12 Jul 2012
Q: In fact my attraction is that my family’s association with Singapore actually predates Singapore. We started out in Malaysia and then when Singapore became a separate country we continued to invest in Singapore and it’s been a wonderful experience for us. A few years ago, when Singapore decided to promote industrial parks in Vietnam, we were amongst the first to invest there and I think it’s wonderful to have even in Vietnam the same type of administrative convenience that one gets in Singapore. I want to personally thank you for that and appreciate all that you have done for relations between us. Let me turn to our bilateral relations, Mr Prime Minister. Singapore and India as often referred have had long association. I remember our former Prime Minister when he came to Singapore and introduced himself. He said Singa is in my name and so is it in Singapore and so there is a long history of association and we consider Singapore amongst our best friends in Asia. My question to you is what is that attracts you to India, what is it that brings you here?
PM: We see great advantage in India participating with us in the prosperity of the region. And we see ourselves being a good friend of India, maybe being helpful in a small way helping a much bigger friend to make progress and to do well in the world. India has a role to play not just on the subcontinent but in Asia and the world and in the last 20 years, I think India’s links with Asia have grown considerably partly our CECA (Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement) with India has helped, but also India’s cooperation with ASEAN (Southeast Asian countries) and with the East Asia Summit with the broader community of nations in Asia. We think India has a contribution to make. We think as India transforms itself, it will have soft power to project. Bollywood certainly is very popular in Asia, including in Singapore and it is much more than Bollywood. It is the respect and regard we have for your progress and your ambitions to improve your lives.
Q: Let me ask you about Singapore. We live in very volatile and difficult times. Singapore as you’ve said is a small country but it has the advantage of being geographically strategic and of course we all face challenges today in the world. But we look to Singapore for high value services and for high governance levels. My question to you is how are you going to be in this economic milieu? How are you going to be able to sustain this? A few years ago, you chaired in Singapore the economic strategy process and I am sure there that there are many learnings that you were thinking of some new initiatives and we would appreciate understanding of those ideas?
PM: You have to look at it both from the supply side and the demand side. On the supply side, we must make sure that we educate our people so that they have the skills and the know-how in order to do high value jobs. If you do not have the know-how, the job can come but you cannot do that and that means good education, preschool, school, post secondary whether it is in the Institute of Technical Education, vocational training, whether it is polytechnic education, a diploma, practical-oriented know-how, whether it is university education and a diverse range of university education. We put a lot of emphasis into education to get our people ready. You heard my Minister for Education just now and he talked about some of these things and we continue on beyond the school and university stage into the work stage because we believe that our people in the workforce as adults have to continue to learn and relearn new skills through their life so that they can continue to do their jobs, new jobs and better jobs and as the technology changes and new jobs come to the market, you can transfer your skills and apply them in a new environment which will become very necessary because this is a world where many of the jobs we will be doing in the next 20 years have not even been invented. The companies certainly do not exist yet. That is on the supply side. We also on the supply side have to bring in good investments and good projects. That means keep ourselves in an environment where companies are able to do business, where companies find it attractive to set up their headquarters, what we call control tower functions, manpower management and treasury functions, their audit functions, their human resource functions and use Singapore as a connection to the operations all over the world. We have done that.
Many companies are in Singapore, many Indian companies have set up their headquarters in Singapore, global headquarters in Singapore. We think that is one sort of business which we can bring in which can make the most of our skills. We need specific projects too, for example, in the last few years you probably have heard we have built two integrated resorts in Singapore. What are integrated resorts? You have food, you have entertainment, you have retail, you have hotels and you also have gambling, casinos. There are two of that in proportion so there is really a whole range of things and with a little casino inside and we have two of these integrated resorts and they have been tremendously successful. Our tourism numbers have gone up dramatically. Last year, I think we had 13 million visitors, something like that and from the point of view of the government, it has been remunerative. Somebody asked in Parliament how much revenue we got out from the resorts a year and we gave an estimate, it is about S$1billion a year of tax revenue plus about $300 million where we levy fees on Singaporeans who go in to discourage them from going in in too great numbers. That is put to good charitable use. But it has created about 30,000 jobs and it has generated a tremendous buzz for the economy. People know about Singapore and if you see our skyline of our Marina Bay downtown, you see the three buildings with the boat shape roof on top of it, you know that is Singapore. That has generated buzz, it has generated activities and I think it has brought us to the next level. We have to keep on looking for ideas like that or if not single ideas like that, at least a range of activities which can continue to bring us buzz and excitement and improve the lives of our people.
