Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Lee Kuan Yew says Singapore still lacks `finer things in life'


Singapore's founding father said the ultramodern city-state he built is every bit a First World nation -- but still lacks the "graces of a civilized society," such as music, culture and the arts.

Lee Kuan Yew turned a resource-poor, malaria-infested backwater into a gleaming regional financial and manufacturing center with one of the world's highest living standards in less than 40 years.

But the government has been attempting to transform the city-state into a center for the arts, media and life sciences. In the past two years, it opened up a new 600 million Singapore dollar (US$352 million) arts center and is developing new areas that it hopes will become a hub for media and biotechnology firms.

"We have not reached First World standards in the finer things in life, music, culture and the arts, the graces of a civilized society," Lee said on Friday.

"The generation now in their 30s to 50s can take Singapore there in the next 15 to 20 years. The best is yet to be," Singapore's senior minister said at a Lunar New Year gathering.

Lee, 80, cautioned naysayers who have been saying the city-state's best years have passed, calling them "pessimists."

"Singapore is like an aircraft flying at 30,000 feet. We have another 6,000 feet to rise to 36,000 feet, the height [that] top US and European Union airlines are flying," he said.

After a bleak 2003 when Singapore was badly hit by SARS and the war in Iraq, Lee said the outlook this year was positive, and the economy is expected to grow between 3 and 5 percent on a good external outlook.

Lee stepped down as prime minister in 1990, a post he held since Singapore's independence in 1965, but still wields considerable influence as senior minister.

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