Thumbs Up for Singapore: 5 Decades of Excellence


August 10, 2015

Thumbs Up for Singapore: 5 Decades of Excellence

by Julia Yeow

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com.my

…Singapore has become what it is because of its hard-nosed stance against corruption, and their leadership’s almost-religious passion that the greater goodof the nation surpassed all personal glory…As Singapore celebrates its independence day with pride and sense of accomplishment today, Malaysians are planning to mark our Hari Merdeka at the end of themonth with a mammoth street protest against a government far removed from the sentiments of the people it is meant to serve.–J. Yeow

Singapore_Airlines_Airbus_A380-841_9V-SKI_(Singapore_50th_Birthday_livery)The Pride of Singapore

As Singapore celebrates its 50th year of independence today (August 9) , our former bedfellows are in fact toasting a 50-year journey that began with an unceremonious eviction from the Malaysian dream.

It was inevitable that the conditions on how Singapore attained its independence had set the stage for a tense relationship between the two nations, one that would for many years later be defined by distrust and rivalry.

Having been born in Singapore, and still having a small community of friends and family in the island-state, I have always had a little bit of an obsession with the “little-red-dot”.

I am intrigued by how different our people have grown to be, and how there always seems to be a feverish attempt by Singapore to distance itself from anything Malaysian (except for our water, of course).The truth is, there is much to celebrate of the commonalities between Malaysia and Singapore. Both, for one, share a rich, Malay heritage and were once British-ruled.

Singapore’s founding father and stuff of legends, the late Lee Kuan Yew, had worked alongside our Bapa Kemerdekaan Tunku Abdul Rahman in fighting for, and setting the terms of independence from the British almost 60 years ago.

While he later came to despise what he called our leaders’ weakness for communal politics, back then Singapore and Malaysia were one, fighting for the same cause.

LKY-tribute-2

Lee had also admitted to feeling more at ease mixing with his Malaysian peers in London’s Cambridge University, than with Chinese nationals whom he felt he had very little more in common with than genetics.

This is a sentiment shared by the citizens of both our nations, which are a beautiful and unique hodgepodge of cultures and races.

Most Malaysians will attest that they feel more connected to their fellow countrymen of a different race, than they would with a person from their country of ethnic origin, and the same goes for Singaporeans.

Unfortunately, though, these are just about all both countries now have in common. It does not take long for an observer to note the glaring disparity between Singapore and Malaysia. Singapore’s gross domestic product per capita is one of the highest in the world, while Malaysia continues to struggle to move out from its developing nation status.

While both are multi-cultural societies, Malaysia runs on a policy according special rights to the majority Malay race, while Singapore’s is a brutally merit-based system.

Singapore is Southeast Asia’s cleanest, and one of the world’s most corrupt-free governments, while Malaysia recently celebrated its jump up a miserable three spots in the Corruption Perceptions Index for 2014 to 52 out of 100.

Singaporeans complain about the government using their retirement fund, the Central Provident Fund, for investments to increase public coffers and reserves, while Malaysians today still have no idea what happened to RM42 billion in losses incurred by state investment arm 1Malaysia Development Berhad, much less be able to demand for a more efficient use of our Employees Provident Fund monies.

Singaporeans’ worldview has become that of a global nation, where their activists fight for a quality of life which they believe citizens of a developed nation should enjoy.

We, on the other hand, battle a political system that is rife with corruption and have to endure the unending bickering over the role of Islam in our Constitution, while urban poverty is slowly but surely rising.

If we had so much in common when both nations started out; if even our people seem to be made of the same stock; and if we in Malaysia have the obvious advantage of a larger talent pool and abundant resources –  why are we tailing so far behind?

The obvious answer is not that Singaporeans are more capable (although most of my Singaporean friends will swear that’s the case), but that Singapore has become what it is because of its hard-nosed stance against corruption, and their leadership’s almost-religious passion that the greater good of the nation surpassed all personal glory.

