Extract from transcript of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech in Parliament, 27 May 2009
EXTRACT FROM TRANSCRIPT OF PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG’S SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT, 27 MAY 2009
We have to ask ourselves how can we deploy our resources to maximum effect. Singapore is a small population, it is finite. Land is finite, our resources are finite. How do we get the maximum value bang for the buck? Land, for example, 700 square kilometres, every plot is planned and ’choped’ for something significant on our master plan. If you fly over Singapore on a sunny day without clouds, it looks like a beautiful tapestry. If you have not got the chance, go to Google Earth, zoom in and you can see every building, every road, almost every ERP gantry. But nothing is left to chance, nothing is left over. Now in that situation, what do we do if we need to expand? You can reclaim land, yes, we are reclaiming land but reclaiming land does not stretch our international boundaries and the more land you reclaim, the less ocean space you will have. And PSA reminds us, we need sea space for port, for anchorages, for navigation lanes. So there is a limit to how far you can reclaim. So what can you do? We have to make judicious trade-offs, recover land from less productive declining industries, make space for land, for new industries which are bringing in better jobs. We also have to make difficult decisions. The port is 30 plus million TEUs per year. If you are going to make a 60 million TEU port you need twice as much land. Can we afford that? What do we have to give up to do that? It means fewer factories, it may mean less housing, it may mean less training areas for the SAF. Nothing is for free, there is always a trade-off. But I think that we should try to relax these trade-offs as much as possible. Think of creative ways to expand the supply of space, if not of land. Can we go down? We are digging underground space. We have underground ammunition storage. We are thinking about underground malls, we have talked about ideas to have a whole underground space under the Padang. It is expensive but some of it can make economic sense. Can we go upwards? There are limits. Partly because of air traffic constraints because we have airports, air bases, and you have to leave enough space. We cannot become like Kowloon in the old days with aeroplanes making sharp turns to land because I think it is too exciting for all visitors coming to the IRs. But with better air navigation and air traffic control, I think that the limits can be tightened. The limits for the aeroplanes can be tightened, the height constraints where the height constraints are because of this reason can be relaxed and we can build higher with high-rise development in such areas. These are real issues which we are studying. I think there is potential. We have not reached the absolute limits yet.
Another area where we have to consider limits is foreign workers. Many MPs have spoken about foreign workers. As Mr Heng Chee How pointed out just now, we have one-third of our workforce foreign workers, about one million. The majority of them are lower skilled work pass holders. They have helped us to grow our economy, building our infrastructure, bolstering our workforce, filling critical gaps. I think in this downturn, the number of foreign workers will fall, particularly in manufacturing and services, maybe not in construction because that is chugging along. But when the economy recovers, demand for foreign workers will grow again. We cannot do without them but I think we should find ways to reduce our dependence on them because while we can have one million foreign workers in Singapore, I find it hard to imagine that we can have two million foreign workers in Singapore. And try as we may, we run out of limits, therefore, we have to study how we can grow our economy without indefinitely growing our foreign worker numbers and making the best use of the foreign workers who are here to complement our workers so that we get productivity, we get growth, we get results.
There is a third area of limits which we now have to think about which did not use to be so critical before and that’s energy. It is an important utility like water. You take it for granted, you turn on the switch, it is there, not so in many parts of the world, especially in Asia. Now the price is not so high but last year, there was a spike because oil prices went up but I expect in the long term, the trend for energy prices will be up because as China and India grow, their demand will grow and that will put pressure on the energy markets worldwide. So the question is how do we encourage energy conservation to grow more sustainably and to be less affected when energy prices go up from time to time, all in the long term? The Japanese did this well after the first oil shock in the early 1970’s. They were very severely affected, they put their minds to it, they restructured the economy, they kept energy prices quite high for a long time after that, so by the time the second oil shock in the late 70’s they were less affected. By the 80s and 90s, they were the one of the most energy-efficient developed countries in the world and we have to learn how to do that.
At the same time, we have to diversify our sources of energy for security. We need to become less dependent on piped natural gas which is from nearby sources and look for alternatives to piped natural gas. For example, LNG, we are building an LNG terminal. That is an alternative because once it is LNG, you can buy from around the world - Australia, the Middle East, Trinidad and Tobago, Russia, many possibilities. That is a major step we are taking. What do we need to do beyond that? Do we need to develop other sources of energy? We also have to consider climate change. I think for many members this is a new subject. The younger members have focused on it. They have green issues on their minds which is right. There is a global deal currently being negotiated under the UN framework convention for climate change. Singapore must do our part in any global deal because it will be expected of us and we have to do this. That means that there will have to be adjustments, there will have to be improvements in our energy efficiency, it will mean costs for our economy, and we have to prepare for a carbon-constrained world. So these are finite limits which we have to study, how can we push the limits, how can we do our best within them.