PM Lee: If we didn’t get it right, I’m sorry

Alicia Wong

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pledges to make the system better for Singaporeans. (Yahoo! photo/Kzan)

"If we didn't get it right, I'm sorry. But we will try better the next time."

It was an apology that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saw fit to repeat twice on Tuesday during the People's Action Party (PAP) first lunchtime rally at Boat Quay next to UOB Plaza.

PM Lee acknowledged the government's initiatives have resulted in "side effects", such as problem gambling among Singaporeans due to the opening of the Integrated Resorts.

He also cited the congestion in public transport because of the increased intake in foreigners.

"These are real problems, we will tackle them.  But I hope you will understand when these problems vex you or disturb you or upset your lives, please bear with us, we are trying our best on your behalf," said PM Lee to a crowd of about a thousand.

The secretary-general of the PAP continued, "And if we didn't quite get it right, I'm sorry but we will try better the next time."

Pushing on with a message he had for voters on Monday, PM Lee stressed, "No government is perfect… we will make mistakes." He cited the examples of the escape of terrorist Mas Selamat to escape and the Orchard Road floods.

"But when it happens we should acknowledge it, we should apologise, take responsibility, put things right. If we are to discipline somebody, we will do that, and we must learn from the lessons and never make the same mistake again," said PM Lee.

Yet, he explained the difficulties in making decisions with incomplete information.

For instance, if the government knew there would be a sudden surge in demand for HDB flats in mid-2009 and that foreigners would have created such congestion on the roads, it would have ramped up plans for more flats and MRT lines.

"We're sorry we didn't get it exactly right, but I hope you will understand and bear with us because we are trying our best to fix the problems," he said.

The government will build 22,000 flats this year and open one new MRT line every year for the next seven years.

PAP new candidates Tan Chuan Jin and Sim Ann mingle with the crowd before the rally starts. (Yahoo! photo/Kzan)

Overall, however, the government "has been right more often than wrong," said PM Lee, who is also the secretary-general of the PAP.

For instance, the intake of foreign workers contributed to the Republic's 14.5 per cent economic growth last year, and subsequently led to the budget surplus and Grow & Share package.

But still, the Prime Minister cautioned, "Good as we are, we and the PAP in particular, must never become self-satisfied". Wearing white, he noted, does not give you an "automatic right to become the government".

"Never forget that we are here to serve the voters, to serve Singaporeans and not to lord it over people," he said, reiterating his message on leadership at the Young PAP 25th Anniversary Rally recently.

The anchor for Ang Mo Kio GRC, who will be facing a challenge from a team from the Reform Party, PM Lee also noted the PAP government's ideals and passions have not changed over the last 50 years but "our policies have been updated, our approach has shifted, our style has changed".

He contrasted this with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's approach who "tells it like it is".

Over the weekend, MM Lee's comments that Aljunied GRC voters would regret voting in the Workers' Party and would have five years to "repent" if they did so have drawn much controversy.

But PM Lee said, "I think you've got used to our style. We don't try to do it MM's style. We do it our way, we spend some time to talk, to explain… to overcome some of these working problems so that we can go in the right strategic directions."

While MM understands the difference in Singaporeans today and those from previous generations, "whether it's ordinary time, election time, you can be sure he is still the same MM," said PM Lee.

The generally quiet rally saw a short disturbance when a person in the middle of the crowd raised two opposition party flags for a quick moment before running off. (Yahoo! photo/Alicia Wong)

Towards the end of his 30-minute speech, PM Lee turned to young voters under 35, who form up to a third of the 2.3 million eligible voters.

Urging them to think carefully before they vote, he said: "You belong to the country, but the country belongs to you."

"So please come forward, take your path in building this nation, but also please take good care of Singapore. It's a precious jewel, understand it, how it works, what its important components are, what's the spirit of it, how to make it better."

There were a total of eight speakers during the two-hour PAP rally, including Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and six new candidates.

They spoke on topics such as education, community Members of Parliament, low-wage workers and the need for a steady hand to guide Singapore through difficult times.

New citizen Chen Yan, 37, said PM Lee's speech was "inspiring, encouraging". As a first time voter, she is "proud to be Singaporean," she said.

Director Sanjir Shah, 46, said, While the messages were nothing new, "the thing that struck me most was the humility. (PM Lee) comes across as sincere."

Entrepreneur Dexter Wong, 35, however felt PM Lee should have addressed the high ministerial salaries, since it is a matter within the government's control, unlike the floods, and student Cherrie, 23, said she still wants to see more diversity in Parliament.

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