Q: I was very happy to meet some of your members of your Parliament here and your speaker is also here. We also have some members of our Parliament here and also who are trustees on ASPEN India board who are here. Shashi Tharoor is here, Mr N K Singh is here amongst others. Shashi, would like to ask a question?
Q: Welcome Mr Prime Minister, it’s a great pleasure to have you in India and many of us have a longstanding admiration for the remarkable transformation of Singapore and the ongoing reinvention of your country with each passing year it seems some times. Turning to India again there was a time when your father was kind enough to visit this country and made public speeches about not just about Singapore-India relations but about India itself. I noticed so far you have resisted the temptation but I wonder if I can encourage you to express your thoughts on what you see of India’s development, its governance and the challenges it faces as it attempts to transform itself, overcoming enormous difficulties of poverty, sanitation, healthcare, education and so on. Many of which Singapore on a much smaller scale undoubtedly has conquered so effectively.
PM: I have not felt tempted to make such speeches but I would say I have great admiration for what has been done in India over the last 20 years. Dr Manmohan Singh first became Finance Minister and Mr Narasimha Rao who was the Prime Minister you referred to, embarked on a Look East programme and reformed the Indian economy. You gave the lie to the idea of the Hindu rate of growth. You proceeded with transformation and changes which people did not believe possible and you have brought India where it is today. But of course it is a continuing process and it is a moving target, moving target because the world moves on, moving target because the aspirations of your own people change. As you reach a new level people ask, “why not we go further”? Indeed there is every reason why India should be able to go further and to be able to grow not just at seven plus per cent which is what you are projecting now but eight, nine per cent for another five, 10 years easily because the potential is there, the human capabilities are there and the technological know how is significantly available. Your leading companies are world class and you also have big areas where if you could catch up even half the gap, you would already have made a big difference.
I think the challenge for you is that it is a very diverse country and you need to find some way to make everybody feel that policies which will benefit India as a whole will ultimately benefit themselves in their segment of the country, in their state, in their village and the Panchayat and themselves and so let us get it moving. I think if you go to some of the states of India, there is a lot of positive dynamism. The states want things to be transformed, they are moving, going ahead. You can talk to the state government and a lot of things will happen and you can see variations from state to state. In other states, the process is slower. I think domestic political considerations are never absent but if you can square those with an alignment with India’s long -term interests, you will be able to make significant further progress. The transformations are not easy anymore. You have done the easy things so there will be tradeoffs, there will be some pain. There will be resistance but if you can overcome them, I think you can grow a lot faster, definitely in terms of public policy, in terms of regulatory rules, in terms of fiscal policy. I do not have to tell you what are the things which you are trying to do because your government itself has been trying to implement them. But to develop the consensus to do so is not so easy because when you are in government you know what must be done. When you are in opposition you know it is in your interest to raise difficulties for the government and sometimes you have been on both sides of the issue and both positions have changed but nothing has changed and I think that is the difficulty. In the long run you can say with a democracy, with a consensus, with discussions, you have a more stable base because then you have a safety valve and you never have the pressure to build up and become unsustainable. But in the short run it makes it more complicated for you to do what many people believe what needs to be done.
Q: Nandu Singh, he’s also now advising the government of Bihar and I was amazed to find that land prices in Bihar are now higher than Calcutta.
PM: I have not visited Bihar but I am told that is one of the happening places in India.
