Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thought Provoking Piece by PN Balji, Editorial Director - MediaCorp

Monday, July 14, 2008

CAN A FEW GOOD MEN CONTINUE to Make s’pore?

Nation needs citizenry who can think on their feet,question established views and identify new solutions

P N BALJI
editorial director balji@mediacorp.com.sg

BRITISH journalist John Kampfner’s argument self-destructed when he ended his commentary analysing Singapore’s economics-before-politics model with this concluding line: “It is providing a modicum of a good life, and a quiet life, the ultimate anaesthetic for the brain.”

A cheap shot, this, but let’s put that aside. His column, published in this paper last Monday, deserves to be debated and not dismissed as another Western journalist’s prejudiced views. For Mr Kampfner, a left-leaning former editor of the New Statesman magazine who used to look at the world through hisfreedom-at-all-cost lenses, to even admit that he has changed his mind on the viability of the Singapore model is striking.

Let’s look at this paragraph from his commentary: “I used to reassure myself with the old certainty that this model was not applicable to larger, more diverse states. I now believe this to be incorrect.”

A rare retraction indeed.

The rise of China and Russia from the ashes of communism and their plunge into the fires of capitalism on the one side and the weaknesses of the Western model ofdemocracy being exposed by the burdens of the welfare state and resurgence of terrorism of a different kind must have all made an impact on the writer.

For a country like Singapore, the issue is not whether this is the right model but whether the model, so assiduously nurtured and so vigorously protected by the Minister Mentor, will stand the test of time.

It is a recurrent theme in many of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s recent speeches and he has good reason to worry.

The pool of people he believes can lead Singapore to permanent prosperity is shrinking by the day. As recently as Friday, he spoke of it again when he gave Singapore a 10-year time frame.

“The present team can last two terms. If they don’t find talented people with the drive, energy, integrity and passion, then the future is in doubt.”

The focus since he formed the People’s Action Party government in 1959 has been to get a few good men together and make them believe in a common good.

That strategy is coming under strain in a Singapore which has been convinced to leave the responsibility of running the country solely to a chosen few and concentrate on chasing the money rainbow.

You can see that culture being taken to the extreme in our schools, offices and even homes. I teacher, you student. I boss, you subordinate. I father, you son.

And you can see what that culture has done to our people. Try asking this question when you meet a young Singaporean the next time: So what do you think of this new development?

If you don’t get a middle-of-the roadanswer like “interesting”, you should rejoice. Even if you do come across someone with an opinion, see how fast that view can be whittled away when you challenge it robustly.

Imagine what this culture can lead to if the top 10 per cent of our people in politics, business, the civil service and civic organisations disappear overnight. We just don’t have a strong reserve tank to rely on to fill the vacuum created.

If a similar scenario were to happen in China or India, you will see not just 10 per cent but 20 per cent of their super-substitutes gushing out.

To build that reserve pool, we need to allow and even encourage questioning, thinking and independent minds in every sphere of our life and work. In short, rebellious minds; not of the destructive, but of the constructive kind.

That kind of culture can have another effect which the Minister Mentor has talked about before: A citizenry that will not be able to detect a rogue a mile away despite all the institutional checks and balances that he and his team have built up over the years. Those filters could fail to flush out that rogue who might, just might, emerge in areas we could never imagine.

Let us remind ourselves that it is the World Premier League we are playing in, a stage full of uncertainties as well as opportunities.

That stage needs not just a few good men, but also a citizenry who can think on their feet, question established views and identify new solutions.

How to go about doing it?

Mr Kampfner’s countryman, Alex Ferguson, who has made the Manchester United brand durable in the soccer world’s collective consciousness could provide some answers.

2 comments:

CHUA CHUAN SEAH said...

P N Baiji, Editorial Director--MediaCorp--was the former editor of The New Paper, wasn't he?

The New Paper usually focuses on news and reports that deal with human interest stories of a social nature. It also publishes news and reports on entertainment and lifestyle happenings. It also publishes soccer news and reports primarily.

Its political coverage is meagre and superficial--and P N Balji's so-called "thought-provoking" piece is just that--meagre and superficial. I usually took no more than ten minutes to go through the paper each time; and that says how much I think of Balji's commentary!

suspended particle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.