Dangerous that S’poreans cannot think independently

December 22, 2005
Singapore Democrats

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Dear Dr Chee,

The greatest insurmountable problem that Singapore faces is the inability to think independently by it’s citizens. This fact is the one greatest reason why Singapore would continue to find itself not knowing what to do, how to succeed in an ever changing society. The authoritarian government of Singapore feels that it knows best. They have excellent administrators with excellent paper qualifications.

They have taken it upon themselves to decide the direction of Singapore. They will attract foreign investment to Singapore. They will provide the jobs. All the citizen has to do is to work in the jobs given to them. The citizen’s needs will be taken care of. The government will provide jobs, health care, housing and everything. The citizen will comply. Agree with what is given to him and his life will be happy.

This was the plan. Unfortunately the situation changed. There was competition from other countries. It was no longer a case of just getting foreign investment. Jobs were not being created in the numbers that the government wanted. The nature of the jobs too began to change.

It became more high-tech, more high-end. Many were not educated enough for these jobs. Unemployment began to rise among the less skilled. While the government began to take the economy in a different direction, because of the need to compete, they did not at the same time consider the need for re-training. And even if they could re-train, it may not always be possible. While these changes are happening, Singapore has another major, insurmountable problem – the people themselves. Unlike those in free countries, Singaporeans by and large cannot think independently.

For 40 years of PAP rule, they are accustomed to obeying the orders of the government. The economy of Singapore is not the economy of the people. The economy of Singapore is a creation of the government. It was not the people of Singapore who decided to concentrate in manufacture of computer semi conductors. It was the government. Similarly, if there is a biotech industry in Singapore, it is not the creation of the people of Singapore, it is the government.

It is like playing with plastercine. The Singapore government is in the mode of constantly adjusting a little here, then correcting the errors of the adjustment elsewhere.

The sad fact is, that when the government gets into deciding what people should do, or how they should live, they have no choice but to perpetually tinker with society. Inevitably, a change here would require an adjustment elsewhere, while a change there requires a similar adjustment here. But regrettably, it appears a little too late. In spite of their education, the people of Singapore over a period of 40 years of strict control, have lost their ability of independent thinking.

Whether you like it or not, the government has to continue to think for it’s people. And such a society cannot aspire to achieve success in a competitive business world. Last time, there was a population explosion problem. The people complied by having less children. Now the problem is the other way round. Too few babies. The government is asking people to have more children, but it is not working. In the past, as well as now, if you openly criticized the government, you will land yourself in trouble. You will be sued, bankrupted and imprisoned. This made people compliant.

Now Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan is going around schools telling children to speak up. Unfortunately, they are not speaking their minds. What the government of Singapore fails to realize, is that a people cannot be turned on and off like a water tap.

The government of Singapore should realize that independent right thinking educated citizens are fundamental if a country is to succeed. They still think they know best and others are mere “digits”. The sad story of Singapore is that the government has been too successful in intimidating the people. It is not possible now to make them think independently any longer.

The only way for the salvation of Singapore is for the government to genuinely loosen up and allow the people their independence and fundamental human rights. But alas, the Singapore government cannot do it. Because if it does the PAP will fall. What you have here, is a classic case of Catch 22. Until and unless the government realizes that the people should decide their own destiny and not decide it for them, Singapore will continue to turn from one crisis to another, and with each crisis, the situation becoming progressively worse.

GOPALAN NAIR