Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The wealth of Singapore

You know what the wealth of Singapore is?

Some countries - have natural resources. What will the Middle East be without their oil for example.

What differentiates us from Taiwan, or even Malaysia which has tremendously more land, natural resources than Singapore?

Its a few things - our strategic geographic location, our hybrid culture and also the willingness of our people to work with the system. Our location. Singapore sits in that sweet spot - astride major trading routes which overtime will become sweeter as Asia increases its dominance.

But above all else - its our system. I'm not just talking about our government. I'm talking about our culture. The sort of culture that allows Christians, Muslims, Chinese, Malays and Indians to sit on the same table and eat a meal together. The sort of system that can create an international banking system in a world where corruption and bureaucratic inefficiencies is the norm. A world where women and children can walk safely in the streets. A world where rapists, triad, and gangsters live in fear of the law as opposed to having lawyers take advantage of loopholes. A world where Government housing commission is not dirty word but a success.

Our government had a hand in creating this. But so did our people too. Would the PAP have been successful in Malaysia, Burma, China even Australia in the 1960s 70s etc..? There was a lot of give and take. And that's something I hope our government leaders would respect.

Can we out manufacture China?
Do we have the resources of Australia?
Are we as inventive as America?
Can we be as steady as Japan?

Comparisons are problematic. Comparing Singaporeans with mainland Chinese is actually pretty dumb. One is a small young nation of less than 4 million people. The other is an ancient empire that has over 1 billion people.

But Singaporeans - esp. Singaporean Chinese - are fond of comparing - and it starts from primary school if not kindergarten.

No amount of hard work will  enable us to be a China, America, Australia. We have to find our niche. What is it?

Singapore is a unique society, a special culture. As much as I dislike the PAP, like the majority of Singaporeans I cannot deny it did well by the people. I only wish that it would improve and build on the successes and strengths of Singapore for the benefit of the citizens. But I fear that the government is now run by scholars. Nothing bad about scholars - but their experience and very nature built behind a wall of academic success, books, is limited. There is also now a growing disconnect between the ruling class and the people - in much the same way as how the academically bright kids at school huddled in their corner of the library and shunned the rest of their school mates. You cannot govern a country successfully in the long term when the leaders were all assured of their positions by their success in primary and high schools.

There is also a growing insular nature in Singapore society. I'm not just talking about the rise of xenophobia. When the government can castigate Singaporeans who leave the country and work or live overseas as "quiters" you know that something is seriously wrong in the government logic. When government ministers can justify their exorbitant high salaries as necessary to prevent corruption while demanding low income families to sacrifice the lives of their sons for national service for peanut pay you know its seriously haywire. On  the other spectrum we see many Singaporeans retreating into an parochial mindset - despising foreigners and migrants.

Criticism shouldn't be seen as treason. The old school kind of rule - "shut up sit down or get out" has resulted in one of the world's highest migrations. More Peranakans were lost to Singapore - emigrating to other countries - due to the PAP rule than in WW2. And to make matters worse the government system of discriminating Singapore immigrants by slamming the door shut to them in comparison to new immigrants is baffling. Won't the branch of the same tree be more suitable for grafting than the member of some unknown tree?

The Singapore govt seeks to attract foreign talent while forgetting the unique nature of Singapore. All those former Hong Kong residents, and now Chinese and India nationals that the government is seeking to attract - the vast majority of them will only use Singapore as a transit lounge before migrating to greener pastures. Heck one China migrant even vehemently objected to the smell of curry from his neighbor. And what was the solution offered by the government representative? Stop cooking curry... stop cooking our national dish.... Whaaatttt??? might as well tear down our flag and paint it blood red with a yellow scythe and hammer and stars Good grief.

I see the future of Singapore as a cosmopolitan city. A city where its people are well traveled, speak and are fluent in many languages. Where Chinese people speak not just English but Malay, French, German, Japanese. A government which encourages and helps its people to excel - to go overseas, to work, to return - and not to take advantage of. A government which encourages its citizens to be innovative and respects their intellectual property rights ... which at the moment doesn't seem to be happening.

A city whose main export is the system of efficient corruption-free, nepotism-free, religious-free, ethnic-free, meritocracy bureaucracy. :) This is what our region needs.... badly. We should want and we should do all we can to get Malaysia, Indonesia to be heading down that path and not towards religious extremism.

A city where the Ministry of Education and Culture are not run by parochial minded people but people who understand that academic knowledge in math and science and mastery of "the mother tongue" is not the prerequisite to a successful life. But when I heard about my friends being blacklisted because they chose not to accept foreign govt scholarships issued by MOE but bonded to Singapore... I despair.

Ask yourself - why does Hong Kong a similar city to Singapore have such a vastly stronger movie making industry?

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