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Important for Singapore to stay open

PM Lee: So let me sketch you briefly why it's important for us to stay open. First, because we need talent. We need to gain talent.

It makes a tremendous difference to us doing critical work in our economy, helping Singapore to become an outstanding city.

We have very good people but never enough. And therefore we need to draw from all over the world, to supplement our local pool.

You take professionals, for example architects. There are lots of of talented young architects in Singapore.

Recently, URA held an exhibition 20 Under 45 and they published a little book showcasing the outstanding works by 20 young architects below 45 years old.

The majority of the architects are native Singaporeans, although quite a few are foreign-born. And the foreign born ones include the 2 architects who built the Pinnacle.

Husband and wife team. The husband, Mr. Khoo Peng Beng, is from Ipoh, now a PR. The wife, Belinda Huang, is from Selangor, now a Singapore Citizen.

They won a design competition to build on the Duxton Plain site and the result is one of the most sought after HDB projects in Singapore.

In fact, we don't have enough Pinnacles and so voters and residents want us to build some more.

For the local architects you might consider this "foreign competition, too fierce, unfair." But for Singaporeans, and especially for the residents of Pinnacle, we benefit.

We get a better living environment, we get a more beautiful city and I think even our own architects benefit because from the competition, from that stimulus, we will do better and we will produce better works too.

Take sports talent as another example. We are grooming our own. Our young sportsmen have done very well in the YOG, the Young Olympians. And in some sports we are near the top in the world rankings like sailing or bowling.

This is Jasmine, who's the women's champion two years ago, and last year was our Sportswoman of the Year.

But in other sports we still need to draw on new citizens, like table tennis. We are very proud of Isabelle, who won a silver medal at the YOG. But we have too few Isabelles. And so we have topped up And our women's team has done very well.

They won the Silver at the Beijing Olympics. Here you see them receiving the medals. In Moscow at the World Team Table Tennis championships, they beat China to win the Gold medal. And here you see Feng Tian Wei celebrating. Our team players may not have been born here.

I don't think they speak good Singlish, but they have chosen this place to be their home.

They are playing for Singapore, flying the flag for Singapore, and when they win, the band plays Majulah Singapura.

So we should cheer for them, just as we cheer for all of our national sportsmen. So that's the first reason for needing this. Talent is critical to us.

The second reason is we need reinforcements to grow our economy and create better jobs for Singaporeans.

The foreign workers supplement our ranks and enable us to build successful companies. You take Keppel and SembCorp again. They are world beaters.

Together they employ 20,000 people in Singapore, of whom 5,000 are Singaporeans. The other 15,000 are foreign workers, professionals. Without the foreign workers, the Singaporean jobs wouldn't exist.

Of course the converse is true too. Without the Singaporean brains working the system and bringing the foreign workers together and organising them, the foreign worker jobs wouldn't exist either.

So they are complementary to each other. The shipyards employ foreign workers and professionals from many countries all over the world. You just take a look some of the flags where the countries are.

Asia, we will not be surprised. Europe, you will not be surprised. Russia, South Africa, Brazil, Chile.

So because they come from all over the world, they bring a wide range of skills, experience, knowledge about different countries, different markets and therefore they have become world beaters - Keppel and Sembcorp. And it's good for us.

The final reason we need immigrants is to make up for our shortfall in babies. Our efforts to produce more Singaporean babies have not yielded results, not yet.

Two years ago I made a long speech in the NDR about new measures.

Last year we produced fewer babies than in 2008. So for this type of productivity, please work harder.

But I think we should make an important distinction between foreign workers and immigrants, which means immigrants meaning PRs and citizens.

Foreign workers are transient, we need them to work in the factories, in the banks, hospitals, shipyards, construction projects.

When the job is done they will leave. When there are no jobs here they will go.

So temporarily economy is hot, I think we can accept higher numbers.

For the longer term we are pushing to raise productivity so that we can rely less on foreign workers. But meanwhile we want to build flats, MRT lines, IRs, so please bear with the larger numbers for the time being. That's foreign workers. Immigrants: the PRs and the citizens are far fewer.

We are very careful whom we accept. Not only must they contribute to our economy but they've also got to integrate with our society and strike roots here.

We've moved quite fast over the last five years. We've accepted a larger inflow, both foreign workers and we've taken in more new citizens and PRs. Conditions were good, we caught the wind, we moved forward.

But now I think we should consolidate, slow down the pace. We can't continue going like this and increasing our population 100, 150,000 a year indefinitely and we should give Singaporeans time to adjust and our society time to settle and integrate better the new arrivals.

But we must not close ourselves up. The basic principle for us is always citizens come first and that's how our policies are designed: citizens before PRs, PRs before other foreigners and non-residents.

Last year, we reviewed the policies, we changed the subsidies to make this distinction sharper, so education fees, health care subsidies, housing subsidies all adjusted so that it's quite clear that the Singaporeans get the best deal.

But not everything is reduced to subsidies and dollars, there are other less tangible issues, too, which I will also talk about, not to dismiss them but to explain how we can manage the problems and enjoy the benefits of the inflow by limiting the down side.

Read also:
» Part 2: Speech from National Day Rally 2010
» Part 3
» Part 4




For more stories on the National Day Rally speech, click here.

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