The economy needs a strong dose of democracy

Ernest Chee

In the recently held youth seminar (19 June 2004), Ernest Chee represented the Young Democrats and spoke on how democracy impacts upon economic development in Singapore. Below is his speech.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for being able to be here today to attend this forum. Today Ill be touching on the topic of What does Liberalism and Democracy have to do with the economy?

Before I begin, picture yourself as a 10-year-old having your parents choose your friends, your career path, and whom you marry. In other words, do as you are told and no questions asked. Otherwise face the consequences of being disowned.

Singaporeans face such a problem as citizens get a degree, a decent paid job and dont ask questions. Otherwise face the consequences and suffer. As such, majority of the citizens choose to conform rather than reform. How this serve as an obstruction to economy growth I will address it in a few moments.

Singapore is a country heavily dependent on foreign multinational companies (MNCs) and the state-run government-linked companies (GLCs). The result is that most Singaporeans who run private domestic firms are more often than not subcontractors to the GLCs and MNCs. We have become mere servicing agents for the giants rather than entrepreneurs creating new ideas for growth.

Given the situation, one wonders how Singapore can sustain growth and development when more and more MNCs are moving to other countries in order to reduce costs and boost profits. Those that continue to operate from Singapore resort to chopping wages.

Back to the question on how most Singaporeans being an obedient citizen serves as an obstruction to economic growth. Most of us here in Singapore are brainwashed to think that good academic qualifications will lead to a comfortable life working in an MNC and taking home a decent income that allows them to own an apartment and a car. The danger is that, as I have pointed out, MNCs will have no hesitation to stop operating in this country and than find a cheaper alternative.

In order to progress and prosper, we need to scale down on our reliance towards the MNCs and GLCs. The government needs to move aside. Singaporeans who have the desire and passion to venture into business must be given ample space to move ahead. This can and will lessen our dependence on foreign investors and consequently boost our economy.

There is also this notion that only scholars are capable of being successful entrepreneurs. It takes a lot of passion and guts to break free from the comfort zone of having a salary paid job to venture into business. None of all that we learn in school can teach us to become successful entrepreneurs. No school exam which scholars excel in can foster the entrepreneurial spirit. It is only through perseverance and determination to come back failure after failure that will ensure success.

If we have a voice loud enough to have a say in the governments economic policy, we will be able to set ourselves free from the over-reliance on MNCs.

Next Ill touch on the issue of foreign talent in Singapore. How many of them does Singapore need? How long do we have to continue to rely on foreign talent? And based on what criteria are they considered talents?

We need to have transparency in terms of how foreigners are selected because if we Singaporeans can fully take on the task of these talents, why do we need so many of them?

Consider this also: the majority of the foreign workers here dont spend much and they do remit a significant amount of money home to their families. Compare them to Singapore workers who earn here and spend here, it is preferable to employ Singaporeans so that money is saved or spent here thus helping the economy move forward.

Foreign talent is nothing new. Since the time of our countrys founding in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles, Singapore has been taking in foreign talent.

What we are questioning is the definition of foreign talent by the PAP government. Sad to say workers rights are being denied in Singapore. With such a situation sustainable economic progress is impossible: How much more do we expect workers to keep on taking wage cuts?

If the so-called talent is to deprive our workers of their jobs or to suppress their wage levels of our workers, than we the Young Democrats are against such talent.

It is through democracy that we can energise people and stimulate entrepreneurship and thereby sustained economic growth.

Since 1997 following the Asian economic crisis, Singapores economy has been going downhill. Our present economic policies have been pulling our nation in the wrong direction. Tragically, there is no open discussion on the matter.

To undergo change will be tough and painful, but only through change can we truly prosper as an independent country. Singaporeans, especially young Singaporeans, must step forward to make known our concerns and to have our voices heard.

Thank you.