Unlike Prof Tommy Koh, as a layman I do not view our beloved country thro’ the eyes of ideology. Ideologies, being ideas, beliefs or visions are abstract. I concern myself with mostly the empirical.
When ideologues believe their ideologies to be supremely superior in their service to Singapore and Singaporeans, the beneficiaries, and when that belief is pursued whatever it takes, then their proponents will have become blinded by the beauty of their ideologies and lost as to their efficacy. The means, actual constructs will be seen to justify the end.
Therefore, in place of the “shared beliefs”, I see 3 Insidious Constructs holding up the 5 ideologies gone wrong for their extremes. These are constructs Singaporeans want revamped.
Growth at all costs
PM Lee himself proudly proclaimed,
“we’re not going for growth at all costs, nor have we done so. Growth is not an end in itself, but a means to improve our lives and achieve our goals.” [Link].
A year later, despite Singaporeans protesting via the BE ballot box and Hong Lim Park, he still sang a different tune,
“In fact, if I can get another 10 billionaires to move to Singapore and set up their base here, my Gini coefficient will get worse but I think Singaporeans will be better off, because they will…create new jobs, and I think that is the attitude with which we must approach this problem.” [Link].
I am still waiting for the PM to support his case with a clear, verifiable breakdown of the number, type and Singaporean-benefited “new jobs” that Jim Rogers has created since he arrived SGP some years ago.
Aside from an obsession with attracting whatever speaks, reeks money, a second e.g. of this govt’s blind pursuit of growth at all costs is seen in the relentless increases in our population.
In the decade 1995 to 2004, when Goh Chok Tong was PM, the increase was 20.3% (from 3.419 to 4.1146 mil). When PM took over, from 2005 to 2013, the increase was 27.4% in 9 years. All said, one out of 3 ‘local residents’ is a non-citizen. In all likelihood, with the liberal granting of citizenship to foreigners over the years, perhaps every other citizen is not Singapore-born.
“The problem started with the crazy number of foreigners they brought in the last few years,” said Chua Beng Huat, a sociologist at NUS. “They were looking for growth at all costs. The quality of life for Singaporeans has actually declined, especially for the middle class and lower.”
So, the first insidious construct of their ideology gone berserk is the relentless, unqualified, out-of-control welcome mat for both foreigners with money and foreigners who can make money using Singapore as a base, come what may, hell or high water, to grow GDP.
We have been led to believe that ours is a cabinet and a govt that is THE most qualified in the world – as a justification for the stratospheric salaries paid for their services, never mind their patriotic sense of duty or lack thereof.
And the key pillar of that justification is the ideology of meritocracy. But how has that panned out in its constructs?
Readers can cite even more e.g. than me. Therefore, I shall merely cite from the horse’s own mouth, proudly declared to the world:
“They (delegates from China) discover that the PAP has only a small office in Bedok. But everywhere they go, they see the PAP – in the RCs (residents’ committees), CCCs (citizens’ consultative committees), and the CCs (community clubs).”
– Lee Kuan Yew (Straits Times 30 December 2009).
If these supposedly quasi State apparatuses are all no more than fair game and clay in the PAP’s hands to do as they please, to promote the Party’s own self-serving agenda, what more the known publicly-listed or govt-owned entities?
It surely begs the simple, if naïve, question: Where do they get all these talented people to fill up all the juicy positions that pay so well with what is not the Party’s own money?
In its wake has arisen and now entrenched the 2nd insidious construct of ‘meritoguanxi’; the undisguised offer of plumb positions to Party faithfuls from Chairman of the Board positions with 6-figure salaries to the lowly RC activist with his 6-monthly, fully-paid trip to nowhere with no direct-benefit-to-residents purpose.
Hence, ‘meritoguanxi’ – a bit of merit, lots of ‘guanxi’ is the culture and the currency of the day to turn the key. A nod and a wink get the deal. Legally incorrupt but no less chronically crony-ic thro-and-thro. It’s more who you know and who knows you than who you are or can do.
Isn’t it ironic they claim to be so darn good, sought-after talents, why can’t they find their own positions at CocaCola, JP Morgan, Unilever, Exxon… ?
Directorships for the asking or the giving by the PAP at state-owned or related companies are the defined, guaranteed path to a comfortable retirement after active service to the Party. Isn’t it ironic they claim to be so darn good, sought-after talents, why can’t they find their own positions at CocaCola, JP Morgan, Unilever, Exxon or, closer to Asia, Sinar Mas, CP Holdings, Hutchinson Whampoa? Instead, they can only wait to be ‘given appointment’ to jobs at local Capitaland, Keppel, Sembawang, Temasek or TH/GLC entities. What right has these ideologues to treat and take State properties to reward their own?
Whilst “Meritoguanxi” cannot be eliminated, it has be considerably reduced and seen to be so.
“Accountability breeds response-ability.” — Stephen R. Covey.
If what Covey observes is true, it indicates that this govt has been running around in circles while trying to lead us by the nose.
New unfavourable situations can and are explained away. Consider, when underlings spin a 2010 flood as ‘ponding’ and the Headman himself offered, ” – no amount of engineering can prevent flooding.” What does that translate to for PUB managers? Why the need to develop ‘response-ability’ if the Man himself declared the impossible?
But then 2 years earlier, meritoguanxi-ly appointed managers received their first major, major lesson in the Mas Selamat escape. No head, but a low-rank, was cut to atone or held responsible for SGP’s own Alcatraz version of the Great Escape.
It would appear, at first sight, that the then MHA Minister should be the fall guy. But Mr Selamat is no ordinary criminal. And the responsibility for his detention fell outside MHA ambit and squarely in the PM’s oversight for ISD matters much like CPIB.
Well, we know the PM himself responded, “Let us close ranks to deal with this, and bounce back to move forward”. To think that the PM himself can so irreverently wave aside such a screw-up but throw the gauntlet down to the WP over some minor hawker centre cleaning issue – does that not speak volumes about the skewed mindset of what’s important, pedestrian – and what’s absolutely crucial to the nation?
And so, the story continued with the lame FCF to help us unemployed PMEs instead of taking the FT policy bull by the horn, the mild ministerial rebuke for ongoing MRT breakdowns instead of a thus-far-and-no-further directive, the spinning of hospital beds lack as seasonal demands, morphing into an healthy living issue…and hospital tents as structural, strategic response to supply shortage. The list goes on.
Separately, managers on the meritoguanxi leash have already learned ‘what to do to survive’ in the non-accountability culture. The SMRT appointee’s first move was to cover his own back, declaring that the ‘existing business model’ was not sustainable. The SPF Commissioner would only reveal the lack of 1000 headcount at a COI and after a riot. Both appointees see no need to worry about their integrity, possibly because the salary is way too sweet to resign in protest. The list goes on.
Singapore Inc has all imbued the non-accountability culture. If the leader does not hold himself and others to the same, most basic standards of accountability, why do underlings have to bother?
The chart shows the likely price Singaporeans are paying for lack of accountability, a culture developed under the PAP during their half-century reign.
So, Prof Koh, ideological cleavage or other abstracts, your learned friends can debate till their own abstract ideological cows come home. Meantime, the 3 insidious constructs are what we see, hear, breathe, feel and taste – and sense – day in day out.
The 3 constructs continue to feed into each other, reinforce each other’s as an unholy threesome. Regardless the good intent and intention behind each construct, they are no long so for the effects that we citizens are now suffering.
My layman’s view is that we have given the PAP much too much for far too long to do right by us for the good faith that we put in. Therefore, it’s now Change We Must.
If we do not end any one party’s dominance to do whatever they like, however they like, then that party’s continued dominance will end us.