Q: We would be privileged to welcome you and welcome you in multiple ways also for the very creative role Singapore has played in fostering the Nalanda University which is one of the projects on which we now have made a very tangible progress. Welcome Prime Minister on behalf of the state government. Prime Minister I have the privilege of participating very recently in Singapore under the aegis of ASPEN under the Indo Singapore Strategic Dialogue. Many of the economists based in Singapore mentioned in the course of that dialogue was the issue of inclusive growth and the harmonization of growth and equity as the growing concern in Singapore. Indeed that is India’s growing concern of how do we balance high rates of growth with making growth more equitable and inclusive. One solution of course is how do we learn from Singapore on making Indian society far more innovative and seeking the cutting edge of innovation using science and technology to be able to bridge the gap between the aspirations between high growth and high equity. What advice would you want to offer to us on how to make Indian society far more innovative than it has been so far?
PM: On our own side we believe that we have to temper the rigours of the free market to make sure that we have a socially more optimal outcome. Over the years as we developed our economy we have in fact done so in many different ways. We use the free market but the government has played an active role in education, providing education almost for free in schools, universities you pay. In healthcare providing subsidized healthcare, good quality healthcare to the whole of the population and in housing, enabling 85, 90 per cent of Singaporeans to live in public housing and of those 90 plus per cent owning their own house and having some substantial equity to their names. Even the lowest 20 per cent of the population have US$100,000 plus worth of net worth in their house per household and I think that is one way we have ensured social equity and support for the system by all Singaporeans. I think it is going to take greater effort as you go forward because the way technology is moving, the way globalization is moving, we see greater pressure on wages at the low end because countries like India are emerging and integrating with the world economy. Even in the middle, for average earners, white collar we see pressure because outsourcing and BPO is not just a matter of unskilled jobs now but of skills. We have x-rays, images, medical images being outsourced to be read in India rather than by radiographers in Singapore. So our hospitals, they take the image, it goes over the Internet to somebody in India who’s US-born qualified, he reads the scan and within half an hour, you get a good written report is down there, what’s the interpretation. Our own radiographers have raised an eyebrow because it affects them but the rest of Singapore benefits but the consequence of many such things, it is going to happen to lawyers, it is going to happen to accountants, it can happen to engineers, it can happen to management analysts, what more when you are talking about clerks and book keepers in what used to be many layered hierarchical organizations. They are going to be under pressure. We have to try our best to make sure that our people across the board will be able to raise their incomes over the next 10, 15 years and that means higher productivity, higher skills as well as management of our workforce, the Singapore workforce as well as the inflow of foreign workers who come into Singapore. You make sure that you buffer the pressure and Singaporeans are able to be more productive and reap the benefits of productivity. It is not a certainty but we have to try our best to make sure that it happens. Critically India is a big part of this because a computer can do the key thing and outsourcing to somebody else who can also do the routine thing. You can outsource the invention and creativity but not so easily done yet and we have to train our people so that they can learn. They can see new patterns, they can do new things which others cannot yet do and computers cannot yet do.
In the case of India, I think technology is on your side because one of the reasons for rural poverty in India is because farmers do not have options, people do not have options and confined to their villages, they do not know what is happening in the rest of the world. They depend on middle-man, intermediaries and their produce is usually wasted on the way to market. The price they get is half of what they should get if they knew what price was when it is sold. And I was just reading one article about Indian villagers, this comes from Nepal – collecting cordyceps. I do not know if you know what cordyceps are, they are a caterpillar which is infested by a fungus and some people believe it is good for you; other people believe it is an aphrodisiac. But you catch them on snow fields and when you first pick them up they are worth 50 cents a piece. When it reaches the market, it is US$20,000 per kg and there is a long chain and along the way everybody adds value and so the farmer does not get the full value of his harvest. But with the Internet, with hand phones, with people knowing immediately where the markets are, what are the prices are, where the food needs to be sent, they have the infrastructure, the refrigeration, the supply chain and logistics, then that is using technology to order to bring the benefits to the farmers and the poor and bring and make sure they gain from modernization from globalization and from IT. I think it is beginning to happen, we are seeing happen. I once saw a fishermen in Kerala, they use to go. They used to go to the port, it is a long port. Well, half the fish drop, somebody buy it cheap. Now at sea with a hand phone, you know which port to go to. The price is now hedged out, the benefit to the consumer is greater and if you can make this happen all over India, you have got eight hundred million hand phones already, everybody is connected. Soon everybody will be connected; this is one big step forward. And if you educate them and you educate the women particularly so that they look after, bring up their children. First they have fewer children, secondly they will bring up their children with greater interaction, then I think you will see the next generation with vastly different horizons from the previous generation. They will go to Mumbai, they will go to Gurgaon and Bihar with all the excitement of the big city lights and they will transform India. Then you will have new challenge, but then there will be a new generation of people who can look after them.
