Edited excerpts from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's conversation with Professor Chan Heng Chee, chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities. PM Lee on...

Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the interview for A Conversation With The Prime Minister TV programme which was aired on Aug 2, 2015.
Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the interview for A Conversation With The Prime Minister TV programme which was aired on Aug 2, 2015. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

WHAT SLOW ECONOMIC GROWTH OF 1 - 2 PER CENT ANNUALLY CAN MEAN FOR SINGAPOREANS

I think the mood would change substantively. We were used to high growth, 5, 6, 7 per cent ... until the Asian financial crisis (in 1997). If you go to 1 or 2 per cent growth, life is not getting worse, but life will not be getting better in the same way...

Every year, a million people or several million people travel abroad from Singapore. I think that is a lifestyle we have got used to. If you can no longer sustain that lifestyle, I think you are going to feel it very deeply. Not immediately, but it is going to happen.

Your children want a better life than you. My children want a better life than me. But how can all our children have a better life than us if, once it reaches their generation, the economy is smaller than it was today?


MAKING TOUGH DECISIONS

If we were not in the government, it is much easier. We can make recommendations, we can write papers, we can make speeches, and we can rouse arguments, unhappiness, point out all the problems we have where we are standing. But as a government, we have to deal with this issue and it is an issue where honestly speaking, there are no easy choices. There are trade-offs. If we have no foreign workers, our economy suffers, our own lives suffer. We have a lot of foreign workers, the economy will do well, (but) we have other social pressures, other problems with our society which are going to be very real and which we have to take very seriously and which we cannot accept. Somewhere in the middle, we have a mix of evils; on the other hand, we may be able to find a spot where all things considered, this is something which balances our needs as well as our identity, as well as our economic requirements, and enables us to move forward.


THE NATIONAL IDENTITY CHANGING

You ask whether over 50 years, I can assume that, without doing anything, I would still feel the same ... have the same excitement, buzz and cheer when I come to SG100. I would say I am not so certain, because that generation is not yet born. They are going to be born in a very different world, they are going to experience very different growing-up environments and opportunities. They are going to travel a lot more than their parents or grandparents. And their sense of who they are, what defines them. That is yet to be seen... Are you defined as a Singaporean? I grew up here, little red dot, or are you the best World of Warcraft champion in the world? In which case, your network is not Singaporean, but the World of Warcraft community which is all over the world. And in the big, developed countries, there are many people whose closest friends and networks are not their countrymen.


SINGAPORE IN 25 YEARS' TIME

I think you have to work at both the head and the heart. We are efficient but I feel there are things we can do better and which we must do better - in delivering services, whether it is public transport, whether it is government services or whether it is services at private counters, even in Sim Lim Square, the possibility for improving, and the necessity to improve.

At the same time, we have to work at the heart part of it. We have to be efficient but at the same time, there must be that human touch. And the human touch is not just in terms of the Government showing their good heart, but individuals and their own lives, not being self-centred and being prepared to work with one another and go that extra mile to help their fellow men and women.

We have that, we can see it in the stories which have come up recently, but sometimes we also see clear off stories where people have not been so big-hearted and I think that we need to work at that.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline '(No headline) - RCQUOTES03'. Print Edition | Subscribe