PM's live Facebook chat draws over 1,600 questions

PM's live Facebook chat draws over 1,600 questions
PM Lee at the Facebook office in Singapore where he conducted a live chat with the public on Jan 24.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wears pink on the advice of his TV producer, takes photographs with his iPhone and a compact camera, likes home-cooked food best and his favourite Malay dishes are asam pedas and ondeh-ondeh.

Like many Singaporeans, he struggles to balance work and leisure, but gets in a workout every morning, has started learning Pilates and sleeps six to seven hours a night.

In an alternate world, he would have liked to be a teacher or lecturer.

These were some personal nuggets he shared in a live 45-minute Facebook chat yesterday from the social media giant's office in Cecil Street.

He said in a Facebook post in the evening: "I had a hard time keeping up with all the questions coming in, but it was an interesting and successful engagement."

Mr Lee had invited questions at 11.30am, and started answering them 15 minutes later.

By noon, more than 500 questions had flooded in. By the time the session ended at 12.30pm, there were more than 1,600. He managed to respond to just about 30, including several on policy issues in the news recently, like transport and Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

Some 363,500 people saw Mr Lee's chat, Facebook said yesterday.

There are 3.4 million active Facebook users in Singapore.

Transport was a hot topic, with over 100 questions on everything from petrol prices to the fare increases announced last week. (See other report.)

Mr Farouk Yusoff asked about his money in the CPF and the Minimum Sum Scheme, saying: "Dear PM Lee, why can I not use my CPF the way I want to? I want to spend it on my family while (I'm) still alive."

Mr Lee replied that the CPF savings are 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."

One participant asked if the upcoming MediShield Life scheme to provide health insurance coverage for all might be a drain on Singapore and result in cutbacks in other areas.

Mr 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 health care we will have less to spend elsewhere, or must raise taxes to pay for the spending. We must get the right balance."

Mr Avin Look told Mr Lee that his retired parents, who need regular follow-ups at polyclinics and specialist centres, say they pay a lot for non-standard prescribed medications because there are no generic ones in the market.

He wanted the Pioneer Generation benefits to be extended to such medicines as well, especially for the elderly.

Mr Lee replied that there are a lot of non-standard medicines like vitamin pills. "So we have to be careful. But if the doctor thinks the non-standard item is essential, and your parents can't afford it, we have a scheme to subsidise them. Where do your parents live? Perhaps I can ask their MP to help them?"

In response to a query by Mr Allen Yu on immigration, he said Singapore would stay open to immigrants, even as he noted that some businesses found it hard to get workers due to recent limits. "We have set our immigration policy for now, but will review it after a few years."

Mr Lee ended the chat by uploading a 30-second video, saying he enjoyed the session.

"I'm sorry I couldn't answer all of the questions you have asked, but thank you for participating," he said. "I will do this again one day. I hope you'll be there again. Next time, I'll try hard to get to more questions."

Singapore Kindness Movement general secretary William Wan, who was among the netizens posing questions online, told The Sunday Times later that although some of those taking part were not serious, there was "quite a bit of courtesy and respect".

The general conversation online can be quite nasty, he said, but added: "In this case, I'd like to think that people still have

respect for the PM."

yanliang@sph.com.sg

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