‘More foreign talents equal to better society growth’

Former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew says that foreign talents are vital in ensuring better growth within Singapore's society. (AFP photo)
Former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew says that foreign talents are vital in ensuring better growth within Singapore's society. (AFP photo)

Former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has said that foreign talents are vital to the growth of Singapore's society and ensuring its economic progress.

Speaking at the South Asia Diaspora Convention on Friday, Mr Lee acknowledged that although Singaporeans have for some time felt the competition from talented foreigners, he noted that foreigners also came to the Republic to set up homes and be citizens of the country.

Emphasising that more foreign talents would lead to better growth in the society, he reasoned that it would be insufficient for the country to depend solely on the talent of three million Singaporeans.

"And I am a firm believer that the more talents you have in a society, the better the society will grow.

"If Singapore depends on the talent they can produce out of 3 million people, it's not going to punch above its weight," he said.

"It's because we have been drawing talent from across the globe, South Asia, Northeast Asia, China, India and beyond that - you have a vibrant economy which is way beyond what three million Singaporeans with the talent they can produce can do."

Mr Lee's comments were in response to a question posed by DBS Group Holdings chief executive officer Piyush Gupta, who asked for his views on how to better address the issue of foreign talents coming into Singapore in future.

This, Gupta said, comes after the recent General Election (GE) where there has been "a lot of angst" on the role of foreign talents and Singapore's ability to absorb it in the future.

The issue of foreign talents was one of the key concerns for Singaporeans during the hustings in the lead up to the 7 May GE.

The election saw the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) winning 82 out of 87 parliamentary seats contested and garnering 60.1 percent of the votes.

Although there are concerns among Singaporeans that they are competing unequally for jobs, Mr Lee said that this "cannot be helped" because without foreign talents, there will not be any jobs to begin with.

"So we welcome talent and will continue to welcome talent," he added.

He stressed the importance of considering whether the country prefers a slower growth rate with no input of talent or a faster growth with an inflow of talent, although some of these top jobs are going to the foreigners.

This, he said, is because there will not be any jobs if there is no growth in the first place.

When asked if there were any disadvantages to meritocracy, Mr Lee dismissed this and said, "I do not accept that there are any disadvantages to meritocracy."

"Let's remove the foreign element first. There's no better way to run the country than the best man for the most difficult job."

In the case of foreign talent, he said that one has to decide whether accepting them would increase the country's "megabytes" and increase the computer capacity or to reject them, which will then lead to a "slower working computer".

As to Singapore's context, Mr Lee shared that the nation is successful because of its openness to foreigners.

Mr Lee also discussed the importance of good governance, India-China relations and issues pertaining the growth of South India at the dialogue, which was moderated by prominent intellectual Professor Kishore Mahbubani.