PAP inherited world standard results from beyond the past 50 years

I refer to the 2 Aug 2015 TR Emeritus letter “PAP’s produced world-standard results the past 50 years” by “Get it right!”.

Get-it-right wrote:

The PAP has ruled and governed Singapore uninterrupted for more than 50 years now, winning every national elections which had been held, for the mandate to rule.
What is it about the PAP government that the people of Singapore find so appealing?

The Kim dynasty has ruled and governed North Korea uninterruptedly since 1948 for 67 years now, winning every national election for the mandate to rule. Asking why Singaporeans find PAP so appealing is like asking why North Koreans find their Kim dynasty so appealing.

Get-it-right wrote:

Governing a nation is not like running a circus. Its not clowning and entertainment. If it is the role of a government to keep the people happy all the time, then it would have to be a clown. In that case, the whole nation would be laughing all the way to its death.

In the earlier generation, there was no clowning around by politicians yet people were happier. There was more laughter too but no laughing till death. People do not need clowns to make them happy. Quite simply, whatever the people needs was more adequately provided for in the earlier generation but not so well provided for now.

Get-it-right wrote:

Governing a nation is hard work. The factors to consider are numerous and conflicting. There are many demands and constraints to satisfy. Sometimes the complexity is intractable. Some other times, there is no best solution, only optimal one. At any one time, there are more than one problems to be solved. It requires sound intellect to know how to prioritize them. It requires a lot of hard thinking, deep intellects. It requires insight to look into the depth of an issue and foresight to look into the future.

Since the current leadership cannot solve the multitude of problems that are supposedly numerous, conflicting, demanding, complex and intractable, wouldn’t that show that they lack sound intellect, prioritization, hard thinking, deep intellect, insight and the foresight to look into the future?

What is so rocket science about increasing housing and transport capacity to meet increased population influx? Never mind the lack of foresight or intellect to plan for population influx, what about the people’s timely feedback about sky rocketing housing prices as far back as 2007 that fell on deaf ears?

Get-it-right wrote:

Compounding the problems are the multi-ethnic and multi-religion context of Singapore. On top of these, for tiny Singapore, external factors can have big influence on the country. Its leader must have that additional ability to have a good grasp of world affairs and trends.

Under such complex and difficult settings, throughout the past 50+ years, the PAP government has produced world-standard results in tangible aspects of governance such as employment, housing, health, education, internal security, defence, transportation, communication, environment, social services, sports, recreation, you name it. Bread-and-butter-issues are well taken care of. The society is peaceful and harmonious. All these have benefited the citizens tremendously.

Colonial Singapore was already world famous for multi-ethnic and multi-religious peace and harmony (https://trulysingapore.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/singapore-racial-harmony-during-colonial-times). Instead, it was Lee Kuan Yew’s political ambition that contributed to ethnic and racial tensions (https://trulysingapore.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/lee-kuan-yew-contributed-to-racial-riots).

The situation confronting Singapore wasn’t entirely difficult but contained critical favorable conditions instead as Dr Goh Keng Swee explained:

There are four reasons which enabled Singapore throughout her history as a British colony, and today as an independent republic, to survive and even prosper in the face of apparently insurmountable difficulties. First, there is the well-known fact of a superb central geographical location with a natural harbor swept by currents flowing between the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. The second reason must be ascribed … to Sir Stamford Raffles’ great vision of the island growing into a great emporium founded on the Victorian belief in the virtues of free trade. Successive colonial governors zealously nurtured the port, maintained lean and efficient administrators, and allowed merchants and bankers full scope for the exercise of their talents. In the modern idiom, the Victorians who governed Singapore established and maintained an infrastructure at minimum cost with maximum efficiency. The third reason derives from the second condition, the nurturing of the free enterprise system. In the absence of monopolies and privileged business interests, keen and free competition ensured efficient business. Finally, what made Singapore grow as a trading centre despite mercantilist policies of neighbours was that the economics of the business did not add up to a zero sum game. This happy result emerges from the continuous and rapid economic development of the countries in Southeast Asia under British and Dutch colonial administrations. For well over a hundred years Singapore learnt to adapt her economy to changing circumstances. This ability to adapt which was won in the hard school of experience remains an asset which the government of independent Singapore decided to retain. It might have been politically expedient to rid ourselves of institutions and practices that bore the taint of colonial associations. Had we done so, we would have thrown away a priceless advantage.

[Goh Keng Swee, The Practice of Economic Growth, Chapter 1: Why Singapore succeeds, pages 6-7]

Dr Goh further went on to explain how the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s also made Singapore’s conditions more favorable:

It is a matter for speculation whether in the absence of the upheavals caused by the Cultural Revolution in the mid and late 1960s, the large American multinationals – among them, National Semiconductors and Texas Instruments – would have sited their offshore facilities in countries more familiar to them, such as South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. These resources had skills superior to Singapore’s. My own judgment remains that these three areas were too close to the scene of trouble, the nature of which could not but cause alarm to multinational investors.

[Wealth of East Asian Nations, Goh Keng Swee, page 256]

Finally, we have Minister Shanmugam telling us how the US military made our situation even more favorable by underwriting our peace and the peace of the region.