Q: Our next question is from Mr Raja Mohan. Raja Mohan looks after and comments on global issues. He spent some time in Singapore.
Q: Prime Minister, my question on the future of ASEAN and Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia has been very much in the news these days. The last two decades, Singapore, ASEAN, Southeast Asia have already boomed, I must say, thriving global economy. The region was relatively at peace with itself. If you look at the situation now, you have the global economic crisis and given that ASEAN’s centrality in promoting regional integration has been challenged by the Trans-Pacific Partnership, you have Japan, Korea, China partnership – it is an emerging economic front. On the regional front, South China Sea issue has deeply divided the region and ASEAN does not seem to fully united in dealing with these issues. And then at the third level, you have the US-China, beginnings of a Cold War, or whatever you want to call it, stressing the organization. So given these new factors, can ASEAN maintain its centrality? Can ASEAN hang together? Will ASEAN continue to lead Asia’s regional integration?
PM: I think we have to hang together because otherwise we will find separate ways! And I think the ASEAN countries know that. Therefore, despite difficulties, they will work together. India is a member of SAARC, you know it is complicated to have a regional arrangement with 10 plus partners. We have 10 members of ASEAN, it is not always easy to make progress in principal and here you should remain. But we believe in Singapore, many of the other ASEAN members do too, that we have much more to gain by strength in ASEAN than you do by other countries. There will be other initiatives at regional integration. It is bound to happen, not everything will happen through ASEAN. Northeast Asia China, Korea, Japan may want to do a free trade agreement, it is the logic of the geography and economics. Whether the politics is favourable and can be done is yet to be seen. The Trans Pacific Partnership – we do not see as a threat to ASEAN because that we see as a nucleus of an Asia Pacific free trade ideal. It does not include all the Asia Pacific countries, particularly Japan is not there, China is not there, but it is a nucleus containing both developed and developing countries, North and South, West of the Pacific and East of the Pacific and America is in, Australia is in, Singapore is a very small country in it, Vietnam is in. So, I think it is a nucleus around which free trade in Asia Pacific and what do we need to do in ASEAN is to continue to integrate and deepen the cooperation amongst ourselves whether it is physical integration through road networks or whether it is logical cooperation to trade agreements, investment agreements to have a mutual understanding when it comes to broader policies, including and from time to time policies many of us have interest such as the South China Sea. At the same time, ASEAN needs to strengthen its cooperation with its partners in Asia, its dialogue partners, the plus ones, India, Korea, Australia, Japan, China and so on. And one major initiative which ASEAN is pursuing to strengthen its partnership to these plus ones is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). There are a lot of alphabets too, this is the alphabet acronym to end some of the alphabets too and the idea is that ASEAN as the centre with the partners who wish to participate, joint together, they form, create a free trade arrangement, the geometry, the participation each of the countries want to come in but it is a basis not only for economic cooperation but for the framework of the regional architecture working on many areas, many of the partners are already expressed their interest in doing this. We hope that India would be part of this, I have been fastidiously repeating this message to the Prime Minister as well as the other ministers I met over the last few days and I expressed the same message to them. India has to be actively engaged in the region. You cannot be out of it because the region has got very big interest and values. You have friends there, you have business there, you have opportunities and markets there. And it is an area where you want to have stability and creativity and influence and we welcome you to participate, and you can do that through the ASEAN forums that would help to keep ASEAN relevant and ASEAN has one central point around which many of the regional initiatives can revolve. We would not be the only central point. If the Americans want to talk with China, they will go there. If the Americans have a quarrel with China, we do not want to be in the middle either! But we want to be friends with both of America and China and we hope that a power deliberation both America and China will take part and will find valuable to take part and be able at the same time to do business together.
