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Lim Swee Say’s ‘effective’ catchphrases not ‘idle wordplay’: PM Lee

SINGAPORE — Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say has a knack for simple and effective messaging, and his vivid catchphrases have stuck with many Singaporeans today, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Apr 27) as he thanked three of his long-serving ministers for their contributions.

SINGAPORE — Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say has a knack for simple and effective messaging, and his vivid catchphrases have stuck with many Singaporeans today, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Apr 27) as he thanked three of his long-serving ministers for their contributions. 

In his valedictory letters to these ministers, Mr Lee said that some of Mr Lim's more memorable phrases were "cheaper, better, faster", "better, betterer, betterest", "futurise" and most recently, "1/3 + 2/3 > 1" to describe our workforce composition.

"These were not idle wordplay or poor math, but embodied important economic and manpower realities and priorities in a form that Singaporeans could understand, remember and act upon," PM Lee said.

"Till today, many Singaporeans recall with a smile the vivid catchphrases that you coined over the years," he added.

Following the Cabinet reshuffle earlier this week, Mr Lim, 63, Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang, 64, and Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, 62, will be stepping down on May 1, but will remain as Members of Parliament.

Many of these catchphrases were coined in the years Mr Lim was serving as the secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) from 2007 to 2015, and also as Manpower Minister from 2015.

He called for the workforce to be "cheaper, better and faster" to survive when global competition for jobs and investment was heating up. He also said that by maximising the potential of the workforce, of which two-thirds are Singapore residents and one-third are foreigners, they can be greater than one ("1/3 + 2/3 > 1").

PM Lee noted that while Mr Lim was at NTUC, he firmly upheld the belief that it is important to create jobs for Singaporeans.

When Mr Lim joined the Ministry of Manpower, he was able to manage the "strong political pressures" on Singapore's foreign-worker policies and "prioritised the Singaporean core" of the workforce.

He set up programmes such as Adapt and Grow to train workers to find new jobs, and helped workers retire well by raising the re-employment age and the contribution rates for the Central Provident Fund (CPF) for some older workers, as well as giving CPF members more options to save for retirement.

Mr Lee recounted that he had first met Mr Lim more than 40 years ago while they were both serving the Singapore Armed Forces. After working with him, Mr Lee was also the one who approached him to join politics, and Mr Lim did so in 1996.

PM Lee said of his impression of Mr Lim then: "You struck me as a determined, passionate leader who delivered results. You had a warm, down-to-earth personality. On the ground, you were practical, persuasive and effective."

These qualities were also noted by his constituents when he served as Member of Parliament. Mr Lee said. "They enjoyed chatting with you, and appreciated your efforts to explain key government policies in a clear and often entertaining manner."

Among his different appointments, Mr Lim was also Environment Minister from 2001 to 2004.

During his time at that ministry, he had to introduce NEWater, an alternative water source for Singapore obtained by recycling treated used water into water clean enough to drink.

He had to take up the challenge of getting Singaporeans to accept the idea of recycling and consuming used water, which was a "delicate matter of psychology and public confidence", but he achieved it "brilliantly", PM Lee noted.

Apart from getting the support of various communities, Mr Lim guided national water agency PUB to come up with the name NEWater and the idea of packaging NEWater in elegant bottles.

The Prime Minister remembered how Cabinet colleagues also supported Mr Lim by toasting with NeWater on National Day at the 2002 parade.

"Today, Singaporeans are happy and proud to use NEWater, which accounts for up to two-fifths of our water needs," he added.

PM Lee counts Mr Lim — who is now Member of Parliament for East Coast GRC — as an invaluable member on his team and said that he will be deeply missed.

"You often said that 'people don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care', and you lived by this mantra. Even though you are stepping down from Cabinet, I am confident that you will continue to serve your constituents well and contribute to Singapore and the labour movement in many other ways," he said.

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