opinion

The Singapore Formula: Facts and figures to illustrate how and why it worked so well

12 August 2019 - 420   - 3

After reading the excellent article by Prof. Sirimal Abeyratne, in the Sunday Times on the 7th of July, under the same heading, I thought that I should add some facts and figures to further support what was written. 


By Daya Satharasinghe, Singapore 

After reading the excellent article by Prof. Sirimal Abeyratne, in the Sunday Times on the 7th of July, under the same heading, I thought that I should add some facts and figures to further support what was written. 

The Republic of Singapore celebrated its 54th National day recently, with a vibrant pageant and fireworks in front of a live audience of 27,000 citizens. This article highlights some of the achievements since independence and explaining how it was achieved.

Singapore experienced double digit economic growth in the 1970s and mid-80s. After that, there has been a rollercoaster pattern of growth from the mid-80s until 2000, except for bouts of higher growth from time to time. Since then, lower end growth patterns were observed due to the economic turmoil across the world. The 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis affected local growth severely. When a sudden loss of confidence in the world markets occur, it triggers a sharp downturn in small economies too. In the year 2019, it is expected that growth will be around 2%. Since a major part of Singapore’s economy depends on international trade, this situation is unavoidable.

The Republic of Singapore : The Beginning

In 1959, Singapore became a self-governing country under the British rule. As Dr. Abeyratne mentioned in his article, Singapore became a reluctant republic in 1965 when Malaysia decided to throw them out of the federation. Then, the founding father of the nation, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, formed a 10 member cabinet and was determined to govern Singapore as an independent republic. 

In the first cabinet, there were six (6) Chinese, one (1) Eurasian, one (1) Malay and one (1) Tamil member. A significant first appointment was the President of The Republic, who was a Malay. A country with limited land, limited water and human resources, and with experience only in trading, governing the newly independent country was going to be a formidable task. 

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who was not sure if Singapore could survive on its own, said in an emotional radio broadcast, on 9th August 1965, when he announced the formation of The Republic, said : 

“What has happened has happened. But be firm and calm. We are going to have a multi-racial nation in Singapore. This is not a Malay nation, not a Chinese nation, nor an Indian nation. Everybody will have a place in Singapore.”

(Extracts from Third World to First. The Singapore Story 1965-2000)

It is important at this stage to highlight that Singapore had a population of just over 3 million people, comprised of approximately 77% Chinese, 14% Malays, 8% Indians, and 1% others.

Shaping the future of The Republic - Period under PM Lee 1959 -1965- 1990)

At the time of independence, the Singapore government had the services of a Dutch Economist, Dr. Albert Winsemius (1961-1984) under UN sponsorship. His role was to provide consultation to the government, in order to achieve fast economic growth to address issues around high unemployment, lack of quality housing, etc. He produced a 10-year development plan to transform Singapore from an ‘entrepot trade port’ into ‘a centre of manufacturing and industrialization’.  

Some details of his recommendations are as follows:

Set up:

  • A programme for rapid Industrialization (with short term objectives of expanding the existing industries and  long term objectives to attract new industries) a programme to enhance the financial sector  (with short term objectives of improving the industry and long  term objectives to make a Financial Centre) and expand air & sea transport service  (with short term objectives of improved transportation and long  term objectives to make an air and sea transport hub)        
                                                                            
  •  A rapid programme to train required manpower (especially at skilled technician and supervisory level a mechanism to promote a pro-business attitude and policies (working closely with the unions and employers) a large-scale public housing programme to house the increasing population (enhancing and accelerating the low-cost apartment building)

As a result of these recommendations, the following institutions/boards were established or revamped:

  • Economic Development Board (EDB, 1961) - redirect the effort to identify industries suitable for Singapore and to convince investors that Singapore is a good place for business.
  • Singapore Port Authority (1964) - to expand maritime services
  • Singapore Airlines (1972) - for air transport services (in 1966, this was a joint operation with Malaysian Airlines) 
  • Jurong Industrial Estate (1968) - to facilitate the setting up of new industries using pre-prepared land base where water and electricity are already available at one’s doorstep.
  • Training of skilled manpower
  1. A private Chinese College was acquired by the government and set up a Technical College in 1968, in order to train urgently needed skilled manpower. Later, it was upgraded to become a Polytechnic to train mid level supervisory and management staff. 
  1. Expanded Industrial Training Board - In the early 70’s, this institution was expanded to train highly skilled workers required for the new industries. After upgrading and revamping, it is now known as Institute of Technical Education (ITE)
  • Housing and Development Board (HDB 1960) - to accelerate building programmes in order to provide  low-cost housing for the masses. 
  • Amended Employment Act & Labour laws (1968) - to make an industrial environment conducive in order to attract more investments 
  • National Wages Council (NWC, 1971) - mainly to amicably solve industrial disputes without having to resort to confrontations. As a result, started making annual income adjustments based on the progress of the economy and for the benefit of the whole Singapore workforce.

