The realty behind the “Miracle”

February 18, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

With the economy falling apart and the investment debacles at GIC and Temasek making headline after shocking headline, the facade of an omniscient PAP Government has been stripped bare for all to see.

Below are excerpts from a book entitled The Singapore Miracle: Myth and Reality written by Mr Rodney King, a journalist that once worked at the Straits Times. The book, published in 2006 and recently updated, is poignant, now more than ever, given the current economic and financial mess we find ourselves. It is a wake-up call that Singaporeans cannot afford to ignore:

 

The PAP never tires of telling Singaporeans how much they have benefited from its rule, how much happier they are in their HDB units than in the kampongs and how poverty has all but disappeared.

The rivers of dubious statistics the PAP state generates to back its questionable claims have often been uncritically accepted by journalists and Western neo-cons and the now discredited “Asia Rising” theorists.

Both the myths and the statistics used to “prove” the Singapore Miracle are suspect. To what extent is the miracle a statistical mirage? If the statistics and myth-making used to promote this miracle are scraped away what is left? – A dependent and EIC-deficient economy, driven by MNC capital and expertise, with severe inequalities of wealth and income, high living and an often poorly paid workforce. Such truths about Singapore’s miracle are not widely known abroad.

Negative foreign comments about Singapore focus on its authoritarian nature, the ruthless persecution of political opponents, its compromised and “compliant” judiciary, its lack of press freedom and its less-than-free elections. But Singapore is still seen as an economic success story that has delivered high living standard to its citizens despite democratic shortcomings.

Apart from Singaporean political activist Chee Soon Juan, few writers have exposed the many shortcomings of Singapore’s economic miracle, and especially how little Singaporeans have gained from it.

Were more commentators to do so, Singapore would no longer be regarded as a model for national development. It would lose its iconic “brand name” status around the world, particularly among neo-conservatives and the globalisation lobby. An MNC outpost serviced by underpaid locals and ruled by a manipulative and over-paid political elite is not an inspiring development model.

Unlike Singapore’s foreign friends, PAP leaders understand its real situation. Frantic government efforts to transform the country into an entrepreneurial, innovative, risk-taking society reflect this concern. However, such ends can only be achieved if the PAP state relinquishes much of its power over the economy and people.

While desperately trying to transform the economy, the PAP continues to deluge Singaporeans with assurances that everything is fine, using biased statistics to do this. Many Singaporeans see through such subterfuge, perceiving their society as one riven with privilege and inequality.

Besides growing inequality, Singapore is hollowing out economically and socially. It will remain dependent on foreign capital and talent despite endless “re-engineering” efforts to make it more competitive. Singapore is becoming a transient hotel-type society. State-led efforts to inculcate patriotism and a sense of community merely disguise this process.

Eventually the truth may emerge that Singapore cannot be transformed into the economy the PAP wants unless the Government is prepared to relinquish significant economic and political control.

The PAP cannot do this because it would undermine its rule and disrupt many powerful vested interests. However, without such reform Singapore is condemned to ongoing mediocrity. A vibrant MNC sector and huge national reserves will disguise this only for a while.

Nonetheless, a combination of internal and external factors could disrupt and tear apart Singapore’s carefully cultivated image as a competitive cutting-edge economy. Some scenarios have been outlines on how this could occur.

If conditions worsen, no amount of PAP spin, compliant ratings agencies or neo-con accolades will disguise Singapore’s growing problems. Only then will the myths that have sustained PAP’ Singapore for so long be exposed; and only then will Singapore become a deservedly discarded development model for developing countries. Then, the Singapore Miracle will finally be seen for what it is.

The book is available at Select Books at the Tanglin Shopping Centre.