PUTRAJAYA: The meeting between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad was "warm and fruitful", and there was an exchange of views regarding what was on each party’s mind, Mr Lee said on Saturday (May 19).
Speaking to reporters following his visit to Malaysia to meet Dr Mahathir, who was sworn in as Malaysia's prime minister on May 10, Mr Lee stressed that the visit was a courtesy call to send Dr Mahathir his good wishes, and that no "substantive bilateral issues" were discussed.
He added that the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project was not discussed during the visit.
The high-speed rail linking the two nations was agreed on under former prime minister Najib Razak's administration and was set to be completed by 2026.
However, Dr Mahathir has said that all major projects will be reviewed by the new government, with local contractors to be prioritised.
Mr Lee said he also expressed the hope that both countries would also be able to continue the regular retreats which Singapore and Malaysia’s prime ministers had been holding.
“So I hope that once he has settled all of his domestic priorities, which he has many, he will be able to follow it up,” he said.
"In November, we’re hosting the ASEAN summit and I look forward to receiving him in Singapore."
"MADE A LOT OF PROGRESS"
Mr Lee added that Singapore has worked with Malaysia over many years and have cooperation projects with each other. There are also issues, he said, that come up from time to time.
"But we have made a lot of progress with the cooperation and we hope to continue to make further progress and to build on what we have achieved in the past,” he said. “I think he shares that hope."
During his visit, Mr Lee also met Pakatan Harapan de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim and his wife, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, to “re-establish the personal link” with him.
He said that they had a "general conversation" on how Mr Anwar saw developments in Malaysia, his views on what has been happening, and what his plans were.
"I said to him, he's travelling to many countries in the world. If he wants time to reflect, to write, perhaps to detach himself a little bit for a while, we welcome him to Singapore, come to one of our institutes and write a book," he said.
"So he said he would consider that."
RAISING TAX "NEVER AN EASY DECISION TO MAKE"
When asked by reporters if Malaysia's move to make their 6 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) zero-rated from Jun 1 will make it harder for the Government to sell its GST hike to Singaporeans, Mr Lee noted that the circumstances in every country are different.
But he said that raising taxes is “never an easy decision to make”.
“You have to work very hard to make sure you have a very good case to be able to explain to voters why you’re doing this, what you are using the money for, and to persuade them that you know what you are doing and they can trust you,” he said.
“Then, you must implement it well ... that the burden is carried fairly, that the people who are needy, the lower-income, there’s help given to them, because they will be the ones who are most hurt by the new impositions,” he added.
Mr Lee stressed that the Government is taking the planned GST hike “very seriously”.
"We’ve given a lot of notice. I think there's time to explain and there's time to work out how exactly we will make sure that Singaporeans are given the right support in order to be able to live with the new tax,” he said.