Q: The next question is from one of the most respected economics commentators, and writes a very incisive economics column every Saturday morning.
Q: India is changing its investment rules and the way it attracts foreign investments. Do you see that as a problem for Singapore or an opportunity?
PM: Well, normally we do not comment on other people’s investment rules. Because it is a prerogative of the finance minister to make new rules, and I am sure he knows what he is doing. But companies will look at the consequences, companies will want to make a calculation. If your company already invested in India, you abide by the rules because what the government says is the law for law abiding citizens, we will follow the rules whether it is up or down, it is favourable or not. There will be legal process and views, and the proposed new rules are going to be subject to consultation over the next few months. So I am sure the companies will make the arrangement. The companies which have not yet invested, they will note, they will have to make their assessment. They will look, they will make the make calculations. If these are the new rules today, are they rules which I can work with, what does it mean for me, after I have invested, will these rules remain or will there be further unexpected changes or, most concerning of all, further changes which may have retrospective consequences and if they are, they have to make a calculation whether it there are still good prospects to do projects, to do or whether on that, it may be better to focus elsewhere. So these are calculations which every finance minister must make before he makes his decision and I’m sure many companies are doing this.
Q: If I may just rectify my question, in relative terms compared to other sources where investment comes in, will Singapore be a beneficiary of these also?
PM: The investments from Singapore to India are really investments of companies which are doing significant business. That is the way you crafted the rules with us and that is what has been happening. I think you may be referring to some other sources of investments in India where there is special historical circumstances like Mauritius. We are not like Mauritius. So I do not expect us to benefit from projects which are not genuinely based in Singapore. I hope that overall it will make the Indian economic environment remain more favourable and therefore there will be value.
Q: “Mr Prime Minister, you know Mr Tarun Das, he’s been working for the last 30 years in building relationships. But now he is taking on a new challenge, he is trying to reform the state of Kerala and that is not going to be an easy challenge and one of his colleagues from the state investment and development board, Mr Vijay Raghavan would like to ask a question.
Q: “Prime Minister, you talked about this much. Kerala is a state as we focus on education, healthcare, social awareness and the kind of sectors that have been growing fast are tourism, IT. If you look at it, the kind of strategies Singapore has been looking at, the kind of areas which you wanted to invest in. In India it was Tamil Nadu, Karnataka. If you look at Kerala, what do you think the state government should be doing to attract investments from Singapore into Kerala and also help things out in Kerala, which everyone calls God’s own country. What is that the state level should do to attract investments?”
PM: I do not know enough about Kerala, I have never been there, I have heard much about it and would very much like to visit. I have heard that it is a very beautiful place. I know they are very many talented Keralites. I hope many talented Malayalees who in Singapore, not all talented people are from Singapore, but many are and I think if I may say something on the top of my head , I think they have most of your human talent because the high levels of literacy of education and if we can make use of that then develop those industries where human talent is needed. The overall business environment is also important. There different states are competing with one another and they can create an industrial park, just now Mr Godrej was talking about, investing in an industrial park in Vietnam with Singapore developer. If you can create an environment like that in Kerala, .then people will go in there and you not only have the people talented but also infrastructure and the business conditions, then that would be very helpful. But you must be quite sure that Kerala government will continue to support this and the next government even if it is Marxist will support capitalism.
Q: We have with us Mr Pinto being the former secretary to the government of India with the shipping industry, and he would like to ask a question.
Q: I must start with a confession this is the first time I am asking a question to a Prime Minister. So if I do not do it very well, next time I will be much better. Like most people here, all people here admire Singapore, and each time I visit, I am amazed with the increasing changes I see. And one thing that you have told us is that at the root of all of this is meritocracy; everything at the root of this, goes on the basis of meritocracy. We also have this system of meritocracy but we temper it affirmative action because we believe that people who have been excluded from the system for so long they have not had an education, they have not had learning, and therefore it is not possible to have a competition of the equals. Is it true Prime Minister in your view that if you have a meritocracy an entire pure meritocracy, you get a smaller and smaller circle from which decision makers and policy makers are chosen and how would you advise India, which has a very vast diverse population with people who are excluded, people who socially, educationally backward. How do you bring about equality and maintain meritocracy?
