By S Ramesh | Posted: 14 September 2011 2202 hrs Channel New Asia
SINGAPORE: Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has cautioned against using hard-earned reserves to balance the country’s budget.
He was speaking on Wednesday at a dialogue session organised by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy to celebrate its seventh anniversary.
It was his first dialogue in his new position as “Distinguished Fellow” of the School of Public Policy named after him.
Emphasising the importance of having a balanced budget, Mr Lee said: “I hope the prime minister and his Cabinet ensure that Singapore veers on the side of prudence and balance the budget, and not raid on its reserves which have been protected by a separately elected president.
“Otherwise you have the opposition saying, ‘if you vote for me, I’ll give you all these things.’ Where will the money come from? Not from taxes, but our reserves.
“Then you have to see the president to release the money and I hope the president will know that if he releases the money this time, there will be many more releases and it will soon deplete the reserves.”
With Singapore just having gone through two elections, it was also opportune to tap into Mr Lee’s views on the future of Singapore politics.
He said: “A generation that grows up in a period of affluence believes that we have arrived and as the saying goes the ‘First World Parliament’ must have a ‘First World Opposition’.
“So the restlessness, whether that leads to better governance, I am not able to say. We will wait and see – how constructive the opposition can be, or will be.”
Mr Lee doubts Singapore can produce two top-class teams to govern the country. But he thinks the opposition can play a competitive role in Parliament.
He also disputed a participant’s claims that his appearances during the General Election impacted the prime minister’s overall performance at the polls.
Mr Lee said: “I did not appear so often anyway. I have stood down and I don’t know who gave you the impression I appeared so frequently. I have stood down and I am off the press as a focus of attention, and off the electronic media.”
At the end of the dialogue, Mr Lee also unveiled the French version of his memoirs.
On Singapore’s ties with Malaysia, Mr Lee feels they are improving with Prime Minister Najib Razak’s leadership.
Speaking to the media after the dialogue, Mr Lee said he believes the momentum created by the Iskandar project will lead to more successful co-operation between the two countries.
He said: “There is now a prime minister in Malaysia who wants to get on with the job, so he settled the railway land, the points of agreement, and he wants to develop Iskandar Malaysia which requires good connection with Singapore, and they are talking about a mass transit.”
As for furthering cooperation with Malaysia, Mr Lee said: “I think one step at a time, there is a lot of baggage.”