Singapore living the dream at 45

Dear Nanyang Siang Pau editor,

I refer to the commentary by Mr Li Liang Shi which appeared in your good paper on 12 Aug 2010 and was later published by Straits Times on 14 Aug 2010.

Mr Li referred to MM Lee as having once said that Singapore could not survive on its own without hinterland or natural resources. MM Lee’s words should not be taken as the only truth for Singapore had been prospering as a British Crown Colony for more than a hundred years before MM Lee took power. “Mission impossible” is a myth so well perpetuated that we often assume it without much thought to it.

Mr Li also attributed Singapore’s miracles to the efforts of three generations of leaders, but those leaders would have amounted to nothing had it not been for the hard work and enterprise of the Singapore people. It is often assumed without proof that Singapore made it only with our leaders. So ingrained is this assumption that people don’t even begin to realise that Singapore might have prospered just as well without those leaders. Singapore without its leaders may well have been another Hong Kong, different but just as prosperous.

While Singapore topped others in South-east Asia in economic achievement, it is merely on par with other East Asian economies. Is it mere coincidence that all four original economic miracles are found in East Asia? What is the probability that out of hundreds of developing nations around the world in the 1960s, the four that would eventually achieve economic miracles first are all East Asian? Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea are just as successful as Singapore, yet there is no leadership over three generations that explains their successes. Why should Singapore be any different?

While lamenting on Malaysia’s lack of progress compared to Singapore, it is important to acknowledge the realities on the ground. A country’s destiny and future rest fundamentally on its people, not leadership. Of the myriad factors used to explain differences between nations, culture is the one that most consistently correlates with a nation’s prosperity.

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