Friday, September 30, 2016

Is the massive brain drain from Singapore Island sliding it down to irrelevance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the latest Reuters report on Singapore of Sept 28, 2016 it reads "Singapore deputy premier sees tough period for economy- report"

It says, although there was some progress earlier, the future will be only between 0.5 to 2 percent. But even so, it is all right if it continues to grow but will it?

There are several problems with the island causing even slight volatility to cause devastating consequences.

One is its size. Because it is so small in both geographical area and population, any negative economic impact will have a catastrophic universal effect across the island almost immediately. This is not the case with large countries with large populations, which can go one for very long even with negative economic volatility.

The second problem is the nature of its economy. It is completely reliant on foreign countries. Locally Singapore has nothing. The jobs are created by foreign companies and if foreign companies close down and leave as they are doing now, Singaporeans will simply have no work. The economic slowdown in the rest of the world now is causing just that; foreign companies in the island are shutting down and laying off thousands.

And with this happening now, many others join the bandwagon and leave. Foreign companies are not there because they owe a duty to Singapore. They are there for a profit. And when there is none, they leave.

The other problem is the wages offered. Lee Kuan Yew's plan, which by the way, every other country has not only copied but are much better at it, was to provide cheap labor for foreign companies. In addition, foreign companies are given tax breaks and perks to locate in the island rather than in their own countries which do not provide them. In the early days when Singapore was the pioneer in such tactics, of course they did well. Wages were low, you had a docile work force and you had the perks. But then everyone else began doing just that from Mexico to Botswana. So where is the advantage for Singapore, none. The wages in Singapore are simply too high now for any foreign company to locate in the island. With automation and increased productivity, you might as well manufacture it in America. Moreover it is well known that just the fact that it is made in the USA improves sales.

Then the problem is the mentality of a docile subjugated timid society. Singaporeans are taught to obey, not to think independently. So with the limited ability of the government to think of any new ideas except doing the same thing again and again, there is no ability to even stay afloat, let alone advancing. In every single area, the competition has overtaken Singapore. It is cheaper to manufacture in Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. There is no need to locate in Singapore. If Singapore has a helpless workforce who will simply shut up and not complain, so are the workers of Vietnam. If Singapore had the advantage of the English language, Vietnam is making steady progress to ensure everyone speaks English.

And then you have a Singapore local population who disrespects their government and public institutions. Simply by repeating ad nauseam that you have the rule of law, does not mean the people will believe it. No one in their right mind in the island would believe that the Singapore judges are independent when they repeatedly jail and sue political opponents for criticism. You have an island wide state controlled media and press where every single news organ is state controlled as in China. Where you have no freedoms at all, when even a single peaceful protester is jailed and caned just for graffiti.

The consequence of this is that every single self respecting individual is opting to leave the island for settlement in the West. The newspaper ASEAN Today of Sept 19, 2016 has an interesting article about the brain drain from Singapore and Malaysia titled "Can Singapore and Malaysia keep their talents home?"

This report should be alarming for the island's rulers, not so much as to what will happen to their people but more on whether they will continue to take home, or steal, millions of dollars a year which they call salaries when their economy collapses!

I quote extensively from this report. It says "Singapore and Malaysia are facing the serious problem of Brain Drain. Many well educated and highly skilled individuals are looking to relocate abroad for various reasons and this is worrying for both countries. While the governments are determined to attract these people home, the issue at hand is whether will they be moved by the determination?"

It says "The number of people moving out of Singapore has increased by more than one third in the last 10 years. In 2014, 212 000 Singaporeans were living overseas, whereas in 2004 the number was 157,000.00". Actually the figures are much larger than this. These figures only take into account Singaporeans overseas who still retain their citizenship. In fact the larger number give up their citizenship so as to redeem their CPF ( state retirement savings) which require this as a condition. So if you actually include those who retain their citizenship as well as the larger number of former citizens, the total number would in fact be closer to 2 million.

For instance I am not in this number as I have given up Singapore citizenship. In fact the vast number of Singaporean's who live in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live are like me, Singaporeans who are now American citizens.

