Hsien Loong fields question of possibility of third PM Lee

SINGAPORE - Singapore could have a third Prime Minister Lee as it is a common Chinese surname, but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong does not think "it goes in the family".


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Hu Shuli, editor-in-chief of Caixin Media, was recently invited to visit Singapore and interview Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Here is an excerpt of the interview:

What's your vision for Singapore's economic growth?

In terms of income levels, we are at about developed country level, in fact higher than some developed countries. I think in terms of the depth of our capabilities, in terms of our technology, in terms of the strength of our enterprises, we don't have so many MNCs. We are not so strong in research development entrepreneurship.

We want to keep on growing, we want to keep on improving the lives of our people materially - which means our GDP has to go up, but also in the more intangible aspects of life.

This includes the quality of life, the environment we live in, the tone of the society, the way we treat one another. And that is continually a work in progress.

What are the pros and cons of having long serving premiers?

We have been lucky for the last 50 years. We have had political stability and continuity in our system. So we have had turnover - new blood and new generations brought in. But at the same time we have had continuity.

So as you change, you change in a smooth way. You don't have sudden jerks and bumps and you avoid accidents.

Mr Goh Chok Tong was in politics for more than 10 years before he became Prime Minister. I was in politics for about 20 years before I became Prime Minister. I think we were very privileged to have that long period of exposure to learn what Singapore to about, to learn what the responsibilities are if you are in politics.

And also for people to learn about you and get to know you and to know your strengths and weaknesses, and where you stand and what sort of person you are. So when you take over people know - there is no surprise, no anxiety, but there is a smooth change of gears.

We hope to have similar continuity going forward, but I think it would be a very great luxury to have Prime Ministers of the future have 10 to 20 years of tutelage.

I don't think we can guarantee that all the time.

Do you think there will be a third Prime Minister Lee?

It could be, there are many Lees in the world. I think we are the most common surname amongst the Chinese. But I don't think that it goes in the family.

China is now in the process of an anti-graft campaign, what lessons can China learn from Singapore in that respect?

I think China's circumstances are very different from ours, your scale is much different from ours.

In Singapore, what we have tried to do is have strict rules and to have transparent systems. This is so that if there is an exercise of discretion, it cannot be completely without checks and balances, but there will have to be some accounting - how was this discretion exercised and why was it exercised this way.

If anybody is discovered to be corrupt or suspected to be corrupt, we will investigate it and we will bring him to justice. However high up or sensitive post he may hold.

At the same time we make sure we pay our civil servants properly - a wage commensurate with the quality of the officer and commensurate with the responsibilities which they hold. So that there is minimum temptation for them to do something on the side in order to take care of the family.

But it has to go together, you pay people properly but at the same time you must hold people to high standards and bring them to account and justice, if anybody does anything wrong.

In the last couple of years we have had a few cases - some to do with sex, some to do with money. Quite senior officers. It embarrassed us but it cannot be helped, we have to follow through. You cannot be limp-wristed.

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