PM Lee on Temasek, GIC and ministers’ salaries

This is the transcript of part of the interview which the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.You can listen to the podcast of the interview here.

 Watch BBC’s report (on video) on Singapore’s economy here

BBC: Your own family has been quite involved in these funds. Your wife, till recently, ran Temasek. Your father’s deeply involved in GIC. Is there a risk that when the news is bad,  as it has been over the past year for these funds, people will tend to blame your family rather than the institutions?

LHL: I think the way you put it is not the way things work in Singapore. The Minister Mentor is chairman of GIC not because he’s my father. It’s because he’s the best man for the job and he has been chairman since he was prime minister. Ho Ching is CEO of Temasek not because she’s my wife but because the chairman of Temasek and the board decided that they wanted to appoint her as CEO. And they’re there as long as they’re effective, performing, and if they don’t perform, well, they have to take the consequences.

BBC: A thing or two about perception. Perception is important in politics. And in difficult times like these, do you think, in retrospect, it might have been better for your family to have a lower profile?

LHL: (Laughs) Life would have been easier for me if the Minister Mentor were not my father and Ho Ching were not my wife. But they’re there. This is the way Singapore has worked. I think Singaporeans have understood this is how the system works. And they will render judgement when elections come.

BBC: Talking about elections, this is probably going to be the toughest year that most Singaporeans can remember. Are you anticipating some shows of public anger or displeasure because it is such a new experience for so many Singaporeans?

LHL: I think it is quite understandable that in a situation like this Singaporeans will be quite anxious, will be worried about their future and I think they have seen what the government has been doing. We had a very decisive Budget this year. The package was not only a big one but a directly focused one on saving jobs and helping people see through the downturn. And we will have to make sure we explain to people what can be done, what we’re doing and what they have to do.

BBC: People tend to blame governments…

LHL: Yes, that tends to happen but on the other hand, we’ve been through crises before and most times, after we’ve come back out and if we’ve handled it properly, we’ve come out stronger and better for the experience.

BBC: Finally Prime Minister, I read that you’re apparently the highest-paid head of government in the world. Your salary is about four, five times what President Obama gets. Are you worth all that money?

LHL: (Laughs) I’m not comparing myself and I don’t look at these rankings. We go on a system which is open, honest, transparent. What is the job worth, what is the quality of person whom you want. You need the best people for the job and these are jobs where you make decisions which are worth billions of dollars. And you cannot do that if you’re pretending and you just say, well, we’re all in it for the love of king and country. We wanted to be honest, we want people not to come in for the money but at the same time, their sacrifice cannot be too great. And at times like these, you want the best possible government you can have.


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