Not again, Mr Prime Minister

August 25, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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This is what PM Goh Chok Tong in his 2003 National Day Rally speech:

“Our standard of living and our business costs are reaching developed country levels. This is happening at a time when many lower-cost competitors are emerging. They are upgrading themselves, and taking us on in several sectors.

In the 70s, 80s and 90s, we learnt to do what the US, Japan and Europe had been doing, equally well but at lower cost. So we grew our economy and improved our lives. Now, China, India and other countries are following the same strategy. They can produce the same things we make, but cheaper. For every one manufacturing worker hired in Singapore, a company can hire 3 in Malaysia, 8 in Thailand, 13 in China or 18 in India…Our competitors are rapidly catching up in infrastructure and skills.”

This is what Dr Chee Soon Juan wrote in his book Dare To Change ten years ago:

“But even in the area of high-technological infrastructure, there are limits as to how fast Singapore can progress and keep ahead. This idea is not difficult to understand if we recognize the fact that it is much harder to innovate and invent than copy and adopt new technology. Take a look at the U.S. and Europe. These countries have seen Japan catch up…on much of the technology developed in the West. But after its exhilarating rise, even Japans economic advancement has begun to slow down…This allows other industrializing countries such as the four tigers of East Asia, namely, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore to catch up. It would not be rash to predict that the economies of the current NIEs will, eventually, also stabilize and plateau allowing the newer economies of South-East Asia such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand to catch up. When these countries do catch up, which may not be as long as one thinks, what happens to Singapore in terms of its ability to convince the MNCs to stay put?”

Questions:

One, why are we paying the Prime Minister $160,000 a month to “identify” a problem Dr Chee predicted ten years ago?

Two, why did it take so long for the PAP to identify the problem?

Three, why does the local media treat what Mr Goh said as though it was a ground-breaking relevation (compelete with coloured charts and graphics) when Dr Chee warned of the problem in his book Dare To Change way back in 1994?

Interestingly, DPM Lee Hsien Loong had said: “Dare To Change is no more a rehash of some fashionable Westen liberal ideas, welfare programmes. They are ideas which have already failed in Western societies, and Chee Soon Juans packages them together, calls it a book.”

Mr Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Defence, dismissed Dr Chee’s ideas as “sugar-coated and nice-sounding alternatives.”

Mr Matthias Yao sneered: “He may call his compilation a book but the contents are stale.”

But this isn’t the first time the Singapore Autocrats are echoing what the Singapore Democrats are saying. In 1997, Mr Goh spelt out his Singapore21 vision. See how similar the ideas are with those of Dr Chee’s in 1994:

On loyalty and patriotism

Chee: If the economy begins to sputter, as it eventually will, the guests, both local and foreigners, will check out of Hotel Singapore.

Goh: If Singaporeans are just economic animals, materialistic with no sense of belonging, they will be like migratory birds, seeking their fortunes in other lands when the season changes.

On thinking and innovation

Chee: Singaporeans must be given more room to express themselves and be allowed to live the kinds of lives that they want to live.

Goh: This is what Research and Development and innovation are about – people who pursue their interests and ideas with a passion, people prepare to be different from others.

On economic competitiveness

Chee: What happens to Singapore when its Asian neighbours… copy and adopt new technology.

Goh: Our neighbours…can copy successful strategies and acquire the latest technologies.

On civil society

Chee: A bigger and stronger say in the running of our society will give Singaporeans a greater sense of citizenship and belongingness.

Goh: When people participate actively and become involved in community and national issues, they build ties among themselves and bond to the country.

On government-people relations

Chee: Presently, the state of minds among Singaporeans is one of alienation and detachment from the decision-making process.

Goh: We must change the mindset that only a few leaders at the top of the system need to think and take responsibility for social and national issues.

On government control

Chee: The people must be given the freedom to achieve their true protential and contribute through non-government and civic organisations.

Goh: The government itself must take a step back, and perhaps even take a back seat, especially on local community issues, and allow some free play to develop.

On Singapore being a home

Chee: Singapore muast be a home to Singaporeans, not a hotel and casino.

Goh: Singapore21 is about a home for a people, not a hotel.

On culture and diversity

Chee: Singapore was a meeting point for many peoples from the various Asian countries. This was the richness and diversity of Singapore.

Goh: We have to move beyond tolerance, to respect the different cultures in our midst, and to gain strength from diverse ideas.

On education

Chee: With the rush to make more money, Singaporeans have ignored the finer qualities of life that make the society a mature and thinking one.

Goh: So beyond developing physical infrastructure and hardware, we need to develop our social infrastructure and software.

On passion and drive

Chee: What drives creative people on is a sense of accomplishment and, more importantly, a true sense of love and devotion to what they are doing.

Goh: Americans… have an intense interest and passion for whatever field they are in, which drives them to develop true expertise and to push the frontiers of their field.