PM Lee's one regret and greatest satisfaction in 10 years

PM Lee's one regret and greatest satisfaction in 10 years
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore.

If Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong could turn back the clock, he would have ramped up Singapore's infrastructure development by several notches to better cope with the demands of the rapid growth in the population.

"In retrospect, it is easy to say that we should have built up our infrastructure a lot faster, that we should have got more trains running, we should have built more HDB flats," he said when asked to name one regret during his 10 years at the helm.

He recalled how the government at that time was sure it was doing the right thing by pacing things out and building only when there was a need for greater infrastructure.

"It turned out that things did not pan out the way we expected. I think we have to plan less conservatively in future and try to be less precise in our prognostications," he said.

It is not always possible to predict how the economy will perform in the coming year or what shape or form the country will take in the next 10 years, said Mr Lee, adding that these are some of the questions that people ask him on occasion.

All he can offer is his best educated guess, but the actual answers will depend on the actions of the government and how the rest of the world turns out. On its part, Singapore must be prepared for a wide range of outcomes and insure itself as best as possible.

Mr Lee brought up the controversial Population White Paper that was released in January 2013 and stated that the Republic's total population could range between 6.5 million and 6.9 million by the year 2030.

"We are not planning to have (and) we do not want 6.9 million (people) as a target. But I want to have infrastructure. I want to have facilities and I want to get myself ready, (so) if unexpected things happen, I can be prepared," he said.

" ... And if things turn out not quite right, well, we accept that is the way the world is."

On the flip side, what has given him the greatest satisfaction in his time as prime minister so far has been the ability to place a heavy emphasis on education.

He harked back to his very first National Day Rally where he made the call for schools to "teach less, learn more" and to enable students to get the maximum out of their education.

"We have followed through on that in many ways - investing in schools, Edusave, increasing resources for the principals, making sure every school is a good school, developing tertiary education and building up the ITEs (Institute of Technical Education)," said Mr Lee.

He has graced the opening of all three ITE mega-campuses in Simei, Choa Chu Kang and Ang Mo Kio. The polytechnics have been upgraded and are now "very attractive options" for young people, and there are more university places available.

"We are also talking about going beyond formal education, such as with SkillsFuture and lifelong learning. So I think it's not a single decision, but a continuing, consistent emphasis over a long period of time, and the work of successive, capable, strong education ministers supported by competent and passionate professionals. That is very important to our future," said Mr Lee.

leeuwen@sph.com.sg


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