Economic success

In addition to setting up these institutions, the cabinet provided a dedicated leadership with tailor-made action plans to develop the country fast. Meritocracy was practiced in all appointments in order to minimize corruption. Economic or social benefits for the masses were the long term objectives, rather than just popular short term objectives, which many other countries were following at that time. 

To overcome the vulnerability of Singapore as a society, a rigid anti-corruption unit was formed under the PM. With regards to National Security, a few elaborate defence institutions under the Defence Minister were established. The hallmark of the policy was ‘deterrent’ rather than defence. These were the major activities of the rapid development plan.

Singapore was transformed from a third world country into the first world, in a relatively short period of time. To illustrate the results of these policies and action plans, I have collected some data and tabulated below for easy reference. The following table shows the progressive results of the 10 yr plan as well as follow up action plans over the last 53 years.

Facts & Figures showing economics progress

INDICATORS

1970

  1990

  2002

 2008

  2015

  2018

Tourists (Mn)

0.5

   5.3

   7.7

  10.2

  15.23

  18.51

Labour  (Mn)

   0.65

   1.53

   2.25

   2.73

   3.61

   3.81

P C GDP  (S$)

2,478

 20,642

 41,856

 53,192

  69,289

  87,108

Foreign Reserves (S$Mn)

 

  3,098

 

 48,521

 

 183,844

 

 250,346

 

  350,990

 

 400,276

Corporate Tax

 

  32%

   22%

   18%

   17%

   17%

Foreign Debt (S$ Mn)

 

   174

 

   686

 

   NIL

 

   NIL

 

   NIL

 

  NIL

Unemployment

3.0%

   1.7%

   4.4%

   1.6%

   2.0%

  2.9%

Living in Public Housing  %

         

 

78.7%

NOTE: This data has been collected from various sources

From 1959 onwards PM Lee and the cabinet faced tremendous challenges during governance. After becoming an independent republic in 1965, issues got compounded. 

Threats from communists, law & order issues, rampant corruption, high unemployment and confrontational labour relations were of major concerns. To give one example, in 1961, there were 110 strikes which resulted in the loss of 410,889 man-days. So, it was not smooth sailing for the government.

Strict labour controls and some changes in the Employment Act were put in place. Working hours were increased from 39 to 44 hrs  (40hrs at present) and public holidays were pruned from 15 to 11. At the same time, by offering various incentives to industries, the government managed to make a very balanced effort resulting in immediate impact on investments for new industries as well as higher productivity in the existing industries. 

Achieving double digit growth

The cabinet worked cohesively with dedication and commitment to implement policies that benefited the masses. PM Lee was fair but firm and implemented development plans and new policies with vigour. After careful studies, decisions were taken and then pursued until results were seen. As a result, significant progress was made even in the first few years. The growth in 1965 was 7.5% but the next 8 years, it reached double digit growth reaching 13.6% in 1969 and was able to maintain this growth for a few more years. 

The main reason for this growth was due to very large foreign investment. However, when the 1972-73 oil crisis hit, the economy was badly affected and growth dropped to 4.5%. 

The government took prompt action to improve growth and the economy turned around reaching 9.5% growth in two years and managed to sustain it until 1985, when the recession worldwide, affected Singapore very badly resulting in -1.4% negative growth. The reason for this was mainly due to the fact that a major part of the economy was dependent on exports and once the exports get affected, production drops, retrenchment starts and there was no way to avoid slow growth or even recession.

Once again the government stepped in early, and produced a very comprehensive economic package to save jobs, share the pain and to absorb the shock. The present PM Lee Hsien Loong as the Minister in-charge of Trade & Industry headed this committee. A flexible package involving wage adjustments for the workforce and incentives to industries where the workers were sent for re-training rather than retrenchment were the major points in the package.

