANG PECK MING

Channel NewsAsia 22 Sep 07
PM Lee fielded questions on gayness, foreign talent at NUS forum


Channel NewsAsia 21 Sep 07
Remaking S'pore, helping people cope with changes are immediate priorities: PM

Straits Times 22 Sep 07
Strong team of leaders 'needed to keep S'pore going'
It is one of the key challenges facing country, PM Lee tells NUS students
By Peh Shing Huei

Straits Times 23 Sep 07
S'pore just for rich? Not possible, says PM
Govt strives to ensure that ordinary S'poreans, who form majority, have a good standard of living
By Peh Shing Huei

Straits Times 23 Sep 07
Don't base national identity on speaking Singlish

Today Online 22 Sep 07
Not just the economy or the money
Students ask PM about moral dilution, life in congested city
Loh Chee Kong

WHEN the stomachs are full, the minds start to ponder beyond the bread and butter.

This was something Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong could attest to, at a dialogue session on Friday with some 800 National University of Singapore undergraduates. With the Singapore riding an economic boom, questions on jobs and the economy perennial favourites at ministerial dialogues in the past were far from the young, eager minds.

In fact, none of the 12 questions that Mr Lee fielded from the students touched on these matters. Instead, the students quizzed the Prime Minister on matters such as the possibility of setting up a Human Rights Ministry, whether Singapore had become a land "for the rich", and the "moral dilution" of society.

One law undergraduate even took issue with a theme in Mr Lee's speech, delivered earlier, in which he talked about the developments in the region and the challenges ahead for Singapore.

In jest, Mr Lee had said that it took a lot of money just to result in 750 more babies last year.

The undergraduate, Ms Vasila, said: "Whenever we hear somebody address us, even the speech you just made, the underlying thread is the economy. Even when you talk about the population, it's all about the money."

"Isn't it about time as a growing nation that we look beyond the economy?" she asked, adding that people should start exploring issues such as social and political rights.

Reiterating that Singaporeans do have such rights, Mr Lee's reply was: "The economy is not everything but economics is important. If you were starving, you would put it as item number one on your list. But because your stomach is full, so you can afford to think."

He added that there are "other things that we take for granted" including multi- racialism, social harmony and the meritocratic system. "I think that if you are Singaporean, you have something to be proud of and it's not just the economy," Mr Lee said.

But second-year law student Choo Zeng Xi wondered if Singaporeans could own a greater stake in the country, by having a bigger say in the decision-making process.

Singling out the annuity scheme, Mr Choo said young Singaporeans "won't really see a point" in giving feedback "if our role is to comment on decisions already made".

Mr Lee said the Government believes in the consultation process but it cannot function as an aggregator of public opinion. "If your job as a Government is only to ask people, 'What are your ideas? What would you like to do?', and I just do what you like to do I don't have to be here. Just have a box. You people can put in whatever you like into the box and whatever is in there, we will follow," Mr Lee said.

While agreeing with the Prime Minister's positive assessment of an "exciting" five to 10 years ahead for Singapore, with the integrated resorts and Formula 1 race coming up, an undergraduate who described himself as from a middle-income family expressed his anxiety at not being able to "make the jump in socio-economic class".

Noting the amount of resources pumped into boosting Singapore's appeal to foreigners, the arts student said: "Singapore seems to be built not for us, but for foreigners and tourists. Is this land, Singapore, a place for the rich?"

Mr Lee replied that the Republic "cannot be a place for the rich". If it were, the Government "would lose elections because there are not enough rich people", he added candidly.

"Singapore has to be a place where the vast majority of Singaporeans will enjoy a high quality of life and be able to have jobs," said the Prime Minister.

But it was not just Singaporeans who were concerned about achieving a high quality of life. One student who hails from Yangzhou remarked how Singapore's land constraints mean that it "can't promise the American dream".

She said: "The salaries of many of my friends (back home) are not as high as what I can get here but they can own a car." Another student from China wondered how Singapore would cope with more immigrants, given its high population density.

Mr Lee explained that as a city, Singapore has its constraints. And while not everyone could own a car, the Government's priority is to ensure an efficient transport system.

In his wide-ranging speech, Mr Lee touched on the developments in the region focusing on bilateral relations with Indonesia and Malaysia and challenges ahead.

While the outlook was bright for the next two decades, with measures in place to tackle the widening income gap, Mr Lee said the two key challenges beyond that would be "our sense of nationhood and identity" and the quality of national leadership.

Channel NewsAsia 21 Sep 07
Remaking S'pore, helping people cope with changes are immediate priorities: PM

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says he has two main worries - the future of Singapore and getting good leaders to keep the country going.

