SINGAPORE - Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong showed his personable side when he answered a plethora of questions from the public through a 45-minute live Facebook chat.
Held at 11.45am on Saturday, Jan 24, PM Lee first posted a photo of his arrival at Facebook Singapore's office followed by one of him in his signature pink shirt.
Although in one of his replies, he said "my TV producer tells me to do so!" when it comes to wearing pink shirts.
Among the top light-hearted questions and comments were from participant Christine Aw, who asked what else would PM Lee want to be if he was not prime minister. He replied: "A teacher or lecturer. It is fun to interact with young people".
Shyam Meghji noted that PM Lee wears his Jawbone, a wearable device that records a body's daily activity, "all the time". He inquired: "How many steps do you take in a day and average hours of sleep?"
PM Lee responded that he sleeps "six to seven hours a day, and walks on average 7,000 to 8,000 steps. Once in a while, I do more than 10,000 steps, and the app sings and dances!"
With short replies, PM Lee also answered serious issues such as those on the use of the Central Provident Fund (CPF), healthcare costs, housing for singles and bilingualism in the education system.
On a CPF issue, Farouk Yusoff asked: "Why can I not use my CPF the way I want to? I want to spend it on my family while still alive. Will there be a change in policy to allow ultimate discretion to the account owner? The minimum sum seems more like a blackbox as the portrayed scenarios to justify it may not apply to every single Singaporean".
PM Lee replied that "the CPF is just the basic amount to take care of everyone in old age. The Minimum Sum is not a lot. Every society has some arrangement like that, and ours is the CPF."
On healthcare, Sara Bara asked: "While a universal healthcare system (MediShield) aims to make healthcare affordable to all, the overall costs of the system can possibly be draining on a country. Could this result in cuts in other areas of government?"
PM Lee said "this will be an issue if we are not careful. The government does not have unlimited money, so if we spend more on healthcare, we will have less to spend elsewhere, or must raise taxes to pay for the spending. We must get the right balance".
Atiqah Jamal posed a question on housing eligibility for singles. She asked: "Will you build more HDB flats for singles? Will you allow singles younger than 35 to own a flat?"
PM Lee responded: "We are indeed building more HDB flats, and singles can now apply for them" but said "I don't think we will reduce the age below 35. It is not so old!" in a second reply to her question.
A query pertaining to education was asked by James Lao, a Secondary Four student. He asked: "What was the most compelling argument you have faced that is against the bilingualism policies, and what was your response?"
PM Lee replied that "the most compelling argument is: it is a very heavy investment to study two languages. Why not concentrate on one, and do it really well?"
Language was no barrier for PM Lee as he also answered light-hearted questions in Malay, such as one from participant Farisa Ann, who asked if he had already eaten: "Semoga berjaya! Encik sudah makan?"
PM Lee thanked her and also replied that he had some "asam pedas dan (and, in Malay) ondeh ondeh".
Hot topics issues such as the recent increase in transport costs were also asked and answered.
Alanna Si Jia Tan asked why does transportation costs keep increasing every year especially with fuel prices dropping.
She said: "Can't the government take back shares within the transportation system such that the prices don't increase every year and work with the privatised operation?...Can we stop experiencing fare hikes?"
PM Lee said that is "a difficult problem everywhere. Nobody likes to pay more for train and bus rides. Yet it costs money to run the trains and buses, and to improve the service standards".
He also pointed out that the government "subsidises public transport heavily - we are spending billions every year building MRT lines, and also spending almost a billion on the BSEP (bus services enhancement programme). But commuters to have to pay a fair share".
He agreed that with fuel prices dropping, fares should go down too - in theory. "But we have half an adjustment left over from last year, so overall fares have to go up a bit. Hope you will understand," he replied.
When AsiaOne last checked at about 4.30pm, the Facebook chat, which ended at 12.30pm, had garnered over 2,000 questions and replies with 7,000 likes.