The unions painfully accepted the flexible - wage adjustments as stakeholders, since the government promised to restore the downward adjustments once the economy improved. A secondary reason for the unions to accept the package was to minimize retrenchment of fellow workers. 

The economic package was so effective, in a short period of 3 years, the economy rebounded and growth reached 11.3% in 1988. The government started honouring the pledges, and restored some of the cuts gradually from 1988 onwards.

Tripartite agreement - Unions placing the trust in government

This was only possible because of tremendously improved labour relations over the previous 20 years. NWC had been fair in offering higher bonuses and better working conditions to workers when the economy performed well.

It took several years for the government to develop this close relationship with the unions. With the formation of NWC under the chairmanship of an eminent university professor Lim Chong Yah, the strong bond and trust between each other was well established over the years. The unions felt that their grievances were being addressed quietly through negotiations, without the need for confrontation. As a result, a very remarkable partnership was developed. At that time, the slogan was : 

‘Singapore unions don’t strike, they strike up a partnership’  

The government, labour unions and employers had been working together on ‘tripartite’ agreements to overcome the concerns of unions. Up to today, NWC comprising of the three stakeholders looked after the welfare of workers and recommended annual wage increases as well as other welfare measures without serious impact to the industry. Since this bond was so well established, Singapore has not seen any strikes in the last 30 years. In 2010, ILO sent a study mission to Singapore to study how ‘tripartism’ works in Singapore and since then they have recommended it to be adopted by other developing countries.

Change of leadership

In the business world, it is believed that one of the leaders’ main duties is to groom a successor. Prime Minister Lee believed in this principle and he announced that he will step down when he is 65, for the younger generation to take over. He also got other ministers and members of parliament to step down. After every election, one could see about 20- 25% new members. As a result of that policy, self-renewal process in placed in the system. 

In 1985, Goh Chok Tong was appointed as first Deputy Prime Minister, taking additional responsibilities in governance, in a carefully managed leadership transition. The governing party elected DPM Goh Chok Tong to be the next Prime Minister. So, when the economy was doing well, PM Lee decided to go for an election in 1988. The governing party won handsomely. At DPM Goh’s request, PM Lee decided to stay on as PM for two more years before stepping down. 

End of PM Lee’s era

The first 10 years of governance of independent Singapore resulted in the per capita GDP increasing from S$2,000 to about S$7,000. At end of second 10 year period, when negative growth hit the economy, the per capita GDP has increased to about S$ 20,000. 

A remarkable achievement for the people in a period of 20 years since independence. By the end of PM Lee’s era (1990), per capita GDP increased to about S$ 28,000. 

Since 1966, just after the National Day (Independence Day) PM Lee spoke to the nation (at a National Day rally) on past issues as well as future plans and challenges facing the government. Typically it is a very informative talk with facts, charts and figures to educate the general public and to explain or sometimes even to justify, why certain things were done in that manner.

In one such speech that he made just before stepping down voluntarily from premiership, PM Lee described the governing principles for achieving Singapore’s success over the last 25 years (1965 -1990) as follows:  

Six (6) Principles for success

  - Give clear signals

  - Do not chop and change

  - Be corruption free

  - Win respect, not popularity

  - Spread benefits

  - Strive to succeed

(Extract from the National Day speech -1988 )

Usually his speeches are very interesting to listen to and drive serious messages to the people profoundly but also wittingly. He never failed to amuse the audience. He was so obsessive in the progress of Singapore, when he referred to things going wrong, he made the following statement : 

"And even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave, and I feel that something is going wrong, I'll get up." 

(Extract from the National Day speech -1988 )

On 18th November 1990, PM Lee Kuan Yew, the great visionary, stepped down as the 1st Prime Minister of Singapore and the new Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong took over.  Lee Kuan Yew became a Senior Minister in the cabinet, to provide guidance to younger leaders, ending the Lee era. 

Let me quote one of his early speeches to show yet another reason why Singapore was so successful.