Mr Lee was sharing his thoughts with university students at the NUS Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum on Friday. He also outlined his government's immediate priorities for the country.

Mr Lee said that his two priorities over the next five to ten years are to remake Singapore and help the people cope with the changes. These include transforming the economy, creating a more vibrant and open society and staying abreast of changes in the world.

Mr Lee said: "The changes which are happening overall are positive for the country and for the vast majority of Singaporeans. But some citizens are going to be adversely affected. And others will have difficulty coping, at least in (the) short term.

"We have to help the people, who have difficulty keeping up, to keep up. Because it's only by getting all Singaporeans to support the changes, which are necessary, that we move forward."

The Prime Minister explained that for society to level up, good education is essential. Home ownership - with the help of the HDB - and upgrading are also important, so as to give Singaporeans a stake in the nation's success.

Through these measures, Mr Lee said, the government hopes to address the tackling of the income gap and to help Singaporeans to be successful as long as they make the effort.

Ten to 20 years down the road, population and talent are two major concerns for Singapore. Singaporeans are getting older and living longer, so this calls for the CPF system to be reviewed. And there are not enough babies being born, hence the need to attract more immigrants.

Mr Lee also stressed that a key to success in a knowledge economy is to attract talent from all over the world. "The new arrivals will adapt to Singapore, but at the same time the new arrivals will liven Singapore's society and will cause society to change gradually and change for the better - to become more diverse and more vibrant," he said.

"And that's one very important way for us to stay vigorous, young, outward-looking and forward-looking, and to do well in a globalised world," he added.

In the long term - perhaps after 20 years - the challenges which have to be tackled are the sense of nationhood and identity, together with the quality of the national leadership, said Mr Lee.

He added that it is critical to get Singaporeans to feel that this is their country and that Singapore belongs to all of them. With globalisation, this will not be easy. Also, within Singapore, there is no unique race, language or culture.

Singapore also needs a strong team of leaders who are capable and competent, and in touch with Singaporeans. Mr Lee said: "There is no magic formula for producing leaders. But what we're looking for are people with a sense of responsibility beyond their career and beyond their own family, who have the passion to do something for society, and who can go into a system which can bring out the best in our people and test the potential leaders, and who belong to a country where there's an ethos of integrity and public service."

So Mr Lee urged his audience of university students to take ownership of the country, make it work and lead it to even greater heights.

At a question-and-answer session, Mr Lee said that he is not too concerned about the exact form of the longevity insurance scheme. What's more important is changing the CPF system so that it can meet the demands of an ageing population. - CNA/ir

Channel NewsAsia 22 Sep 07
PM Lee fielded questions on gayness, foreign talent at NUS forum

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on the younger generation to take advantage of Asia's growth prospects, especially Singapore's, and to seize the opportunities ahead.

Mr Lee made the point during an hour-long dialogue with university students at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum on Friday night. The dialogue also touched on foreign talent and gays in Singapore.

Singapore has moved from third-world to first-world status within the space of one generation. And this has led to the country attracting a lot of foreign talent.

But, is Singapore becoming a place for the wealthy? asked one law undergraduate asked during the dialogue. "Singapore seems to be built not for us but for foreigners. Sincerely, I am afraid that as a middle income person, I am not able to make that jump in social, economic class. My question is this, is this land, Singapore, a place for the rich?" asked the student.

Mr Lee replied that Singapore cannot be a place for the rich, because if that was the case, the government would lose the elections. "Singapore has to be a place where the majority of Singaporeans, a vast majority of Singaporeans, will enjoy a high quality of life and be able to have jobs where you can earn well and do well for yourself," he said.

"You may not be able to do as well as the top most successful banker, lawyer or property developer. But you do well for yourself, your career. You have good schools for your children, good healthcare for your parents, good leisure for your family, good opportunities for your future, that's for everybody," Mr Lee added.

"To have a society where everybody is equal, that's a recipe for poverty, it doesn't work. There will be inequalities in society but we must make sure that the majority of people have a good standard of living and improving standards from year to year," he said.

Another student wondered if Singapore was becoming less open, especially after recent news that the law on Section 377A, which criminalises gay sex, will not be changed.

PM Lee said: "It's a very divisive issue, our view or my view is that gayness is mostly something in-born; some people are like that and some people are not. How they live their own lives is really for them to decide, it's a personal matter.

"But the tone of the society, the public, and society as a whole, should be really set by the heterosexuals and that's the way many Singaporeans feel.