PM: That is a very difficult question. We operate a system which is as meritocratic as we can maintain. Meaning that when you go to university, when you go to school, we try to advance people by merit but how well, what jobs you do, depend on how well you can do it, we try and find the best person available to do the most critical job and we try to reward people by their contributions and we try to do that in a “race blind” basis because we are a multiracial society – Chinese, Malays, Indians, different communities and different communities which have different group performances because of their histories. So if you look at Chinese Singapore or a Malay or Indian and we calculate statistics on that basis, you will find it is not the same whether it is education, whether it is social standards or whether it is professions and jobs. There are variations. But our view is best with the individual and from the point of view of the communities which are not yet so successful let us try and do the best you can but if you become a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer, I want to be quite sure that the degree is the worth the same no matter what the colour of the person. And if I am seeing a doctor, I want to be quite sure that I have faith in the doctor once I know that he is properly qualified, graduated from the National University of Singapore and likewise engineers and lawyers and so on. It is not easy to maintain such a system but so far I think it has worked for us and with such an attitude, we have been able to get the groups which started from not the same starting point to make considerable progress compared to where it is. The gap has not disappeared but we have made a considerable progress and I think a lot of the more progress that you have done you may have just set automatically while certain proportion of the university places are given to this group or that group and, therefore, by definition, we have become equal because now there are more numbers all the different groups each of the professions. Over time however, there is a tendency towards the base to become tighter, for it to become harder, for people to go from the bottom of the pyramid to the top of the pyramid and with the meritocratic system, it becomes harder over one-two generations because the most successful people marry other successful spouses and their children tend to do well, they are well-looked after by their parents, they have more resources and they tend to do well. Able parents tend to have bright children and then the bright children tend to do well in school. So it becomes harder for people who poor parents to make it into the top and we have to work much harder to make sure that our schools provide good education across the board, including to the weakest students and the students in the poorest homes and we see kids who come from poor homes who have potential, we do our best to make sure that they are not held back and we cannot ever have a kid, unable to go to school or unable to go a top university because his parents can’t afford and we will make sure that his needs are seen to and he makes it there. It doesn’t mean you end up with complete equality but we try to do our best to make sure that this is open and fair system. Of course, our problem is not as complex as your problem. You have castes, a very strong way, you have very big regional differences and if you just go on the basis examination result to choose people to go to university, you will find a very unrepresentative group of students in the university and big chunks of the country may be left out. So that will become a difficulty. So you will have to make some compromise and some judgement as to go into it. But at the same time we have to do that judiciously because you know that there are consequences because if you make affirmative action for a backward caste or the disadvantaged caste, then more people will be declare themselves as being disadvantaged so as to gain advantage. It happens. It happens not just in India, it happens in America. And it happens in China where they make distinctions between different provinces and so people may go to a different province because then the cut-off point to go to university is low. So you have to make those distinctions but I think the equality has to come not just from the university system and admissions, but from the broader society to be able over time to dilute these caste differences and to make it a more caste blind society.
In Singapore, the Indian community who have come to Singapore over the last two centuries, we have become much less or largely caste blind. There are differences, we know somebody is a Chettiar, somebody else is South Indian Tamil Brahmin, somebody else is a different caste, some distinctions in the temples but by and large, we wash that away and it has become much more equal. I think in India it has not happened to the same degree, definitely in the rural areas. In the cities, it is becoming less noticeable because when you go into the city they will not care which village you came from, and if you are working in a IT company, they really do not care what your father was and if that is the way India is moving, maybe over time they can wash out some of this but it is 2,000 or 3,000 years of history and you have to carry that. So there is no ideal solution, you have to make some compromise but at the same time I think you have to try to move forward to a more equal and less deterministic formula for who does what. You may be born higher caste, it does not mean automatically you deserve a higher position.
