(SINGAPORE) Collections for the government's coffers have been greater than expected - and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is likely to offer at least some goodies when he presents the Budget early next year.
'Government revenues have been higher than projected, so with luck the next Budget will bring good news,' Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday at the biennial party conference of the ruling People's Action Party.
The past year has been good for Singapore, with the economy likely to wrap up 2010 with growth of 15 per cent. 'We should use this growth to improve the lives of our people,' Mr Lee told some 1,000 PAP cadres.
His list includes building homes, upgrading housing estates, strengthening Singapore's social safety nets, heavy investment in education and training, improvement in healthcare and investment in public transport.
Meanwhile, with the General Election approaching, nurturing a new leadership team is one of the four key issues that the ruling party will focus on, Mr Lee said. The other three are: keep Singapore prosperous; improve Singaporeans' lives, and keep Singaporeans united and cohesive.
While giving no clear hints when Singaporeans will go to the polls - except to point out the obvious that the elections are due before the next PAP Party Conference - Mr Lee told the cadres that putting in place capable leaders would be 'most critical' in the coming poll.
He was speaking at the biennial PAP Party Conference, the last before the next GE, which must take place by February 2012. The next PAP Party Conference is due in November 2012.
Mr Lee, who is also PAP secretary-general, said that capable leaders are needed more than ever to deal with a population that has higher expectations; a more sophisticated economy; tougher global competition; and more complex issues, such as international finance, climate change and cross-border terrorism.
'Unless we have an 'A' team, we will be knocked out in the first round of the heats.'
As in past polls, Mr Lee said, about a quarter of the PAP candidates this time round is likely to be new and younger faces who have fresh ideas and energy, who can identify with young Singaporeans and who reflect the new generation's needs and aspirations.
The PAP will also be introducing potential new office holders 'who can reinforce the team of ministers and parliamentary secretaries'.
But as of now, Mr Lee said that he still hasn't got enough young ministers to form a new core team for a full Cabinet - and a future prime minister, deputy prime ministers and key ministers.
'We must induct new candidates with the potential to become ministers and to hold all these key appointments in Cabinet.'
Mr Lee said that he was fortunate to have had a long tutelage - almost 20 years - before assuming the top post.
'The next PM will not be so lucky. This is therefore an urgent matter, critical not just for the PAP, but for the long-term good of Singapore.'
Mr Lee disclosed that the PAP so far has had tea sessions with over 240 potential candidates - and the secretary-general's committee chaired by him has interviewed more than 40 so far.
'We have good people, including potential office holders, branch activists, Young PAP and Women's Wing members and young NTUC and unionists,' he said.
The search is still on but Mr Lee said that he's confident of presenting a first-class slate of candidates when the moment comes.
'When elected, we will have enough talent to form the nucleus of the next generation of leaders.'