“You lose nothing by being polite. The answer is ‘No’, but please say it politely and give the reasons… Explain to me why ‘No’. Don’t change ‘No’ to ‘Yes’. Don’t be a fool. If there was a good reason why it is ‘No’, it must remain ‘No’, but the man must be old politely”

(Advice given to the Civil Servants at the Victoria Theatre, 30th Sept 1965)
(Extracts from Lee Kuan Yew in his own words, 1959-1970) 

Some people say that it is a miracle that Singapore reached this level of progress in such a short time. It is my belief that there are few factors that worked in favour of Singapore.

  1. It is the geographical location which is a central point between Australia/New Zealand and Middle East/ Europe. It is also between Australia/New Zealand and Japan/China. Therefore, making Singapore a Transport Hub made a lot of business sense. 
  2. Making the environment suitable to use as a distribution centre for the Far East was also a logical business decision.
  3. In spite of limited land and human resources, making Singapore as a high-tech manufacturing hub and a service centre of par excellence is a visionary approach.          
  4. Its availability of highly trained staff and harmonious industrial relations which investors adore
  5. Making Singapore a green and clean a liveable city attracts many to come to Singapore to work. 
  6. Finally, the efficient and stable leadership provided by the government. 

Let’s go through the different phases of Singapore’s development briefly.

The Sixties (60’s)

In the 60’s, the government encouraged labour-intensive industries in order to provide employment for the masses. As a result, garment factories, textile factories, toy factories, wood working factories etc. were established. Some emphasis was given to improve basic skills training facilities. Further capital and technology-intensive projects such as Shell Eastern Petroleum and National Steel & Iron Mill were also established.

Singapore believed in a very strong defence establishment in order to sustain economic growth. Therefore, a scheme to train young men in military training was considered essential and as a result in 1967, compulsory 2 yrs National Service (NS) was introduced for all male citizens.  And every year, further refresher training for two weeks was also introduced. Therefore, when a mail citizen turns 18 years, he is absorbed into NS. In case the person has been selected to the university for higher studies, his university place is reserved until he completes NS. In this was Singapore maintains a NS men ready for military duties, if the need arises.

The Seventies (70’s)

After establishing a firm manufacturing base, the government concentrated on developing skilled manpower base needed for the diversified industries. The EDB marketed Singapore as a quick start-up place, where factories were built in advance and a skilled workforce was ready to be employed. As a result, sophisticated electronic manufacturing operations for computer parts, peripherals, software factories, were built. A whole new phase of industrialisation started with MNCs setting up factories. Furthermore, the government even encouraged some companies to start R & D work in Singapore. With Texas Instruments starting work on producing semiconductors and integrated circuits for export, electronic manufacturing started in Singapore giving a significant boost to the economy.

During this period, the EDB was successful in getting overseas training programmes with Tata of India, Philips of Holland and Rollei of Germany. This unique partnership helped to train and develop Singapore’s workforce in high technology industries and that was another plus point for investors to come to Singapore. The S$ 157 million foreign investment inflow in 1965 increased tenfold to S$ 1.5725 billion by 1971. A remarkable achievement for the Singapore economy.

Although not directly related, another significant achievement was the switching of all schools to English medium without any resentment of the largely Chinese population. The medium of teaching in schools prior to that was Chinese, English, Malay or Tamil. A complex system with four mediums of instruction.

As this was a very sensitive issue, the government gave a few years advanced notice, and in 1978, changed the medium of teaching in all schools to English. However, every student must learn a compulsory second language (Chinese, Malay or Tamil). This helped with social integration. The school system also developed a civics and moral education curriculum to inculcate values and build character for the young generation. 


The Eighties (80’s)

Emergence of knowledge-intensive activities such as R & D, engineering design and computer software services may be considered as The Second Industrial Revolution in Singapore. Asia’s first silicon wafer manufacturing plant was built. In order to support the manpower needs of the high-technology industries, the Singapore government co-established training centres with Japan, Germany and France. In addition, the First Science Park was established next to the National University of Singapore to give a boost to manufacturers who need help in automation, using robotic and other technologies.

The EDB set a new goal to position Singapore as a ‘Total Business Centre” in order to attract multinational corporations, in the financial, educational, lifestyle, medical, IT and software sector. Sunrise industries such as personal computer, printed circuit board and disc drive manufacturers were invited to invest. As a result, Apple Computer plant and disc drive plants were also set up.

