During an hour-long ministerial forum with students of the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) on 4 September, the Prime Minister answered several questions from the audience about various topics, from the education system to blockchain technology and Singapore’s future.
Videos of the premier’s answers were uploaded into a playlist on the Prime Minister’s Office Youtube Channel.
One of the questions asked during the forum was on whether having connections will help a person get ahead in Singapore.
PM Lee responded, “I think if you join the government, it doesn’t matter who you’re connected to. You’re going to be evaluated on your merits. And I think in many Singapore companies, that is also the case.”
He did add that if you do have connections, using them “may open you the first door or two”. However, he cautioned that Singapore is a “small place” and that people will know whether a person actually has substance or not.
He continued, “I think what we want to make in Singapore is a society where your ability and your contributions count much more than your connections.”
Immediately after that, however, he said “connections do matter” and that the networks you build as you grow up – from schools, National Service buddies, and university cohorts – is important.
“You know them, they know you. You get the measure of them. They also have a sense of what you can contribute. Each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” he explained. “In Singapore, it’s a very small place, you cannot bluff one.”
Highlighting again that Singapore is a small country and that someone will inevitably know you, PM Lee said it is important to remain objective when evaluating a person’s capabilities.
“We will build our system and have built our system to the maximum extent possible to be fair and to assess the person on what they can do,” he asserted.
He then advised that people should resist the “temptation” to judge others based on their looks or their accents. Giving an example of a person who might have grown up speaking in a “not quite standard Mediacorp accent”, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything valuable to offer.
“You must go beyond the looks, and the voice and the polish. Does he have the substance or not.”