The Singapore Story

Singapore was a standing indictment to what Malaysia could have done differently. He just hit the nail right there on the head.

A frank discourse by a Bumiputra of Malaysia

By Ahmad Mustapha

Singapore’s Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew, who was Singapore’s founding father, has always been very direct in his comments. This was the man who outsmarted the communists in Singapore (with the innocent help of Malaya then and the willing help of the British) and who later outwitted the British and outpaced Malaysia in all spheres.

Singapore practices corrupt-free meritocracy and Malaysia affirmative action. The former attracted all the best brains and the latter chased out all the brains. The Singapore cabinet consists of dedicated and intelligent technocrats whereas Malaysia has one of the most unwieldy cabinets. Not only that, brain wise it was below par not even good for the kampong.

With that kind of composition, one that is very brainy, naturally Singapore , with no natural resources could outstrip Malaysia in every aspect of development. Malaysia, on the other hand, was too much preoccupied with its Malayness and the illusory ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ and was also more interested in useless mega iconic development rather than real social and economic development.

Whenever Kuan Yew utters anything that was deemed to be a slight on Malaysia , voices were raised admonishing him. Malaysia would never dare to face reality that Singapore had shown that it could survive was a slap on those who believed that Singapore would fold up once it left Malaysia . Therefore, it was natural that these doomsayers would try to rationalise their utterances to be in their favour to combat whatever Kuan Yew commented. Its political jealousy.

Singapore achieved its development status without any fanfare. But here in Malaysia , a development that was deceptive was proclaimed as having achieved development status. It was trumpeted as an achievement that befits first world status. This was self-delusion.

Malaysians are led to believe in a make believe world, a dream world. The leaders who themselves tend to believe in their own fabricated world did not realise the people were not taken in by this kind of illusion.

Lee Kuan Yew believed in calling a spade a spade. I was there in Singapore when the People’s Action Party won the elections in 1959. He was forthright in his briefing to party members as to what was expected of them and what Singapore would face in the future.

Ideologically, I did not agree with him. We in the University of Malaya Socialist Club had a different interpretation of socialist reconstruction. But he was a pragmatist and wanted to bring development and welfare to the Singaporeans. Well! He succeeded.

Malaysia was so much embroiled in racial politics and due to the fear of losing political power, all actions taken by the main party in power was never targeted towards bringing wealth to all. Wealth was distributed to the chosen few only. They were the cronies and the backers of the party leadership to perpetuate their own selfish ends. Seeing the efficiency and the progress achieved by Singapore caused the Malaysian leadership to suffer from an inferiority complex. That Malaysia should suffer from this complex was of its own making.

In a recent interview, Kuan Yew said that Malaysia could have done better if only it treated its minority Chinese and Indian population fairly. Instead they were completely marginalised and many of the best brains left the country in droves. He added that Singapore was a standing indictment to what Malaysia could have done differently. He just hit the nail right there on the head.

Malaysia recently celebrated its 50th year of independence with a bagful of uncertainties. The racial divide has become more acute. The number of Malay graduates unemployed is on the increase. And this aspect can be very explosive. But sad to see that no positive actions have been taken to address these social ills.

Various excuses were given by Malaysian leaders why Singapore had far outstripped Malaysia in all aspects of social and economic advancement. Singapore was small, they rationalised and therefore easy to manage. Singapore was not a state but merely an island.

There was one other aspect that Malaysia practices and that is to politicise all aspects of life. All government organs and machinery were ‘UMNO-ised’. This was to ensure that the party will remain in power. Thus there was this misconception by the instruments of
government as to what national interest is and what UMNO vested interest is.

UMNO vested interest only benefited a few and not the whole nation. But due to the UMNO-isation of the various instruments of government, the country under the present administration had equated UMNO vested interest as being that of national interest. Thus
development became an avenue of making money and not for the benefit of the people. The fight against corruption took a back seat. Transparency was put on hold. And the instruments of government took it to be of national interest to cater to the vested interest of UMNO.

Enforcement of various enactments and laws was selective. Thus a ‘palace’ in Kelang,
APs cronies and close-one-eyed umno MPs could exist without proper procedure. Corruption infested all govt departments, the worse is the police and lately even in the judiciary.

