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377A will be around ‘for some time’, will not inhibit how S’pore attracts tech talent: PM Lee

SINGAPORE — Section 377A of the Penal Code — the law that criminalises sex between men — will be around for some time, but this will not hinder Singapore's efforts to attract tech talent, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in response to a question on Wednesday (June 26).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong taking questions from the audience after his speech at the Smart Nation Summit on Wednesday, June 26, 2019.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong taking questions from the audience after his speech at the Smart Nation Summit on Wednesday, June 26, 2019.

SINGAPORE — Section 377A of the Penal Code — the law that criminalises sex between men — will be around for some time, but this will not hinder Singapore's efforts to attract tech talent, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in response to a question on Wednesday (June 26).

He was answering an unidentified audience member at the Smart Nation Summit, who had asked about how the country’s regulations can be made more diverse to attract tech talent, including those with other sexual orientations.

The session, which was held at the Marina Bay Sands, also saw Mr Lee tackling audience questions that ranged from Singapore’s digital economy to his favourite durian.

On the issue of inclusiveness, Mr Lee said that Singapore has been open to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“You know our rules in Singapore. Whatever your sexual orientation, you are welcome to come and work in Singapore,” he said.

“But this has not inhibited people from living, and has not stopped Pink Dot from having a gathering every year.

“It is the way this society is: We are not like San Francisco, neither are we like some countries in the Middle East. (We are) something in between, it is the way the society is.”

Such a “framework” would not hinder the technology scene here, added Mr Lee. The Pink Dot event is set to take place on Saturday.

The question of attracting tech talent to spur the growth of the digital economy surfaced at several points in the session. Mr Kevin Aluwi, co-founder of ride-matching firm Gojek, had asked Mr Lee about the need for more engineering talent in Singapore as his company has seen demand for these people outstripping supply.

Mr Lee said in response that Singapore has been producing more tech talent as the education system has, by design, produced a disproportionate number of engineers due to its focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

While the response from students has varied from time to time, he said students have noticed that the IT market is now heating up. As a result, the number and quality of students going to study IT has also gone up sharply, he said.

“When there is a shortage, we will increase the capacity. But the flow will grow. We don’t only have to depend on our own, we can bring in people from overseas, and we welcome those coming from abroad and also our locals who are working overseas to come back,” he said.

ATTRACTING ENGINEERING TALENT KEY IN SMART NATION VISION

Earlier in his closing speech for the summit, Mr Lee also alluded to attracting engineering talent as one of the three key ingredients needed for Singapore to succeed in its Smart Nation vision. In the Association of South-east Asian Nations, the digital economy is expected to grow to S$240 billion by 2025, he noted.

Mr Lee said that besides a broad base of such talent, Singapore needs the “high peaks”, as well as those in leadership and management positions who understand technology well.

“(We) must be able to attract and recruit engineers to build teams of the calibre of the best tech companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, and we are making some progress because some of these top companies are beginning to have their engineering operations here.”

Society, too, has a critical role to play in embracing technology rather than fighting it, he said.

“People need to understand the risks of technology, whether on cyber security, privacy, or online falsehoods… But we people must not be anti-tech or anti-science, because that would hold back progress and be the end of us.”

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Smart Nation engineering Section 377A Pink Dot Lee Hsien Loong tech

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