"Gay people exist. We respect them, and they have a place in our society. But (for) Section 377A, to change that, will be a very divisive argument. We will not reach consensus however much we discuss it.

"The views are passionately held on both sides. The more you discuss it, the angrier they become. The subject will not go away.

"Our view, as a government is, we will go with society. We will not push forward as society's views shift. We just follow along. As of today, my judgement is: the society is comfortable with our position. Leave the clause (alone). What people do in private is their own business; in public, certain norms apply."

Nearly 800 local and foreign students studying at the National University of Singapore (NUS) attended the annual dialogue. - CNA/ir

Straits Times 22 Sep 07
Strong team of leaders 'needed to keep S'pore going'
It is one of the key challenges facing country, PM Lee tells NUS students
By Peh Shing Huei

BIGGER countries can recover from weak leadership, but Singapore enjoys no such luxury. Its need for a strong team of leaders to keep the country going is a matter that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Cabinet 'worry obsessively' about.

Mr Lee was mapping out the key challenges Singapore faced in the next few decades in a speech last night to some 900 National University of Singapore students at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum.

He sorted out the priorities before Singapore into three timeframes - those in the immediate five to 10 years; in the long-term of 10-20 years; and in the very long-term of beyond 20 years.

Regardless of time, though, the immutable challenge of confronting the external environment will always remain, he said. With China and India on the rise, the outlook for Asia was positive, he said. It will likely continue for 20 years and longer, provided there is no war or natural calamity.

Nearer home, Singapore must learn about and work with its neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia. 'We will not see eye-to-eye once in a while, and when that happens, we will just have to stand our ground quietly, uphold our interests and continue to cooperate where we can,' he said.

While patience is required for its dealings with neighbours, speed is paramount domestically as Singapore remakes itself, he said.

Over the next five to 10 years, the Government will have to lead the way in remaking Singapore so as to embrace new opportunities presented by digital technology, reform the tax system, launch new projects such as the Integrated Resorts and the Formula One race.

He stressed that being able to change quickly was Singapore's natural advantage, which it must maximise. But as it forged ahead, the Government would not forget those adversely affected and who found it difficult to keep up.

'This is something which the Government has to do. It can't be left to the private sector or to people themselves entirely to sort it out. And it is the key to our ability to move fast,' he said.

This involved finding better jobs for the less-educated, topping up lower- income workers' pay through Workfare and other schemes, and levelling up the next generation through education. These measures would enable every Singaporean to improve his life, provided he made the effort, he said.

Over the longer term of 10 to 20 years, the two key challenges concerned how to raise the fertility rate and attract talent from all over.

Beyond 20 years, the task would be to strengthen national identity and build a distinct society with a sense of shared destiny. This would not be easy, given Singapore's short his- tory and its lack of a unique race, language and culture.

But step by step, people were developing emotional links and confidence in the country as a land of opportunity, he said. Good leadership is also crucial, and here there was no 'magic formula' to find the right leaders. He said it was up to each generation to throw up its own leaders.

Calling on young Singaporeans to take ownership of the country, he issued them this challenge: Make Singapore a special and unique home for many more years.

During the hour-long dialogue that followed, some 11 students lobbed a series of tough questions at Mr Lee. They quizzed him on human rights, on whether Singapore was becoming more a place for foreigners than locals, and whether the Government was serious about public consultation.

Mr Lee explained that while the Government was serious about feedback and consultation, on some matters it had to take the lead. He also urged young Singaporeans to seize the opportunities presented by Asia's growth and strive for success together with the foreigners who came here.

Straits Times 23 Sep 07
S'pore just for rich? Not possible, says PM
Govt strives to ensure that ordinary S'poreans, who form majority, have a good standard of living
By Peh Shing Huei

SINGAPORE is not a country just for the rich, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. It cannot be. Otherwise, the Government would lose elections because there are not enough rich people around to vote it in.

Instead, Singapore has to be a place where the majority of the people enjoy a high quality of life, he said at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum on Friday night.

He was responding to a National University of Singapore student, who feared that he, as a middle-income person, might be squeezed out here, and that the country is increasingly for foreigners, tourists and the rich.

Said Mr Lee: 'Singapore has to be a place where the vast majority of Singaporeans will enjoy a high quality of life, and be able to have jobs, where you can earn well and do well for yourself.

'You may not be able to do as well as the most successful banker or lawyer or property developer, but you do well for yourself, your career. You have good schools for your children; good health care for your parents; good leisure for your family; good opportunities for your future.'

He stressed that if Singapore were a society where everybody was equal, it would be a 'recipe for poverty'. Inequality is unavoidable, but the Government must make sure most people have a good standard of living.

