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Impacts of Large Dams: A Global Assessment

ASEAN Industries and the Challenge from China

Editors Cecilia Tortajada, Dogan Altinbilek, Asit K. Biswas

Authors Darryl Jarvis, Anthony Welch

One of the most controversial issues of the water sector in recent years has been the impacts of large dams. Proponents have claimed that such structures are essential to meet the increasing water demands of the world and that their overall societal benefits far outweight the costs. In contrast, the opponents claim that social and environmental costs of large dams far exceed their benefits, and that the era of construction of large dams is over. Publisher: Springer ISBN: 978-3642235702

This book explores the impact of the rise of China on South East Asia, addressing the consequences for some of Asia’s key economic sectors, including educational services, bio-technology, financial services, and the food industry. Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan ISBN: 978-0230542341 Buy online:

Buy online:

Reasserting the Public in Public Services: New Public Management Reforms Authors M. Ramesh, Eduardo Araral, Xun Wu

After two decades of dominating the public sector reform agenda, privatisation is on the wane as states gradually reassert themselves in many formerly privatised sectors. The change of direction is a response to the realisation that privatisation is not working as intended, especially in public service sectors. Publisher: Routledge ISBN: 978-0415547390 Buy online:

Pension Systems and Old-Age Income Support in East and Southeast Asia: Overview and Reform Directions Authors Donghyun Park

Old age income support will be one of the biggest social and economic challenges facing Asia in the 21st century. The growing spotlight on old age income support is largely due to exceptionally rapid population aging which is fundamentally reshaping Asia’s demographic profile. A young continent reaping the demographic dividend of a large youthful workforce is giving way to a greying continent where the ratio of retirees to workers is on the rise. Publisher: Routledge ISBN: 978-0415692700 Buy online:

Managing Editor Claire Leow, Designer Chris Koh,

Illustrator (inclusive of cover) Paul Lachine Editorial Advisor Astrid S. Tuminez Editorial Office Research Support Unit (RSU) Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy 469C Oei Tiong Ham Building, Singapore 259772 To offer feedback on, or contribute an article to Global-isAsian, please email Global-is-Asian is available free online at http://www.spp. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the Managing Editor. © 2011, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS. Global-is-Asian is published quarterly. The views and opinions expressed in this publication reflect the authors’ point of view only and not necessarily those of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS. ISSN 1793-8902

Dean’s provocations

38 Immigrants and their rights


40 Droughts or floods: what is important for Singapore?

Singapore politics: the new normal


42 Political salaries in singapore: paying for talent


Is the decline of the West inevitable?

44 Everybody's money


Latin America: its Asian origin and its Asian future

46 70th anniversary of the fall of Singapore (through the eyes of a British prisoner of war)


Political change in Myanmar


Regional implications of political developments in Myanmar

Executive Education 52 LKY School’s growing presence in Central Asia

10 “The time to redesign the system is now”

54 Interview with Professor Jeffrey D. Straussman

12 Bukit Brown: the polemics of engagement

55 Indian Economic Service officials hone their skills

Focus (part 1) 18 Economic challenges to a more inclusive Singapore

Alma mater

21 Towards a new social compact

56 Master in Public Administration and Management graduates mark a milestone

24 Politics: a new paradigm?

58 Profile of an alumnus: Ye Minn Thein

27 Governing for an inclusive society

59 Lunar New Year with migrant labourers

30 Singapore in 2011: the emergence of quality-oflife concerns

Research sojourn

In-depth 31 Rethinking Singapore's social compact 34 New media and politics: can old rules apply?

60 Developing human capital for a new Asia Shrink wrap 61 On the move 62 Scholars without borders

Focus (part 2)

64 Accolades

36 Immigrants entrepreneurs

65 Intuitive decision making

Premium salaries for prime talent? • 42

To help the poor, the system must change • 10

Singapore's social compact • 31

How new media work (and don't work) • 34

El Niño? La Niña? Los Locos? • 40

1942: when Singapore fell • 46

Singapore Politics: the new normal by Kishore Mahbubani

Last year saw two elections that underscored the evolution of the political landscape in Singapore. What is ahead? Dean Kishore Mahbubani comments.

4 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·


he course of Singapore’s history turned significantly in 2011. The ruling party, the People’s Action Party, comfortably won re-election but, for the first time ever, the PAP lost a Group Representation Constituency (GRC) which included several senior figures such as George Yeo, Lim Hwee Hua, and Zainul Abidin Rasheed. PM Lee Hsien Loong commented after the election: “This is a watershed general election… it marks a distinct shift in our political landscape.” That was in May 2011. In August 2011, the Presidential Election was held. Dr. Tony Tan won the elections by 7,269 votes—a 0.34 per cent margin, the closest-ever victory by any Presidential candidate. So the big question that Singaporeans have to ponder on is this: what happened? How did Singapore politics enter “a new normal” (a phrase adopted by the President to describe the prevailing conditions of governance)? The dust has not fully settled for us to arrive at definitive conclusions. However, it is clear that a few developments have surfaced in Singapore politics. The first is a more assertive middle-class population. The Institute of Policy Studies published a post-general election survey in July 2011 showing a clear correlation between household income/education and political orientation. The richer and more highly educated respondents were more sympathetic to the opposition. Years of successful economic growth accompanied by the development of one of the world’s best educational systems has naturally meant that Singapore has also developed one of the most successful middle-class societies in the world. This new middle class may not be as comfortable as previous generations with the previous “top-down” approach. As PM Lee said, “Many [Singaporeans] wish for the government to adopt a different style and approach. Many desire to see more opposition voices in Parliament to check the PAP government.” In many ways, the PAP had anticipated this trend. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said before the elections, “I think a strong opposition is good for the PAP, and for Singapore as well.” The second development is the arrival of new social media. In the past, any messages sent through the dominant print media would have been the only messages to reach the majority of the population. The arrival of new media changed the landscape. Ho Kwon Ping, a well-known Singapore intellectual and entrepreneur, noted that “the inclusion of previously disallowed social media as legitimate means of campaigning” was one action that demonstrated that the ruling party is not trying “to perpetuate its rule by any means possible”.

Dean’s provocations

Image: Ian Foo

The little red dot is changing.

