Thursday, August 14, 2008

Celestial Places

I'm a bad sport with no sense of festive joy. I really dread huge gatherings of relatives and for me, the most important part of a celebration is the sending out of greetings to the people who have touched my life and then I can't wait to get back to work. You could call it one of the major consequences of being self-employed, when every second spent away from being productive could cost you, your next meal. Although my sister leaked it to me that my mother is distressed by my lack of enthusiasm for festive occasions. I go through the rituals, I enjoy the food but the rest of it is distracting me from the life I need to live.

So, I guess it should be no surprise that I was a party pooper on National Day. In stead of embracing a day of National Unity with pride and joy, I chose to play the role of a critic. Perhaps my shots at the inability of Singaporeans to understand right from wrong without the heavy hand of government leglislation was a cheap shot at my fellow countrymen. If it is, I stand by everything I've said. Just as Christmas has become season for retailers of tacky cosmetics, National Day has become a season of thoughtless chest beating and endless inflation of the National Ego.

Don't get me wrong, I think there's allot of celebrate about being a Singaporean, just as I believe that the birth of Christ is worth celebrating. Singapore, for all that I've said, has much to be proud of. My belief that Singapore stands out as what a city should be continues to hold - we are rich, clean and green and this is particularly true when you think that Singapore is in a region that is by and large chaotic, lawless and poor.

But let's not get overboard with the chest thumping. Yes, there's much to be proud of but let's not bring it to the state where we become like ostraiches with our necks stuck into the ground. A few 'responsible' journalist have made it a point in telling us that states like Russia and China are studying the Singapore model with great interest because - We're economically RICH but politically AUTHORITARIAN. If you read through the thoughtfullness of these arguments, you'd get the impression that Singapore is successful because its political system is authoritarian. To enforce this view, the 'responsible' media have gone onto point out that corruption has been on the rise in Thailand, Phillipines and Taiwan ever since they cast of their authoritarian yokes and had 'free' political systems with a press that actually challenges authority or at least does not report things 'responsibly.'

Unfortunately, this 'thoughtfullness' shows how little understanding the so called 'fans of the PAP,' have of the PAP. The fact that the man who deserves credit for setting up the success of the Singapore system seems to espouse this line, is even more tragic. It shows that despite all his achievements, he's reached the stage where he's living in a cloud of his own making.

The PAP and Singapore did not suceed because it was 'authoritarian' in its approach. It succeeded because it delivered a better life for the people and in many of the important arguments, PAP governments have proved to be on the correct side. It was right to welcome multi-nationals into Singapore when the spirit of the times in post-colonial times was to boot them out. It's right to allow your red light district to survive under light regulation. Singapore has plenty of economic and social statistics to show off.

Yes, Lee Kuan Yew did 'ram' through policies without too much of a fight. However, his ability to swot away critics has nothing to do with his success. It had everything to do with his ability to think and to accept the intelligence and thoughtfullness of a core of highly competent people like Goh Keng Swee, a man who's role in making Singapore what it is today seriously needs to be promoted. Contrary to what modern mythology would have you know, Lee did not say 'Folks, I'm going to tell you what to do." The magic of his leadership came from his ability to set certain goals and let men like Goh Keng Swee, S.Rajaratnam, Toh Chin Chye and Gang get on with it. I realised this at S.Rajaratnam's funeral, when Lee Kuan Yew mentioned that there would be furious arguments in the cabinate - "Wow! You mean people did argue with Lee Kuan Yew. He actually allowed people to tell him that God did not report to him?" Well apparently he did.

So, where the hell did we get the idea that God reported to Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore thrived because of it? I suspect the culprit is Confusious and his idea that the central authority knew it all. Lots of people hold the old fart up as an example of good Chinese values. I think of him as the man who took away China's place as the world's largest economy. Had the Chinese military commanders listened to Sun Tzu instead, they would have had the sense to see that the Chinese military was no match for the Western powers and done something about it, regardless of what the central authority said. Instead, Confuciuos rulled the day and Central Authority said tell the guys with guns to bugger off.

I think something similar to what happened in Ancient China is happening in Singapore. Everybody seems convinced that the ONLY wisdom and knowledge comes from a firm central government. Nobody wants to look bad in front of the boss because that's the only way up. You get a culture where we're so busy blamming someone else or trying to cover up the flaws and look good infront of the VIP, nobody spends time solving the problem at hand - 'It wasn't me."

How did a 'highly secure' detention centre not have a window grill? Didn't anyone notice in 14-years and say, "this has got to be fixed." Apparently not, people were too busy fighting for their high-tech oooppps high spending budgets.

Look at the charity scene. Within two years of the nation's largest charity being exposed as a money making scam, a Buddhist monk is found to have been exceedingly successful at fund raising. Did anybody bother to check on these characters? Didn't anybody question why charitable organisations needed palaces for their CEOs. What has been the answer to all of this - Get more leglislation, its not like there isn't allot of it to begin with.

Then there's the ability of the GIC and Temasek Holdings to play roulette with tax payer funds - ooppps I mean government surpluses - with banks that have had to write down enough bad debt to drown the nation. What has been the response to all of this? The public remains silent and the government insist that it's investing long term.....but the government can't do anything to two private compaines wholly owned by the government and staffed by former civil servants and besides you'd ruin the strategic advantage of GIC and Temasek if you knew what they were doing with your money. Funny how nobody seems to have told Warren Buffet that he'd be far more successful if he scapped his public AGMs.

Authoritarian states can only succeed if you have the celestial emporor at the top. Perhaps this is why Kim il Jong decided to make his dead dad "President for All Eternity." Unfortunately, even in North Korea, the celestial emporor has a way of getting incapacitated and dropping dead. When that happens, the people are lost and unable to fend for themselves.

You can't assume that honesty in people with extreme power will always be the case. You got to question once in a while - it's the responsible thing to do particularly when you're paying for it. Do you expect the shop keeper to call you irresponsible when you remind them they didn't give you enough change?

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