Thursday, June 25, 2009

Singapore, an island run out of ideas

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You would not be wrong if you had said, Singapore is a place run on false presences. It has managed to go on so far, but what about tomorrow? One has to wonder if that is possible.

The whole idea of the dictatorship is to depict an aura of efficiency and respectability which is all being debunked slowly but surely as nothing but a smokescreen.

Take for instance the gleaming high rise office blocks that line the waterfront. From the outside it all looks fine but have you looked inside? I have heard that half the offices are empty. Just shored up. No business. All the tenants had moved out. The maintenance of the buildings are beginning to suffer, as the landlords are running into losses. This side of the picture you see, is cleverly concealed from you, while you are left looking at the jazz and glitter from the outside. By now you must know, there is no way that anyone would know the truth unless you went around looking for yourself. Singapore island does not have investigative journalism or a free press. You are told what the government wants you to know. Not dissimilar to North Korea.

Then we had a sustained drumbeat from the dictatorship that Singapore had pride in the rule of law and was therefore a prime location for international arbitration. Finally, bad luck for the dictatorship, it all backfired for them when the International Bar Association had their meeting in Singapore in 2006. The irony was that the dictator's lieutenant, the former Minister for Law Jayakumar had worked hard to persuade the organization to go there for their annual conference hoping that it will give the island added prestige and legitimacy. What happened was just the reverse. Instead of praising the island's legal system, upon realizing what it really was, they wrote a 72 page scathing attack on it's judiciary. They said the judiciary was not independent and there was no rule of law! That put a complete damper on their hope of it ever becoming a center for arbitration. In fact after the report was published, a few of the foreign law firms packed up and left. If that was not bad enough, Singapore's legal profession continues to, believe it or not, shrink; not expand! The suspicion is, it has no more than 2500 lawyers now, completely inadequate for an island with 4.5 million people.

In their desperation, which they suffer very frequently now, K Shanmugam, Lee Kuan Yew's recently selected Minister for Law went through the motions of remedying the problem by shortening the training period of overseas lawyers, claiming this will cause a flood of lawyers returning to Singapore! Pipe dream once again. And the dishonesty about it is, he himself knows this meagre change will change nothing. Just imagine, trying to hoodwink Singaporeans into thinking that just because the training period is shortened, overseas Singapore lawyers who had left Singapore in disgust at the total absence of the rule of law, will all now come back merely because the training period is shortened! Well, the fact is no one has come back, and not only that increasing numbers of lawyers are leaving Singapore for good and newer entrants to the profession are absent.

Another oddity; there is the government arranging periodic meetings of selected individuals from business and industry to come up with new ideas or niches for business. The all encompassing fear of their government by Singaporeans has all but completely shut out their entrepreneurial spirit, leaving them capable only of waiting for government instructions. Since this has been the case all along in the past, and as all the earlier niche areas, the port, airport and biotechnology have all failed; they have now to come up with new niches. But with the country receiving a very bad grade in international eyes for lack of human rights and other violations, anything they want to do internationally is becoming progressively difficult. And now, they are desperately trying to persuade the people to exercise their independent thought process; which alas the people are incapable of doing.

If you take a trip to Singapore this is what you will see. Vast numbers of taxi drivers. Vast numbers of cooks selling cooked food everywhere. Security guards all over the island guarding the banks and condominiums. Thousands upon thousands of young women working in the offices and as sales girls (this number is vast diminishing as foreign businesses leave the island). Thousands upon thousands of young men and women working with the Singapore government as policemen, clerical officers and such like.

This vast number of jobs, are unskilled dependant largely of foreign businesses remaining in Singapore to provide employment. With this deep recession, foreign businesses are leaving which means thousands upon thousands are thrown out of work. None of these people have any skills to stand on their own. For instance a man without any education and only knows who to work as a guard cannot be expected to become an entrepreneur tomorrow.

Then there are the professionals. Those among them who are prepared to sell their conscience for the pleasure of the dictator find jobs that please Lee Kuan Yew such as Singh of the Bankruptcy Office who works hard to make the dictator's opponents bankrupt; Judge Belinda Ang Saw Ean who does her work of awarding one half million dollars against anyone who has criticised Lee Kuan Yew or Judge Judith Prakash who will send you off to jail merely for wearing a T Shirt with a picture of a kangaroo in judge's robes. As to whether she is in Singapore or left the country, I cannot say. The honest professionals who refuse to sell their souls to the devil find themselves having no choice but to leave the country for good.

This flood of professionals leaving the country leaves only the unskilled workforce, incapable of independently earning a living; being capable of surviving only if someone gave them a job. With the number of unskilled jobs progressively declining, the numbers of the unemployed are continuing to increase.

With the massive losses in the public assets due to mismanagement by the government, and with very little hope that the assets would grow due to the complete breakdown of international financial machinery, it is unlikely that whatever money is left is sufficient to maintain the massive public sector workforce and the infra structure. With insufficient money to pay the huge public sector workforce, there will be even more unemployment.

The Singapore tin pot tyrant's major mistake was to destroy the credibility of the organs of state such as the judiciary. With the entire island being aware of the complete lack of the rule of law and the intense fear that they have to speak up openly, the entrepreneur spirit is dead. There will continue to be massive unemployment and massive emigration. With insufficient educated skilled people in the country, and Chinese mainland human imports not being qualified enough as replacements, there is no hope for this island. I don't think so.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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Anonymous said...

I, from the bottom of my heart pity Singaporeans.
How can they tolerate living under such cirsumstances is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

to Anon Jul 27, 12:15am

It is always comforting to know that humans have great tolerance, eg North Koreans, Zimbabweans.

The able and courageous ones have either left Singapore or trying to. Some are turning to religion to find purpose in living in Singapore. Some are finding comfort in making money (like those Hongkongers I know who are resigned to living in the SAR)