The third development is the stronger desire for greater equity in the socio-economic landscape of Singapore. This may be one reason why the government announced in the addenda to the President’s address that it would “significantly enhance the transport infrastructure, quality and opportunities in education, healthcare and housing”. Chen Show Mao, the new “star” in the opposition firmament, said in his maiden Parliament speech, “We endorse the goal. And we will hold the Government to it.” In January 2012, IPS came out with a paper by six economists noting that the current social contract “would not be sufficient to ensure equitable and inclusive growth in the face of the changes unleashed by globalisation, rapid technological change and our own policies.” The paper concluded that “Singapore must find a social compact that achieves a better balance between growth and equity and between individual responsibility and social insurance.” There are many other issues that can be mentioned in an effort to understand the dimension

of the “new normal” in Singapore politics. They include the concerns over the rise in immigration and ministerial salaries (which were cut significantly in January 2012 following a committee review). There can be no doubt that new issues will inevitably surface. And there will be surprises. For example, it was surprising that an opposition party, the National Solidarity Party, described the Feb 2012 budget as a “well-balanced budget, hard-nosed in some areas and compassionate in others”. It acknowledged that the Budget proposal “underscores the fact that the government has heard the electorate and taken steps to address some of their concerns, in particular, lowering our dependence on the foreign workforce, greater assistance to the elderly, the disabled and the lower-incomed, and expanding the capacity of our public transport and public hospitals.” The PAP has rarely been praised by opposition parties. In his comment on the 2011 General Election, President Tony Tan noted that the election had led to a “win-win-win result”: a win for the

government, a win for the opposition and a win for the political development of Singapore. Ho arrived at a similar optimistic conclusion: “If all goes well, the winner in this watershed election may well be Singapore’s future.” Hence, there are good reasons to be optimistic that the “watershed” election may have led to a better future for Singapore. Yet it would be also unwise to assure that all will inevitably go well. The “new normal” will inevitably bring new challenges to Singapore. There is no doubt that the rest of the world will be watching Singapore closely as it handles these new challenges. In the past, foreigners would come to Singapore to try to understand why Singapore had remained so politically stable for so long. Now they will come to study how a long-established government handles new challenges. Singapore will be living through “interesting times” in the next few years. Kishore Mahbubani is the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

· Jan–Mar 2012 · 5


Is the decline of the West inevitable?

Is Asia on the rise or the West in decline? Robin Tim Weis weighs in on the debate.

by Robin Tim Weis


t heart, people living in the “West” view and treat history as a process of evolving “modernity” in which they have achieved a series of absolute victories over “evil” and the forces of “backwardness.” As a result they have understood the notions of modernity, evolution, and progress in mainly economic terms. Hence, economic growth has been assumed to be an absolute “good” by their cultural mindset, which only seems to know the relentless pursuit of ever-higher growth rates. Little room is left for failure, loss, reflection, or the opportunity of going back. Therefore as they are faced with gloomy unemployment or economic growth figures, they are quick to assume the regression and decline of their societies. In the meantime, they enviously observe the flamboyant “growth markets” of the world as they outgrow and outperform those of the West. Whilst their economies, peoples, and institutions are hurting, the West is not faced with a decline, but rather has arrived at a crossroad, one which gives them the momentous opportunity to re-evaluate and re-position their countries. By adopting a new mindset and perception of global society, they can not only alter the way in which they reinforce the fundamental pillars of their own societies, but also announce how they will act in a world that is increasingly interconnected. The source for this new mindset will be an unexpected one, namely Chinese statesmanship, as this article will stress. Oswald Spengler with his apocalyptic saga The Downfall of the Occident makes one of the most implicit cases for the decline of Western society. The work, first published in the summer of 1918, is dominated by the image of the proud but tragic western man, who constantly strives for the unattainable, knowing it will never be reached. Spengler argues that like other “high cultures” (he includes the Babylonians, Egyptians and Mayans) the “western” era has peaked and faces an inevitable “decline”. Broken 6 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

up according to seasons, Spengler argues that the after the first “awakening” of a community and the appropriation of pragmatism and rationality, a nation is inevitably set to reach its pinnacle. As this occurs fissures start to appear in the structure. Spengler refers to this moment as “the definitive form which betokens the end of the living development of the Culture and the exhaustion of the last potentialities of its significant existence”. What follows is materialism and democracy or, as Spengler refers to it in Marxist manner, “the rule of the rich.” Once the culture is exhausted, Caesarism kicks in. According to Spengler, the civilisation and society loses the esprit, which once made it great and strong. In turn people cease to take part in political life, which leads the most qualified people to remove themselves from the political process enabling the elite political echelon to rule. A Chinese approach Chinese statesmanship in this case exhibits a complete contrast to the “western” evolutionary progress. Chinese statesmanship tends to view the entire strategic landscape as part of a single whole: good and evil, near and far, strength and weakness, past and future are all interrelated. Hence, the traditional Chinese view of history emphasises a cyclical process of decay and rectification, in which nature and the world can be understood but not completely mastered. This notion of a cyclical evolution clashes with the classical evolutionary one-way street “western” model of history. Hence, Chinese statesmanship stresses a more practical approach to politics, being more interested in understanding human affairs as they are rather than how they ought to be. For China’s classical sages, the world could never be conquered; wise rulers could hope only to harmonise with its trends. If history tells us one thing, it is that power rarely gives up without a fight; therefore the West

must cast aside its case for “moral authority” and utilise its “soft power.” Rather than lecture about history with its big teaching stick, the new West should be a quiet listener, which will point out to its equal counterparts that history and life are not always characterised by constant progress, but rather animated by cyclical interactions. Hence, any change must be organic. The people of the developing world will be the architects of their own future. Ultimately the West, the current headmaster, will become a mentor, a patient mentor, who will guide not dictate the organic urges of coming generations. Therefore as the world becomes more peaceful, more prosperous, and more just, the West does not decline; it wins. It wins because nations champion and struggle for the rights and values, which have been noted down in historical monumental documents such as the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, Habeas Corpus, or the American Declaration of Independence. However this longing for human dignity and respect towards others shall not be understood as “western,” but rather as universal. The following generations will, via trial and error, come to discover their deeply instilled quest for and belief in human dignity, respect, prosperity, and security. This somewhat scientific approach to politics is underscored by the anecdote surrounding Thomas Paine, also an amateur astronomer, who once speculated that every star is a sun like our own, with orbiting planets. Assuming that science is universal, he believed that inhabitants of other worlds would discover the same natural and social laws as ours. Robin Tim Weis is currently a graduate student at the University of Heidelberg (Heidelberg, Germany) earning a Masters of Arts in American Studies. He holds a degree in International Affairs and his email is


Latin America: its Asian origin and its Asian future by Louis W. Goodman


he first humans settled in the Western Hemisphere some 30,000 years ago. They came by sea from Northeast Asia. Their fragile animal skin boats brought them to a Pacific/ Northwest coast rich with fish, mollusks, and edible berries and plants. More than 1,000 generations later (by 1492) the descendents of these Asians had spread south to Tierra del Fuego and east to the Atlantic numbering at least 50,000,000 people. Tenochtitlan in Mexico and Cuzco in Peru were then two of the world’s largest cities and their citizens were among its healthiest and most well-nourished. By 1620, it is estimated that the Western Hemisphere’s Asian-origin population had been reduced to approximately 2,000,000—less than 5 per cent of its size at the beginning of the Colombian “encounter.” The frame for this astonishing decline lay deep in the DNA of these first Americans. They had likely come from a single isolated village and were relatively genetically homogeneous. The particular attribute which prevented them from resisting or gaining immunity from new (namely, European) diseases was their Human Leukocyte Antigen profile—a limited capacity of their white blood cells to destroy pathogens. Thus, in 1519, Hernan Cortes’s path to Tenochtitlan was marked by villages decimated by disease before his arrival; Francisco Pizarro’s conquering of the Inca was facilitated by onequarter of its population having perished from disease before he set foot on Peruvian soil in 1530; and the Mississippi River landscape Hernando De Soto described in 1539 as “thickly set with great towns” at the present-day site of Memphis, Tennessee, was described 134 years later by the French explorers Joliet and Marquette as one with few permanent human inhabitants—the former having perished from disease brought by DeSoto and the pigs his expedition brought along as food. The particular Asian origins of the first Americans destroyed their ability to resist their

European conquerors, whose initial interest largely was to extract riches to finance European wars and trade with China. These early Americans mined and refined the silver which fueled what was arguably the world’s first wave of globalisation—the globalised trade which linked China to Europe, exchanging Chinese silk and porcelains for Spanish silver, transported by galleon vessels from what is today the Philippines to Spain via Mexico. This globalised trade lasted from 1565 to 1815, involved transactions worth billions of 21st century dollars, and left Latin America deeply divided between rich and poor, and ultimately sapped Spain’s power thanks to ruinous wars plus inflated currencies, and created economic havoc in China leading to the end of the Ming dynasty. Today, the world is living its third globalisation, one with very important Asian components for the world and, especially, for Latin America. (The second globalisation, sparked in the mid-19th century by innovations in energy (electricity), communication (telegraph/telephone), transportation (steamships), and finance, was truncated by the start of World War I. It had generated a commodity boom in Latin American through which some nations, notably Argentina, had reached Southern European living standards. Lack of adjustment to the resulting bust caused living standards in Latin America to be the world’s slowest growing and its societies most starkly divided for most of the 20th century.) Latin America has shown strong economic growth in the third globalisation sparked by the end of the Cold War plus important communication, transportation and finance innovations. This growth is fueled by Asian demand for Latin American commodities (oil, copper, iron ore, soya, orange juice) and raises a familiar spectre –“Will this third globalisation end again in a bust which will reinforce the social divide left by the

Latin America and Asia is much more connected than many imagine. Prof. Goodman examines the historical relations between the two continents.

first globalisation and the economic stagnation left by the second? Alternatively could Latin America put its Asian origins behind it and create an “Asian future” in which farming and mining become small parts of a nimble economic machine, in which manufacturing, service and knowledge industries play increasingly important roles? In this imagined world, good governance enables economic development, increased total factor productivity boosts economic growth, and an era of trade with neighbours flourishes, opening region’s economies are open to the world. One of the necessary elements for this Asian future for Latin America is an end to stark social stratification and the creation of robust domestic markets to fuel the region’s engines for such growth. The third globalisation has created a world-wide concern about economic inequality. Nowhere will it be more important to tackle this issue, both for humanitarian and economic development reasons, than in the world’s most divided region—Latin America. With an Asian future to cap its Asian origins, with a strong natural resource base, and with a population size equal to that of ASEAN, the third globalisation could see a Latin America which becomes a strong and stable engine for the global economy and a region whose inhabitants can envision a peaceful and prosperous future for themselves. Without an Asian future recent Latin American economic growth may well be another “boom” to be followed by another “bust” of stratification and stagnation. That would be a tragedy for Latin America’s citizens and for the global economy. Louis W. Goodman, a Visiting Professor in the Lee Kwan Yew School is Professor and Emeritus Dean of the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC. · Jan–Mar 2012 · 7


Political change in Myanmar by Bridget Welsh

Image: Kerstin Duell

Mawlamyine, formerly known as Moulmein, is the third largest city in Burma.


fter nearly fifty years in power and multiple failed and repressed mass movements to overthrow the regime, why is the Myanmar military democratising now? Some point to the symbolic impact of the Arab Spring of 2011, with tumultuous social and political changes in Tunisia and Egypt. Others say the interests of the military are driving change. There are elements of truth in both explanations. Understanding the timing of change is a bit more complicated, and involves a conflation of factors. Not only is Myanmar’s political opening the product of increasing empowerment and expectations in Burmese society, it is also the product of bold leadership, conflicts among the ruling elite and an extension of economic and nationalist ambitions that have been part of the political fabric of Myanmar. It reflects changes at home and abroad. What we see now is a top-down political opening in response to growing societal demands and increased competition within the system as well as concerns over the rise of China. To move Myanmar forward and protect the country, the current leadership is pushing ahead with political opening in the hope of ultimately bringing the goals that military founders first held, a unified country that serves the interests of its citizens. The explanation of current developments must start with its president, Thein Sein. He represents a leadership that is “old school”, 8 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

considered a man of integrity, untainted by the endemic corruption that has taken root, driven by devout Buddhist beliefs and a commitment to clean government. He is widely considered to be a leader genuinely committed to opening the system. Thein Sein’s leadership has won support, with many like-minded leaders supporting him in what is a combination of political opening and checks within the system by greater diffusion of power. However, some who have joined his ranks are not motivated by ideals but rather by financial interests and disdain for Thein Sein’s opponents. Economic competition is fierce within the system, leading to personality conflicts. So while on the surface there is a divide between the “softliners” led by Thein Sein and “hardliners” seen to resist political liberalisation, the actual lines are less sharp and fluid. As of now, power is revolving around Thein Sein and his camp is gaining ground. His decisions to move forward are gaining momentum. Some are hanging on his coattails for financial interests rather than the lofty goals of change, highlighting the ongoing fragility of the country’s transformation. The opening also has been driven by another force, nationalism. Myanmar historically opposed outsiders controlling her assets. This issue has been a driving force in the recent developments. One of the catalysts for change last year involved the Myitsone dam project that

was not only seen to potentially negatively affect the Irrawaddy River but was also funded by the Chinese. There is increasing opposition to the external use of Burmese natural resources, and in particular, growing resistance to Chinese dominance in the economy. At the same time, this nationalism has another dimension. The current leadership is drawing on the ideal of national unity, an inclusive Myanmar, rather than one with ongoing border conflicts with its ethnic minorities. As such, the regime is once again tapping into the broad nationalistic framework that drove the ideals of Burma’s military leaders, especially the late General Aung San. This nationalistic fervor is spilling over into a stronger drive for international recognition. Myanmar is tired of its pariah status, and wants proper recognition and investment that comes from being a responsible player on the international stage. The current generation of leaders knows that earning this recognition and rewards requires Myanmar to open up. To develop economically, it must earn the removal of sanctions. The leadership is thus boldly trying to move the country from being a place for natural resource extraction for export to one with more domestic economic benefits. The elections of November 2010 had a profound impact in this transformation. A new generation of leaders was brought into the military and new civilian leadership, many of which had more handson experience with issues associated with the recovery period following the devastation of Cyclone Nargis of 2008 and who had witnessed poverty first-hand. The election process itself forced leaders to travel and interact with people and they witnessed the conditions of ordinary citizens. In the preceding two decades, the leadership had been quite separate from ordinary Burmese. Ordinary Burmese are now more travelled, raising expectations for economic development. These same leaders know that they will have to face this same group in a few years at the next polls. The reasons the regime is changing are complex. Thein Sein’s personal ideas and integrity are an important part of the dynamic, but the political competition, economic interests, nationalism and political reality of holding elections also factor in. The stakes are high in this transition and resistance considerable. The more the momentum gains ground, the more promise the changes will yield. Bridget Welsh is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University.


Regional implications of political developments in Myanmar by Kerstin Duell


t is hard not to be mesmerised by the apparent end of the decades-old political impasse the world has been witnessing in Myanmar (Burma). Even the Burmese media for exiles such as The Irrawaddy, Mizzima News and the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) view the current political changes at times with cautious optimism. Still, one should not lose sight of the bigger picture beyond the media hype surrounding the freeing of opposition leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the presence of the Burmese government delegation at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2012, and historic visits of Western dignitaries who were the arch critics of the regime and supported its opposition. First, clashes continue between the military and armed ethnic movements with extremely diverse histories, identities, and degree of legitimacy. Against the backdrop of centre-periphery frictions, mutual distrust, and unmet expectations, new ceasefires are concluded but old ones broken. In January, the photographs of a cease-fire agreement between the government and Karen ethnic rebels were beamed across the world as evidence of national reconciliation. But talks are still under way. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton immediately rewarded the government with an announcement of establishing full diplomatic relations. Meanwhile, in the northeastern Kachin state, the 1994 ceasefire broke down, and fighting sent tens of thousands of refugees across the border with China. The ethnic groups have the advantage of natural wealth combined with the geographic location and command over thousands of soldiers to give them leverage vis-à-vis the government that the predominantly urban opposition never had. Nevertheless, among the war-wary ethnic leaders, the prevailing perpetual fear is that their political fate will ultimately be decided over their heads. Aung San Suu Kyi, too, faces constraints in addressing ethnic issues while striking a careful balance in her dealing with President Thein Sein’s government. Nonetheless, as long as ethnic grievances persist, any attempt at democratisation remains hollow. The international community

Image: Kerstin Duell

Panning for gold.

would do well to keep this in mind, especially after the up-coming by-elections in April. Second, non-traditional security issues emanating from Myanmar continue to undermine regional stability. Decades of protracted, intrastate conflicts have produced endemic poverty, lack of human security, and environmental degradation in the country; its international boundaries are security flashpoints due to the combination of lack of governance, ongoing conflicts, an unprecedented scale of the movement of peoples, and the least demarcated and secured borders even by Asian standards. Neighbouring states, United Nations agencies and international non-government organisations have therefore identified illegal migration, uncontrolled epidemics, drug production and other illicit trades as major threats to regional stability. The nature and magnitude of these domestic and transnational challenges require sincere, concerted and long-term efforts of all conflict parties and stakeholders. Since Asian countries have the highest stakes in Burmese security, they could play a key role in fostering lasting political solutions. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in particular could do more to encourage Myanmar to respect the principles of democracy and human rights set forth in the ASEAN Charter. Yet, regional agendas have centred more on stability and reliable economic relations. Sino-Indian rivalry Third, Myanmar remains the theatre for the SinoIndian rivalry and crucial geostrategic developments that may have an impact Asia’s future at large. Both industrialising giants compete for Burmese natural resources, especially oil, gas, hydroelectric power, and for access to Southeast Asian markets via land and water, not least to develop their respective landlocked regions. China has been eyeing the vital access to the Indian Ocean to circumvent the Straits of Malacca for transporting its energy supplies from Africa and the Middle East. India seeks to prevent Chinese encirclement along its land and maritime boundaries and to counterbalance Chinese

influence in Southeast Asia. Of particular contention is China’s de-facto control over Kachin State bordering the Northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims to be “Southern Tibet”. Crucially, India’s Northeast region is home to several armed ethnic groups, some of which have set up camp across the Burmese border. Against this backdrop, the US Secretary of State’s Myanmar visit in December 2011 marks a significant step in America’s efforts to wean Myanmar off China’s influence in the region. It is also interesting to note that neither Indian nor Chinese officials were among the dignitaries to meet with both President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi as an endorsement of political reforms. Moreover, China was snubbed by the Myanmar Government’s cancellation of the Myitsone mega dam project in Kachin State. While Myanmar’s geostrategic location and resource wealth has been at the heart of most post1988 Asian foreign policies, Western countries could afford to downplay Myanmar’s strategic significance for the longest time. Now, two decades after the 1988 uprisings that coincided with the end of the Cold War, Western interests in Myanmar are changing. For Western business leaders who have long eyed the country’s tremendous opportunities, the lifting of sanctions in times of economic crises strongly hints at motives of self-interest. In any case, keen investors should take note that Aung San Suu Kyi’s idea of ethical investment does not seem to match the China-style economic development model favoured by the Myanmar government. In addition, the country needs fiscal reforms and lacks the institutions and capacity to absorb a sudden injection of large amounts of money. Finally and most crucially, the current international excitement over developments in Myanmar must not drown out the tremulous voices of the Burmese peoples of all colour and stripe. The rights and aspirations of the many skilled and motivated Burmese peoples are to be respected. Kerstin Duell is a Research Consultant for women and leadership at the LKY School. · Jan–Mar 2012 · 9


“The time to redesign the system is now” by Claire Leow and Johannes Loh

To help the impoverished—or in some cases, stop those helping them from griping about providing assistance—we must change our mindset about why the impoverished are poor, says Nobel Peace prize winner Professor Mohd Yunus.


he poor do not live in poverty because they do not know what to do nor because of disinterest in changing their lives; they are poor because the system does not work for them, said Nobel Peace Prize winner and social entrepreneur Prof. Muhammad Yunus. He is very critical of the financial system that governs the world today and demands that it becomes more inclusive. “We designed a system for the privileged people and then blame the poor for all the trouble they go through,’’ said Prof. Yunus in an interview on February 23, 2012. “The blame should come on the people who design those systems, play those systems. They are the ones responsible for the creation of the poverty and the misery of the people.” Yunus, who is also a Pioneer of Social Business and Chair of the Yunus Centre, visited the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy to deliver a public lecture on “Creating a Supportive Environment for Social Businesses”. Yunus, 72, said he had no idea of the global potential of microcredit when he started experimenting with lending money to women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh—42 bamboo basket weavers, to be precise—in the 1980s. The subsequent foundation and success of Grameen Bank (“Village Bank”) in Bangladesh made 10 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

microcredit a global phenomenon, with Yunus leading the world’s first Micro Credit Summit in Washington, DC in 1997. He eventually was to be awarded a Nobel Prize winner in 2006, for championing the cause of lending to the poor “to create economic and social development from below”, a recognition that the reduction of poverty is key to world peace. From there the concept gradually spread all over the world and today Yunus is often credited as the champion of the cause. The Global Financial Crisis brought additional attention to microfinance, because for many who are less fortunate, it represented the only option to generate income by being self-employed and starting up a small business. Yunus remarked that the enormous amounts of money made from microcredit created some tension between his philosophy and the purely profit-oriented business models of microcredit. When the attention turned to microcredit as a model of a profitable business, Yunus said he got concerned that it was straying from its roots, a tool to help the poor, particularly poor women, to overcome their problems and lift them out of the cycle of poverty. He is disappointed that microfinance as a tool to help the poor did not go as far as he hoped.

So far microfinance has been mainly provided by non-government organisations, shunned by conventional banks. “I want microfinance to become mainstream in banking rather than a footnote in banking,” he said emphatically. Legislation as enabler He attributed this gap to the absence of specific legislation necessary to institutionalise microcredit markets, as key to creating a supportive environment for such activities, citing a lack of will from policy makers. Still, no legislation was better than poor legislation as the framework must be very carefully crafted given its ability to shape society in both positive and negative ways, he mused. He pointed to the seminal “Grameen Bank Law” in Bangladesh that created a separate legal regime to govern microcredit. Without this law, the microcredit institution he founded, Grameen Bank, would have become a conventional bank which typically would not lend to the poor, deeming them not credit-worthy, and not the kind of bank it is today, he said. Yunus used a metaphor to describe the impact of globalisation on the poor. Globalisation is like a massive highway that operates in a system with traffic rules. Without rules, all those

Image: John Heng

Prof. Yunus criticises the modern financial system.

big, prosperous vehicles will occupy all the lanes and marginalise the smaller ones. Therefore, he is worried about what he calls financial imperialism, which needs to be patrolled by norms and rules. Aware that globalisation cannot be undone, he has shifted his focus to calling for a better set of rules. During the financial crisis, transactions between two market players morphed from business to gambling, he said, defying all the norms of business. The crisis has proven that the poor’s creditworthiness is much higher than the big corporations’ creditworthiness, says Yunus. “All my life, I have been trying to explain that the poor are very much capable, and bankable. I think with Grameen we have illustrated that it can be done.” For Yunus there are no reasons why the financial system should be an exclusive system for the rich. He believes that the world should not rely on governments to fix the system but be empowered to force the change needed to help each other. To do this, he promulgates the idea of social enterprises, with social businesses working with established companies armed with the resources and reach to achieve the scale he envisions. Thus was born Grameen Check, clothing which promotes traditional hand-loom weaving skills. He has also worked on social business

ideas with global players such as French company Group Danone which addresses child malnutrition in Bangladesh by producing a yogurt fortified with micro-nutrients, produced with solar and bio gas energy and served in environmentally friendly packaging. Calling it a “big ambition to suit a big company”, he recounted successfully challenging the German sports apparel company, Adidas, to adopt a mission of ensuring “nobody in the world would go barefoot”. These initiatives are legitimate, self-financing businesses with a social mission that reinvest rather than extract profits, completely different from typical social corporate responsibility initiatives focused mainly on charity work, he said. Muhammad Yunus is not done yet; his vision of the future is a world that accommodates social businesses where nobody has to depend on handouts. This would not only empower and uplift entire generations of disadvantaged people but also reduce the burden of assistance from richer lender nations for a healthy world financial system.

The poor do not live in poverty because they do not know what to do nor because of disinterest in changing their lives; they are poor because the system does not work for them...

Claire Leow is the Managing Editor of GiA. Johannes Loh works as a Research Associate for the Asian Trends Monitoring Bulletin. His email is

· Jan–Mar 2012 · 11


Bukit Brown: the polemics of engagement by Claire Leow

In post-election Singapore, no issue has touched as many nerves as the government’s plan to develop Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery for future housing, paving the way with a mass transit station and a proposed highway. It covers hotly debated policies, such as housing, transportation and immigration and touches on quality of life considerations. In the boom and bust of the last decade, including a peek into the abyss during the Great Recession, a sense of vulnerability and crisis of identity also surfaced.


he plan for developing the greater Bukit Brown area, located dead centre of Singapore, was first announced in a Concept Plan in 1991 to little fanfare in a different era where government decisions were not disputed. Two decades later, on May 30, 2011, a detailed announcement by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), Land Transport Authority (LTA) and National Heritage Board (NHB) to designate Bukit Brown for residential use had quite a different effect. The electorate was emboldened by the changing political climate: in the May 7 general elections, the ruling party’s share of the vote dropped to a historic low of 60.1 per cent with the loss of some heavyweights including the foreign minister. More crucially, alternative views were increasingly aired and shared in the social media. The months following the election saw growing public dissatisfaction over quality of life issues due to higher costs of living, particularly in the area of public transportation where the public faced higher cab fares and multiple subway breakdowns. The controversy highlighted deficient communication not only between the government and the governed but also between government agencies. On a deeper level, it cast the government as fallible and open to criticism. Against that backdrop, on September 12, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced plans for a proposed eight-lane highway through Bukit Brown. It’s worth bearing in mind that the URA was still reviewing its long-term plans in the Concept Plan Review: 2011 when this decision was announced. A highway seen to benefit private car owners touched more nerves. 12 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

