Solution for cheaper transport fares 'not as simple as nationalisation'

ACHIEVING cheaper transport fares and lower utility bills is not as simple as nationalising public transport and utility companies, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at last night's People's Action Party (PAP) rally.

Otherwise, every country would have done it, he said. It was a rebuttal of Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang's criticisms that essential services had been privatised to the detriment of citizens.

Mr Low's reasoning, he said, was that if such services were nationalised, "then you don't need profits, then it'll be cheaper".

It is not true, said Mr Lee. "If it were so simple, why hasn't every other country in the world done that? Ask yourself," he charged, adding that many countries have privatised essential services, while the government regulates.

Using the Hokkien term for "to do everything", he asked if the Government could "pao ka liao, solve every problem", then why did China pursue economic liberalisation under late leader Deng Xiaoping?

"If the Government can do everything and all would be well, then the North Koreans should be the most prosperous people in the world!" he said, prompting laughter from the crowd.

That said, the PAP Government is an "activist Government" and does not sit back while leaving things to the private sector, he added.

He said that the Government helps those who have problems coping with high utility bills and transport fares, with vouchers and schemes like U-Save. Members of Parliament are there to help too.

The authorities will spend $60 billion over 10 years on public transport, and aim to double the rail network by 2030.

In housing, they have intervened to ensure market stability, and programmes like the Build-to-Order scheme to ensure citizens get flats whose value would be maintained, he added.

PM Lee noted that it was easy for some at election rallies to talk about the Government doing more, without explaining how they would be funded.

"I'm honest with you. If there's a trade-off, if there's something tough, I will have to explain that to you. I'm not pretending. I think that's an important part of wearing white on white."