Subject: Extracts of the interview with MM Lee
"Do you want to underpay a minister and you have the kind of
shenanigans as you have in the British Parliament? ..."
No one dares to question MM Lee of Singapore?
Extracts of the interview with MM Lee
05:55 AM Jan 01, 2010
ON EATING OUT
Mr Jacobson: You have a favourite food hawker?
Mr Lee: Well, I can't go anymore because so many people want to shake
my hands and I become a distraction, I can't really get down to my
Mr Jacobson: So can you have take-out?
Mr Lee: Well, that's not quite the same. I tend to go to restaurants
when I go out, and I try restaurants with a quiet corner where I can
sneak in and sneak out with my friends, and not have a crowd wanting
to shake hands with me.
ON PERCEPTION THAT HE IS STILL THE 'FACE OF THE COUNTRY'
Mr Lee: Well, no, that's a public perception which is not held by
those in the know. I mean, all the top executives know that they are
dealing with the ministers and the decisions are made by the
ministers. My job is really as a long-range radar to look out for
opportunities and for threats ... I cannot work at that old pace. I
can work with subjects that require contemplation time, which really
is backed up by my experience and my feel of how things will develop.
Mr Jacobson: Well, nobody knows Singapore better than you.
Mr Lee: I guess, supposing I had not intervened in the casino debate -
the religious groups fought tooth and nail to stop it and the Prime
Minister and his Cabinet were in a lot of trouble, so I stood up and
said 'look, I understand the views, I was of the same view but I'll
tell you the reason why I have changed my mind'. And that had a
calming effect ... Either you accept that this is part of today's
globalised world and you have F1 and all these glitzy events ... or
you are out of business. And in Singapore, if you are out of business,
you are out of food.
Mr Jacobson: Are you still morally opposed to them or does pragmatism
always take precedence in your thinking?
Mr Lee: Well, it is useless to resist when it is everywhere.
Mr Jacobson: Well, the fact that it's everywhere, maybe it is the
reason to resist.
Mr Lee: No, you cannot stop it. You want to cut off the Internet? You
want to cut off your cellphones? You want to cut off satellite TV?
Then you will become like Myanmar. It's not possible.
ON PEGGING MINISTERIAL PAY TO THE PRIVATE SECTOR
Mr Lee: (We) are always lagging behind because whenever there's a
downturn, we don't give the raise. Whenever there's an upturn, the
private sector shoots up suddenly and we can't keep pace because the
public says 'no, this is too much'.
Mr Jacobson: Well, when people are getting US$16 billion ($22.4
billion) bonuses for bringing the country into the ground, it is hard
to keep up.
Mr Lee: I was once asked about the ... best paid ministers in the
world. I said, you should look at the wives. The lowest-paid ministers
have wives who are glittering with jewels and with big mansions.
Mr Jacobson: So that means they are corrupt.
Mr Lee: No, I didn't say that ... So Singaporeans have to decide. Do
you want to underpay a minister and you have the kind of shenanigans
as you have in the British Parliament? You know, they repair their
homes in the country and in London, and charge it to their account.
Or, you pay them a proper wage and say after that, look after
everything. Nobody gets any special perks ... Official entertainment,
you have got an expense account ... Everything is above board and the
public knows that. So whatever they grumble, they know that they are
not being shortchanged.
Mr Jacobson: There are grumbles, but there are always grumbles.
Mr Lee: There must be. Singaporeans are champion grumblers.