In the same time period, the government adopted a high-wage policy with the intention of phasing out labour intensive industries. The intention was to up-skill and upgrade the Singapore workforce as well as to face labour shortages. 

The Nineties (90’s)

PM Goh’s leadership style was different. He was more consultative and tried to build consensus before action is taken. Obviously he was affable, friendly and quietly persuasive. Since PM Goh promised a kinder and gentler society, he allocated more money to arts related work and relaxed some strict rules governing the society.

As far as development work is concerned, Singapore headed in a new direction. Information Technology helped Singapore to lead the businesses in the value chain towards more capital-intensive and skills-intensive activities. International Business Park in Jurong as well as Changi Business Park close to the airport were established in the early 90’s. Then came the mega project reclamation of Jurong Island by joining 7 smaller islands. 

Singapore’s Chemical & Energy Hub was set up there, away from population centres. In the latter part of the 90’s, close to the National University of Singapore, another research area was built, giving a huge push to R & D work. 

This is the period of the knowledge economy. Encouraging more research and innovation-intensive industries, Singapore opened the door for scientific companies to set up research facilities. Being a globally-oriented, free-market economy, scientists took up positions in the Singapore research industry. At the same time, universities were attracting foreign talent to provide high standards in higher education. Singapore’s small size, political stability and ability to respond to rapidly changing world environment helped with its vision to become a great global city.

By setting up new and up to date training facilities in several parts of the country, vocational training was upgraded. These new centres provided basic training as well as training in high-technologies and as a result, there were good employment opportunities for ITE graduates in different industries. Top ITE graduates were allowed to proceed to polytechnics and after some industrial experience, they were allowed to proceed to the universities. This policy encouraged slow learners to catch up at a later date allowing for the development of scarce manpower to the maximum. 

All curricula in educational institutions were revamped to focus on innovation, creativity and research. In addition, a lifelong learning approach was adopted. The government provided generous funding to the universities to develop international partnerships focusing on bioinformatics, information sciences and medical technologies.

In the 1990’s under PM Goh’s leadership, Singapore continued to make great economic advances and weathered the Asian economic crisis of the 1997-98 period with fluctuating growth rates. Singapore did much better than many of her neighbours.

PM Goh had a vision called “Singapore 21’

  1. To create wealth
  2. To share success
  3. To care for the old
  4. To invest in the young
  5. To build ties among people 

2000 and beyond (2000 - 2019)

Resource scarce Singapore has given high priority to education and training with the aim of developing every citizen to his/her maximum potential. In Singapore, the education system has been the building block for economic, social and national development. 

In early 2000, insurance and securities industries were completely liberalised. As a result, international players too set up businesses here. However, the major focus was on R & D. In an area named ‘One North’, located close to the National University of Singapore, four clusters were built as follows:

  1. Biopolis - Biomedical R & D cluster
  2. Fusionopolis - Physical Science, Engineering R & D and ICT
  3. Mediapolis - Media hub
  4. Nepal Hill - Training and Talent development

By 2004, PM Goh has been in office for 14 years. After a period of low growth, the economy had recovered and achieved 8.5% growth. Once again on a pre- planned schedule, change of leadership took place. PM Goh stepped down and Lee Hsien Loong became the 3rd Prime Minister of Singapore.

Over the years, the EDB set up 19 overseas offices and continued to attract more new industries to Singapore. Aerospace Technology and Pharmaceutical industries were leading growth areas. These industries which had been investing in Singapore for some time expanded their facilities further. Let us look at these two industries in more detail.

For a long time Seletar Airport, located in the middle of the country, was used as a private aircraft maintenance base. With the extension of the runway and providing a new terminal building, the services were expanded. And the Seletar Aerospace Park was built in order to attract new investment.

As a result, Singapore become Asia’s no.1 provider of aircraft maintenance, repair and overall (MRO) needs. Rolls Royce now produces the most advanced aero-engines in the Singapore facility. In short, it has a state-of-the-art manufacturing and R&D facilities as regional customer service centre. In addition, Airbus has the largest flight crew training facilities in the world with 8 flight simulators. Altogether, there are over 60 MNC’s now operating in the Seletar Aerospace Park.