It is instructive to look at the level of transparency and quality of consultation when the LTA made the announcement. According to the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS), “the reality” of the consultation process underscored that these processes are used to inform civil society and relevant stakeholders of decisions already made, and not to engage in serious discussions. The purpose of the consultation was “to manage public opinion and to tap on SHS’s network” so that the graves to be exhumed could be documented. SHS said the decision “was relayed privately to a senior member of SHS” just two weeks before the public announcement, hardly time for a serious debate over alternatives. On November 6, after weeks of controversy, Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan Jin, in an interview with the Straits Times acknowledged, “we could have done better… maybe get more stakeholders and earlier.” Seeking to engage The desire for greater engagement persisted when the SHS and the Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) convened a symposium on Nov. 19 to debate the issues concerning Bukit Brown, from heritage to hydrology. The NSS led the way by analysing the biodiversity, having identified Bukit Brown as one of 28 sites for nature conservation since 1990. The 233-hectare area, which also covers nearby cemeteries Lau Sua, Kopi Sua and Seh Ong, is home to 90 resident and migrant bird species, 23 per cent of Singapore’s bird species. Thirteen are nationally threatened such as the red jungle fowl and the white-bellied woodpecker. It also identified 48 forest species, almost half

Singapore’s total in such a small area. The NSS presented these findings together with alternative road options to the government on Dec. 12, 2011, saying, “many of our brightest minds and most passionate individuals when working together can make Singapore even more special.” Its appeal was “for the increased quality of life … from safeguarding and celebrating nature.” It argued that finding alternative transport solutions “can be a challenging engineering opportunity that could showcase the talent of Singapore, and set a benchmark for Asia in sustainable development.” The SHS presented its position paper in January 2012, calling for a scrutiny of the heritage value of areas affected as a standard operating procedure, not an after-thought, and recommending greater transparency. It attached two appendices, one acknowledging the historical debates over the cemetery as a contested space, by Terence Chong, a sociologist and senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore; and the other a study of hydrology by Lim Han She, an assistant professor of geography at the same university. Lim’s article notes that Bukit Brown is covered by relatively mature vegetation essential for soil protection and as a catchment to prevent flooding, touching on another topical issue. Chong’s article touched on something more intangible—the intrinsic value of the cemetery as a place of identity. Contested spaces “The compulsory acquisition of Bukit Brown”

Historical researchers found this unique tomb of two brothers who were part of the Tongmenhui, and Kuomintang, underscoring Singapore’s role as Chinese diaspora helped Sun Yat Sen in his goal for a republic, ending dynastic rule.

Intricate carvings speak of a craftsmanship no longer seen in modern Singapore, portraying moral fables and Chinese legends.

· Jan–Mar 2012 · 13

Sikh guards are unique to Singapore Chinese tombs.

The Nature Society argued that finding alternative transport solutions “can be a challenging engineering opportunity that could showcase the talent of Singapore, and set a benchmark for Asia in sustainable development.” 14 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

A door guardian statue.

A man servant for the afterlife.

...civil society and the community could enrich, not diminish, the debate for the greater good. In the process, they add another layer to the pursuit of identity. · Jan–Mar 2012 · 15

Some tiles depict morality tales.

The tomb of Fang Shan, a coolie who died in 1833 and was re-buried there by the Fang clan. His headstone features the word “Sing Chew”—the early name for Singapore.

While discussion of Bukit Brown in the public domain is couched in terms of a difficult but necessary policy for the dead to make way for the living, those in support of its historical significance argue that the cemetery represents a link to a storied past for the living, whether descendants or citizens of an immigrant society that by extension benefit from an understanding of Singapore’s history of immigration and war travails.

16 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·


A tombkeeper, some of whom bear oral history of a different time, including the mass dumping of bodies during the Japanese Occupation.

from the Hokkien clan association, which used it as a clan cemetery, to become a municipal cemetery from 1922 “was seen as the prying open of a private space layered with social ties and symbolic networks found in clan association which fostered a strong sense of ethnic belonging,’’ writes Chong. He called the acquisition ‘a challenge to identity’. Needless to say, nine decades and more than 200,000 burials (in the greater Bukit Brown area) later, that sense of belonging has only multiplied across ethnic lines, as a growing Chinese diaspora, colonial rule, flourishing trade, two world wars, Japanese occupation and independence added to the layers of networks, history, evolving culture and societal norms. Singaporeans today who lament the development plans also raise the question of identity in a young nation with few heritage touchstones being challenged. History, it appears, is repeating itself. While discussion of Bukit Brown in the public domain is couched in terms of a difficult but necessary policy for the dead to make way for the living, those in support of its historical significance argue that the cemetery represents a link to a storied past for the living, whether descendants or citizens of an immigrant society that by extension benefit from an understanding of Singapore’s history of immigration and war travails. The NSS and SHS, with other interested civic groups, approached relevant government agencies—the National Parks Board, LTA and URA—in early 2012 to further the discussion in the hope of a compromise. On March 19, the LTA

announced a new alignment for the proposed highway. Hours later Minister Tan met the two societies and selected invitees to a briefing. The episode exposed the expectation gap between the government and civil society. The latter issued a statement expressing disappointment at the lack of genuine engagement, asking for a moratorium, while the Minister used social media to post a Facebook comment that the briefing “was never intended to be the type of dialogue desired” as “it was not a consultation effort to debate” the issue. It elicited a response from a reader. “Citizenship is not only a right,” Joseph Chun, wrote. “We have a duty to ourselves and to each other as citizens and to future generations of citizens to ask to see and scrutinise for ourselves the facts and projections asserted by the government to justify its decision to build this road, and after that to ask each other as citizens if this is what we really want for our country.” An inclusive society Some argued they were not against the decision per se, but how it was reached almost unilaterally. Tellingly, it was in social media space and not in the mainstream media that the frank opinions were aired. Closer scrutiny would have shown the key stakeholders consulted were other government agencies. Nonetheless civil society carved a place for itself. It was amateur historian Raymond Goh who on March 4—coincidentally the 70th anniversary of the end of the Sook Ching massacre of the Chinese under the Japanese Occupation—found

the possible location of the communal trenches where the war dead were buried by the truckloads. Other volunteers trawled through burial registers and sought out elderly tomb keepers for eye witness accounts. The information was duly passed to the documentation team for confirmation as the suspected trench falls in the boundaries of the proposed highway. Bukit Brown is a physical manifestation of a storied past that lays bare the multi-ethnic roots of Singapore's identity and her place in history. Among the volunteers, the Chinese-educated help the non-Mandarin-literate Peranakans (Straits Chinese or Indians who speak Malay) to study tomb inscriptions. Former Malay villagers help provide oral history of the defunct Kheam Hock village nearby. An Indian Sikh is exploring the history of Sikh guards in the Chinese community. The three roads that lead to the rusted cemetery gates bear the names of three ethnic groups. Whether it is educational tours to raise public awareness of Bukit Brown as more than a cemetery but a place of historical significance, or respect for it as a battlefield for fallen soldiers and mass war graves, civil society and the community could enrich, not diminish, the debate for the greater good. In the process, they add another layer to the pursuit of identity. Claire Leow is the Managing Editor of Globalis-Asian. Her email is sg. She is also the founder of the educational blog, all things Bukit Brown ( · Jan–Mar 2012 · 17


Economic challenges to a more inclusive Singapore by Rachel Hui and Sarjune Ibrahim S/O Sitheek

Developments in the past decade bear witness to how Singapore’s connection to the global economy has not only produced an economic miracle but also brought keener competition both at home and abroad. Much attention has been paid to the widening income divide, structural unemployment and the necessity of retraining low-skilled workers. Some panelists at the Singapore Perspectives 2012 held by the Institute of Policy Studies looked at challenges ahead, and proposed some directions.

How the economic pie is distributed Professor Paul Cheung, Director of the United Nations Statistics Division, provided a view of income distribution in Singapore between 2000 and 2010, to show how economic inequalities had evolved. While Singapore’s economic growth had been impressive, employee compensation as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) had been persistently lower that other developed economies such as the UK and the US, where employee compensation was consistently above 50 per cent of GDP. This, he said, could be attributed to the lower educational profile of Singapore’s resident workforce, due to an influx of lower-educated foreigners in low-paying jobs. He argued that while a reliance on foreigners had helped Singaporean companies to accrue significant profits, it would be a challenge to reach the requisite productivity growth necessary to improve the overall wage share. Worryingly, all three speakers drew attention to the startling fact that “productivity had disappeared” in Singapore’s boom years from 2005 to 2010. The fruits of growth had also not been equally distributed. Prof. Cheung observed that 18 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

only those in Singapore’s top 20 per cent had seen their share of total income rise between 2000 and 2010, with “tremendous rewards going to successful entrepreneurs and innovators”. Everyone else had to contend with a smaller share of the economic pie. It was also becoming more difficult for those in the lower to middle income groups to achieve income mobility. The changing face of vulnerable groups The speakers pointed out that the most vulnerable group in Singapore’s economy were families in the lowest-earning 10 per cent, whose household incomes had declined over the decade. Associate Professor Hui Weng Tat, a labour economist at the Lee Kuan Yew School, estimated that the real median wages of the top 20 per cent of employed residents rose 27 per cent while those in the lowest 20 per cent suffered a decline of about 8 per cent between 1997 and 2010. Speakers agreed that the government’s liberal immigration policies had the effect of pushing wages lower. Between 1998 and 2010, foreigners accounted for 50 per cent of the increase in employment. Prof. Cheung said low-wage workers were “struggling to find

a foothold in a post-industrialised economy in a globalised world”. Such families were “running on empty”, as they faced rising prices on diminishing incomes, he said. This was despite a higher percentage of lower income families now surviving on dual incomes compared to ten years ago. Such trends showed the increasing challenges to income mobility, said Prof. Cheung, and were worrying for the generation aged 30 to 39 years struggling to establish careers. The demographic profile shows 43 per cent had tertiary education compared to only 19 per cent of the same age cohort in 2000. This “new competitive landscape” was further accentuated by increasing competition from foreigners and permanent residents (PRs), given the dramatic increase in the percentage of PRs in the same age group. In 2010, one out of three residents was a PR. Even highly educated professionals might face anxiety about any “fair chance” not only to move up the income ladder but also to give their children a similar level of inter-generational mobility their generation had received. Given such challenges, Prof. Cheung said that the government should pay heed to highly educated younger

· Jan–Mar 2012 · 19

Singaporeans, now that education was no longer a sure route to financial stability.

prices and the future welfare of residents” would be necessary.

Changing face of unemployment Examining unemployment trends over the last two decades, Prof. Hui noted a rising share of those with diplomas or degrees among the unemployed and a rising share of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) among retrenched workers. The share of older workers among the unemployed, especially those aged 50 years and above, had also increased in the last decade, with consistently low re-employment rates among the retrenched. This increasing incidence of displacement among the highly educated and older workers amid an unpredictable global economy had implications for retirement adequacy, Prof. Hui said. Savings in the Central Provident Fund (CPF), the basis of retirement funding, are largely dependent on favourable employment situations and rising real wages. A healthy monthly retirement income needs to meet twothirds of their last drawn pay, he said. Prof. Hui simulated the accumulation of CPF savings by workers in three different educational groups, based on median wages, existing CPF contribution rates and patterns of wage growth. Based on his projections, the existing CPF system was inadequate for those earning the median wage. On CPF savings alone at existing contribution rates, workers with post-secondary education and above would fall short of retirement adequacy most, and could expect to live on much less than two-thirds of their last drawn pay.

“New growth model” Dr. Chua Hak Bin, Director of Global Research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said Singapore’s “new growth model” seemed to include policies aimed at shaping economic growth to more inclusively benefit those in the lower to middle income groups. While this “transition” model was still evolving, certain defining characteristics had come into greater clarity, especially after the May 2011 general election. These included a shift from “population-led” growth to a greater emphasis on productivity growth, through initiatives that rewarded companies’ investments into technology; and “segmented policies” which differentiated the treatment of Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners in areas of employment, housing and healthcare. The latter included a January 2012 announcement to raise stamp duties on purchases of private residential properties, hitting foreigners hardest, as the government sought to address the increasing numbers of active foreign property investors. This, he said, was a significant policy shift marking the end of Singapore being technically free from capital controls, after having “prided itself on openness” for so long. Dr. Chua believed that this “sea change” in policy direction—with its strong productivity push and tighter immigration—was “here to stay”. In a move that surprised many, the government had announced after the election that higher foreign worker levies, first introduced in the 2011 Budget, would be extended to 2014.

