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Thoughts on Singapore Part I May 9, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.

( This is essentially a rehash of a post i made a long time ago. I wanted to publish something else but because of the dear screw up over at the old site i have lost my train of thought. There are however some slight adjustments in view of the change in circumstances then.)

 Singapore is like a social engineering project that has managed, against the odds, to come to this century as one of the more advanced , perhaps most advanced country’s in south east asia. Yet the cost in terms of Singapore’s democracy is also as amazing as Singapore’s rise to success. The unions were banned, leaving everything under the NTUC… several people were detained for years for being suspected communists so on so forth, the students who were politically active (Chinese and Western Educated alike) were suppressed and perhaps the reason why Local universities have Student Unions who organise parties rather than take an active role in the university stems from this situation n the past. The press itself was hit hard and the end result is the Straits Times which can also be known as the States Times, which we see today.

Necessary, all these restrictions on freedom of speech are, so they say. If anyone were to gain say that opinion then we would be given examples like Taiwan and the history of Singapore, namely, the 1960s racial riots and Hock lee bus riots. To paraphrase Mr Lee Kuan Yew, if there was no one telling us how to live and how to think, we would be doomed, there being no other way to run an asian society.

Maybe true, maybe not, but then its all history, thus the only way to test the veracity of the statement is to go back in time, which of course is humanly impossible. Now one needs to look at the future. While the Main Stream MEdia (MSM) paints a rosy picture as seen by the publish of Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s comment that more workers got bonuses, there are other areas to look at. Today, lets ignore the issue about foreign talent, rice bowl so on so forth; lets look at the bigger issue, that of our Economy with reference to the global economy.

With the entrance of China and India in the global market, Singapore finds itself unable to compete in terms of costs, as our population of 4 million is peanuts compared to the population of China and India. Thus to compete in the global market, the government has opened the doors to foreign talent in the hope of reaching that magical number of 6.5 million. It is believed that these foreigners will fill in gaps in the economy which locals cant fill. Yet this is merely a stop gap measure which brings another host of problems; the integration of foreigners into society, and the loss of job opportunities for locals who do an oliver twist by asking for some more (wages). And bringing in foreigners cannot be a long term solution as these foreigners, not rooted to singapore, would be less likely to become citizens and will leave for greener pastures, thus bringing as back to sq one. As the chinese say, zhi biao bu zhi ben.

Thus the hype over something called critical thinking and knowledge based economy. This is an attempt to make our workforce more knowledgeable to compete in those high value industries. Furthermore, the government has made several annoucements about how they are going to “foster creativity” and entrepreneurship among Singaporeans to ensure that Singapore has that edge against her global competitors.

Yet the first is not a solution in the long run while the second has, due to certain reasons, a limited or a more pessimistic way of saying it, a negligible effect. The first one, that of increasing the knowledge of the workers, could result in a slight advantage in the short run, but eventually, the Chinese from China and the Indians from India would also do the same, and thus, we are back to sq one, where if education and everything else remains the same, the singaporean cost of labour will be higher due to a smaller population as compared to the Chinese or Indian population.

The second is a sound solution. Since Singapore cannot compete on costs, Singapore will have to do so through Ideas, innovation or however u call it. This is the only way Singapore can face the global economy, through Ideas. Thus the emphasis on creative thinking.

However, here comes the catch. For some reason or another there seems to be a perception that creativity or the entrepreneurial spirit is like mathematics, that going to seminars and listening to Sim Wong Hoo speak can somehow make a person more creative or more of a risk taker. Maybe the powers that be see things the ordinary guy does not see, but i believe that creativity and the dare to do spirit is something that is fostered and not taught like as if its a scientific theory. Of an entire class of ard 40, there are probably less than ten who will be risk takers or dare to think out of the box anyway. So u can teach all u want but those non risk takers would just nod their heads either cuz they are nodding off or nod cuz they are trying to pretend to be interested but at the end the bottom line is this; if there are to be more sim wong hoo’s , creativity has to be fostered in society.

Yet here comes the crux of the matter. Despite assurances that Singapore is going to become more open and so on so forth, the reality seems different. The prosposed amendments to the Penal Code seem to be aimed at bloggers on the net, and the mainstream media has been taking potshots at the net either directly or indirectly (the article that singaporeans cant think critically is one example). Furthermore, remember what happened to Lee Kin Mun, better known as Mr Brown, when he wrote an article on the increase in prices? He was “lambasted” by some bhavani person from MICA. Just recently, sinkapore.blogspot.com had to close down.

To sum it up, for every little step ( im being optimistic here) they make, there are always several steps backward. Yet this control of thought, be it in schs, universities or in the public sphere will only serve to stifle creativity. Those that cannot take it will leave, resulting in a loss to Singapore’s economy while those who remain will either try to conform for the sake of the paper rice bowl or retaliate and get ridiculed by the media and the powers that be; at times they may even end up jailed. As long as there is an engineering of thought among the people, there will never be creativity. This article puts it quite succintly as the level of control in our society.


For creativity to flourish, there must be a little bit of “chaos” in society. To put it simply, a democratisation of Singapore is necessary as it will provide the environment where entrepreneurs and trail breakers can be nurtured. An ancient example is Athens. The birthplace of democracy, where philosophers hailed. Though there were many instances in her history where democracy resulted in the persecution of many talented people like socrates and alcibiades, we can still see the impact Athens made around the world today.
However, if we look at it from PAP’s point of view, a democratisation of society could result in PAP losing seats in GEs to come. Perhaps one day PAP could even lose power if Singapore adopts a more western kind of democracy.

Yet for Singapore to be able to ENDURE as a Nation, such things are necessary. Currently, the civil service relies on scholarships to boost its ranks. Yet these new generations of leaders are mostly of the same mold, either from the higher middle income end of the scale. The net result would be a lack of fresh perspectives in the civil service. Though not apparent now, sooner or later the whole machinery will stagnate. Once that happens, then it will be China’s Qing dynasty, where the whole system collapsed and led to years of civil war until the Communists took power in 1949. Even if that does not happen, the lack of entrepreneurs and visonaries in Singapore would hamper her competitiveness in the global economy, as it is only a matter of time when India and China begin the task of equipping their work force for the knowledge based industry, if they have not done so already. To have a fighting chance…Singapore MUST rely on innovation and ideas. There is no other way Singapore can compete.

Thus PAP stands at a crossroads. To open up could help Singapore progress in the long run, yet to do so would entail the risks of losing control of the government. Yet at the end of the day, Singaporeans, whether young or old, elite or common so on so forth, must recognise that Singapore is a nation and separate from the PAP. The ruling party must also recognise this fact and , in the greater interests of Singapore, start steps to open up society. Being in control gives it the ability to kick start any initiative. Perhaps the thunderbolt may no longer dominate the scene once Singapore starts on her way to Democracy as it is in the other countries like the States and Britain, BUT if Singapore endures and pulls through as a Nation, History will definitely remember them as truely visionary leaders who saw beyond party interests.



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