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May 15, 2010, 03.42 PM IST
Singapore has had a steady relationship with India. Last year, Singapore's contribution to India's foreign trade was the second largest.
Singapore has had a steady relationship with India. Last year, Singapore's contribution to India's foreign trade was the second largest. In a free-wheeling interview with CNBC-TV 18, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong among other things, speaks how he sees India, what makes China No.1 in Asia and how Singapore manages to attract the best civil servants amid lure of the private sector
Below is the verbatim transcript of the interview with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on CNBC-TV18:
Q: Your father was - quoted by a journalist in an interview in December 2006 - saying that he was afraid that unless India became strong and powerful, China would still march to become that dominant power in Asia. Hasn’t China already stolen that march not just over India but over the rest of Asia?
China started earlier than India. They began the reform and opened up in 1977-1978 after Mao and Tung Chi-ping came back and launched this reform and liberalization grand strategy which they have sustained now for 30 years. India didn’t start till perhaps around 1990 when Dr Manmohan Singh was Finance Minister and Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister. You ran into a crisis and the IMF had to come in and then Dr Manmohan Singh started the reforms which have led to where India is today. If you look at the size of the GDPs, India’s GDP, purchasing power parity is only about third of China’s. Your world trade is only about fifth of China’s. So there is a significant difference between the two and potentially of course if India can open up and liberalize and press on with policy reforms, then of course you can narrow the gap and catch up but in your political system it is not easy to do all the things you want.
Q: So we are paying the price for the democracy in a sense?
A: I think you are progressing at the rate which your society and a political system enables you to do. I am not sure how you would govern India in a different way.
Q: Is Singapore’s relationship with India still sustains - to quote another journalist – by “your father’s love affair with India” or has mutual self-interest come into play between India and Singapore now?
A: I think there is a lot of mutual regard, respect and a sense of long-term shared interest. Singapore benefits from India prospering and India engaging the region and participating in the prosperity of the region connected with it through free trade agreements (FTA), through its companies doing business in the region, being present here in Singapore. I think we have maybe 3000 Indian companies by now over here, many of them big. India I think finds it useful to have Singapore. It's a very small country but one wishes India well and one which is able to participate in a small way, investing in India, trading with India. Our investments with India last year were not quite so small, surprisingly we rank second of all your foreign investors.
Q: I am going to come back to India-Singapore ties in a little while but if I can just come back to Singapore, a lot of Indian look upon and regard very highly is your civil servants that you got in Singapore. You got the best civil servants in the world. Tell us how you have been able to attract and develop the best talent to work for the government. It is not often that you get the best talent to work for the government.
A: We have put a lot of attention into developing an efficient civil service because unless the civil service runs properly the government does not have the instruments. The ministers may have good intentions. You must make a policy which is sensible and implement the policy so that it works on the ground. That depends on having good civil servants; you must recruit good people, you must treat them well, fairly. This not just for the personal careers but I say this because they are doing good for the nation. I think that is what we have tried to do.
Q: Are there any new practices introduced in recent years to prepare Singapore for the twenty-first century?
A: We keep on trying to improve our civil service. We try to keep our pay competitive and we have a system of benchmarking to the private sector, so we are always comparable to other private sector terms so that the sacrifice for serving in the public sector is not too large. We have systems for grooming and developing offices at the beginning when they come in and then they attend courses progressively — key points in their careers within the civil service and also overseas. We send them to America, Britain to Europe to spend a year. They do a masters in public administration or business administration. They may spend a year with an MNC, IBM or Google to see what the world is like outside and to the receiving end of government.
Q: In a sense the early years of excitement because you had a state to build from virtually nothing?.
A: We had to build a state from virtually nothing.
Q: So it was exciting being part of that – it was almost entrepreneurial the people in the government but as things settle down is it as easy to attract the best talent or given the vast entrepreneurial opportunity you got outside the world?
A: That is a challenge because there are so many alternatives now. Forty years ago when I went to university, many of my classmates went to university on governments scholarships like me. Without the governments scholarships I think many of them would not be able to go to university, certainly would not be able to go overseas.
Q: How do you continue to attract the best?
A: The terms have to be reasonably competitive as I said. But there has to be that sense of challenge and commitment that you are a Singaporean, this is a system which gave you this opportunity. You have an obligation to try and make it work son others who have a similar opportunity like you. That is what we try to get our people to understand and to live.
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