Lim Swee Say – He’s here to stay…

LSS3

You have heard him say darnedest things in his speeches. But Minister Lim Swee Say, who has often been misunderstood, has not and will not stop. He isn’t going to stop caring for his residents and caring for workers as the Minister for Manpower.

So, here’s another article, ‘Does Minister Lim have anything Swee left to Say?’, which explains why he is someone who doesn’t give up easily. We picked out three portions of the article which reveals more of the man.


 

With younger voters coming to vote, some are politically unaware. What would the message you would like to put across to the younger generation regarding this GE?

Lim Swee Say: I asked some young voters, first time voters, a few days ago “how do you decide who to vote for?” So one said, “Happening. I vote for the party that is most happening”. Another said “I would vote for a party that is relevant”

I said okay, happening and relevant. I asked, “So is PAP happening? Is PAP relevant or not?” He said they are still reserving their judgment. I said what about the Workers’ Party team for the GRC? Are they happening? Are they relevant? They said, “Well they’re new and we’ve not heard enough yet to decide.”

So I said, “Tell me, if I want to appeal to you and to be more happening to be more relevant what do I have to do? He said “we want change.”

Because we (the PAP) stand for change too.

And the change they’re referring to is not change in government or change in MP, no. In every GE, they want to know what (Singapore in general) would change for the better? So most of their perception is if they vote for the opposition they are pushing for a lot of change, right? But when I (speaking for the youth) listen to the PAP, you people seem to keep defending what you have been doing. In other words if I vote for you, nothing would change.

When I heard that, I thanked him as the thought never crossed my mind – that when young people are looking for change, they are not necessary looking for changes in Parliament or the Government, but changes to make Singapore more happening and more relevant to what they are looking for.

Growing the economy cannot be, and will not be, the main objective of the Government. The end objective must be to improve the lives of the people.

After learning from what he said, I’m now thinking of how to convey my agenda in a more effective way. Because we stand for change too.

If I continue my job as a MOM I can assure you I can bring a lot changes and what he said made me realise that we have to keep improving the way we communicate. That actually, what we are doing could be something they are looking forward to but we just don’t know how to put it across and as a result they have this perception – that if I vote for you there will be no change and more of the same.

 

We then addressed the elephant in the room: After Mothership.sg published the article “Will voters let LSS take the fall for PAP’s foreign manpower policy?”, several netizens commented that if they were to vote you in, it would signal that Singaporeans are O.K. with the PAP’s foreign manpower policy. What’s your take on this?

Lim Swee Say: Growing the economy cannot be, and will not be, the main objective of the Government. The end objective must be to improve the lives of the people. That is the end objective. So to us (the Government) growing the economy is a means to the end, not the end objective itself. Everything we do – growing the economy, foreign manpower policy and so on, is to ensure that the lives of Singaporeans can be better.

So in other words, anything that does not benefit Singaporeans there is no reason for us to do it.

Why did we go for high manpower growth? It’s not because we’re worried that our economy isn’t growing fast enough but because over six years, 1997 to 2003 we had four downturns. And during the downturns, when I was with the NTUC (National Trade Union Congress), every downturn is shocking.

Basically these were the key outcomes that we wanted for our Singaporean workers – job security, at the same time, sustained full employment, and wage increases.

My first shock was 1997 – I joined NTUC in 1996 and became Executive Secretary (ES) for two big unions, electronic and chemical industry unions. And during the downturn in 1997 about 29,000 were retrenched and many of them were from my electronic and- chemical industry sector and because the manufacturing sector was hit quite badly so we saw how the downturn hit workers.

And these workers affected were actually “unskilled to semi-skilled workers”. I realized it’s very difficult to get them to be re-employed elsewhere.The first factory that was hit quite badly was one that made VCRs.  The whole factory closed down completely. And there were about 600-700 workers. So all gone. So, as ES of the electronic union, I had to find ways to help them (workers) to first, negotiate the retrenchment package for them, and then help them through the whole process of job searching.

As we went through these ups and downs, the Cabinet discussed if there was a better way to soften the impact on our workers. This is what we decided – to catch the wind. When the wind blows you catch the wind (referring to creating jobs for Singaporeans through growing the economy and allowing more foreign manpower to support the growth).

During that decade, youth unemployment was high in other countries. Why? Without enough investment and job creation, people with jobs hold on to their jobs. The (young) people who first enter the workforce need a job but there’s not enough jobs for them. And that’s the reason why in many countries, though the overall unemployment appears to be not creeping up, the youth unemployment is very severe. But in Singapore, we went through this period without being affected by this youth unemployment problem.

Another area is wage increases. Because of higher manpower growth and higher economic growth, companies were making profits. In fact, wages went up faster than productivity over the last ten years.

Basically these were the key outcomes that we wanted for our Singaporean workers – job security, at the same time, sustained full employment, and wage increases. In a way we achieved that.

Lim Swee Say East Coast GRC 3

Which area wasn’t done well then?

Lim Swee Say: While we’re happy with the outcome for our Singaporean workers we did not do enough to explain. As a result, this negative perception got from bad to worse. So that’s number 1. We did not explain well enough. Second thing is, the number of foreign workers keeps growing faster than the increase in local workers. So after 10 years, the ratio (of Singaporean workers to foreign workers) dropped to 2:1.

So I think it’s a combination of these 2 factors.

We engage in a lot of debate on ‘how’ and ‘what’. How to do this, how to manage that but we did not engage the public enough on the ‘why’. Why we decide to go for this high growth policy. And then when we changed from high growth to low growth, to slower growth, again I think we did not do enough to explain why. So when I went around, in fact many SMEs ask me, “why are you making life so difficult for me (by cutting foreign manpower growth)?” But the moment I explain to them that if we continue on that path (of foreign manpower growth), the ratio will become 1:1 in the near future – they understand. Once they understand the ‘why’, I find that it is a lot easier to talk about how we can work together to find a new way forward.

 

When we interviewed you previously, you said if you weren’t in politics you would be a mathematics professor. What’s motivating you to stay in politics. Why continue this fight? You don’t have to face residents who don’t like you. So why? What keeps you going?

Lim Swee Say: When I was a public servant assigned to the Suzhou Industrial projects, I remember being in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s office one day. Mr Lee told me and his PPS (Principal Private Secretary) that “the Chinese are going to ask you, what is this Singapore software?” He said, “You tell them, the Singapore software is firstly making sure that Singapore’s economy will always be competitive. Tell them if not, you will not be able to generate any resource to do anything that you want to do. So economic competitiveness is very important. Tell them!”

So what keeps me going year after year? It is the “Why”. Why are we here? We are here not to grow the economy, not to manage the number of foreigners. But to make the lives of Singaporeans better.

Then he said, “Secondly, tell them that economic competitiveness is important but it is only a means to an end, not the end objective. The end objective is social cohesion and social progress.”

Just as we thought that was the end of the story, but he (Lee) said, “No, tell them you can be competitive for one year, five years, or ten years; you can maintain your social cohesion for one year, five years, or ten years; but the real challenge is sustaining the development for the long term.”

Economic competitiveness, social cohesion, sustainable development, these are the three pillars that make Singapore special. They are our ‘big software’ and all other policies are ‘small software’ that help produce this outcome.

So when I was asked to enter politics, I decided to take it up because of what I had learnt from Mr Lee. The end objective of nation building is social cohesion, social unity, social progress and sustainable development that we strive for.

So what keeps me going year after year? It is the “Why”. Why are we here? We are here not to grow the economy, not to manage the number of foreigners. But to make the lives of Singaporeans better.

(Taken from Mothership)

 

 

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Arthur Lee

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