World Economic Forum

Need to explain importance of staying open to talent: PM Lee

From left: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Davos yesterday. PM Lee said it is not hard to make the argument that Singapore needs
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga (above, right), Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Davos yesterday. PM Lee said it is not hard to make the argument that Singapore needs business, markets, investments and technology from abroad, "but we have to bring this down in terms which individual Singaporeans can relate to".PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION
From left: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Davos yesterday. PM Lee said it is not hard to make the argument that Singapore needs
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (above, left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Davos yesterday. PM Lee said it is not hard to make the argument that Singapore needs business, markets, investments and technology from abroad, "but we have to bring this down in terms which individual Singaporeans can relate to".PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION
From left: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Davos yesterday. PM Lee said it is not hard to make the argument that Singapore needs
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (above, right) in Davos yesterday. PM Lee said it is not hard to make the argument that Singapore needs business, markets, investments and technology from abroad, "but we have to bring this down in terms which individual Singaporeans can relate to".PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

S'poreans must feel they are taken care of as nation progresses, he says

Staying open to business and talent from around the globe is key for Singapore to prosper, and the Government will have to explain this to citizens while making sure they are taken care of, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

It is not hard to make the argument that Singapore needs business, markets, investments and technology from abroad, he said in an interview to round up his participation at this year's annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

"But we have to bring this down in terms which individual Singaporeans can relate to in terms of their lived experience - at work, in the community spaces, in the crowd they meet - and that they feel they are taken care of and in Singapore, this is a Singapore for Singaporeans," he added.

"We are open, but this is our home."

PM Lee acknowledged that this is not an easy balance to strike, because globalised companies draw on talent from many parts of the world that come together to be creative and break new ground.

And they need to have this talent in order to develop new products and reach new markets, if they are to generate new opportunities for Singaporeans, he added.

The backlash against globalisation in societies around the world was a key topic at this week's meetings, which brought together corporate, political and social leaders to discuss ways to address common challenges, such as climate change and migration.

At two sessions on Wednesday, PM Lee also shared how Singapore was investing in efforts to upskill its people to stay competitive amid technological disruption.

Yesterday, he shared how a young Chinese start-up entrepreneur he met in Davos had a workforce in Shenzhen that was 40 per cent foreign, and he wanted to double this to 80 per cent because he needed that diversity of talent.

"This is in China - you are drawing from 1.4 billion people, bringing in talent to one city, and you still need to have that diversity and that mix from around the world," said PM Lee.

He noted that many companies that are breaking new ground have a similar talent mix, and Singapore wants them. But, he said, when they come and workers see that only 40 per cent or 60 per cent in the company are Singaporeans and many of their colleagues and their boss are not Singaporeans, they will ask: Why is it here?

 
 

"It is here because that is the way our economy can prosper, and that is where we can generate jobs for the 40 per cent of Singaporeans who are working (in the company)," he said.

"If they were not here, those jobs would not exist. And if you said, 'We want Singaporeans to take over the jobs, which the non-Singaporeans are holding', I'm not sure that we will be able to make it work."

This is a reality that has to be brought home in a way which people can understand, he added.

Singaporeans must also feel assured that if they are working in such a company, they are fairly treated.

If they are not, there is a process and fair employment watchdog - the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices or Tafep - which has guidelines and a procedure for them to appeal and to put things right, said PM Lee.

He noted that some opposition parties were trying to create a divide between foreign and local workers.

He cited the Singapore Democratic Party's recent claim that professionals, managers, executives and technicians are getting unemployed, and the Workers' Party pressing on about how many local employees are citizens versus permanent residents.

 
 
 

Said PM Lee: "They think they see a divide there, and they want to make it wider and exploit it. It's our job to make sure that we don't allow a divide. And even if that is a weak point, it doesn't get exploited."

He added: "It's important for us to explain to Singaporeans that we are doing this to make things work for Singaporeans, and this is the best strategy for Singapore to prosper."

Asked for his take on this year's WEF meetings, PM Lee said the strategic situation, particularly where China-US relations are headed, was on people's minds. Climate change was also a big concern, as was the global economy and sustainable growth.

He met Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, as well as Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former US secretary of state John Kerry.

PM Lee also met several business leaders of companies with a presence in Singapore at a lunch arranged by the Economic Development Board. Some of the companies have significant projects, and Singapore last year attracted a good flow - $15.2 billion - of investments.

Given the pressures globalisation is facing, Singapore has to up its game if it is to continue attracting high-quality investments and operations that create high-quality jobs, he added. This was a message he had for the people he met, he said. "That is what we are doing, and we hope that they can be part of our plan."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2020, with the headline 'Need to explain importance of staying open to talent: PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe