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SINGAPORE’S MODERNIZATION: FROM THE THIRD WORLD TO THE FIRST
Mr. Eddie Teo Permanent Secretary, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore
Speech at the Second Doha Development Forum 9-10 April 2005
and not out of the personal interest of individuals. . how we traveled from the Third World to the First World. were of different races and did not feel or behave as part of one nation. So there is much we can learn from each other and many areas for cooperation and collaboration between Singapore and Qatar. That the people had sufficient trust and faith in the government to believe that what it does is in the national interest and for the public good. One is the overall government approach. Good government meant that the people were given the choice of electing politicians who would put nation above self. or somewhat similar.2 SINGAPORE’S MODERNIZATION: FROM THE THIRD WORLD TO THE FIRST Thank you for inviting me to speak at this important Forum and for the opportunity to share some of the experiences my Government went through when it modernized Singapore. globalization has caused many countries to grapple with the same. Singapore began as a colonial outpost with immigrants from diverse races and religions. When we became independent in 1965. But unlike Qatar. but not quite as high as that enjoyed by Qatar. But some of the principles of governance which we adopted on our journey may be useful. and national above personal wealth. Key to our modernization process was good and strong government. Strong government meant that it enjoyed enough support to take difficult but rational decisions. How did we do it? What were the principles and policies we adopted? Leadership is Key 6. Singapore developed and modernized into what it is today. Over the last forty years. with a high per capita income. or as one of our founding fathers – former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew . And increasingly. That we had in place a properly functioning legal system to ensure that no political leader or civil servant was above the law. 5. Not all our experiences will be relevant to Qatar. we have neither oil nor gas. 2. the challenge was to build a nation from a very small country with very few natural resources.put it. Like Qatar. I propose to touch on two aspects of how Singapore was modernized. All we had in 1965 was our people. sixteen times smaller than Qatar. who came from different cultures. The other is the specific role of the Public Service in implementing the modernization effort. Singapore is only 700 sq km. Singapore’s History 4. 3. we lack water. problems.
export-led and international. So it was that our first generation political leaders were able to make bold and decisive moves that determined Singapore’s future. where the rule of law prevails and their investments will be safe-guarded. We invested significantly in educating and training our people so that they have the skills to work. Making Singapore investor-friendly often requires Singaporeans to accept and understand that the presence of foreign companies expands the overall economic pie so that there are more jobs and opportunities all round and that local small enterprises and Singaporeans will benefit more than they lose. 9. we went against the then prevailing view that MNCs were parasites. It promises equal opportunities to all. The recent economic restructuring measures brought about by the economic downturn focused on bringing down costs and retraining workers. 12. In doing so. the government has to continue to ensure that they regard Singapore as a safe and stable place. 13. Singapore’s growth and survival strategy must be outward-looking. Over the years. 8. An equally important principle was to make Singaporeans accept that there is no free lunch. but unemployed workers were re-trained to return to the workforce and not provided welfare to stay home. they have to work hard. education takes up the next biggest chunk on government’s budget expenditure. Our strategies were based on the belief that without a domestic market and natural resources. That they are rewarded for the work they do and they have to work for their reward. Educational and job opportunities are open to all who will try to give of their best. Singapore embarked on rapid industrialization by wooing MNCs to locate and invest in Singapore. including Qatar. Unemployment was a necessary outcome of economic restructuring. Our people know that in Singapore.3 7. meritocracy is a cardinal principle of governance. employers and trade unions – a longstanding tripartite framework for labour relations which has helped bring Singapore through many economic crises. but never equal results. Reward for Work. Work for Reward 10. After defence. To ensure that our workforce understands and supports the restructuring. we have repeatedly emphasised the need for harmonious labour relations . It is evident in our effort to negotiate Free Trade Agreements with many countries. the government will provide the basic infrastructure required to uplift the population and will formulate rational policies premised on what is best for the nation. We continue to believe in this fundamental principle today. Rational government policies mean that they must be practised in good as well as bad times. To court foreign investors. In return. They know that the government does not believe in providing welfare and that to survive and succeed. 11. we have close collaboration among government.