Singapore, being identified as the leading location for best-in-class manufacturing plants, has attracted major pharmaceutical companies. In addition to producing innovative products, biological drug substances are now produced here. In the Tuas Biomedical Park, Pfizer set up the first manufacturing facility which produces drug substances for the global market. GSK and Amgen are two other companies who have manufacturing plants here. More and more pharmaceutical companies are locating manufacturing plants in Singapore. Eight (8) out of ten (10) of the largest companies have set up facilities in Singapore.

In order to provide space for setting up new industries, Singapore started focusing on infrastructure development and resource development since limited resources were available on this tiny island nation. This process actually began in the 80s. However, it was not sufficient so more innovative solutions were designed and built to increase capacity. 

One such innovative project was for harvesting water. Water scarce Singapore started harvesting river water by setting up a flexible concrete barrage at the mouth of the river, and purification processes for the treatment of river water. Furthermore, rainwater treatment processes took a few more years to complete. Rainwater was collected from drains using Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS). Since space was scarce on the surface, solutions had to be found underground. Under this system, rainwater which was collected was sent underground to three treatment centres. After treatment, the purified water was then stored in the reservoirs of Singapore. 

In addition, Singapore has three desalination plants for converting sea water and two more are being built.

Another project planned to provide underground storage. For example, Rock caverns in Jurong Island were built 150m below the surface for the storage of hydrocarbons and other chemicals. The Singapore Army also uses rock caverns for storing ammunition, relieving land for other use. Taking cues from other world cities, Singapore’s underground cities are currently in the planning stage.

Although growth in the last two decades were not as good as the previous two decades, the government with such immense foresight, has always been proactively working to achieve higher growth. Singapore experienced highest economic growth of 14.8% in the year 2010 with the help of pharmaceutical and other manufacturing activities as well as trade-related industries. Since then, there has been lower growth for the last few years and economists predict lower growth over the next few years too. It is relatively easy to identify some logical reasoning for this situation.

  1. When the economy matures, one cannot expect double digit growth in the economy.
  2. As a country that largely depends on international trade, what happens in other parts of the world affects the local economy.
  3. The trade wars between super powers also affects the whole world at this moment

Trade Union Movement 

Before concluding the article, it is important to mention how the trade unions in Singapore contribute to the progress of the country. In the early part of this article, there was some discussion about the industrial relations in Singapore. 

Under the guidance of NWC which unions participate as equal members, all the decisions are made consensually . Every one puts the country’s interest first. Mutual understanding and trust place a major role here. During the formation of the NWC, all members worked towards eliminating mistrust. Once the unions saw that the other two partners consistently honour their agreements, any mistrust disappeared. 

The National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) is the name of all the amalgamated unions. The union leaders were able to understand that in business, it is not always possible to increase salaries. If union members can earn additional income to support their families, then they can help their members with additional financial and other benefits. Therefore, unions went into business with the aim of sharing profits. That really worked well. At present there are more than 14 business undertakings that belong to the unions earning money for their members. NTUC FairPrice is in the supermarket business. NTUC Comfort is a taxi service. NTUC Income is an insurance business. These are the three major business activities. Altogether, there are 14 social enterprises bringing in concessions or dividends to the union members. NTUC FairPrice has overseas branches in China and Myanmar. 

The following statement elaborates the spirit of cooperation amongst the stakeholders :

“Workers, employers and the government shared common goals and worked closely together to build harmonious industrial relations. This has benefited businesses and workers and helped Singapore achieve inclusive growth” 

(NTUC’s Secretary General Lim Swee Say - Oct 2010)

Singapore in the next decade

For the last 15 years, Singapore was under PM Lee Hsien Loong. It has been a very challenging time but many progressive policies and plans were introduced during this period for the benefit of its citizens.

Two such plans are for honouring as well as helping citizens  who contributed to the development of the country in the early years of independence called ’Pioneer Generation Package’   introduced in  2014 and ‘Merdeka Generation Package’ introduced this year. These are mainly cash awards and special discounts for helping the older generation to cope up with increasing medical costs.

Since health costs were increasing, budget surpluses were distributed to all the citizens in the last few years. Another plan which benefited people was upgrading of govt. apartments which people live in, at a heavily subsidised cost. These were done to recognise and appreciate the two generations of Singaporeans who transformed Singapore from Third World to First World.

On political side, there was an increase in the number of non- constituency MPs in the parliament, in order to represent more opposition voice. Another political change was creating the opportunity for a minority candidate to become the elected President of the Republic. 