The incidents of the past two weeks in Malaysia have left most Malaysians with a feeling of despair and fatigue –hopes that our government will be forced to be made accountable to allegations of corruption and mismanagement by 1MDB have all but been wiped out with the suspension of the Public Accounts Committee, the disbanding of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission team in charge of 1MDB investigations and the silencing of government critics within the ruling UMNO party itself.

We have become the topic of amused discussions all over the world, with international media coverage of the 1MDB debacle making us an object of pity and ridicule.

We have leaders who change their stance as quickly as the tides change, sealing the perception that many of those in power are there purely for self-gratification, and not to serve this nation.

As Singapore celebrates its independence day with pride and sense of accomplishment today, Malaysians are planning to mark our Hari Merdeka at the end of the month with a mammoth street protest against a government far removed from the sentiments of the people it is meant to serve.

The difference between two former compatriots couldn’t get any more jarring. So Happy Birthday, Singapore, from the country you could have become, but are today far ahead of. – August 9, 2015.

 

28 thoughts on “Thumbs Up for Singapore: 5 Decades of Excellence

  1. “…..but that Singapore has become what it is because of its hard-nosed stance against corruption, and their leadership’s almost-religious passion that the greater good of the nation surpassed all personal glory.”

    Ugh, and don’t forget muzzling personal/public freedoms. So yeah, keeping the trains running on time and satisfying capitalist urges is the goal, what Singaporeans think is important and maybe some Malaysians of a certain persuasion.

    Harry said more or less the same thing, but nobody should champion any form of universal human rights and point to Singapore as some sort of role model.

    If you like Harry believe that “It is necessary to try and put some safeguards into the way in which people use their votes to bargain, to coerce, to push, to jostle and get what they want without running the risk of losing the services of the government, because one day, by mistake, they will lose the services of the government… You unscramble Singapore, well, you’ll never put Humpty Dumpty together again ” then don’t talk about a free society.

    Talk about how you don’t mind living in a fascist state as long as you can make money and the trains run on time.

    Don’t talk about how UMNO abuses our public and personal freedoms and point to Singapore as some sort of oasis , there are other Western countries that fit the bill better.

    And let’s not start with the race dialectic in Singapore.

  2. Singapore also benefited from the inflow of Malaysian-born talent. In the 21st century, nations will increasingly compete for talent. I read recently that some European nations are making English the language of instruction in more and more university courses and programmes — as a way to attract foreign-born scientific and technological talent into the country e.g. Germany.

  3. /// Conrad August 10, 2015 at 7:01 am
    “…..but that Singapore has become what it is because of its hard-nosed stance against corruption, and their leadership’s almost-religious passion that the greater good of the nation surpassed all personal glory.”

    Ugh, and don’t forget muzzling personal/public freedoms ///

    Conrad, if that is the case, Malaysia would have surpassed Singapore in its development. Tell that to The Edge, Sarawak Report, MACC officers, LKS, LGE, et al. Oh, and Anwar Ibrahim……

  4. /// Phua Kai Lit August 10, 2015 at 8:40 am
    Singapore also benefited from the inflow of Malaysian-born talent. ///

    Spot on PKL – very important factor. As I am fond of saying, Singapore’s greatest comparative and competitive advantage vis-a-vis Malaysia is the Bumi policy.

  5. “Conrad, if that is the case, Malaysia would have surpassed Singapore in its development. Tell that to The Edge, Sarawak Report, MACC officers, LKS, LGE, et al. Oh, and Anwar Ibrahim……”

    Don’t be obtuse. The context of my post was that the writer conveniently forgets the darker side of the Singapore success story. Singapore throughout the decades had its own Edge, Sarawak Report, blackballed government officials and imprisoned political dissenters.

    If you truly believe that all those are not good things, then you do not minimize it relevance in favour of capitalistic benchmarks. You do not claim “good” governance but efficient government and present readers, with the necessary facts to make their own qualitative judgement(s).

  6. Sorry Conrad right now we in 1MALAYsia are in no position to thumb our noses at that “little red dot” or late Harry Lee, who leaves no ghastly monuments or erections as his legacy.
    Wonder how Jibby, Mamakutty and the Dumnos plan to celebrate Merdeka day? National day? Malaysia day?

