TODAY Online - Economy on a steady path, but Govt will provide boost if needed: PM Lee

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TODAY Online - Economy on a steady path, but Govt will provide boost if needed: PM Lee

TODAY Online - Economy on a steady path, but Govt will provide boost if needed: PM Lee

While Singapore’s economic growth is moderating, the situation is not as gloomy as it is made out to be.


 
Economy on a steady path, but Govt will provide boost if needed: PM Lee

While Singapore’s economic growth is moderating, the situation is not as gloomy as it is made out to be, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Jan 20), as he stressed that the Government is watching developments closely.

If necessary, it is prepared to provide the economy with an extra boost, he added, without elaborating.

Speaking at a dialogue organised by the Economic Development Board (EDB) Society and The Straits Times, Mr Lee reiterated that Singapore is no longer in a phase where its workforce is expanding rapidly. As the Republic transforms its economy, it will be doing well if it can achieve 2 to 3 per cent growth annually for the next decade, he pointed out.

“That means that over the longer term, there’ll be steady improvements in standards of living and incomes, what the economy can provide for our people. But in the shorter term, we also want to make sure that the ups and downs are controlled, and that the downs are not too down. And that if we need to stimulate the economy, we can do so,” he said.

“As of now, I would say overall we’re a bit less concerned than the tone in the newspapers. I understand that the people whose jobs are affected are anxious ... but for the economy as a whole, I think that we’re on a steady path.”

The 70-minute dialogue, which was held at The Arts House, was attended by some 400 guests including Cabinet ministers, business leaders as well as former and current EDB staff. Mr Lee addressed a wide range of questions on the economy, international relations and politics.

On the economy, Mr Lee said inbound investments and job creation remained healthy in Singapore. Moreover, some jobs are still taken up by foreigners when companies are unable to find suitable Singaporeans to fill them. If the country can produce people with the right skills, there are jobs for them, he added.

Mr Lee was asked for his take on Singapore’s competitiveness in relation to its neighbours, given that workers here are paid much higher salaries. In response, he pointed out that many companies still find it worthwhile to be based in Singapore.

“If you come to Singapore, you hire a lawyer, he gets your job done; you hire an engineer or an architect, he gets your project built. And the project or job can be done efficiently and be completed cost-effectively because it’s a clean, efficient, working Singapore business environment — that is not so easy to replicate, and that is an advantage that we enjoy over many other quite vibrant economic centres,” said Mr Lee.

But unlike other cities such as New York and London which have large hinterlands to fall on for expansion and growth, Singapore has to make a base out of not just its neighbours within South-east Asia, but also among countries further away including India, China and Australia, he added. On that note, Singapore would sign a free-trade deal with Britain after it formally exits the European Union, Mr Lee told the BBC on the sidelines of Friday’s event.

On the perception that Singapore lacks policies to support entrepreneurship, Mr Lee noted that efforts to promote entrepreneurship — from setting up incubators such as JTC Launchpad to loans and funding — have borne fruit over the years.

He added that even though the people in Singapore now have more to lose because the country is no longer “broke”, it is still important to take risks in order to make it big.

This applies to the Civil Service as well, which must maintain the gumption and confidence to try new things instead of backing down after having failed and experienced any public outcry, said Mr Lee, who was responding to a question on how an environment of risk-taking can be fostered in the service given that it is often seen as risk averse, especially when compared to the earlier generation.

“I would say in the earlier generation, it was a smaller organisation, and you have several key people who have an enormous impact on the whole system. People like (former ministers) Goh Keng Swee, Hon Sui Sen, Lim Kim San ... in that generation they were the ones that were Buddhas, but they were also Mandarins. And of course Philip Yeo, who was in EDB for a long time, and you could push and you can make things happen,” he said.

“Now it’s a big organisation ... it’s not quite so easy to push and make things happen because it’s bigger, it’s more settled.”

Mr Yeo, a former EDB chairman and veteran civil servant, is seen by many as a maverick. Responding to a remark from the moderator, ST editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang, that Mr Yeo would not be able to survive today’s bureaucracy, Mr Lee said: “I’m not sure that is true. He may not emerge, but I have no doubt Philip Yeo today would survive.”

 

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