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PM: Getting politics right critical for S’pore

SINGAPORE — The Republic must get its politics right to remain economically competitive over the next two decades, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

PM Lee Hsien Loong. TODAY File Photo

PM Lee Hsien Loong. TODAY File Photo

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SINGAPORE — The Republic must get its politics right to remain economically competitive over the next two decades, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Speaking at the inaugural DBS Asia Leadership Dialogue, which was attended by government officials and business leaders from the region, Mr Lee said the key to a sustainable economic model “starts with politics”. “Because if your politics is wrong, your economics is bound to go wrong. And the reason why so many countries cannot get their economies right, it is because their politics don’t work,” he added.

And when the benefits do not reach the right people or broadly enough, or there is some unbridgeable divide within the society, “you spend your time fighting over that rather than working together productively”.

“I think that we have got to be able to get the fundamentals right and, so far, we have been able to do so,” said Mr Lee. “And we can continue to get the politics right and then I think the economics can work out.” The Prime Minister had said in the lead-up to the 2011 Presidential Election that Singapore is too small for political gridlock.

The hour-long dialogue with Mr Lee was billed as the highlight of yesterday’s day-long event, which discussed the internationalisation of the yuan, the Iskandar development in Malaysia and Myanmar as Asia’s most exciting emerging economy.

Responding to DBS Group Holdings Chief Executive Piyush Gupta, who noted that income inequality is one of the biggest challenges many countries are currently facing, Mr Lee said this does not mean forfeiting economic growth.

“If the economy was stagnant, it doesn’t mean everybody’s going to be happy, and it may be equally unequal,” he said, who added that part of the answer has to be in raising the education and skills of Singaporeans so that they can improve their standard of living.

Said the Prime Minister: “I cannot make everybody a billionaire, but I can make sure everybody can earn a good living for himself. I think that’s possible. But it takes effort and you have to be competitive.”

Mr Lee cited the Government’s investments in a slew of measures, ranging from infrastructure to providing less well-off Singaporeans with subsidies in healthcare and education, among other things. “I don’t think it will make us a society where everybody is absolutely equal,” he said.

“In fact, if I can get another 10 billionaires to move to Singapore and set up their base here, my Gini coefficient will get worse but I think Singaporeans will be better off, because they will bring in business, bring in opportunities, open new doors and create new jobs, and I think that is the attitude with which we must approach this problem.”

Mr Lee also reiterated the Government’s position against a minimum wage here, adding that it will not solve the problems of low-wage workers. “My belief has been that a minimum wage is not going to solve the problem. If it is modest, it won’t do harm, neither will it do a lot of good. If it is high, well, then it is going to cause costs to employers and it is going to cause unemployment to the low-wage workers. So you are not really solving his problem, you are just going to transfer it somewhere else,” said Mr Lee, who added that the Government’s strategies to assist low wage workers include providing training and implementing wage top-up schemes that incentivise their employment.

When asked whether there is a single country Singapore aspires towards, Mr Lee cited a variety of countries and cities with admirable traits. They included San Francisco, which is well connected to Silicon Valley.

Mr Lee, however, had a word of caution: Singapore may not always stay what it is today. “I think what can go wrong for Singapore, if you look at the long term, I think you can lose the specialness of this place,” he said, in response to a question about the things that keep him up at night. “For all our difficulties, I think internationally, we stand high. Can we keep that, because that makes a big difference to Singaporeans, not just to how you feel but, really, to the lives (of Singaporeans). And I think that is a big challenge.”

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