  7. Thayapalan,
    We just have to direct Conrad to what Jon Stewart got to say about US hehehehe…….Malott can answer that too….

    If Conrad is indeed stupid, perhaps, he can jump from KL Tower and kill himself

  8. Commander, we do not have to prostrate ourselves at the altar of hypocrisy merely because we despise UMNO. As I have argued before, how one views Singapore’s success is indicative of the values he or she holds true but more importantly we should not be hypocritical when it comes to said values, because we have had enough of that under the long UMNO watch.

  9. One can indeed criticise the PAP regime in Singapore for all sorts of things, but it is I think unfair to label it a “fascist state”. People tend to use the term “fascist” too liberally nowadays for any authoritatian right-wing regime. The term refers to a very particular type of regime, and just as one should indeed distinguish between social democratic and communist regimes of the left, the same distinction should be made for regimes of the right. The proclaimed “fascist” regimes of history – Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Francoist Spain – have particular characteristics that are not seen (and has never been) in PAP-ruled Singapore. Indeed, one of the theoretical underpinnings of fascism was a revolt against bourgeois materialism, hence the exaltation of the nation and violence.

  10. Please leave Singapore alone. Very soon they will not be dependent on our water. They have the luxury of trying to solve their problems in comfort.

  11. Quote:- “…..but leaders must also eat”

    There is a big difference between “eating” and “gorging”

    Of course no nation since the dawn of human history was, is or could claim to be perfect simply because humans themselves who make up any nation are not perfect.

    Thus what we can do is to make a very wide general comparative assessment between nations, far and near, and even here, we run into problems of time period.

    Even Britain the country / nation that exported parliamentary democracy to much of the World has not always been “democratic” in its history.

    But having said all that, it is legitimate, I think, to make a comparative assessment between Malaysia and Singapore.

    There is the absolute commonality of historical, cultural, racial, religious nexus between these two countries, which would have remained a single country if the historical personalities present at a critical historical juncture were different in temperament and outlook.

    If Lee Kuan Yew were to put his own political comfort ahead of the 2 million odd souls of Singapore then, then he would have just not talk about a “Malaysian Malaysia”, (as he admitted repeatedly that without a ready Malaysian hinterland, Singapore was not viable economically), kept Singapore in Malaysia and no Singaporean would have blamed him. The Tunku would have patted him on his back and said “good boy, Harry”

    He, if also possess of a personality trait that saw corrupt gratification as justifiable perks for “serving” the people of Singapore, he would have became fabulously rich like a former chief minister of Sarawak, and Lee Sien Loong would be CEO of a large Malaysian business conglomerate and most certainly a top ten billionaire.

    Inspite of all and any negative stuff one can throw at Singapore and it’s one and only, (like Malaysia’s UMNO / BN), PAP government, we must admit, on even a narrow aggregate, Singapore and the PAP has much to be proud about.

    If LKY was that hated or just disliked by the man-in-the-street Singaporean, you wouldn’t see a 10 hour queue in the hot sun and rain just to catch a few seconds glimpse of the man’s coffin.

    Therefore in this imperfect World, striving for perfection, or even some imagined approximation, is an exercise in futility, and so the utilitarian maxim “the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time”, is all we can hope for.

  12. “…..but it is I think unfair to label it a “fascist state”. People tend to use the term “fascist” too liberally …”

    Who said anything about Singapore being a fascist State although I do think that some form of corporatism is embedded in its ideology. I was actually referring to a possible slide into Islamofascism of Malaysia .

    And while there are characteristics of the fascists Regime you mentioned that are absent in Singapore, there are also characteristics which are present in Singapore and of course Malaysia.

    I get that pursuing the etymological angle of the word highlights the hyperbole of its usage – much like the term “apartheid State” thrown around here – my main point was that we should not look to Singapore if we truly believe in those rights and freedoms that we claim are denied to us under UMNO because the PAP would also deny us those rights with the caveat that economic success and prosperity, trumps those rights .

