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Singapore Prime Minister Lee’s scorecard: A look at the numbers

Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore's prime minister, speaks during an interview at the Bloomberg New Economy Gala Dinner in Singapore, on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023.
Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore's prime minister, speaks during an interview at the Bloomberg New Economy Gala Dinner in Singapore, on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. (Bloomberg)

By Kevin Varley

(Bloomberg) — Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who’s set a May 15 date for passing the baton to his deputy Lawrence Wong, is leaving behind an economy that’s in a better position than he inherited it.

While Singapore was already home to an affluent society when Lee took over as the nation’s third premier in 2004, the city-state emerged as one of the world’s preeminent financial hubs under him.

Sitting at the cross-roads of international commerce, investment, finance and talent, the little red dot on the map has frequently ranked among the most competitive economies in the world and was counted as the happiest country in Asia. It also made it to the list of ‘Blue Zones’ — places that have the healthiest and longest life expectancy on the planet.

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Still, Lee’s two-decade run hasn’t been without challenges. He steered the trade-reliant economy through the global financial crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and navigated strained relations between the world’s two largest economies. Singapore’s reputation for clean governance was also tarnished amid corruption charges against a minister, who’s since resigned.

Here’s a look at some numbers that tell the story of PM Lee’s tenure:

Sources: Bloomberg, SingStat, MO

Total asset management in Singapore climbed more-than-eight-fold to S$4.9 trillion ($3.6 trillion) in his years in office, while annual gross domestic product more than doubled, ballooning to S$532.3 billion.

Source: SingStat

The tiny island’s population grew 42% to 5.92 million, as the non-resident population leaped 135%, filling key roles in industries contributing to growth. Unemployment fell from 4.8% to 2.9% as his government weathered the 2008 global financial crisis and Covid.

Source: SingStat

Private real estate sky-rocketed as the wealth poured in, soaring 140% to a median sales price per flat of S$1.7 million, while public HDB flats climbed 138% with five-room units averaging just over S$700,000 in the latest figures.

Despite the increases, wealth disparity actually dropped 6.5%, while the female share of board appointments reached a record 36% in the latest survey.

Source: SingStat, UN World Population Prospects

The country continued to age under his tenure. By 2023, Singapore had one of the lowest birth rates in the world, falling to 0.97, while life expectancy increased to 83 years of age.

Lee managed a growing cold war between two superpowers. Exports of services to China grew as the Mainland tallied fourth in the country’s trading partners in the latest government data, growing from a 4% to 7% share over his tenure compared with the US which held its lead hovering in the 13% range.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.