Some of my friends have been circulating an article from the MalayMail titled “Singapore is not 50 years old”.
In the article, Surekha Yadav opined at large that Singapore “was no fishing village or barren rock and it was not poor”.
I think the learned writer needs to be reminded of several facts about our history:
In 1965, the unemployment rate was between 10%-12%. The amount of goods and services of what people can purchase with an average income is approximately one-twelfth what it is today.
Unemployment was so bad that the late Dr. Goh Keng Swee famously recalled that “In the first few years when I went home for lunch, I passed big schools and saw thousands of kids going home at 1 p.m. I kept on worrying where I was going to find jobs for them.”
50 years ago, the World Bank and other experts agreed that it was countries such as Sri Lanka, Burma and the Philippines that would become wildly successful, not Singapore.
In 1965, Sri Lanka is ranked globally top 50 in terms of GDP. The Philippines ranked 27. Bangladesh ranked 28. Singapore was not in the top 50 list. (Source: World Bank)
We were one of the richest nations in Asia no doubt, but to whom does this wealth belong? Certainly not the common people.
The writer then said that the civil service was not 50 years old, but 150 years dating back to the Straits Settlement when the British came. Which is an amusing statement because she might as well go further and credit our administrative system to the imperial Romans.
The structure came from the British yes, but the modern civil service and statutory boards post-independence is nothing like the civil service the British used to run, nor do they have the same purpose. They was no “Ministry of Social and Family Development”, there was no “Economic Development Board”, there was no “Ministry of Environment and Water Resources”.
The 4M framework for medical care? The 4 taps of water supply? The 5 pillars of defence? These did not come from the British.
I hate to remind ourselves of this, but it was the PAP that first directed the setting up of today’s modern civil service… building up from whatever flimsy system the British left us. Gradually, when the government strengthened, Singapore became less dependant on the PAP’s direction and more on their own internal ones.
Even the laws of the country had evolved dramatically within Singapore. The legal system adopted by the British was notoriously inadequate for the administration of justice in Singapore. We adopted the Indian Penal Code and our criminal law system was then taken care of…and that is just once example.
The British today are still struggling to define what a murder is.
Ms. Yadav then asked readers to “take a glance at a photograph of Raffles Place in the 1920s” to “put an end to the fishing village to metropolis in 50 years spiel”.
Saying that is akin to asking a reader to look at a photograph of the Marina Bay skyline and come to the conclusion that all Singaporeans are multi-millionaires.
Don’t just look at the glossy corporate videos done in the 60s, those were made to convince forieign investors to sink their money here. Point your web browsers over to pictures of Punggol, Lim Chu Kang, Ang Mo Kio, Katong…all the residential areas and see for yourself the living conditions of Singaporeans then.
(This is Toa Payoh)
All of what we see in Singapore today exists because of strong leadership…and may we not undermine it. How many of you have resigned from your jobs because you thought your boss was pathetic and couldn’t get things done?
Generation after generation of leaders got elected into the system…and got things done.
We wanted a stinking Singapore River turned into reservoir, and it got done.
We wanted robust homes to house all Singaporeans, and it got done.
“In 10 years this will be a metropolis” one man said…and it got done.
PS: We’re celebrating 50 years of independence. Not actual age.