PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS DEBATE

Moderate-growth forecast not cause for worry: PM

He also says getting the younger leaders to gel is as important as, if not more important than, identifying the next PM

Singapore

ALTHOUGH Singapore's growth has moderated from the highs of earlier decades, today's forecast of 2 to 4 per cent is "quite good for a mature economy", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Parliament on Thursday.

Speaking during the debate on the President's address, he noted that the modest forecast has sparked some anxiety among Singaporeans.But South Korea and Taiwan are growing at a comparable rate, and Japan is growing slower, he noted.

Furthermore, the 2 to 4 per cent figure "is just an estimate based on our current stage of economic development", and is not a limit.

Individual companies and industries can certainly do better, particularly if they innovate and expand, he said: "We can see the opportunities. The only question is whether we can seize them."

These opportunities include the digital economy. With neighbouring countries such as Indonesia hosting a buzzing digital scene, Singapore can build up its own technology sector and connect it with theirs to prosper together, said Mr Lee.

Singapore is also making progress in frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence, fintech and advanced manufacturing.

He noted tie-ups between international players and local institutions, such as the AI research institute which China technology giant Alibaba opened with Nanyang Technological University - its first outside China.

In advanced manufacturing, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) is collaborating with multinationals and universities in areas such as aerospace and precision engineering.

Such partnerships will create "good manufacturing jobs" and benefit workers as well as small and medium-sized enterprises. "But growth alone is not enough," said Mr Lee. "Individual Singaporeans must see progress in their lives."

This means sharing growth widely and equitably and making sure meritocracy works, he added.

Growing the economy, ensuring social mobility and maintaining social cohesion are among the challenges that Singapore's fourth-generation leadership must tackle, he said.

"Some hard truths will always remain for Singapore. But even old problems may need new solutions."

He exhorted the new leaders to keep an open mind, remember history but not be "trapped by it".

The fourth-generation leadership will also have to work together, which is as important as - if not more important than - the question of who Singapore's next prime minister will be, he added.

Public speculation has largely centred on Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung.

Mr Lee, noting that there is more than one qualified candidate for the role, said: "I do not believe we are ready to settle on a choice yet. Nor is it helpful to treat this either as a horse race or a campaign to lobby support for one or the other candidate. This is a team game. We want a strong, cohesive team."

Singapore's next prime minister must command the respect and loyalty of his team, and enjoy the confidence of the masses. This will take time and cannot be forced, said Mr Lee: "Let's give them the time and space to do their own work ... and get better known by the public.

"I am confident that, in the fullness of time, we will see a clear outcome, and a leader will emerge from the process," he said, adding that he expected this to happen before the next General Election, which is due by early 2021.