Singapore’s values and systems against corruption are very well entrenched. Even as rules exist, capable and honest people are still needed to keep the system clean, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
These were some key points raised as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at the famous Chatham House think tank in London on Friday.
The Chatham House Rule is famous throughout the world for facilitating free discussion and candour at meetings.
And in his Chatham dialogue, Prime Minister Lee engaged some 250 academics, students and members of the British civil service. One thing they asked about was Singapore’s system in dealing with corruption.
Mr Lee said: “It was one of the considerations in the People’s Action Party who fought to win, and did win the first elections in 1959. You must win the first time, because by the second time, the system may well have gone corrupt. And then we had an exceptional team of people who, with a tremendous sense of purpose and resolve, kept it clean and who built the system to maintain it.”
Mr Lee also acknowledged that Singapore has been able to tackle corruption effectively because of its size. But, it’s not only about having strict rules and enforcement. The system also needs to minimise opportunities for people to be corrupt, said Mr Lee.
“In the old days what they said about the communists – at least in the Soviet bloc – is ‘I pretend to pay you, and you pretend to work’, but here (in Singapore) for civil servants, I will pay you properly and you will do your job properly,” he said.
On the ruling People’s Action Party, Mr Lee addressed a question on whether it was healthy for the party to be in power for so long.
“You want a system where there is continuity, and there is change within that continuity. I think, for a small country, discontinuous change is disruptive, and could be dangerous,” he said.
The dialogue also threw up the position of Singapore’s opposition parties, which made inroads at the last elections.
“The odd thing going on is that in Singapore, people actually know that the government generally is doing the right thing, but they’d like somebody to be there to put a bit more chili on the government’s tail,” said Mr Lee.
Prime Minister Lee also had a wide-ranging discussion on regional and international issues with the participants.
He was asked if this is Asia’s century, given its growth and rapid progress in the world. Mr Lee said there is no central middle kingdom and there are other bright and energetic people and societies who will have their place in the 21st century.
When asked about his views on the upcoming Indonesian presidential elections, Mr Lee said Indonesia has had 10 years of stability and growth under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. And he hoped that President Yudhoyono’s successor would maintain the same standing and international outlook. This would benefit both Indonesia and its neighbours.
Mr Lee also addressed a question on whether Singapore would impose sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea.
He said Singapore is ready to fulfil international obligations, and if the United Nations agrees to impose sanctions, Singapore would be a part of that.