Singapore did not politicise its instruments of government. If ever politicisation took place, it is guided by national interest. To be efficient and to be the best in the region was of paramount importance. Thus all the elements like corruption, lackadaisical attitude towards work and other black elements, which would retard such an aim, were eliminated. Singapore naturally had placed the right priority in it’s pursuit to achieve what is best for its people. This is the major difference between these two independent countries.

Malaysia in its various attempts to cover up its failures embarked on several diversions. It wanted its citizens to be proud that the country had the tallest twin-tower in the world, although the structure was designed and built by foreigners. It’s now a white-elephant wasting away. It achieved in sending a man into space at an exorbitant price. For what purpose? These are what the Malays of old would say ‘menang sorak’ (hollow victories).

It should be realised that administering a country can be likened to managing a corporate entity. If the management is efficient and dedicated and know what they are doing, the company will prosper. The reverse will be if the management is poor and bad. The
company will go bust.

There are five countries around this region. There is Malaysia , and then Indonesia . To the east there are the Philippines and then there is that small enclave called the Sultanate of Brunei . All these four countries have abundance of natural resources but none can lay claim to have used all these resources to benefit the people. Poverty was rampant and independence had not brought in any significant benefits to the people. But tiny Singapore without any resources at all managed to bring development to its citizens. It had one of the best public MRT transport systems and airlines in the world and it is a
very clean city state. Their universities, health care, ports are among the best in the world.

It is impossible to compare what Singapore has achieved to what all these four countries had so far achieved. It was actually poor management and corruption, and nothing more. Everything is done for the vested interest of the few.

Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines and the Sultanate of Brunei need good management teams. They would not be able to do this on their own steam. I would advise that they call on Kuan Yew to show them what good governance is. Why look east to Japan when it is just next door across the causeway.


4 Responses to The Singapore Story

  1. Patricia says:

    Nice piece! And so many unbearable truths.

    I have heard LKY speak and I have been enraptured by the man’s brilliance. I don’t agree with everything he says, nor with the way he ran and is probably still running Singapore. But I have to grant that he knows what he’s doing: Singaporeans have a valid reason to feel proud of their nation.

    We are so many times bigger than Singapore. And yet, why is it that CNN, or most people in the world, not know who or where we are? I don’t think we need to think too hard to come up with the answer to that one!

    Singapore became a first nation and amazingly they did not have natural resources like petroleum, palm oil, tin, rubber etc like Malaysia has. But it is not without some sacrifices to their fundamental freedoms. But like you say even with the shortcomings they have valid reasons to be proud unlike here. CNN does not know us, only Al-Jazeera, guess we’re catching up huh? hee hee
    (Note: Please read LKY autobiography: The Singapore Story Vol I & II, you’ll be more amazed)

  2. Frank Xroy says:

    Malaysia had good intentions when the NEP post May 13 1969. The original intent of the NEP was to create an even playing field for all races in the economic activity of Malaysia. It cannot be denied that at that pre – 1969 the Chinese in Malaysia had a stranglehold on the economic life of Malaysia, the NEP with the introduction of FELDA and other agencies was well poised to raise the economic status of the Bumis, its bigger objective of eradicating poverty was forgotten with the advent of Mahathirism.
    Mahathirism was more concerned about the creation of Malay Millionaires, the modus operandi of this sudden creation of Malay millionaires was what destroyed this country.
    Cronyism became the order of the day, front man were placed at almost every corner of the Malaysian economy, from gambling to mega projects, every opportunity to enrich the cronies was looked into the finest detail, even sanitary (shit) services was roped in, without due regard to the ability of those awarded these contracts to carry out the projects independently, as a result Ali Babaism ala Mahatirism took shape at the expense of economy, environment and the original goal eradication of poverty.
    With greed comes everything else evil, corruption became the order of the day, any opposition to the Government was curtailed, even the judiciary was not spared, and this country today is living on false promises and a false image.
    This Government is bent on making the citizens ignorant, so it curtails the freedom of the press, it jails anyone who uses the the electronic media and presents a view that is as a result of this strict control of the press the more believable news.
    Like many other third world countries with dictatorial rule the government of this country is on the road to create ignorant masses, whose emotions can be easily stirred by religious fanaticism so that those in power can continue to pillage and rob the nation.