    I don’t buy that. Do you ?

  13. Conrad am not prostrating but lets see what the next fifty years holds for the tiny dot. The next generation of leaders will be cognizant of the people and will do the needful at least there is hope out there. lest we forget AMOS YEE. Well lets see if the people come out for BERSIH4.
    what happens on 31 Aug 2015.

    UMNO must be buried

  14. “The next generation of leaders will be cognizant of the people and will do the needful at least there is hope out there. lest we forget AMOS YEE.”

    I refer you to Wayne’s post @10.52 pm. I would argue that Singapore’s leaders are cognizant of it’s people needs, which is why they have been democratically voted in through the decades. But that’s not my point.

    This is my point :”… if we truly believe in those rights and freedoms that we claim are denied to us under UMNO because the PAP would also deny us those rights with the caveat that economic success and prosperity, trumps those rights “.

    (I’m trying to forget Amos Yee. http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/08/07/amos-yee-singapores-teen-dissident-is-back-with-a-crude-hilarious-video/

    “Responding to the line of attack that he has become such a phenomenon merely because he is 16 years old, Yee responds: “I’m an intellectual. I’m interesting. I have opinions. Talk to me. I’ll share some.” One offered as a vague example: “I feel like Marx, and I have similar views on utopia only with significantly different approaches.”

    Like most kids he confuses, vulgarity , provocations and facts, with intellectualism , art and dissent. We have our own little shit stirrers and more power to them but they don’t represent a generation)

  15. Oh my God, Conrad! What hypocrisy? Gosh, you must have been smoking weed right? Stewart is right. There are bullshits everywhere especially it comes from people like you. Wanna know why. Just watch

  16. There is no absolute right or absolute freedom for both brings chaos. No even in the US. There can never be and both must be regulated to suit the need of time, environment and changing cultures. Looes74 is right. Those who professes the existing of both are plain hypocrites and who are they trying to bullshit.

    Conrad, does not your parent holds the wand of both when you were young and how about you towards your own children. Do your parent allows you quack as you like and run around like headless chicken? I am very sure that applied to you and your children.

  17. Conrad, you mentioned “Talk about how you don’t mind living in a fascist state as long as you can make money and the trains run on time.” That was in clear reference to Singapore from my reading. But lets move on…

    I lived in Singapore for several years, and even had the pleasure of once having lunch with the current PM (with several other people at the table). But I could not see myself living there permanently. I find the PAP government too paternalistic, and the current society too conservative and narrow-minded for my liking. Needless to say, I don’t live in Malaysia either, more so as I abhor any role for religion in public affairs. That being said, I don’t think it is inherently wrong to compare the development trajectories of Malaysia and Singapore, given that there were both born of British Malaya and were a single country at one point.

    Also it is worth bearing in mind that Singapore is still a young country. If you follow the history of the West, it took a long time for personal freedoms and civil rights to develop there too, and even then it is still evolving. As a practical person, I recognise that most established democracies are also developed countries, with notable exceptions like India and Brazil (maybe the water is special there?). We probably need a large educated middle class to maintain a robust democracy with an active civil society. One usually needs a certain level of economic development to get to such a stage.

    So I do believe that development probably needs to come first (with a second being to keep religion out of the public sphere). South Korea and Taiwan had authoritarian regimes once too, more repressive at their worst (including massacres) than the PAP government ever was, but look at them now. KMT Taiwan in the 1950s was indeed the closest thing to a fascist state in post-WWII East Asia. This is not to say that authoritarian governments are a prerequisite for development. Absolutely NOT. But a government that brings development is better than one that doesn’t in my view, both for material and moral ends.

    Yes, I agree that Singapore could be more liberal politically, but I think it will evolve in that direction now that LKY has passed from the scene. Young Singaporeans are also a pretty liberal lot.

  18. “There is no absolute right or absolute freedom for both brings chaos.”

