CNA: PM Lee fielded questions on gays, foreign talent at NUS forum

Saturday, September 22, 2007

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on the younger generation to take advantage of Asia's growth prospects, especially Singapore's, and to seize the opportunities ahead.

Mr Lee made the point during an hour-long dialogue with university students at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum on Friday night.

The dialogue also touched on foreign talent and gays in Singapore.

Singapore has moved from third-world to first-world status within the space of one generation.

And this has led to the country attracting a lot of foreign talent.

But, is Singapore becoming a place for the wealthy? asked one law undergraduate asked during the dialogue.

"Singapore seems to be built not for us but for foreigners. Sincerely, I am afraid that as a middle income person, I am not able to make that jump in social, economic class. My question is this, is this land, Singapore, a place for the rich?" asked the student.

Mr Lee replied that Singapore cannot be a place for the rich, because if that was the case, the government would lose the elections.

"Singapore has to be a place where the majority of Singaporeans, a vast majority of Singaporeans, will enjoy a high quality of life and be able to have jobs where you can earn well and do well for yourself," he said.

"You may not be able to do as well as the top most successful banker, lawyer or property developer. But you do well for yourself, your career. You have good schools for your children, good healthcare for your parents, good leisure for your family, good opportunities for your future, that's for everybody," Mr Lee added.

"To have a society where everybody is equal, that's a recipe for poverty, it doesn't work. There will be inequalities in society but we must make sure that the majority of people have a good standard of living and improving standards from year to year," he said.

Another student wondered if Singapore was becoming less open, especially after recent news that the law on Section 377A, which criminalises gay sex, will not be changed.

PM Lee said: "It's a very divisive issue, our view or my view is that gayness is mostly something in-born; some people are like that and some people are not. How they live their own lives is really for them to decide, it's a personal matter.

"But the tone of the society, the public, and society as a whole, should be really set by the heterosexuals and that's the way many Singaporeans feel.

"Gay people exist. We respect them, and they have a place in our society. But (for) Section 377A, to change that, will be a very divisive argument. We will not reach consensus however much we discuss it.

"The views are passionately held on both sides. The more you discuss it, the angrier they become. The subject will not go away.

"Our view, as a government is, we will go with society. We will not push forward as society's views shift. We just follow along. As of today, my judgement is: the society is comfortable with our position. Leave the clause (alone). What people do in private is their own business; in public, certain norms apply."

Nearly 800 local and foreign students studying at the National University of Singapore (NUS) attended the annual dialogue. - CNA/ir