Don’t forget to praise Singaporean forefathers too

Dear Mr Khalid,

I refer to the 24 Jul 2014 Straits Times report of your praise for Singapore.

Third World to First?

Singapore isn’t the only economy that has done well progressing to First World in a very short time but one of four East Asian dragon economies including South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. There is no need to overly praise Singapore for what seems to be the common East Asian success story.

We must not blindly parrot the phrase “Third World to First” without first being clear and precise about what Third World or First means. Is a First World nation:
• an Advanced Economy according to the IMF?
• one with the highest Human Development Index according the UN?
• one placed in the highest income category according to World Bank?

For example, Chile and Kuwait do not make it into IMF’s list of advanced economies so by IMF definition they are not First World. But are they Third World then? Certainly not because these countries made it to UN’s list of countries having the highest levels of human development. We must not make the mistake of regarding a nation that isn’t First World as automatically being Third World. That was Singapore’s situation back in 1965, we weren’t First World then, but neither were we Third World.

Carl Trocki classifies Singapore as being of middle income status back in 1960:
• Our per capita GDP in 1960 was already $1,330 which gave us a middle-income status
[Carl A. Trocki, Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control, page 166]

Using data from the Penn World Tables, it can be shown that we were already of Upper Middle Income status according to World Bank classification back in 1965.

1965 per capita GDP / GNP / GNI GDP per capita (output) GDP per capita (expenditure) GDP per capita (average)
Real per capita GDP (chained PPP, 2005 USD) $6,279 $2,957 $4,618
Real per capita GNP (chained PPP, 2005 USD) using PWT 7.1’s GNP to GDP ratio $6,449 $3,037 $4,743
Real per capita GNP (chained PPP, 2011 USD) converted by comparing World Bank’s current GNI and 2011 GNI for 2005 $7,229 $3,404 $5,317
World Bank classification by income Upper middle income status Lower middle income status Upper middle income status

Thus, Singapore did not progress from Third World to First since independence but from Middle Income status to First instead. This is the best portrayal of our progress towards the First World since it is the only one that is based on data stretching back to the 1960s.

Bringing races together?

Singapore didn’t just have racial cohesion under the present government. Singapore already had racial cohesion during colonial times as these evidences attest to:

• Racial Harmony In Malaya
To those who know their Malaya from one end to the other, no less than to the casual visitor, it is a constant source of wonder how so many different races and communities live and work together in the utmost harmony … we repeat, that the different communities live and work in harmony because the British system of justice and administration enables them to obtain fair play. There are no discriminatory or repressive laws, there are few, if any race prejudices in the bazaars and counting houses, there is nothing to prevent the humblest coolie from rising to great wealth – many indeed have done so …
[The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 26 July 1935, Page 8]

“It is a pleasing feature of life in Malaya that there is not merely a complete absence of friction but much cordiality in the relations between the different races inhabiting it. It is quite common to find Malays, Chinese and Indian all living the same street in perfect harmony and apparently, with some degree of intimacy.” The Mui-Tsai Commission Report Chapter VIII.
[The Straits Times, 1 March 1937, Page 13]

It makes me happy to see the Chinese and other peoples here co-operating so well with each other.
[The Straits Times, 15 November 1940, Page 11]

• The Malayan Melting-Pot
The Sultan of Perak … “I wish to say to you that Chinese and Malay in the past eighty years before the coming of the Japanese lived side by side in absolute peace. The Chinese lived in the midst of Malays without any trace of fear, and the Chinese also fearlessly and peacefully pursued his vocation in any Malay settlement … Here in Singapore we are constantly impressed by the easy, natural and friendly relationships existing between Eurasians, Straits Chinese, Straits-born Indians and others who went to school together and now meet each other in adult life … Boys – and girls – of the local-born communities who sit side by side in the classrooms of Raffles Institution and St. Joseph’s and St. Andrew’s and the A.C.S., learn to become unconscious of racial differences, to meet on common ground, and to accept each other simply as Singaporeans – not as members of this racial community or that. Naturally this process is more penetrating in the secondary schools than in the elementary ones, because the influence of the school is exerted for a longer period and in years of higher mental awakening …
[The Straits Times, 25 May 1946, Page 4]

• S’pore an ‘example’ of race harmony
Singapore has set an example to the world of racial harmony, said Mr. T. P. F. McNeice, President, in reply to Mr. C. F. J. Ess, at the meeting of the City Council yesterday.
[The Straits Times, 29 September 1951, Page 5]

• Duchess praises ‘one people’ idea
The Duchess of Kent, the first Royal Freeman of the City of Singapore, said yesterday that its people were engaged upon a project of far-reaching significance – the casting into one mould of elements derived from many different cultures.
“This plan in itself testifies to the good will and good sense so characteristic of the people of this island,’ she said.
[The Straits Times, 2 October 1952, Page 1]

• Police help island troop to learn sailing
Singapore’s 84th Pulau Tekong Sea-Scout Troop is certainly helping to strengthen the bonds of friendship among Malays and Chinese on the island. It is undoubtedly a Sino-Malay affair for half of its 20 members are drawn from each race. Even the four patrol leaders in the troop are equally divided on a communal basis. Members of each patrol, however, are mixed.
[The Singapore Free Press, 17 July 1953, Page 12]

• Our racial harmony inspiration to bishop
An American Negro bishop said in Singapore yesterday that complete racial harmony among students and teachers in Colony schools was an inspiration to him. He said it proved his theory that if you get people of all races close enough together for them to smile at each other racial pride and prejudices will vanish quickly
[The Straits Times, 30 September 1954, Page 4]

• ‘See yourselves as just one people’ Governor’s advice to teachers
The people of Singapore must not think of themselves in terms of their racial and language loyalties, but as Singaporeans, the Governor, Sir William Goode, said yesterday. Schools must be Singapore schools, not English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil schools … In 1953, he said, English was the only medium of instruction at the college, but today they worked in English, Malay and Chinese. “In this way too the different races in the Colony can be welded into a united people with a common loyalty and a common pride in Singapore and a united determination to work for the good of Singapore.”
[The Straits Times, 12 October 1958, Page 7]

Eighteen American teachers (above) from 11 states left for Bangkok by CPA this morning after a four-day stay here … Prof. Mulder said they were impressed by the racial harmony they had observed in Singapore and had come to know the state much better.
[The Singapore Free Press, 16 July 1959, Page 10]

So many races, but one nation
If a world list were compiled of countries enjoying high degree of inter-racial harmony Singapore would undoubtedly occupy a leading position. Here people of various races work, play and live together happily as one nation. They help each other in time of difficulty. They rejoice in each other’s happiness. And they share each other’s grief. Such is the respect, understanding and goodwill between the Malay, Chinese, Indian, European and other races living here that visitors in Singapore have often praised the State as an example for the rest of the world to follow. The latest visitor to express this view is Mrs. A. Qugley, formerly of the Chicago Tribune, who passed through the State during a tour of the Far East. She said that “the people here must be extremely proud of themselves for the “really great” racial harmony that was evident
[The Singapore Free Press, 6 July 1961, Page 6]

Gainful employment?

Singapore does not define a poverty line even though it can be done. Given our high GINI inequality, it can be expected that a sizeable number of Singaporeans have salaries that fall below our poverty line if one is ever defined and those who fall below the line should not be considered as having gainful employment.

To conclude, the success that you congratulate Singapore for today can be traced back to colonial times. Let’s not forget to praise Singaporean forefathers who helped lay a strong foundation for Singapore during colonial times.


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