Monday, February 9, 2009

PM Lee urges S'poreans to focus on future during current recession

SINGAPORE: Singapore is in a recession, but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says Singaporeans must not sit idle and wait for things to get better.

He urged Singaporeans to seize opportunities to learn new skills to keep their jobs.

Mr Lee was speaking while celebrating Lunar New Year with some 1,000 residents in Yio Chu Kang.

He said: "Even in this downturn, let us focus on the future. We cannot sit idle, and just wait for the storm to hit us."

Mr Lee said the government is already using the downtime to upgrade Singapore's infrastructure.

He also defended the government's Jobs Credit scheme in response to those who say it benefits companies more than workers.

Mr Lee said: "The government pays part of the CPF for every worker, on behalf of employers. The company pays less, but the worker gets the same pay as before.

"This way, we want companies to find it less expensive to keep the workers, so that they'll keep the workers instead of retrenching them."

Mr Lee said that the Jobs Credit scheme also reduces the cost of employing Singaporean workers so that companies find it "more attractive to hire Singaporeans than foreign workers".

But Prime Minister Lee cautioned against pushing out foreigners "because that would harm businesses, and also Singaporean workers."

Prime Minister Lee also gave residents an update on Yio Chu Kang MP Seng Han Thong who was set on fire at a community event about a month ago.

Mr Lee said he visited Mr Seng before he was discharged from hospital.

"He was in good spirits, much better than when I first saw him after the incident," said Mr Lee.

"And he asked me to tell you that even in this downturn, let us press on in the Year of the Ox and as Mr Seng says 'upturn the downturn'."

Mr Lee also gave some examples of how community groups are helping the less fortunate during this downturn.

He said one grassroots organisation even started a "Rice Party" in June last year where volunteers give out free meals, food vouchers and rations to low income families.

- CNA/ir

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