Q: Prime Minister, I know the Singapore people work very hard to build a more creative society, a society where creative industries have a much larger role to play. This question comes from many visits to Singapore and seeing how clean and unmessy the city state it is. It’s very organised, anything works, it is extremely smooth. As one creates a more creative base, will there be a need for greater tolerance for mess, greater tolerance for things that do not work in quite so perfect and smooth way. In India, we have great abundance of mess, we are willing to share with our friends, but it makes the place very vibrant and very creative at the same time. I wonder if you see the direction that Singapore takes of moving somewhat in a more messy and somewhat more open direction.
PM: I will become messy selectively. There are some areas where you must accept that you cannot do things just in a lineal or hierarchical way I decide, you refine, he implements. You have to have greater action, discussion, I float an idea, there has to be objections, views in the end something has to be done. I will just give you an example. We have a peculiar problem, which you may consider quaint. We have abundance of wild boars in our nature reserves, about 100 of them, and they are causing a problem. In the old days, we would have just said solve the problem, tomorrow the problem will be literally gone. But now there are been discussed, there have been views, there are animal lovers who feel that we should not cull them, they think we should sterilise them maybe we should keep them in the zoo and then have an exhibit of wild boars. Others would say they are part of the natural system and if they exist, that means it’s good. But there are also families who say the wild boars killed my dog and another family who said a wild boar knocked over my child, do something about it and finally we have to do something about it. But we have to go through this process of discussion and engagement and explanation in the end it takes longer but it will be done. It will be done but I am not sure we will get the very last wild boar but we will solve this problem. And as with wild boars, so too with many other problems where you must do something that involves people and you have to engage the people. When we acquire land we can gazette, we have legal powers but we also have to explain, we also have to make sure that the affected parties understand what it is about, if they have been fairly treated. That’s some of the political lessons. There are physical messiness along the streets, graffiti, I would strongly discourage. I would invite graffiti artists, by invitation to perform on designated walls with permission. But if you decide to freelance, extra and then we’ll have to do an investigation to find out how that came about. I think that we want to do this in a controlled way, once you have let go, Pandora box is open, you cannot put all the demons back in it. So it has to be done in a controlled way. Creative arts we also want to encourage and we also want to have it flower our across a broad range. We do not want people all to follow the same mould and you must pass the same examinations and you are suitable for the same jobs. There are people who are by nature primates, by nature non-conformists, by nature who are very creative but not easy to work with and do not fit into regular structural organisations. They are one of a kind but society benefits from having such one of a kind people provided you can tap their creative talents and their energy and then managing and contribute to a broader vibrancy which is Singapore. We have an arts school, we have a sports school, we have academies of fine arts, we have people doing graphics, people doing fashion, people doing pottery, people doing drama and increasingly we have also have young people who see this as their passion, who want to go along these routes and we have creative industries developing as a result. Lucas Films is in Singapore and I am sure they have lots of Indians employed. I know they have people from 30-something countries from around the world, including from Asia and they are making, when you see Terminator, movies like Transformers and a car turns into a robot which then turns into an aeroplane, there is a Singaporean transformer working and creating that up and I do not think we could have done that 30 years ago. When they come out and they go down to Clarke Quay or to Boat Quay and they have an evening talk, this is a creative place but I hope it is a clean place as well and that is what I mean when I say give us your light and excitement in a selective sort of way.
Q: We have the last question from Arunaba Ghosh. He’s the CEO of a new organisation which is on water, environment and energy.
Q: Prime Minister Lee, thank you very much for your very fine comments. It’s very refreshing to hear. Actually in response to the previous questions, we have produced a report on India and Global Governance which somehow reached Singapore’s Civil Service College and the response we got from them was that we looked at this because India comfortable with our untidiness in the world, for us strengthening leverage in a more strategic way. But I have a different question today. A very close friend of mine from Singapore, from my Oxford days who now works in Civil Service once told that in Singapore you need to keep running, to stay in the same spot and for us, that medicine drives you not just to stay in the same spot but stay ahead of the curve. In India, we have a challenge of not being able to do long term strategic thinking. Could you reflect on how in your administration you consider the 20 year, 50 year horizon? How do you think about 2032 sitting down, what keeps you up at night and what processes you put in place so that the Prime Minister in 2032 can look back and say that our predecessors have thought strategically and they have put us a strong position?
