Singapore must remain cosmopolitan to survive: MM Lee

Source: Channel NewsAsia
22 April 2007

Singapore must remain cosmopolitan to survive: MM Lee

By Dominique Loh

SINGAPORE: Singapore has to be as cosmopolitan as other world class cities like New York and London, for its own survival and success.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew told a gathering of Young PAP members, Singapore society will continue to synthesise, as more immigrants and foreigners settle in the Republic.

During the dialogue, Mr Lee also defended the government’s position on increasing the salary of ministers.

It was standing room only – but some did not mind being on their feet for more than two hours, just to hear what Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew had to say.

Questions centred on Singapore’s future as a society in a globalised world.

With more foreigners calling Singapore home, what is the impact on politics, community and culture?

Mr Lee said Singapore is part of a globalised world and the country is exposed to and inter-connected to other cities.

And Singaporeans have to take advantage of that world stage.

“If we are dynamic, we will attract talent, we will grow because we have more talent. When I say talent, it means people who add to the dynamism of that society. Singaporeans, if I can chose an analogy, we are the hard disk of a computer, the foreign talent are the megabytes you add to your storage capacity. So your computer never hangs because you got enormous storage capacity,” said Mr Lee.

But Mr Lee said Singapore can also lose its top talent to other countries, and finding good leaders among the best to stay here is another challenge for the government.

On the recent debate about the ministerial pay increases, Mr Lee was asked of there should be more scrutiny on the ministers themselves, like how private sector CEOs are accountable to their shareholders.

In response, Mr Lee said an MP is closely watched the moment he’s elected into office.

And he had no qualms about paying ministers a good salary to look after a multi-billion dollar economy.

But more importantly, a bad minister mismanaging Singapore will ruin the lives of four million people.

“If you have a dud minister he cannot hold his ground, you know in Singapore, you’ve got to meet your constituents, you’ve got to meet the press, you are in Parliament right? You are not just making a speech at a mass rally …and for this generation, if you don’t pay them adequately and their families suffer, they will not stay in the job long. They will be forced to pack up and go back to their private life. And you’ve lost experience and expertise, it’s as simple as that,” said Mr Lee.

It was also mentioned that Singapore’s formula for success has also been well documented by international scholars like Richard Vietor, who praised Singapore as “the best example of government that works.”

On censorship Mr Lee said he is not able to predict where the boundaries will be in the years ahead, because of a changing world that is open to all influences.

He cited the debate on Crazy Horse as an example, and said there were strong objections from cabinet ministers.

But Mr Lee argued Singaporeans are well-travelled and would be exposed to such cabaret shows in other countries.

He said Singapore should be part of a new world, but if it disallowed Crazy Horse, Singapore would be left behind and become a quaint, quixotic, esoteric appendage of the world.

On the taboo subject of homosexuality, he said Singapore needs a practical and pragmatic approach and adjust without upsetting segments of society and their sense of propriety of what is right and wrong.

One example of this forward thinking government Mr Lee said is how it has studied the impact of global warming.

To counter the rising sea level from melting polar ice caps, Singapore has approached the Dutch and is learning about building dykes here in the warmer climate of South East Asia.

The dialogue, held in celebration of the 21st anniversary of the Young PAP, attracted about 400 members.

It is believed to be the organisation’s first official event with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew as the main speaker.

And to help relate to the younger generation, the event was held at a trendy club at the St James Power Station.

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