SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says achieving two to three per cent growth annually over the next decade would be "not bad" for Singapore. Mr Lee gave this assessment when asked what type of growth and how much Singapore needs going forward, in an hour-long "Ask the Prime Minister" live forum simulcast on MediaCorp's Channel 5 and Channel NewsAsia on Thursday evening (Sep 4).
"We want good growth - growth which creates good jobs; growth which makes the most of the skills of our people; growth which many Singaporeans can benefit from," he said. He noted that Singapore's economic growth used to exceed 10 per cent in its early years, but this gradually slowed down to around 6 per cent a year over the last decade.
"Looking forward, if I can make two to three per cent (growth) a year, over the next 10 years, I think that's not bad. I think we have to get used to it. It means things are not going to click and change overnight, but it means that gradually, steadily, we can make things better, year by year," said Mr Lee.
ON RETIREMENT AND RE-EMPLOYMENT AGES
The Prime Minister said his Government is working on pushing the retirement and re-employment age for Singaporeans. "We are working towards helping people to work longer, because we are all living longer and we would like people to work as long as they're healthy. And, well, because I think that's the best way not just to upkeep yourself, but to be active and fit, and connected with your friends."
He said even though the re-employment age has been pushed to 65, it would take a few years for it to be raised further. "It will take a while for us to be ready to change the law, and push it out by law, because I think we need to need to give a bit of time for companies to get used to the arrangements and to see how they work out."
In the meantime, the Government is setting the tone for companies to keep workers employed, as long as they are "fit and well and productive" beyond 65, he said. "My radiographer in SGH - he's 78 years old and he's still going strong," Mr Lee related.
ON CHANGING MINDSETS
On the topic of education and opportunities, Prime Minister Lee said parents are now more open-minded when it comes to having their children take different academic routes, and that many good students are competing for places in institutions like the School of the Arts and the Singapore Sports School.
But he said balance is needed as well. "Parents also have a point when they say: 'Do think about what you will do after you graduate', because you have to think long-term. It is sensible to worry where your next meal is going to come from. So, I think we have to have a balance. If we all go and smell roses, who is going to feed us?"
ON SOCIAL TENSIONS
Asked how the Government intends to deal with emerging social tensions, Mr Lee said it would have several roles. "First, we must hold the ring, so that you play within the rules of the game. Secondly, you must make sure that there is moderation and restraint, because if you go beyond a certain limit, I think in a multiracial, multi-religious society, you are going to have serious tensions and strains and problems.
"Thirdly, you must set the culture in order to moderate strains not just along the traditional fault lines - race and religion but also new fault lines that can come. They can be on values, culture wars." He raised the example of the Pink Dot movement, and said there is "very strong difference in views" between gay activists and those who position themselves as "pro-family" in Singapore.
ON SINGAPORE'S FUTURE
As Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence next year, Mr Lee was asked about his worries for the next 50 years for Singapore. He replied with one of his oft-used analogies: "We are a small country. We used to say we are a sampan, now maybe we are a boat with a motor, self-propelled. The seas are unpredictable. We didn't expect to come this far.
"In the next 50 years, we hope to go as far. Things can go wrong, and we must be be prepared for that. You must have that steel in you," he said.
Mr Lee added that there must be a new narrative for Singapore, where Singaporeans must have a sense of pride in what they have achieved, but also have the humility to know that the country is ultimately, small."This is a place where Singaporeans can fulfil their human spirit, a place which is open, where we are open to new ideas and yet we have a sense of where we came from, and we haven't forgotten how we came here."
During a call-in segment of the forum, Mr Lee was asked for parenting tips from a father-to-be. "As the child grows up, you have to be his friend, his guide, his role model. Spend time with them, engage them," Mr Lee advised him. "It's a very trying time for your wife when the baby is born, so support her."
He also let on that he was very hands-on as a father. "I did change diapers, and in those days we used safety pins, so you have to be very careful!"
In a lighter moment of the forum, Prime Minister Lee was asked by a primary school student what superhero he would like to be if he had a choice.
"When I was growing up, we had newspaper cartoons and comics. We didn't have that many TV shows even. My heroes would be Superman and Tarzan. I used to watch Batman too, but I didn't like him so much. I thought Superman was more fun."
As for what he wanted to be when growing up - he revealed that he wanted to be an airplane pilot. - CNA/ly
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