Stay Relevant 16. putting a roof over everyone’s head was enough. recognizing that past strategies are no longer sufficient. To stay relevant and ride on the waves of change. The outcome was a comprehensive review of our taxation. including those in the private sector and abroad. wages and land policies. We recognized that such an overhaul required changes not only in our economic policies but also in our educational systems and bureaucracy.4 based on trust and dialogue among the three sectors. Singapore has to constantly anticipate change and adapt and respond quickly. rather than dealing with problems through militant action and violent confrontation. a more caring and attentive government and bureaucracy and a more responsive government machinery. . To ensure our economic competitiveness. 15. The most recent changes were made because Singapore suffered a series of economic blows caused by external events in the last few years. we cut the cost of doing business in Singapore and sought new areas for Singapore to excel in. The Government also realizes that in a democracy. but we also see opportunities in their booming markets and encourage our local businesses to seek niches in both countries. In 2001. It was clearly an effort to renew and remake the economy. leading to Singapore having one of the highest home ownership rates in the world. We worry about the rise of China and India. Our students need to move beyond being good at passing exams to being more creative and innovative. Today. starting with the 1997 economic recession. Our citizens are now widely-traveled and extremely mobile – many are educated abroad and work outside the country. Hence our public housing scheme was rolled out. the government set up the Economic Review Committee to review economic strategies for future growth. 18. 17. the population will only continue to give it a strong political mandate. helping enterprises and Singapore to seize new opportunities and respond to external challenges. Many better educated Singaporeans now want a more active role in policy-making. Anticipate Change. They will remain rooted to Singapore only if they feel that the government is engaging them and they can make a difference and play a role in shaping Singapore’s future. election after election. more market savvy and more responsive to business needs. Our civil servants have to go beyond being efficient to being less rigid. A Stake for Everyone 14. The Committee consulted thousands of Singaporeans. if it continues to deliver the economic goods and meet the people’s aspirations and expectations. against growing regional competitors. In the past. the government is expected to go beyond providing bread and butter.
we can share and learn from each other. As our two countries seek to improve and reform our public services to meet the challenges of development and modernization. fuller explanations for government actions and policies. 20. 21. 22. Shell was the first company to use scenario planning but it does it from a private sector perspective. also expect less red tape and greater accountability. more easily accessible and always available. on top of ensuring that public services work effectively. Among the major reforms undertaken in the Civil Service in recent years to meet these new challenges are the continuous review of government rules and regulations to simplify and do away with out-dated and unnecessary ones. I understand that the Qatar Public Service is interested in scenario planning. Today. governmental tool has its own special challenges and problems which we can share with Qatar. and faster responses. However. Applying scenario planning as a national. Qatar-Singapore Cooperation 23. Citizens. When Singapore first became independent. Another area where Qatar can work with Singapore is aviation. extension of electronic services to make transaction faster. 24. incorruptibility and impartiality. What is the role of the public service in the modernization of Singapore? Civil servants make it possible for political leaders to fulfill their vision. For instance. Only if the Civil Service is aligned to the values and vision of the political leadership will it be possible for the government to effectively implement its policies. The Singapore Government has been using scenario planning for over ten years and is most willing to share our experiences with Qatar.5 The Role of the Public Service 19. streamlining of processes so that the citizen only has to deal with one face of government and is not given the bureaucratic run-around. Among these expectations are the desire to be consulted for their views. including businessmen. We even send our top tier civil servants for attachments in private sector firms. the Civil Service continues to imbibe the core values it was taught – that of meritocracy. efficiently and smoothly. . the Civil Service now has to keep pace with the rising expectations of the population. The public service is also on the look-out to learn best practices from the private sector. SIA and Changi Airport are willing to discuss with Qatar Airways and your Airport authorities to see how we can each become an aviation hub in our respective regions. it took a major educational effort for the political leadership to realign the mindsets of our civil servants and put them on a common course to pursue common goals. a tool developed by Shell. to try to acquire market savvy and understand how frustrating the bureaucracy can look from the other side of the fence.
Nevertheless. I would like to end by congratulating Qatar for being ranked as the most competitive country in the Arab world by the World Economic Forum. I should not really be so audacious as to stand here telling you about the Singapore experience. I hope what I have shared has been of some minimal value and relevance to what you are engaged in doing in Qatar. .6 Conclusion 25. Thank you.
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