Modern East Asia, including Southeast Asia is what it is today because of the crucial role the United States played in underwriting security in Asia-Pacific. The U.S. provided security and stability that helped to stem the tide of communism, the 7th Fleet kept the ceilings open. The U.S. generously opened its markets to the region, and that sustained economic growth and prosperity of many Asian countries. In turn, that created conditions that allowed East Asia, beginning with Japan, to seize opportunity to uplift their people’s lives, and China is a most recent example of that. Success of countries in the region created a dynamism which has also created new challenges and opportunities, and let me add … the U.S. did all of it.

[The Brookings Institution, Southeast Asia and the United States: remarks by National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Singapore foreign minister K. Shanmugam, 22 Sept 2014]

Thus, if we consider the peace provided by US military presence, China’s Cultural Revolution scaring investors to Singapore, our four success factors listed by Dr Goh Keng Swee, our situation was actually quite favorable.

Get-it-right wrote:

So, what would best describe the relationship between the PAP government and Singaporeans? It is simply a pragmatic relationship of leader and followers – wise and strong leader, trusting followers.

This could be the relationship of some but not all Singaporeans with the PAP government. For other Singaporeans, the PAP is not a leader but a conceited, selfish and unprincipled parasite. Given its lousy record, only fools will trust the current PAP team.

Get-it-right wrote:

This is how the PAP has been able to govern Singapore uninterrupted in all these years. It deals firmly with the oppositions to ensure that politics are conducted at a high standard. With the resultant political stability, it then concentrates on developing the economy.

To say that PAP’s detention of Dr Lim Siew Hock and Dr Chia Thye Poh for 19 and 32 years respectively resulted in high standard politics is an insult to both gentlemen and to politics itself. What kind of high standard politics do we have today when PAP MPs regularly sleep through parliament sessions or conveniently pontang them?

Get-it-right wrote:

With the wealth brought in by a thriving economy, it builds up the nation’s defence and social programs and services. The whole nation progresses and every citizen benefits. This is not what the government has brainwashed the people to believe. The achievements of Singapore is recognised worldwide. It has become an exemplary nation that others want to learn from. It is ranked highly in the world.

Singapore was already a thriving economy during colonial times. Much of the progress we witness today is rooted in colonial times. Our first and only UNESCO listing, our Botanical Gardens, is a colonial era inheritance. Many of the institutions that underpin our success today like Tan Tock Seng Hospital, civil service, police force all originated from colonial times. Our first high rise flats and housing estates like Queenstown were built by the British. Lee Kuan Yew himself received education from a school set up by the colonial government – Raffles Institution. Singapore’s achievements may be world recognized, but what is not so recognized is that most of them have been accumulated over long periods since colonial times. Our example to the world is based on the false denial of critical colonial era inheritances that Dr Goh Keng Swee described as priceless.

Get-it-right wrote:

Singapore is one of the world’s major commercial hubs, the fourth-largest financial centre and one of the top two busiest container ports in the world for at least the past ten years. Its globalised and diversified economy depends heavily on trade, especially manufacturing, which accounted for around 30 percent of Singapore’s GDP in 2013.

Singapore was already the 5th most important port in the world in the 1930s. We were already four places away from becoming No. 1 some 30 years before PAP came to power. So the greater part of our ascent to the top was achieved under British, not PAP administration.

The growth of Singapore to its position not only as the key port of the Straits region by the late nineteenth century but also to a position as a major global port is perhaps the most exciting aspect of economic change in the Straits in this period (page 107).

By the early 1930s, Singapore was estimated to be the fifth or sixth most important port in the world (page 114).

[Goh Kim Chuan, Environment and development in the Straits of Malacca]

Furthermore, the person who first pushed for the containerization of our ports was not the PAP but our faithful advisor Dr Albert Winsemius:

“So being in Singapore, I think at that time Dr Goh was once more Minister for Finance or in his capacity of Deputy Prime Minister and indeed I thought I need a pusher; I need really a pusher. So I went to Dr Goh, said ‘Look here, that are my figures on the North Atlantic container-run. And it is going to happen here. I can guarantee you that. I can’t get them moving. And the World Bank is against it. They consider it too early. There is only one way, with the same figures, you and I go to the Harbour Board, to PSA, and in principle you tell them that you would consider it unwise to put it off. Even if there is a chance, let’s say half a year that container port is lying idle, using interest and doing nothing, Singapore has to be the first one as to attract it.

“’And you should tell them, in my opinion, at least give them very clearly the impression if they do not come with a plan to rapidly make a container port that you will continue to have them by the planners. On the other hand, if they do come with it, in as far as co-operation from Finance or even the Cabinet would be needed, that you will give them that protection.’

“So Dr Goh practically dictated them to build that container port regardless of the World Bank.”

[Dr Albert Winsemius’s oral history interview, Accession Number 000246, reel 12]

Even our industrialization strictly followed Dr Winsemius’ “A proposed industrialization programme for the State of Singapore”.

Thus, if we consider all the facts, we should realize that PAP comprised only a tiny fragment of our entire success story but ended up usurping all the credit to itself.

Get-it-right wrote:

Singapore places highly in international rankings with regard to standard of living, education, healthcare, and economic competitiveness. Singapore has one of the highest per capita incomes and one of the longest overall life expectancies in the world. The country is currently the only Asian country with a top AAA rating from all three major credit rating agencies, i.e. Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings.

The same can be said of our fellow East Asian dragon economies of Hong Kong Taiwan and South Korea which are either on par or ranked close by so it begs the question of where PAP’s value add is given that we do not significantly outperform these economies with similar backgrounds.

In conclusion, Get-it-right has mostly gotten it wrong.

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