PM: If you look back 30 years and asked whether people anticipated that the world will look like this today, I do not think many people would have been able to make this confluence. There was a lot of uncertainty 30 years ago, the economy itself globally, high inflation, high unemployment, the explosive take off in China had not taken place, the Cold War was still in progress, Regan had not come in and Star Wars had not begun and it looked like the Soviet Union was going to be there a long time, but it turned out that Soviet Union collapsed, the Chinese developed in a constructive and dramatic way. There has been 30 years of radical prosperity in the Asia Pacific. Today, you have got success stories all over the Asian Pacific region and emerging markets. If you look forward 30 years, given the European problems which will take more than 10 years to resolve, given the Japanese demographic problems which cannot be resolved, given the US fiscal problems which are hard to resolve but which if resolved can enable the US to do many exciting things because tremendously exciting and tremendously dynamic and creative country, if you look at China and India, if they can engage with the world 30 years from now with per capita GDP’s five, 10 times what it is today, peacefully, then I think it would be a radically, if the transformation does not take place this way, if there is a fracture because of economic reasons or because of strategic reasons, not I hope leading to military misunderstanding but ending up in bad relations between America and China or China and India, then of course it will be very different. Which will it be? We hope it will be the first but we must always have something in our pocket just in case it is the second.
For Singapore to get prepared for first scenario, we must be somewhere near the leading edge. Today we are not necessarily the most advanced city in the world. In fact, if you look at all the cities, which are ranked highest, I think there was study, we are not in the top 20. You will have places like San Francisco, San Jose, Helsinki, Geneva and Singapore is not in the top 20. They did not count the rest so we don’t know where we stand. In terms of per capita comparison with other countries, we rank very high. Our per capita GDP according to the World Bank and the IMF is higher than everybody else, higher than America, higher than Swiss, higher than US. We are only behind Luxembourg and Qatar. I do not mean we very truly are wealthier than everybody else or more advanced than everybody else other than Luxembourg and Qatar, this is GDP. But it shows that country to country we have been more consistent. And therefore we have a certain standing in the world, we are doing things which are valuable to us and interesting to us and so people come and look at us and wonder whether we can get it more untidy, whether we can take a bit more risk, whether we can be bold and advance further. And in fact we do want to try some of these unconventional approaches because if we keep on being conventional we are not going to remain at that way. But for the next 20 years, we have to continue to be moving ahead with the other cities, with the other countries because in 20 years from now we are no longer ranking near where people are interested to study. Then cities of three million people in a world where there are by then eight, nine billion population, India will have maybe 30, 40, 50 cities. What will make us be a special place where you want to put your global headquarters? That requires skills, requires education, requires great talent concentration, requires an ability to work together amongst our population so that even individually you are just a bit better than others collectively we are significantly ahead and able to continue to reinvent ourselves and stay in a good relevance. I think that is what Singapore needs to go towards. It is not easy to do because you cannot do it like that and you cannot do it just bottom up. You cannot say let us go and then we move forward we achieve this. There has to be guidance, there has to be programmes whether it is education, whether it is infrastructure, whether it is our social infrastructure, developing the safety nets, whether it is creating the ethos so that people feel that spirit, that I can be here and I want to be one of the little red dots in the world and to keep that spirit for more than one generation, that’s quite different.
In India, you became independent 1947. It took now two generations, maybe two- and-a-half generations. The spirit when you first became independent, when you had the tryst with destiny and the spirit today, can you think of the years you have gone in between, how many changes there had been with the mood, with the angst and in the tensions, I would not say disappointments, but both the period when the high excitement of independence becomes the ordinary grind of making your life work and when you have another burst of take off and then excitement, and then you get to a new level. And of course you have to keep on going to the next level. And we did not start in 1947, we started in 1965. Thirty years from now, we will be roughly where India is today and if we can do something like what we have done in terms of relative positioning, I think whoever is the Prime Minister in 2030, he may not have an easy job but he can be satisfied that we have given him a fair shake of the dice.