leekuanyew

In his own words: IRs needed for S'pore to keep abreast of the top cities

In the debate over whether to bring in the integrated resorts and casinos to Singapore, Mr Lee stood up to state that he was against gambling. He had initially resisted the move to bring casinos into Singapore but he eventually changed his mind because he saw the benefits that it could bring to the country.

APRIL 19, 2005

CASINOS

"Mr Speaker, Sir, I am anti-gambling. As a child in primary school, I saw my father become a problem gambler for several years. I watched many quarrels between my father and mother.

He wanted her jewellery to pawn and gamble on "21" or blackjack to win back his losses. Fortunately for us, he gave up gambling. I have never gambled...

On several occasions, my business friends in Hong Kong suggested that Stanley Ho, who ran casinos in Macau, would be happy to start one in Singapore. I ruled it out. I did not want to undermine Singapore's work ethic and breed the belief that people can get rich by gambling, something that is impossible because the odds are against you. I have not changed my mind nor my basic values.

But I have had to change my attitude to casinos in Singapore when it is part of an integrated resort...

What is important is: Will it be a total plus for the economy and is it worth the price we have to pay in social cost...

Each and every minister has strong personal beliefs and convictions of what is good for his family, for Singapore, for the kind of society they want. At the same time, you ask yourself, if you say 'no', and this is but one of many steps Singapore must take to keep abreast of the rest of the world, how do you keep ahead of the rest of the region to be a vibrant, exciting, interesting city to visit. We have to decide in this present world whether Singapore should still reject an integrated resort because it has a casino...

I am convinced that (the two) integrated resorts in Singapore must depend on tourists because they cannot survive if they were to depend on Singaporeans. The projects show that potential investors expect, on the average, to earn more than two-thirds of their revenue from foreign tourists.

As people in Asia, especially in China and India, become wealthier, they will travel and visit integrated resorts. Several said that their Singapore integrated resort would be their flagship project in this part of the world.

The reasons are obvious. This is a clean, attractive, well-policed, safe city, a financial centre; no money laundering, no muggings, no thieves, no drugs. And we have to keep it that way.

If we turn down their proposals, surely they will go elsewhere in the region.

The old model on which I worked was to create a First World city in a Third World region - clean, green, efficient, pleasant, healthy and wholesome; safe and secure for everyone. These virtues are valuable but no longer sufficient.

Now we also have to be not just economically vibrant, but also an exciting, fascinating city to visit, with top-class symphony orchestras, concerts, dramas, plays, artists, singers and popular entertainment.

These are lifestyles of international professionals and executives who locate in Singapore, working in multinational banks, finance houses and other MNCs. And we want those companies who manage these entertainment troupes to include Singapore in their tour of cities around the world.

My question is: Can we make it? I believe, yes, if we are open to change and willing to accept new ideas. This integrated resort is only a small part in the remaking of Singapore.

Mr Speaker, Sir, we live in a different and an ever-changing world. Singapore must become more lively, more exciting, more of a fun place and, at the same time, retain its virtues - clean, green, safe and wholesome.

We can learn to limit the social fallout. In any case, we cannot prevent the outside world from affecting us. Our people travel. If we do not allow an integrated resort with a casino in Singapore, Singaporeans will still become victims frequenting casinos elsewhere...

Singapore has to reposition itself in this world.

If we reject these integrated resort projects, the world's investors and players will mentally scratch us off from the list of countries that will be good for them, for their business, for their leisure and entertainment.

Ask ourselves, every one of us, after all the heart-wrenching stories, and anecdotes, if you are in charge, if you are responsible for Singapore's future, for its well-being, for its vibrancy, for the kind of life Singapore can provide its people in 10, 20 years, can you say 'no'?

That is the question you have to answer.

If I were the Prime Minister, and I was challenged - I was challenged on many issues when I was a younger man and had a lot of energy - I would take every challenger on and set out to convince Singapore that this is right, that the price is high, but the price of not having the integrated resorts is even higher.

This is your choice. Surely we must move forward and keep abreast of the top cities in Asia and the world."