Singapore @ 40

This was a column written by siew91 in newsintercom. I find what he highlights truly reflective of what Singapore is and what we have become. The paradoxical attempts of injecting change, of socially engineering our society to meet several government selected goals and of being afraid of the side effects – these are many manifestations of our society not being ready to accept such changes.

Today we have every reason to rejoice. In 40 years we have succeeded beyond all expectations.” PM Lee said in the televised National Day address. Indeed, we have made much progress in many areas. But are we able to sustain our progress in a rapidly globalised world?

Economic advancement has brought us wealth and has given us a comfortable life. But it has, at the same time, also conditioned us with the narrow-minded belief that money can fix any problems.

We offer high salaries to keep corruption at bay while attempting to attract the best talents to join the government. However, if we are of the opinion that high salaries can prevent excesses or abuse of power, we need only look at the National Kidney Foundation ex-CEO, T T Durai, to teach us better.

To win an Olympics medal, we offer million-dollar rewards and import many foreign sports aces. To date, the Olympics medal remains a dream. In contrast, in the days of pre-independence and non-monetary-rewards, we had amongst us, a silver medalist driven solely by sheer passion for the sport and self-determination.

To sustain economic activity, we give incentives to MNC and foreign talents to invest, work, and live in Singapore. While this policy has worked for us, it is beginning to lose its effectiveness, as serious competition surfaces from other lower-cost countries in the region. With national borders fast dissolving, it is essential to be self-reliant in terms of human resources and talents.

Wealth and political stability have also rendered us a nation of people pathologically fearful of changes.

From the 1990s onwards, we have wanted to be a more open and civic society so that creativity and entrepreneurial spirit would flourish. But we are fearful that an open society will cause all hell to break loose and thus pose a threat to our national security. Thus whenever someone wants to hold a peaceful demonstration, even a pacifist one against war, we will not permit it.

Similarly, when there are too many critical or dissenting views in the internet, we panic and take pre-emptive measures to restore the status quo.

We have also tried to be democratic by having an elected President rather than a nominated one. But alas, we are again fearful that we are not matured enough to make our own decision, so we have a commission to pre-select the President for us!

Unless we are willing to break away from our narrow-minded mercantilistic, protectionist mentality, we might end up like what MM Lee once said, “watch[ing] the world pass us by”. Our success would unfortunately then become our downfall.

Its very sad to realise that all these contradictions are really true. That we might have to “break away from our narrow-minded merchantilistic, protectionist mentality” so that we can move forward.


2 Responses to Singapore @ 40

  1. yong ping says:

    But who are the ones coddling us in this ‘protectionism’? The government. It’s really sad when your nation’s leaders can’t trust its people to make decisions for themselves, but that is the case here. They want to implement what they think is best for us-but they are not us! We might enjoy socioeconomic stability, but that is a misleading buzzword. This ‘stability’ has been achieved at the price of our stilting our progress as a society, as human being.

  2. Administrator says:

    It would then all depend then on what we really value – socioeconomic stabily or simple intellectual freedom? Can we imagine a singapore without such a pervasive government? How would it look like? I agree that what the govt had suceeded is ‘stilting our progress’. What is the alternative?

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