  3. Red says:

    Singapore is a truly blessed country. It is blessed not because it has any natural resource or a abundance of land, it blessed because it know its strengths and capitalized on them. The story of New Water is enough to bring inspirations and make the country proud.

    I am sad to admit that with each passing day, I see my beloved country, Malaysia slips from my finger tips. I grew more distant and fair to understand why country with so much opportunities get ripped and abused so damagingly. So sad. So much racial politics, corruptions, crimes and attention on power. In the end, it is the new generation that will be made to suffer for the mistakes of the pass.

  4. Beard says:

    With the encouragement of my late father, I went overseas for my tertiary education. That was in the 80’s and everyone was under no illusion that the quota system will not afford a Malaysian Chinese like myself a fair opportunity for a decent education. We were middle class and my family had to make some sacrifices to help pay for my first two years of education.
    Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh were at the helm of the opposition battling Mahathir and Ghafar Baba (and Anwar Ibrahim), demanding a fair go for all.
    Few years on, armed with university degrees and mounting optimism that the system may be changing, I returned to Malaysia. This was against the instinct of a stint in Hong Kong or elsewhere where my degrees could have taken me. Afterall, the “tanahair” is the place I will raise my family and will be the “tanah tumpah darah” if required. I was not daunted by the financial crises of the late 80’s. Furthermore I had some savings from the numerous part time jobs I held while pursuing my tertiary education (and in change for sacrificed summers). The savings were not insubstantial.
    I settled down and with the savings, I managed to start a business. I was beginning to encounter frustration after frustration in business, in particular with the who-you-know system. On the surface, it was the NEP. Beneath it, it was actually who you knew. I persevered and had some results to show for the hardwork. They don’t give you degrees for nothing. I realised that the NEP did not help the masses it was intended to because it was exploited and undermined by those in power (and their relatives).
    In a true democracy, the opposition will bark your cause if it gives them political mileage. But in tanahair, the opposition was still led by Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh who were comfortable being seen as background in pictures of the PM etc published in the media. Despite the numerous election defeat, including the memorable robocop challenge in Penang, no one was ashamed to the level of relinguishing leadership. In fact, it was such a glorious thing that the children began to follow in dads’ footsteps. The infection occurred in all mainstream parties. Singapore is not immune to this. There seem to be some “succession plan” for politics too.
    I woke up one fine day after the Y2K to find my, now teenagers, children preparing to go to school. I have been paying the price with my health in order to give them a reasonably good life in Malaysia, and I began to look at the crystal ball regarding their future. Say, if they are smart enough for tertiary education, i.e. they do well in their HSC, what’s next? Are they likely to get into the local institutions of higher learning? What of their employment prospects? It dawned on me then that I will, in all likelihood, have to pay through my nose for their education in private institutions of higher learning unless they are willing to settle for 2nd or 3rd best (by Malaysian standard which is by no means the world standard), and pursuing what, in all likelihood, will be unemployable degrees. That’s a triple barrel whammy which is best avoided.
    Wanting to do the right thing by the place I knew as “tanah tumpah darah” does not pay. I did not choose to be born a Malaysian and although I have done my best to contribute to the land of my birth, I am not treated fairly. Some quarters even thought those like us should go elsewhere. Others wave punny blades threatening the wellbeing of my kind. And these rank among the leaders. Acquiencence on the part of their “supervisors”, in my mind, equate to support. Whilst I am not intimidated by these fattened talk-only actionless hero, there are more constructive things I can direct my energy to.
    Some say (and believe) that the winds of change is blowing with the March election. I like to believe so but events have unfolded such that I am not confident it will be experienced in my lifetime. There is simply insufficient knowhow or political will for the States to counter-balance Putrajaya. As a matter of fact, many of the State reps are also Federal reps, which clearly shows that the politicians are not ready to share power and the rakyat does not know better. Although PKR has ushered in a new entrant, it’s an old player with some old habits.
    I decided to uproot and pledge my allegiance elsewhere, where, hopefully my children get a fair go. I am not willing to gamble with my children’s future. Although not a significant “brain-drain” (on account of the lower brain-cell count due to the products of some Danish bottler) I believe it is some loss to tanahair. I smile when I come across articles like MM2H – more projects to line up the pockets of ministers. I know I will receive better treatment if Malaysia is my 2H (if I should choose to apply).

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