Lee warns of slower growth and end to lifetime jobs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 July, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 July, 2002, 12:00am

The country must get used to much slower growth rates in the coming years as the government tries to overhaul the rapidly maturing economy, the deputy prime minister has said.

Lee Hsien Loong, also Finance Minister and the head of the central bank, said in a magazine interview released yesterday: 'We must get used to the idea that we will not have another 10 years of 9 per cent growth . . . if we can get 4 per cent to 5 per cent over the next 10 years on average, I think we are doing very well.'

The comments, in the Far Eastern Economic Review, are part of a concerted government effort to drive the home the message that Singapore must adapt to less favourable economic realities.

Mr Lee, who is set to assume the prime ministership when Goh Chok Tong steps down, said: 'Workers can't expect to get into one job and carry on with it until they retire. You must be prepared to change and accept that, and your families must be prepared to accept that.'

Last year, after the slump in external demand, gross domestic product slipped 2 per cent, an unprecedented decline since Singapore's independence in 1965.

This year, after a series of upgrades to the official estimate, the government now expects growth to fall in a range of 2 per cent to 4 per cent. A preliminary estimate for the second quarter is expected on Tuesday.

Policy-makers have been grappling with the rise of more competitive economies elsewhere in Asia, especially China.

Last year, the government set up a commission headed by Mr Lee to draft fresh policies to 'remake' the economy. Since then, Mr Lee and his colleagues have said they need to foster a more entrepreneurial culture at home, while pushing companies to expand abroad.

'I think some parts of the electronics industry are likely to gradually phase out because other producers are coming along who are able to do it. We will still attract electronics projects at the upper end, but there will be competitors there too,' he said.

Mr Lee said that as citizens adapted to the new realities, there may be change in Singapore's system, which has been dominated by the ruling People's Action Party since the late 1950s. But he said he favoured an arrangement that preserved a broad consensus.

'I think we should try to preserve a certain social and political cohesion, so there is a dominant mainstream view of the way the country should go,' he said.