SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday (Oct 19) that he is ready to step down as Singapore’s leader and that his successor is “very likely” already in the Cabinet.
“I am ready,” Mr Lee said in response to a question during a CNBC interview on whether he was ready to step down in a couple of years. “What I need to make sure of is somebody is ready to take over from me.”
Mr Lee, 65, has emphasised the need for leadership succession several times, saying that his successor must be ready to take over from him soon after the next general election.
During the National Day Rally last year, Mr Lee almost collapsed while delivering his English speech, bringing focus to succession concerns.
In a wide-ranging interview with CNBC on Thursday, Mr Lee said that it is very likely that Singapore’s next leader is within sight.
“I think it is very likely that he is in the Cabinet already. But which one? That will take a while to work out.”
The interview with CNBC comes ahead of Mr Lee’s official working visit to the United States from Oct 22 to 26 at the invitation of US President Donald Trump. Mr Lee will meet Mr Trump on Oct 23 at the White House.
SINGAPORE’S FUTURE DEPENDENT ON CHANGE
Mr Lee’s interview with CNBC comes amid an upturn in the economy, with Singapore gross domestic product pulling in a 4.6 per cent year-on-year growth in the third quarter.
This is the strongest pace since the first quarter of 2014, and comes in higher than the year-on-year growth of 2.9 per cent in the second quarter.
The official forecast is for a 2 to 3 per cent growth this year.
Going forward, Mr Lee said, the government would like to continue to achieve a 2 to 3 per cent annual economic growth over the next 10 to 15 years.
"Two to 3 per cent is by developed countries’ standard, a very significant level," Mr Lee said. “If we can do that for 10 to 15 years, then you can make a very substantial change, and the quality of life and standards of living of the population."
Mr Lee also indicated his wish for Singapore to “stay at the top”, saying it can do so by being up-to-date with changes.
He spoke about the importance of the SkillsFuture programme to equip Singaporeans with the necessary skills needed as the country transitions to an innovation-driven economy.
“We are facing the same challenges as many other developed countries, which is that change is rapid, that is disruptive, that we need to master new technologies, and we need to be able to do it with people who are already in the workforce – middle-aged, and not just young people in school,” Mr Lee said.
Another important thing is to get the industries and the different sectors of the economy up to speed, and to cope with the transformation, Mr Lee added. This is being done through a S$4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme, where roadmaps are being developed for 23 industries to address issues and help companies drive innovation and productivity.
“You have here to deal in a very tangible and concrete way with individual industries, individual firms, and not just in a stratospheric, macro, philosophical approach.
"You need to have a specific sense for each industry - what are the skills which are needed, what are the market areas which can be exploited, what are the changes which the companies need to make, how can we help the companies to achieve these changes,” Mr Lee said.
POST-LEE KUAN YEW DAYS
Touching briefly on his late father Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Lee said that two years after his father’s passing, he still reads the late Mr Lee’s speeches and misses him.
"We miss him, we think of him often, we read his old speeches and we say, ‘Well, that is still relevant to us today’. The way he puts it still has a ring to it," Mr Lee said.
"At the same time, we have to build on that and move forward. Because if we just remained with what he had imagined and what he had done and nothing more, I think he would have been very disappointed."
If he were still alive today, Mr Lee surmised, the advice his late father would probably mete out would be to "press forward".
“I think he would have said 'Do not be looking at the rear view mirror. Remember what has happened, understand how you got here, but look forward and press forward.'"