Monday, July 27, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew's flawed Singapore miracle

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Lee Kuan Yew, deceased, the man to whom so much credit is given for what Singapore is today in fact had a very simple strategy for the island. The only objective was to create employment for the people. And since tiny Singapore had nothing except some commercial activity, it had to be through foreign investment.

So how to attract foreign investment? Make it so attractive for them that you make them an offer they simply cannot refuse. And what is that offer? First you silence all workers and destroy independent unions. Instead union leaders are in fact government ministers.

Second you make strikes illegal and anyone who dares  either faces jail or bankruptcy.

Third you dismantle the Constitution. Henceforth speaking in public, assembling in pubic, forming associations are all illegal activities.

You create a huge apparatus of secret police and informers who spy on everyone else to ferret out any opposition.

And then you make sure that no one ever hears of the Constitution or rather the watered down version. Students are not taught the Constitution and no one has ever heard of it.

And then you silence the lawyers. I am proud to say that I have been disbarred from practicing law in Singapore because I criticized their Kangaroo judges among other forms of oppostion. Today Singapore lawyers are good as comatose. They are afraid to say much lest they too get disbarred.

You then successfully end up with a thoroughly subjugated and silenced society. They have no independent opinions. All they do is to go to work, do as they are told, don't talk too much lest you are noticed and quietly live their lives. In other words Singaporeans are zombies or a version of it.

But zombies are exactly what foreign companies are looking for. A population that will not go on strike, will not speak back, will not ask for more money and a people to whom you can pay as little as you want, as there is no minimum wage laws.

At the same time, you need a literate work force. Illiterate workers are no use for foreign companies. So it is necessary to give them a some education. Literacy is all that is necessary. If they can read and write, they can work for an American company in Singapore. So Lee builds schools, not so much because he wants his people to be educated but because foreign companies need it to provide employment.

And finally it is no good if too many people thought they have a right to think and muddy Lee's plans. After all as far as he is concerned he knows best. It is too much trouble if all sorts of people, like myself, were allowed to question his ideas. So you have a state controlled press, which only publishes his point of view. If you wanted to write about the virtues of the American constitution, you would be shown the door. They are not interested in Constitutions. They are only interested in attracting foreign investment and giving a few bucks to the miserable Singaporean.

Naturally this plan worked. After all for Nike, all that matters is profits. They are not interested whether the poor Burmese or Singaporean worker is paid $1 an hour. True, the wages in Singapore are somewhat higher because it has gone somewhat high end but the principle still remains the same. Squeeze the Singaporean worker for as much as you can for the glory of American investors. Isn't it a paradise for foreign companies? A workforce that cannot go on strike, cannot question, no right to free speech or expression and a worker who can be fired anytime, no questions asked.

But it should be obvious to anyone why such a stratagem, although it can attract jobs is devastating and thoroughly deleterious to the individual. I was born, lived in Singapore, was an opposition politician there and contested 2 elections. I should know. The average Singaporean is a voiceless submissive mindless digit as Lee Kuan Yew once called them. If not he is a hypocrite.

You see university professors, high executives walking around in ties and shirtsleeves in the midday sun, behaving as if they were Europeans. They can talk the talk. They claim to have illustrious university education. Obviously they are educated. But yet, while they go around in their shirt sleeves and ties behaving as if they were in London, they seem to have no interest at all about the way they live under this government. Isn't that odd? They are aware they have no right to free speech, no right to assembly, in an island which they know has no rule of law and where the entire media is state controlled. But yet they behave as if they are not aware of any of this, but go on with their lives talking the talk in their ties and shirt sleeves in their air conditioned offices.

In fact they have successfully tweaked their brains not to think of any of this, but only their work and their lives, as if they have finally decided that Lee Kuan Yew's son will rule over them and that is that.

I can tell you this zombification of an entire society is bad, not only for your mind but also for the future of the island. The state imposed philosophy which the entire population has permanently adopted is this. You do your work and mind your business. To progress, you please your boss. The more your boss likes you the better you advance. And since your boss is a Lee Kuan Yew collaborator, he is not going to like anyone spouting any fancy ideas about anything. The good Singaporean is the quiet obedient Singaporean.

