Government will study lessons from White Paper debate, says PM Lee

The government will study the lessons learnt from the White Paper debate to see how it can do better next time, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday.

But the public can also think over what has been debated in Parliament and understand what the government is trying to do, he added.

"It is a very emotional issue, understandably, it is an issue on which views are very strong, it is also a very complicated issue," said Mr Lee.

But he urged the public to not just understand the details of the White Paper but also the government's aim in putting it out, which is "to help Singaporeans have a better life for the future in the best way possible".

Mr Lee's comments came two days after Parliament accepted the Population White Paper on Friday after an intense five-day debate which saw several People's Action Party MPs criticising it.

The White Paper was passed in the House after an amendment was made to the motion to make clear that the 6.9 million population figure that drew adverse public reactions was not a target and the Government is not deciding now on any specific population size before 2020 and was only making planning provisions for infrastructure and land use.

Mr Lee made the comments this morning when speaking to reporters after his visit to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He met 200 healthcare and hospital support workers such as nurses, cleaners and security guards to thank them for working on the first day of Chinese New Year.

He gave them mandarin oranges and red packets, and joined them in tossing yusheng, or raw fish salad, for good luck.

The visit is an annual tradition organised by the National Trades Union Congress. The Prime Minister was accompanied by Mrs Lee, NTUC president Diana Chia, secretary-general Lim Swee Say and some 30 union leaders.

Mr Lee told also reporters that the hospital visit was planned before the online furore this week over a footnote in the Population White Paper which labelled nursing as a "low skilled" job.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who oversees the National Population and Talent Division that produced the White Paper, has since apologised.

"It was most unfortunate that there was this mistake in the White Paper," said Mr Lee, adding: "DPM Teo Chee Hean has apologised, I should say that I am sorry that it happened too, because I know how important the nurses are in hospitals."

The Prime Minister turns 61 today and the hospital staff surprised him and Mrs Lee with a birthday cake during the visit.

He sportingly closed his eyes and made a wish before cutting the cake. When asked what wish he made, he replied with a laugh: "I hope there will be many more babies and children this year."

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