Secondly if you look at the island's citizen population from a realistic point of view and count only those who were not only born in Singapore but whose parents were also born in Singapore, the island population would in fact be no more than 2 million. When Singapore government says that they have about 3.5 million citizens, they are including not only native Singapore citizens but also the hundreds of thousands of recent mainland Chinese immigrants who were given instant citizenship to make up for the falling numbers.

Going by these figures, it is therefore possible that there are as many true Singaporeans abroad as there are in Singapore and the tide is in fact turning to make the foreign Singaporean numbers greater than in Singapore. This has actually happened in Lebanon understandably with all its wars and violence but strangely even without such violence and calamity, Singapore population is steadily showing signs of another Lebanon!

And this increasing brain drain from the island should be even more alarming to the island's rulers  since the island's unemployment rate is actually lower than that in the West! Singapore it seems has only between 2 to 3 % unemployment while the figures for Western countries are far higher. So why should someone from a high employment country like Singapore go to one with greater unemployment! The answer is simple. It is because the people who can think detest living in bondage under a dictatorship with no rule of law, as is Singapore.  And the government should finally understand that unless and until you give your people freedom to live as proud citizens, the brain drain will not only continue but will increase with time and your miracle island will be no better than a backwater.

In a recent speech by the Prime Minister which sounds like sour grapes, he is quoted to have said this of the mounting brain drain at the Research Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC), "Singapore is part of the global community and we have to accept that". "It is not a bad thing at all for Singaporeans to be in demand all over the world and to be distributed in the many cities and research centers. (They can) gain experience learn what the world is like pick up ideas and perhaps one day come back to Singapore". Unfortunately for the Singaporean Prime Minister, where he got it wrong was about the part of Singaporeans coming back to Singapore. They are not.

I am not returning to Singapore. I don't wish to live as a slave. And neither is every single Singaporean in the San Francisco Bay Area who has given up Singapore citizenship like me.

The report says " But it is uncertain whether these people are ever going to return to Singapore. A recent news report mentions that the government has deep fears regarding a potential permanent outflow of talents. Many talents are enticed to stay overseas due to the abundance of opportunities and choices. However they would be much helpful if they were to stay and help to further develop Singapore's economy"

There is no doubt that Singapore's Prime Minister is fully aware of his brain drain problem at his interview with TIME MAGAZINE when he said "With Singaporeans you speak English, your are well educated, the doors open everywhere. You can go to Silicon Valley, you can go to Sydney, you can go to Perth, you can go to London Frankfurt, you are welcomed and it is not just talking about 5 , 10 percent at the top who are like that but 30, 40, maybe even 50% who are welcomed."

And now there can be no doubt that he not only understands that this problem will finish him, it is also clear that he has no clue how to avoid it. He says "If the successful ones mostly leave, we are going to be depleted. And if it goes beyond the successful ones, we will be shrunken"

"Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean speaking in front of the Parliament in 2012 said that about 1200 Singaporeans give up their citizenship on a yearly basis. The reasons for emigration vary. Some emigrants leave for family reasons,. because of marriage or to re-unite the family members overseas while others do it for a different environment". The words "for a different living environment" is an euphemism to saying " because they want their freedom".

"Other reasons include the lack of space in the small territory of Singapore, too much stress, long working hours that compromise quality living, low wages and the current political situation" . Of course the "current political situation" is of course referring to the lack for democracy, freedom and the rule of law.

This massive and growing brain drain is destroying the quality of the Singapore population, thereby lowering its performance and competitiveness. The only ones who want to come to Singapore to replace those leaving are from Communist China who are much less skilled and have no knowledge of English. And then you have others from other neighboring countries such as India and Burma who similarly are no match for those who leave the island. Also these recent arrivals have no real connection, loyalty or stake in the island and are mere economic migrants, of far lesser quality than the local born citizens who leave.

With the present authoritarian corrupt government comfortable earning their millions, and refusing to face the real issues behind this massive and growing problem, there is really no way to stop the decline and eventual destruction of the Singaporean economy and the island's way of life. And the cause can only be the avarice, greed and corruption of the leaders of Singapore who pay themselves millions a year which they conveniently call salaries.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
A Singaporean in Exile
Fremont (San Francisco) USA
Tel: 510 491 8525

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