Monday, September 26, 2005

Singapore: setting standards in governance

Singapore no longer comes as a surprise to visitors from developed nations. Quality of life in Singapore is better than best cities in the world. It is stable, safe society despite having motley of multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual groups. It has as much high-class business environment as is for arts, education and fashion.

What could be the possible reasons to make Singapore a success story? Perhaps a small country size that makes it easy to manage. True, a small country is easy to govern but it is also vulnerable to succumb to any natural or human engineered external risks. Bigger countries have inherent cushion to withstand any danger, smaller countries may not have the same. Imagine what would happen to Singapore, if Hurricane Katrina were to hit her. Moreover, if it was just the size, many African nations could have been another Singapore.

I think Singapore stands out in terms its leadership qualities and the manner in which state is governed. Those who have observed life in Singapore can feel that it is ruled with firm hand. There are stringent laws that maintain greenery, cleanliness, discipline, and order but they do not create a fear in people. Democracy does exist to an extent that it does not spill over to street protest or disrupt day to day functioning. Singapore is ruthless against littering of any kind. First-time offenders are fined S$1,000 and repeat offender face additional fine and Corrective Work Order (CWO). The CWO makes offenders spend a few hours cleaning a public place by wearing bright jackets with the local media covering the event. Smoking is not allowed in public buses, taxis, elevators, theatres, government offices, air-conditioned restaurants, and shopping centers.

No one can argue the comforts of Democracy. However, democracy doesn’t always allow efficient governance that benefits its common people. Some people argue, “What is the use of democracy when it cannot fulfill the basic needs of the country’s masses.“Some even contend, "what good is a country that has a free press, but the average person cannot afford to buy a newspaper " or that “ a country that holds regular elections, but the average person is starving “.

In Singapore, pattern of governance is inherited from Lee Kwan Yew, undoubtedly an architect of modern Singapore. He showed how capitalism could be pursued with one eye on social welfare. Lee Kwan Yew single-handedly changed the course of Singapore. His autobiography “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000” is an illustration to his unrelenting crusade in making Singapore a dream nation. I believe Singapore have since relied on leadership qualities that are espoused by Lee Kwan Yew.

Lee Kwan Yew says in order to be a state leader - you must have a passion for cause; must be able articulate your ideas to others, are consistent with your stance, are honest to yourself and others and above all maintain high standards all your life. It seems, Singapore have espoused these qualities not just for political leadership but also for all people in bureaucracy, judiciary and police machinery. Singapore is paranoid to get the best-qualified, least corruptible people in senior positions in the government, judiciary, and civil service. It pays its prime minister a salary of US $1.1 million a year. It pays its cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justice just under US$ 1 million a year, other judges, and senor civil servants handsomely down the line.

Hallmark of Singapore is good governance and implementation of law. How handsome the returns are! With Population of four million people with no natural resources it has build a foreign exchange reserve of US$ 100 billion, equivalent to that of India’s (with population of 1 billion) When a subway tunnel in Singapore collapsed in April 2004 and four workers killed, a government enquiry concluded that top, executives of the contracting company be fined and jailed. Think of Uphar theater tragedy in New Delhi, India.

Corrupt Investigation Practises Bureau (CIPB) in Singapore have sweeping power to conduct arrest, search, calling of witnesses, and investigation of bank accounts and income tax returns of
suspected persons and their family. CPIB can investigate any officer or minister. Several ministers have already been charged with corruption. India has more watchdog agencies and has exposed more corruption but leadership in India and state of governance may be under the constraint of democratic norms to take any tangible action.

It is no surprise that Singapore leaders spend their time equipping their people with education, job skills and empowering them to grow themselves while our leaders are using their time making polemic speeches about eradication of poverty with an eye on garnering votes. I had read somewhere, India just needs 200 Singapore. I agree with this statement but we also need 200 leaders with qualities as that of Lee Kwan Yew. Chandrababu Naidu, Sheila Dixit has shown the way to some extent in qualifying the benchmarks that he has proposed.


Blogger Zulu said...

Nice article...coincidentally, I also wrote about Singapore a couple of days ago...about the depoliticized society that they have and how they're dealing with it. Maybe you'll tell me what you think of it.

2:45 PM  
Blogger veena said...

as long as corruption is inevitable no change can possibly made in india.basic idea that rich are powerful should change;and values made more important for that to be acheived we can also lean towards a bit of strict non democratic methods.the pleasures that good living and simple happiness could bring to our soul should be taught to our younger generation .unless and other wise our mentality changes there is no scope for singaporinism.also the the learned should play their part in electing their leaders.when 90%of the learned do not turn to exercise their franchise i dont feel they have a right to lament about the state of affairs.good one .keep it up.

3:26 PM  

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