By Jean H Charles
Presidents and prime ministers may be elected by the people but they are also enthroned by God to look after his people. They seldom take this task at heart. In the case of Singapore, the Yew dynasty that has controlled the destiny of Singapore for the last fifty years has accomplished a miracle that forces its neighbors to emulate. In that sense Malaysia and Indonesia, the next door countries to Singapore, are themselves becoming nation-states in which their citizens are starting to enjoy living.
Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol
Singapore is a small city-state island of five million people located midway between Europe and South East-Asia with a deep water facility that makes it an excellent oasis on the way further to Asia. After its independence from Britain, Singapore was fortunate to find a leader in a young attorney graduated from Cambridge to lead its destiny, Lee Kwan Ywu or LKY as he is nicknamed. He is now a senior adviser to his son, Lee Hsien Loong, the present prime minister. LKY just celebrated last Sunday, September 28, his 89th birthday. Both father and son have transformed Singapore in two generations from a third world country into a first class one.
Armed with an excellent education from Britain, LKY set up to transform a malaria-infested swamp into building brand Singapore, a nation that the people would enjoy, the neighbors would emulate and the rest of the world would have an aha moment upon visiting the city-state nation!
Compared to Switzerland, Singapore in terms of statistics has the largest number of millionaires after Hong Kong. It is the third country in the world with the highest level of personal income after Luxembourg and Qatar; at $54.000 per year, the average Singaporean enjoys a middle class status with low inflation. The only inconvenience for the average citizen is the ownership and the use of a car, which is very expensive because if everybody who wants a car could get one and the country is only three times the size of Washington DC or 723 km2, immense traffic jams would be the rule. By contrast, public transportation is very cheap and very convenient.
Singapore was at the beginning, around 1800, a hub for business in Asia set up by the British Empire. As such, it was already a hospitable city enclave where Chinese, Malays and Singaporeans mingled freely in the interest of business. Upon gaining independence from Britain first and Malaysia in second place, LKY did not cut the bridge but instituted a policy of building on the success of the colonial period.
The first task was to build a web of infrastructure and force the citizens to think of themselves as living in a first class setting while being in the middle of a third world region. Singapore would be mafia-free, prostitution free and money-laundering free. The policy of the government would be ideology free with no sentimental straitjacket except the personal promotion of each citizen whether Malay, Chinese or Singaporean...
In a fragile world with shifting ideological positions, with China acting like a major capitalist country and the United States rescuing banks as if socialism was the order of the day, Singapore offers a third way where humanist rationalism is the rule.
Around 1965, when racial issues were on the verge of causing major outbreaks in the United States, Singapore under the leadership of Lee Kwan Yew set out to develop a “Singapore identity”, where cultural diversity and minority rights were respected. Singapore would be sown with “the culture of four great civilizations but not belonging to any of them.” To achieve that feat, he relied on integrated housing and excellent public schools with stern discipline including the flagellum as a punishment.
Fifty years later, Singapore stands as a classic example on how to build a successful nation. The human rights organizations would cry foul for a leader who did not hesitate to use his iron hand to crush the opposing factors (without killing them) for a higher good for the country. The PAP, the party in power for the last fifty years offers no apologies for using excellence as a standard in the conduct of politics. For the detractors who compare Singapore to zombie land, I live in one where real zombies do exist. I will trade Singapore any time for mine!
Singapore, without mentioning the name, has in fact adopted the doctrine of Ernest Renan, the shared vision of the future, as its modus operandi. In rooting the citizens in their locality, the government has provided “quality lifestyles in quality buildings” where today 92% of the population owns their own homes.
As a second step, in order to provide jobs to its citizens, the government created state owned enterprises with standards as strict and ethical as a commercial business. As such, those businesses profit the country as well the government. The best example is the HDB (the Housing and Development Board) that designs, constructs and sells high class apartments and condominiums to the majority of the population.
In order to provide the best range of services to the population, the state has set a standard so high that it is now the best standard practice in the world, whether it is Singapore Airlines, the school system, public administration. Employees are paid extremely well but they must complete continuing education and retraining as well providing the best services to citizens.
Albeit an urban nation, Singapore is also called the garden city, with more than 600 parks with trees all over the country.
For the critics, Singapore seems too successful for its own good. Does the concept of efficiency leave no room for human error and idiosyncrasy? I believe the Singapore brand can twinkle the concept to mimic the fragility of the human species to leave room for creativity and for personal production. After all, perfection is in the domain of God; adding the human touch of imperfection to the perfect state nation of Singapore is a small inconvenience that the rest of the world wishes it would be into!
Singapore does have a deficit though in the matter of foreign policy. Singapore can and should propose to the rest of the world, the emerging nations in particular, a model of aid and development á la USAID, but this one, based on the sentiment of appurtenance and its brand of the shared vision of the future, with excellence in the standard of services to the citizens. Dictators, presidents and predator prime ministers need not apply!