With the job market thriving, he told the 900 students at the forum that a job awaited them when they graduated. 'I'm told that it used to be that a student would wait six months to get employed. Now the employers are waiting six months to hire the students. Six months before you graduate, (they will) sign you up,' he said.

He was speaking at an hour-long dialogue that saw students quizzing him on a range of issues, from human rights to the Government's attitude towards public consultation.

The dialogue came after a speech in which Mr Lee sketched the challenges that Singapore faced in the years ahead. The country was poised to remake itself in the next five to 10 years, by transforming the economy and creating a more vibrant and open society. It was doing so against a backdrop of an Asia on the move, fuelled by the rise of China and India.

Encouraging the students to take advantage of the promising future, he added: 'You're in the middle of a period when Asia is going to do very well. Singapore, I think, is going to do very well. 'And you should be looking at the opportunities and saying, I want to be up there succeeding with them. And I think you can do that.'

Straits Times 23 Sep 07
Don't base national identity on speaking Singlish

IF THE Prime Minister had his way, Singlish would have as little to do with Singaporeans' sense of identity as possible.

A student from China asked Mr Lee how he saw that unique language helping to bond Singaporeans.

'I think many Singaporeans will not agree with me, but I don't think we should start a new language in Singapore called Singlish. There are too few of us,' he responded. He said that Singaporeans needed to make themselves intelligible to people who do not understand Singlish. So it was best that they learnt how to speak English.

'We have to have a sense of who we are, but it cannot be based on speaking Singlish. It has to be based on your pride in being a Singaporean. You grew up here...this is where you can make a difference and you fit in,' he added.

He said that there were signs that Singaporeans are developing a sense of pride in their country.

He had been told that when Singaporeans are overseas, they have a habit of remarking, 'Ah, but we do it better in Singapore'. They say that about a range of things, including food, urban planning and customs checks.

'So as a result, we now have a breed of ugly Singaporeans who are very proud of themselves, which is good, but who just denigrate everybody else, which is bad,' he said.

'We should keep the first half and try to correct the second half.'

Business Times 22 Sep 07
Singapore on his mind: PM Lee shares thoughts with students
Other challenges include finding good leaders, he tells NUS student forum
By CHUANG PECK MING

WHAT keeps Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong awake at night? Plenty, going by what he told university students at a forum last night.

Uppermost in his mind is the remaking of Singapore and how to help Singaporeans cope with the changes in the next five to 10 years. Mr Lee was speaking at the National University of Singapore Students' Political Association.

But those are only the more immediate concerns. He sees more challenges further down the road.

In 10 to 20 years, the issues of population and talent will loom larger, said Mr Lee, who spoke about Singapore's future and the challenges ahead.

And beyond that, the questions of instilling a sense of nationhood in Singaporeans and good leadership will come to the fore.

Grooming and putting in place a good leadership in Singapore, in particular, is something Mr Lee and the government worry obsessively about, he told a packed auditorium. 'Bigger countries can recover from weak leadership, but Singapore cannot,' he said.

A strong team of leaders is key to keeping Singapore going. They must, he said, be capable and competent, in touch with Singaporeans, committed to serve the people and improve their lives and be able to mobilise Singaporeans to work together.

Fostering a sense of nationhood among Singaporeans is important in creating a shared destiny and common identity for Singapore to endure, but Mr Lee said it won't be easy because of globlisation that exposes Singaporeans to external influences and Singapore's multi-racialism.

Still, he is hopeful that a Singaporean identity is gradually in the making through family links and friendship, common experiences, pride in Singapore's achievements and the belief that Singapore is a land of opportunity.

The remaking of Singapore is already underway in the transformation of the economy and creation of a more vibrant and open society, Mr Lee said. He noted that the government has been reforming taxes, embracing information technology and new media, and bringing in new and exciting projects like the integrated resorts and the F1 Grand Prix.

Some hard decisions, such as the move to legalise casinos, were taken but Mr Lee stressed that remaking Singapore nimbly and quickly is important in making up for its small size and to take advantage of it.

To be able to change fast is Singapore's 'natural advantage', he said. But to do that, the government must also 'help those with difficulties to keep up, keep up'.

Mr Lee said the government must also keep trying to get Singaporeans to have more babies as the population ages. Yet that would still not be enough. So Singapore must attract foreign talents to sink roots here, he said.

'We must also attract talent from all over the world,' Mr Lee said. 'A vibrant economy depends on people from many different backgrounds.' Singapore's ability to draw talent is a tremendous competitive edge, he said. And the diversity it is building by drawing people from around the world is a strength, he said.

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