This year Singapore declared war on diabetics and introduced programmes mobilising the whole nation towards healthier diets, and encouraging Singaporeans to be physically active. In addition introduced better disease management and early detection and intervention programmes in hospitals and clinics. 

Although there is no welfare system, as in some western societies, there are many schemes to help those who are low wage earners. If the income of any worker is below $2000, the government has a scheme called Work Income Supplement (WIS) to top-up the income.

The actual amount varies with age, with older workers getting more and if the worker has some disability, then the top up amount is more. Furthermore, assistance is given in the payment of utility bills etc. The government makes sure that growth is inclusive without leaving some people behind. 

In the year 2003, Singapore had to face the health disaster called SARS, along with the rest of the world. It was a very serious situation but Singapore managed to control the disaster with minimum damage. The following years were relatively good years, up to 2010. However, since then growth has been relatively low. 

In a mature economy, achieving high growth rate is not possible. A shrinking labour force and aging population are other domestic constraints that need to be considered. So, rather than be constrained by low domestic growth, the government has invested in the neighbouring countries where the growth is much higher and encouraged private sector industries to also invest overseas, whilst attracting high value added industries which are highly automated to Singapore.

PM Lee has now set the tone of the political culture for a change in leadership and also to have an election. The election is due in the course of the next 12 months, as it has been 4 years since the last. Early this year, the governing party elected the present Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat to be the next PM. PM Lee has appointed him as the deputy PM in April. 

To meet the demand and expectation of Singapore citizens, industrial development is seen as the primary path but with a modification in strategy. Innovation in industrial infrastructure development is necessary to stay ahead of the competitors and attract high end technology and investment. In addition, it is necessary to search for suitable investment opportunities overseas where higher growth is possible. Singapore has to further increase the focus on knowledge and innovation-intensive activities while R & D become the cornerstone in development activities. 

Proactively, the government looks for challenges ahead and tries to prepare schemes to face them. This strategy has worked well and whenever there is a down turn, in the shortest possible time, the economy turns around. The country expect it to happen this time too.

This article further reinstates how and why the Singapore formula worked - achieve first world status in such a short period. It seems clear that Singapore’s success is largely due to the dedication of far-sighted leaders working closely with the people to achieve the success and hence inclusive growth. However, there is no better person who can explain why Singapore formula worked, other than the nation’s founding father himself.

Therefore, let me conclude by giving you another quote from Singapore’s most visionary leader, the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew : 

“You can bargain for better wages, you can bargain for higher productivity bonuses. But once the bargain has been struck, then you must enter into the spirit of the agreement, and put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage. There must be no fooling around, work means discipline. Singapore’s success depends on the spirit in which workers, management and government, all three, enter into the spirit of cooperation, necessary for prosperity.” 

(The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew)

(A note about the writer of this article : Mr. Daya Satharasinghe is a retired academic who lives and works in Singapore since 1973. He was recruited when skilled training institutions expanded and had a very successful career spanning over 31 years. He may be contacted at dayasatha@hotmail.com )

References:                                                                                                                                                                                                      

  • Third World to First. The Singapore Story 1965-2000, by Lee Kuan Yew
  • Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew 
  • Evolution of Industrial Landscape in Singapore, by Diwakar Kaushik, JTC Corporation
  • Dept of Statistics website
  • Economic Development Board website

  Comments - 3

  • Samy Selvarajah Thursday, 19 September 2019 08:49 PM

    We written article about the history of SINGAPORE. Nation built by Singaporeans for the world to know and follow its paths. Sri Lankan politicians failed Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka is on its way to bankruptcy. Please read this article and gain more knowledge, destroy corruption, work for the common man who elected polititions to office, work for them in return, rather than fill your own pockets, the Sri Lankan way. This article is a must for Sri Lankan parliament members to read, understand, and act accordingly. GOD BLESS SRI LANKA>

    Reply : 0       2

    j de Silva Friday, 16 August 2019 02:21 PM

    very well researched presentation.Well done, Day

    Reply : 0       2

    Mahinda Thenabadu Friday, 16 August 2019 04:15 PM

    Congrats to you, Daya, for a well compiled article. It would do well for you to send this one or two of the popular Sri Lankan English papers for the benefit of its readers.

    Reply : 0       2

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