Unfortunately a society like this, which is only thinking of pleasing those above, and conforming their thought process to please the powers above, is simply useless for progress. There isn't any vibrancy, any courage, any strong opinions, any independent head. Their heads are capable only of obeying authority simply because any attempt to think otherwise lands you in trouble.

The Singapore society is an unhealthy society. They are unhealthy in the head. They are today totally incapable of thinking independently. Anyone like me who has had an education in Europe and some self respect is a misfit in the island. I was born in Singapore and I have a stake in the island. I refuse to be pushed around by some tin pot tyrant who thinks only he has all the ideas and no one else. He would either get into trouble like I have had or he will descend into a state of melancholy depressed and a feeling of being useless. So most independent thinkers would probably find life thoroughly depressing sooner or later and emigrate to the West, like I had, leaving behind the mindless conforming Singaporeans who have abandoned their right to think.

There are many Europeans and Americans who work in Singapore.  Understandably they take no part in any of this. Why should they? After all Singapore is not their country and they are there only temporarily for work. If I were in Nigeria today for work it would be unnecessary for me to question their government.

Far more important than being able to live in a pigeon hole apartment block and go to work in the subway is freedom of thought which the Singaporean living under Lee Kuan Yew's son today does not have.

Progressively the island is turned into a mindless brainless society who are forced to live under the dictates of the Lee family bereft of a thinking population. I do not think that a society such as this who are literally hypocrites, behaving as if they were in a Western city, with their shirt sleeves and ties, but at the same time living no better than sheep can expect any real success. Singapore cannot hope to be a great nation ever, as long as the people are forced to eat humble pie as they do now.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
A Singaporean by birth
Now a proud American
Tel: 510 491 8525


Anonymous said...

Going to receive a lot of flack from PAP sycophants for this, but I'll do it anyway:

Since growing up, I've always been labelled as worthless, simply because I wasn't good at academic studies. Even the skills I had concerning technical trades like repairing or assembling stuff was ignored, and I was not given any opportunity to develop them further.

Being a conscript was the exact same experience. Even despite displaying an interest in repairing and maintaining machines, I was barred from any vocational training and condemned to Supply and Transport. The only future I had was menial labour. And even though I proved myself to be surprising intelligent, I wasn't allowed to attend specialist training simply because I didn't have O-Level qualifications.

So why should throw my life away to protect a country that refused to support my dreams and talents?

- Nigel Lai

Unknown said...

As someone who has an interest in the history of the Asian Tiger Economies, of which Singapore is included, I found this post to be very interesting.

While not a Singaporean myself, I did live there for about 4 years when I was young, and had been there a few times back, as well as have friends who live there. I have to admit, maybe because I was younger and looking at it through more rose tinted glasses, but Singapore did look really fantastic. And everyone (at the least those who are foreigners like me) who's been there have nothing but great things to say about the country. But even I know that there has to be a seedy underbelly to Singapore, heck you even have that here in Australia, where I live.

I was wondering if you had any comment, or better yet another post, to make about this comparison of Singapore as a Tiger economy like Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong or Taiwan which went from Third World to First World Economies. I would surmise that you will find a lot of comparison with the modern South Korean history, as that country also had an authoritarian government that saw huge economic growth.

Any response would be appreciated.

Imad Khan

Gopalan Nair said...


Thanks for your comment. I am a professional lawyer with a very busy practice. As such although I would love to, there is not much time to devote to other Tiger economies. Such s project that you mention would be more suited to a professional journalist, which I am not one.

Singapore is for me a specialty, being born a Singaporean, as I have an axe to grind with that regime from which I have personal experience of the long years of repression I suffered being immersed in that politics. In fact I still do.

Having said that, one thing I know. Japan, South Korea Hong Kong or Taiwan, or some of these countries, were under dictatorships, just like Singapore now for a long time. However all of them are now, and have been, thriving and proud democracies except for Singapore. Yet all of them have succeeded handsomely despite the fact that they have been democracies for a long time. And it is this that calls the bluff of these Singapore despots who say that easing political freedoms would somehow dampen economic progress. What these countries that you mention have shown is that democracy does not impede economic progress. In fact it promotes it.