Govt 'has interests of citizens at heart'

Minister Lee Hsien Loong participating in a dialogue session, moderated by Lianhe Zaobao editor Goh Sin Teck, of the Future China Global Forum at Shangri-La Hotel on July 21, 2015.
Minister Lee Hsien Loong participating in a dialogue session, moderated by Lianhe Zaobao editor Goh Sin Teck, of the Future China Global Forum at Shangri-La Hotel on July 21, 2015. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Foreign labour and immigration are sensitive, difficult issues, but the Government has to lead the country and make the best possible decision, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

And he hopes people understand that, while there may be different views on the matter, the Government's underlying motivation is the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans.

"Even on the most difficult issue, we need to make the best decision and be accountable to the people," he said. "There may be different views on how the policy should be, but I hope people understand that the Government's intent is good. We are doing this for Singapore, and for Singaporeans."

Mr Lee was speaking at a dialogue at the annual FutureChina Global Forum, where moderator Goh Sin Teck, editor of Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, asked how Singapore and China could better manage the issue of their ageing populations.

PM Lee noted that Singapore could mitigate its low birth rate through foreign labour and immigration, but these were sensitive issues on which many citizens had strong opinions.

MAKING THE BEST POSSIBLE DECISION FOR SINGAPOREANS

Purely from the perspective of numbers, it makes sense to take in foreign labour and immigrants. But from an emotional standpoint, it is not easy for people to accept, to agree and support. We have explained the reasons many times. I think people may not necessarily want more explanations.

What I hope people will know, and I mean this from my heart, is that on immigration and population, we have Singaporeans' interests at heart.

We have this responsibility; we are the Government; we need to lead the country; we need to make the best possible decision for Singaporeans. Even on the most difficult issue, we need to make the best decision and be accountable to the people. There may be different views on how the policy should be, but I hope people understand that the Government's intent is good.

We are doing this for Singapore, and for Singaporeans.

PM LEE

He noted that the 2013 Government White Paper explaining its population policy drew a strong reaction from the ground, and the Government moderated the number of immigrants.

"But we cannot do without them altogether," he said.

Mr Lee acknowledged that people may not necessarily want more explanations, but he hoped they would see that the Government had Singaporeans' interests at heart on the subject.

Mr Lee was also asked what China could learn from Singapore's political system. He replied that, while "intra-party politics" was a main issue in China, such tension existed among parties here.

But while a multi-party system can cause some conflict, it is also a source of dynamism and ultimately good for the country, he said.

"No matter how the system evolves, we hope that politicians admit that the task is to serve Singaporeans - not a party, or an interest group, but all Singaporeans," he said.

"The People's Action Party (PAP) wishes to represent the interests of the vast majority of Singaporeans, regardless of race, religion, language, income group, or where they live. We hope that you will support the PAP, and we will do everything in our ability to serve you," he added.

He said: "If there is one party that can represent multiple groups, it would be conducive to the country's stability and to nation building in the long run."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2015, with the headline 'Govt 'has interests of citizens at heart''. Print Edition | Subscribe