Where’s that darn Asian country?

March 28, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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The headline screamed ‘Survey Shows Singapore Offers Best Quality of Life in Asia.’ With a crippling recession throwing tens of thousands out of the job market, could this be someone’s idea of a bad joke?

A closer reading of the report brought things into perspective. The participants in the survey, comprising of expatriates living all across Asia, were asked to rank the Asian country that offered them the best quality of life. The survey was conducted by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC).

Without doubt, our republic has become the haven for expatriates and other foreign enterprises to live in luxury compared to other Asian countries.

Unfortunately, the PAP government’s avowed pro-foreign business policies – while turning the country into an island of fun and plenty for foreigners, the PAP elite and their hangers on – have increasingly pushed more and more Singaporeans into the fringes of life.

In 2000, while the economy was “booming”, the unemployment rate continued to climb. This year, the PAP government, by its own admission, says that unemployment is nearing six percent with the economy experiencing its worst ever recession. In raw numbers, this translates into 120,000 jobless people. Together with their dependents, a conservative estimate would put the number of Singaporeans facing the brunt of the economic crunch easily at around 500,000. With hardly any welfare schemes to assist the needy, these unfortunate Singaporeans are left to fend for themselves. And so while the rich continue to add zeroes to their incomes, the poor find their pay-packets shrinking to depressingly small amounts. And then they get the pink slip.

At the beginning of this year, close to 2,000 children have not been registered to attend school because their parents can’t afford it. Thousands of children go to school without pocket money, prompting the setting up of the ‘pocket money scheme’ to help needy children. Queues of elderly women waiting for free dinner packs from community clubs are not uncommon. The number of elderly suicides per capita in this country is reportedly the highest in the world. Singaporeans having to do more than one job to make ends meet are becoming the norm rather than the exception. All this in a country which our senior minister insists has graduated from Third World to First.

What do our million-dollar ministers, who are supposed to possess this long-term “helicopter vision”, do to alleviate the plight of our citizens? While they take their time to come up with a solution – or at least look and talk as if they had one – ordinary Singaporeans have to put up with the hard realities of the crisis. And what are some of these realities? A significant one is that the PAP has engineered our economy to become so dependent on America’s that we are helpless, and will remain helpless until things pick up in the US. Even then, many Singaporeans will not be getting back into job market.

And therein lies the rub. While life is increasingly becoming an unbearable toil for many of our workers and unemployed, things are certainly looking rosy for the expatriate community.

It is not surprising that the survey was conducted by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC). Never diffident in praising the pro-big-business approach of the PAP, PERC is however absolutely coy whenever it comes to making comments about the government’s undemocratic habits.

You see, the Risk in PERC refers to the uncertainties that multinationals detest. And so, the more a government does to eliminate these uncertainties – and it really doesn’t matter if human rights are similarly exterminated – the merrier.

PERC isn’t the only organisation so enamoured with the Singapore system. Big business “NGOs” such as Business Environment Risk (there’s that word again) Intelligence, the World Economic Forum, and even Transparency International routinely feature the PAP as its centrefold.

The irony is that these folks forget that the freedom to think, experiment, criticise, dissent, and fail – in a word, democracy – was what made these multinational companies multinational in the first place and is what will ensure sustainable economic progress.

Sadly, however, the minute profit-margins diminish, these investors will be taking, as they already are, the nearest exit out of Singapore – no matter how beautiful Changi Airport is. Regimented Singaporeans will be left, as they already are, in the lurch, wondering where that darn Asian country that offers the best quality of life is.

NB. This article was also sent to PERC.