Singapore, the best cuckoo bird in the charade of self-glorification

I refer to the 24 May 2014 Straits Times article “Singapore, a ‘canary in the gold mine of globalisation’ by Mr Andrez Martinez taken from “Is Singapore the Perfect Country of Our Times?” (19 May 2014).

Mr Martinez singles Singapore out as a place like no other on earth that is so engineered and successful at prospering from globalisation. He conveniently leaves out other places like Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea that have similarly prospered from globalization. Mr Martinez knows only that Singapore has the world’s 2nd busiest seaport. Does he not know that Singapore already had the world’s 5th busiest seaport two decades before World War II? Going from 5th to 2nd in 50 years isn’t so much of a quantum leap; credit must be given to our former British overlord for laying such a strong foundation underpinning Singapore’s success today.

Mr Martinez points out Singapore’s far higher per capita income compared to our former British masters. Does he not know that Singapore keeps and maintains a separate set of indigenous per capita income which is far lower and more similar to British per capita income? Does he not know that when adjusted for hours worked, Singapore per capita income is much lower?

Mr Martinez points to our many No. 1 rankings. Does Mr Martinez not know that many of those rankings have their roots in our excellence under the British? For example:

• We already had the finest airport in the British Empire in the 1930s
• We were already the focal point of airlines, telecommunications and mail distribution by the beginning of the 1950s
• We already had more cars per capita than anywhere else in Asia in the mid 1950s
• We were the largest rubber exporter in 1960
• We were already a metropolis by 1967 (as claimed by LKY, can’t build a metropolis in 2 years)

Mr Martinez mentions Singapore celebrating 50 years of independence next year. Does he not know that Singapore would be 200 years old in 5 years time even though nobody will be celebrating?

Mr Martinez parrots the false slogan “From Third World to First” as our defining achievement. Does he not know that our 1960 per capita GDP adjusted for purchasing power parity had already placed us in the Upper Middle Income category of World Bank’s classification of nations?

Mr Martinez repeats the false public narrative about how our survival at independence was doubtful and how there was little going for us at independence. Does he not know that we have always been amongst the top economies in Asia soon after our founding in 1819? Mr Martinez marvels at the supposed success of PAP at establishing our container port, logistics, banking and oil refining businesses. Does he not know that Singapore has always been flourishing as an entrepot trade seaport since our founding in 1819? Does he not know that our first bank appeared in 1903 while household names like OCBC and UOB were set up in 1932 and 1935 respectively during colonial times? Does he not know that Shell’s oil business in Singapore is already 120 years old? Much of what Mr Martinez credits PAP for were already established during colonial times.

Mr Martinez wrongly attributes our success to the brilliance of LKY. Does he not know that Singapore’s post-independence economy followed the blueprint “A Proposed Industrialization programme for Singapore” written by Dr Albert Winsemius?

Mr Martinez credits LKY as our founding father. Does he not know that LKY never fought for our independence but fought instead to marry us into the Malaysian family thus exchanging one overlord for another?

Mr Martinez finds it extraordinary that Singapore is ‘corruption free’ compared to Southeast Asia and other developing nations. Does Mr Martinez not find it similarly extraordinary that Hong Kong is also ‘corruption free’ compared to neighbouring China? Like Hong Kong, Singapore benefitted from the best of British administrative practices.

Mr Martinez explains how his father who has never been to Singapore often tells him that Mexico needs an LKY. Has Mr Martinez read anything other than books written by LKY or his supporters? Does Mr Martinez not know that much that is credited to him is actually due to other people like Dr Albert Winsemius and Dr Goh Keng Swee? Does Mr Martinez even know who Dr Winsemius or Dr Goh is?

Mr Martinez blames Mexico’s economic ills on its prevalent culture of bribery. Does he not know that China is even more corrupted but yet is growing by leaps and bounds? Does he not realize that bribery somehow isn’t the biggest impediment to rapid growth?

Mr Martinez falsely credits the PAP as the all knowing party. Does Mr Martinez not know that what the PAP supposedly knows came from Dr Winsemius? Does Mr Martinez not know that LKY himself credits Dr Winsemius for teaching him Western businesses and their operations as well as how to take advantage of the global economic system of trade and investments?

Mr Martinez attributes our civil service as having delivered the goods across two generations. Does Mr Martinez not know that our civil service was inherited from the British and carried with them the best of British practices? Does Mr Martinez not know that affordable high rise public housing was first built by our British colonial government and that the PAP merely continued with what the British started? Does Mr Martinez not know that our so-called envy of policy wonks private lifetime savings vehicles is turning out to be less than adequate for many retiring Singaporeans today?

Mr Martinez claims that the government has taken care of our basic needs. Does Mr Martinez not know that basic public housing in Singapore can cost more than private housing in Mexico?

Mr Martinez labels the recent surge in Singaporeans’ yearning for rooted authencity as ill defined nostalgia and irrational sentiment. What is so wrong with rooting for authencity, Mr Martinez? If the Mexican government decides to tear up Mayan ruins in the name of progress, would Mr Martinez support or oppose?

Mr Martinez claims that high COE price has forced the government to slow down immigration, thus demonstrating the government’s responsiveness to citizen’s needs and desires. Mr Martinez is mistaken, the government became more responsive only after the last election setback, it responds to the stick of the ballot box, not to citizen’s needs or desires.

Mr Martinez characterizes Singapore as perfect. When the only books available to Mr Martinez and his father are fairy tales, is it any wonder that Singapore exists only as a mirage of perfection in their minds?

Mr Martinez hails Singapore as the best canary in the gold mine of globalisation’s triumphs. No Mr Martinez. Singapore is the best cuckoo bird in the business of fooling other birds into believing its own charades.


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