    Nobody argued that. If you have been following the conversation you would know this. But then again, anyone who thinks looes47(since I have acquiesced I would not mess up threads with direct engagement, I’ll leave it at this) is right can’t really be expected to present a sincere or cogent argument. I would ask you to cite an example of where I made such claims but I doubt that would be productive.

    Hypocrisy is when you want profess certain ideals that Malaysia should have but ignore the lack of them in Singapore for whatever reason.

    Vic, are you one of Harry’s dogs* that needs to be trained ? Because your view of government as a paternal figure is exactly what I would expect from someone eager to dismiss criticisms of Singapore with insults. Since you need an authority figure I suggest a time out until you can come back with something more substantive .

    *look up the Harry quote I’m referencing.

  19. “That was in clear reference to Singapore from my reading. But lets move on…” – veritas

    If I was unclear, the mistake is mine.

    “That being said, I don’t think it is inherently wrong to compare the development trajectories of Malaysia and Singapore, given that there were both born of British Malaya and were a single country at one point.”

    I never claimed it was inherently wrong to make comparisons. Indeed I think in many was there is no comparisons. Singapore is way ahead of us in too many ways, which makes comparisons, ridiculous.

    My point was the one you answered later in your post and which in my experience, people who champion Singapore as some sort of utopia (or at least make it seem so) do not want to engage with.

    I see that you like me have done some travelling and working. I can tell you my experience with the Singaporean bureaucracy especially in terms of Corporate conflict resolution and arbitration has been excellent, far exceeding countries like the US and UK but this should be compared with my other professional experience with dissidents and others the State has deemed as trouble makers, and the vindictive manner in which they are dealt with. Harry’s legacy I suppose.

    “One usually needs a certain level of economic development to get to such a stage.”

    But therein lies the rub. I see no evidence that Singapore’s managers think that a progressive free society is necessarily what’s best for Singapore or the ultimate goal.

    And it would seem neither do the majority of Singaporeans. Harry made it clear what he thinks of Westerns personal freedoms and civil rights, and this is embedded in Singapore’s ideology and perhaps even hard wired in Singaporeans, never mind that superficially they ape Western trends.

    “But a government that brings development is better than one that doesn’t in my view, both for material and moral ends.”

    Agreed but the problem here is that authoritarian measures never seem to outlive their usefulness even after development and are instead repackaged in this Region (for example) as Asian values and other such nonsense.

    Again this is really a side trek from my main point but hopefully gives a little more context, to people who think that I am just trolling threads about Singapore.

  20. “But therein lies the rub. I see no evidence that Singapore’s managers think that a progressive free society is necessarily what’s best for Singapore or the ultimate goal,” Conrad.

    It is fortunate that Singaporeans do not think progressive free society is the ultimate goal. We should thank Harry for making sure Singaporeans are matured enough and not to be carried away with leftists’ ideals, which are not the foundations of Western civilization or any civilizations. Leftists’ ideals represent the urge to break away from Western’s tradition, for worse or better, just like all teenagers want to rebel against their parents.

    When some Singaporeans swooned with the ideals of democracy, Harry interrupted the dizzy heads by insulting Chinese history and culture when he said Chinese Singaporeans knew little about democracy because the Chinese emperors were much more used to chopping heads than counting heads. Yet, LKY did not chop heads or destroy the systemic integrity of a democratic system: 3 independent and equal branches of government are still there. With the basic systemic integrity intact, Singaporeans have the luxury to train their skill of counting heads.

  21. “It is fortunate that Singaporeans do not think progressive free society is the ultimate goal.”

    Thank you Shiou, I was hopeful that you would contribute. Would it surprise you that I agree with you ? Well not your individual points but the general tone of this particular post of yours.

    I mean I disagree that Harry thought that Singaporeans are mature. Nothing in his commentary would suggest this. And in the beginning, the PAP had no problem using socialist rhetoric to woo organizations and groups of people to their cause. In the recent elections, incentives and promises of development for Opposition strongholds, were part of the election play.

