Singapore leaders fret over the silver-spoon generation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 October, 2002, 12:00am

Singapore has a '3G' problem and its leaders are worried. This is not an issue of fancy phones and new technology, but concerns the very survival of the city-state.

In the jargon of the ruling People's Action Party, 3G stands for third generation, and the government appears troubled that after years of easy living, young Singaporeans may no longer have what it takes to prosper.

'Will Singapore's success outlive its founders?,' Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked an audience of university students in a speech released yesterday. 'Or will Singapore melt away in the sea of globalisation, and revert to being a sleepy town, or a fishing village?'

Mr Lee's remarks were just the latest in what has become a stream of statements from senior party members that suggest the younger generation risks having little in the way of backbone.

The torrent started last year when Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong chastised 20-somethings.

'They grew up with a silver spoon in their mouth, a maid at their beck and call and a car to bring them around,' Mr Goh said.

Mr Lee - the man tipped to take over from Mr Goh as prime minister - said the country was as at a turning point. Young people in neighbouring states had more drive, he warned.

'We must recognise that all around us, there are many for whom life has not been so comfortable. But this has given them a tremendous fire in the belly and eagerness to learn,' he said.

'Singaporeans have to compete against them, and had better prepare themselves for the race.'

The deputy prime minister - the son of Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew - admitted to some extent the problem may have been self-inflicted after years of stability and prosperity.

'Many young Singaporeans have not been exposed to the vicissitudes of life,' he said. 'Most have not had to worry about having rice on the table and a roof over their heads, because these have been well taken care of.

'This is not your fault. In fact, your parents and the government have strived mightily to build such a stable environment in which to bring you up.

'They have succeeded well, perhaps too well,' he said.

'More than half of Singaporeans are like you, born after independence. Can we pass the baton to the next generation, without fumbling?'