Small states have the advantages of tighter governance


(Screen capture from Channel NewsAsia)

In a Channel NewsAsia’s airing of Perspectives on the Diplomacy of Small States, Professor Tommy Koh laid on an observation that some of the most prosperous countries in the world are the smallest.

I’d like to go further to add that small states enjoy the advantages of tighter governance and more national integration. In the context of Singapore, the success is enjoyed by a nation that understands wealth redistribution and a government that has the power to do so.

The Western liberal media appears to find sport in accusing Singapore of being an authoritarian state devoid of democracy. They point to our system of deep integration, where trade unions, civil society, government and even the business community is tightly fused and then conclude democracy does not exist. In their articles, we are a people silenced and we have swept social justice aside for an agenda of bureaucratic and economic efficiency.

“Powerful government” is anathema to these critics. It would be almost impossible to hear in their countries, for example trade unions at peace and collaborating with business chiefs. Collaboration is a dirty word in their circles.

It is a curious thing. All over the commercial world, people are seeking more seamless solutions. Everyone wants a “one-stop-shop”. We all know that organisations achieve targets if they move in one direction. So why doesn’t this logic sit well when it comes to the national agenda?

The political discussion is not one bout how we can reduce the powers of a government, but rather how we can keep them working hard to produce the kind of society we want. We agree that we are a nation too fragile, too fissiparous to withstand violence, work stoppages, riots and hung Parliaments.

Over here is a people that is more collaborative rather than confrontative. Whilst we agree that our political system should have checks and balances, we do not agree that the result should be of conflict and stalemate.

We have pledged to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our home and we are making good that pledge. We are a socialist’s society clothed in a capitalist’s robes, it isn’t merely just business for business’s sakes.

We may be perhaps one of the smallest of the smallest states that Prof Koh is talking about and yet punching above our weights. Integration is how we have done it and I hope that future administrators do not untie the laces of the shoes we have worked so hard to fit into.

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