    And of course I still think you are a bit muddled with the whole left/right ideology. Certainly nothing you say reflects specific right/conservative ideology or anything resembling the gold standard of American Conservative politics exemplified by William Buckley , whose quote best defines the movement or at least it core values – ” It is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens’ lives, liberty and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress. The growth of government (the dominant social feature of this century) must be fought relentlessly – which of course does not reflect the reality of Singapore or it’s managers.

    No I think your reactionary politics is the stable core of what Harry was pushing, when he claimed that the Chinese unlike others ” sought a practical way out of their difficulties” which in Harry speak translates to because “they need to be ruled.”

    I put this in the same category as the premise that Malays have a feudalistic mind set, which is a debatable proposition I suppose but it is often conflated with the real question of the efficacy of the ruling elite and not the predisposition of those ruled.

  22. /// Conrad August 10, 2015 at 7:01 am
    “…..but that Singapore has become what it is because of its hard-nosed stance against corruption, and their leadership’s almost-religious passion that the greater good of the nation surpassed all personal glory.”

    Ugh, and don’t forget muzzling personal/public freedoms ///

    /// Don’t be obtuse. The context of my post was that the writer conveniently forgets the darker side of the Singapore success story. Singapore throughout the decades had its own Edge, Sarawak Report, blackballed government officials and imprisoned political dissenters.

    If you truly believe that all those are not good things, then you do not minimize it relevance in favour of capitalistic benchmarks. You do not claim “good” governance but efficient government and present readers, with the necessary facts to make their own qualitative judgement(s). ///

    Conrad, the context of this article is Singapore’s success factors and 5 decades of excellence. Yes, there are dark sides to Singapore and LKY as there are to any country and many leaders. We are talking about what contribute to success.

    Muzzling personal and public freedoms are certainly not the prerequisites for a successful nation. May be contributory factor as a strong leader who can bull-doze his ways may achieve development faster than one which is mired in NATO and endless debates in Indian-styled democracy.

    Muzzling personal public freedoms are almost the common denominator in all ASEAN countries and many third-world countries. So, Singapore does not stand out in this respect and it is unnecessary for you to dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s. In fact, unlike the generals in Myanmar and Thailand, Marcos, Suharto, Sukarno, no one is killed in Singapore for political reason. So, again, no need to single out this dark side when discussing Singapore’s success, as these same dark side has not resulted in the neighbouring countries’ success.

    Yes, I know you want a more balanced view of Singapore – the good and the bad. That is up to the writer. We all here know what Harry’s dark sides are, but in the current context, they are irrelevant. In fact, despite these dark sides, Singapore is above to achieve so much with so little.

    I wonder who’s being obtuse?

  23. “I wonder who’s being obtuse?”

    Wait hold on a second, are you really attempting to tell me that discussing an article and pointing out the inconvenient factual narratives is some how being obtuse ?

    Do you give the same “courtesy” to someone like Joceline Tan or Wong Chun Wai or any other writer who chooses to ignore the “dark side” of this Regime ? Are you really claiming that you acknowledge the spin but as long if it is to your liking, it is ok ?

    Unbelievable.

    “So, again, no need to single out this dark side when discussing Singapore’s success, as these same dark side has not resulted in the neighbouring countries’ success.”

    So when you go on about UMNO’s “dark side” it’s would not matter to you as a right thinking rational Malaysian, as long as economic growth and prosperity was in the league of Singapore?

    All those UMNO programs like affirmative action and preferential treatment that some have likened to a “semi-apartheid” (sic) State would be ok, as long as the capitalistic benchmarks were satisfied.

    All those deaths in custody, the bias manner in which the security apparatus operates, the compromised judiciary, the bloated civil service, all this would be ok, as long as our economic numbers were good ?

    “Muzzling personal public freedoms are almost the common denominator in all ASEAN countries and many third-world countries. So, Singapore does not stand out in this respect …”

    If that’s the case, why go on about it here ? Oh wait, I think I know your answer to that.

  24. Conrad et al.

    Thank you guys for a stimulating discourse on the dark side (or not) of Singapore. It is a most refreshing way to enjoy my morning cup of coffee here in the UK.

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