Singapore needs to turn to intrinsic incentives to stimulate innovation and raise productivity, and not just depend on a state-driven dollars-and-cents approach, DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam said at the DBS Asian Insights Conference 2014 last Friday.
“At the end of the day, we need a less dollars and cents approach to this,” Mr Tharman advised. “But at the end of the day, it is a matter of social culture. It has to be more intrinsic, not just relying on extrinsic incentives. I have to want to be the master of what I am doing, whatever it is."
This is exactly what the SDP has been saying for years. Dr Chee Soon Juan wrote in his book Your Future, My Faith, Our Freedom: “At a societal level, an intrinsically motivated people is a people more productive and innovative than one fed on a staple of extrinsic rewards.” The year was 2001.
Why did it take so long for the PAP to recognise this – almost 15 years late? In the meantime, how much have we lost in terms of productivity and innovation? How far have we fallen behind in our economic competitiveness?
But recognising a problem is one thing, taking measures to resolving it is quite another.
The DPM says that we need to "transform" our economy (or at least that's how Channel News Asia reported it). To do that, he added, we need to change our social culture.
In Singapore, unfortunately, the social is also the political. Remember Lee Kuan Yew's we-decide-what-is-right-never-mind-what-the-people-think dictate?
For more than half-a-century, the Government has used heavy-handed control over the population and, as a result, shaped a social-political culture that is unquestioning and conformist.
Such a culture is not conducive to fostering the entrepreneurial spirit. It certainly has not allowed Singaporeans to adopt the, in the words of Mr Tharman, "I have to want to be the master of what I am doing, whatever it is" mindset.
To change this, we need to return Singaporeans their right to freely express themselves and dissent, not be mere digits. We need a media that informs, not propagates. We need a thriving political opposition in Parliament where ideas go to be debated, not buried.
In other words, we need democracy.
The SDP has been calling for democratic reform because our economy depends on it. Now Mr Tharman has affirmed what we have been saying all these years. But, unfortunately, he ignores the most crucial aspect for transformation: political change.
When will the PAP leaders stop being politicians and provide real leadership?