Switzerland — Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Heng Swee Keat, who was in Switzerland recently for the 49th St Gallen Symposium, gave an interview to Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) on several topics pertaining to the local and global economy, including what he perceives to be a good relationship between citizens, business, government, and politics.
Mr Heng said that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has been enjoying success for decades since it has won the confidence and trust of the people of Singapore. However, he also asserted,
“If my party does not deliver what it promises, it’s out.”
Singapore’s DPM and Finance Minister believes that the government and the business sector have certain responsibilities in taking care of the workforce. When it comes to the free market, Mr Heng said to NZZ, “I believe that it is not true that the free market can handle everything and that it only needs competition. Governments, in my opinion, have an important role to play. They must give investors security, they must provide critical infrastructure.”
The NZZ interviewer also asked the DPM whether or not the country will need to make new loans in the future.
Mr Heng said, “At the beginning of our history, we had to borrow money from the World Bank and the Development Bank. There were big investments for which we did not have enough money. But we could not borrow more money all the time. In the later years, after we built the basic infrastructure, we did not need new loans. But in the next few years, big investments will come again, for example, the renewal of our public transport, the MTS.”
When asked about the role of state enterprises, the DPM asserted that state-owned companies are part of Singapore’s heritage, using Singapore Airlines, of which the state owns over fifty percent, as an example. However, he added that the government does not give preferential treatment to state-owned companies.
He said, “They must behave in a market economy… I am convinced that it is also better for our companies, if they always have to be competitive, then they have international success. We do not prefer anyone just because he wears a Singapore badge.”
The NZZ interviewer also touched on political parties in Singapore, asking, since PAP has been dominant thus far in the country’s history if now is not a good time for more democracy and more political competition.
DPM Heng answered “We have free and fair elections. Numerous parties participated in the last election and in 2011 five important ministers lost their seats. Is this democracy? I think so. Do we respect them? Yes. The fact that our ruling party has won over and over again has nothing to do with repression but with the fact that we kept what we promised. And because we won the confidence of the Singaporeans.”
He also asserted that the country stands strong against nepotism, and has rules in place to keep corruption in check, using sovereign wealth funds Temasek and GIC as examples. He said,
“Not once did I intervene as Minister of Finance in their investment decisions… Under the Constitution, as Finance Minister, I am responsible to Parliament for their performance, and I, in turn, must hold the leadership of the sovereign wealth funds accountable. We have very strict rules against nepotism, very strong anti-corruption rules.”
Mr Heng also talked about the challenges of maintaining unity in the country in a time of great changes.
“Are we ready to continue making decisions that are difficult in the short term but necessary in the long term? It’s about governance. If we succeed and we have a sense of unity in the people, then we will remain strong.”
For him, the biggest concern is Singapore’s success and not his party’s survival.
“If my party does not deliver what it promises, it’s out. But my concern cannot be the survival of the party. My concern must be the survival and success of Singapore. If we do not do a good job and the Singaporeans think it is time to change the situation, then we will fall out and a more competent party will come; and we hope that it will advance Singapore.” –/TISG