Threats to retirement adequacy Prof. Hui said that policies to aid retirement adequacy could include a combination of increasing CPF salary ceilings, CPF contribution rates and rates of return on CPF balances, as well as sustained wage growth. In assessing policy options however, two existing “threats” to retirement adequacy for Singaporeans must be considered: first, the increasing incidence of displacement among older workers who may face one or even two episodes of unemployment, and second, property price escalation, given how much Singaporeans draw from their CPF accounts for a housing purchase. To deal with this second threat, Prof. Hui advocated the need for the government to “emphatically contain, and if necessary deflate” public housing prices for long-term sustainability, and move away from the mindset of encouraging property as investment to one of consumption. He said that a “strategic review of the longer term impact of policies on property 20 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

Limits to inclusive growth in a new economy However, while the goal of “inclusive growth” was evident, with transfer schemes to assist low income families, more measures would be necessary to help them with the income gap still large, Dr. Chua said. Economic growth was likely to be much lower than in previous years, while rising prices in healthcare, transport and housing raised inflationary pressures. At the same time, he observed the changing nature of Singapore’s economy, with the manufacturing sector, once an essential “pillar of growth” now “bearing the brunt of economic restructuring pains”, having declined from 26 per cent of GDP in 2001 to 23 per cent in 2010. Dr. Chua expected this “hollowing out” to continue with manufacturing dwindling further to around 15–20 per cent of GDP, amid hiring uncertainties and rising costs. In this environment, Singapore’s was no longer a sure route to financial stability.

ability to solve its “productivity puzzle” also remained uncertain. With lower growth anticipated, tax revenues would decline and limit the government’s fiscal flexibility, as well as affect policies aimed at promoting inclusive growth in the future, he said. Forging “a good society” The debate drew a consensus that while some level of income inequality was inevitable in any society, there was no “ideal state” of inequality or income distribution. Nonetheless, it behooved the government to ensure that lower-income groups are able to sustain a minimum standard of living and enjoy a “fair chance” at mobility, the speakers reiterated. One participant suggested that a difficult challenge has evolved around the fact that different values had emerged to create some tension among Singaporeans: some were more accepting of widening inequality and others found it “immoral” or “shocking”. Speakers agreed that a focus on market fundamentals and economic incentives has dominated policy-making discourses to the exclusion of considering how the right social norms could be shaped. At this stage of Singapore’s economic development, it would be important to re-evaluate “what kind of good society we want to be in the next ten years”, to formulate policy decisions that may necessarily entail a tradeoff between efficiency and equality, suggested one participant. It was pointed out that just because “Singapore’s good years are over doesn’t mean good society cannot be created”. Rachel Hui ( and Sarjune Ibrahim S/O Sitheek ( are Research Assistants at the Institute of Policy Studies.


Towards a new social compact by Debbie Soon and Chua Chun Ser

Singapore’s provision of social services is failing to keep up with societal changes, including meeting the needs of a growing middle class, according to panellists at the Singapore Perspectives 2012 held by the Institute of Policy Studies. Debbie Soon and Chua Chun Ser report.


r. Aline Wong, former Minister of State for Heath and Education, and former Chairman of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) who chaired the panel, describes the Singapore model of social services system as one guided by principles of individual responsibility, with the family as the “first line of defence”, aided by the “many helping hands” of community organisations which provide a range of support services, and backed by a government that provides subsidies for basic services and a safety net of last resort. While the social services system has served Singapore well, cracks have begun to appear in the last five years. The discussion focused on healthcare, housing and retirement funding. Remaking healthcare Dr. Jeremy Lim, Chief Executive Officer of Fortis Healthcare Singapore, a private healthcare services group, agreed that Singapore, with its hard-nosed pragmatic and utilitarian approach

to healthcare, has done very well in remaining financially sustainable. However, the question is whether the system has “transferred too much of the financial risk from the state to the individual” in the process, according to Dr. Lim. At this stage of development, the current system is still providing a basic level of healthcare for all, but not formulated in a way to sufficiently cover rare, esoteric and expensive diseases. Dr. Lim pointed to the balance that needs to be struck between policymakers who function as fiscal stewards and the level of healthcare the general public requires. Difficult discussions have to take place to determine the “price of life” or simply put, the basic level of healthcare to be provided. Over and above that, the government needs to find the “sweet spot” for the right level of protection to also cater to the middle income earners who often do not qualify for subsidies but also do not earn enough to afford private specialist · Jan–Mar 2012 · 21

Image: Paul Lachine

...the question was whether the system had “transferred too much of the financial risk from the state to the individual” in the process, according to Dr. Lim.

22 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

healthcare. It could provide a basic level of universal healthcare, where tertiary healthcare would be left to market factors. In other countries, the purchase of private insurance to help manage healthcare expenditure is more common amongst residents. Dr. Lim offered that more could be done to involve the private sector in providing healthcare services to the general population to aid the over-stretched public healthcare service system. For instance, the government could further new initiatives such as the Primary Care Partnership Scheme (now known as the Community Health Assist Scheme), giving the public access to subsidised healthcare at selected private clinics. Fine-tuning housing policy Professor Phang Sock Yong of the School of Economics, Singapore Management University addressed the need for a more sustainable housing policy, in light of rising home prices and what would be considered affordable for current and succeeding generations. Fundamentally, there is a need to resolve the tension amongst the three objectives of the

HDB—“housing affordability that is dependent on income levels, the amount of subsidies required to assist the younger generation to own their homes, and house prices that need to appreciate sufficiently to meet the retirement needs”, said Prof. Phang. There are current policies such as the Additional Central Provident Fund (CPF) Housing Grants and Special Housing Grants to help young couples afford their first flats as well as efforts to enhance HDB assets to encourage investment, which may have contributed to rising housing prices. Projections carried out by Prof. Phang suggested that the gap between current market prices and what was considered affordable could widen with succeeding generations. She proposed re-examining the interface between private, resale and new HDB housing prices, the true market value of housing and land, the future median house type or size, its housing affordability policy, as well as the rate of housing price appreciation amongst other factors. Going by current trends, there was a decline in the size of houses that most could realistically afford, noted Prof. Phang. Nonetheless, other

factors such as the location and the environment could influence the “quality” or premium of these flats, added Dr. Wong. Rethinking asset-based social security Associate Professor Chia Ngee Choon, Deputy Head of the Department of Economics at the National University of Singapore, argued that there was a need to re-examine the CPF scheme by considering other alternatives to reduce the amount withdrawn from CPF for housing while ensuring “retirement adequacy”. The CPF system is an asset-based social security system that views the home as an appreciating asset as well as a place to live in. This has led to the current situation where many of the current elderly citizens are “asset rich” but “cash poor”, and where housing evolves to become their primary retirement asset. By extension, this means that those living in rental or smaller flats might not have adequate retirement income. She noted that there were challenges with an asset-based approach. For example, committing to too large a flat might result in one not being able to meet the minimum sum of S$40,000 in the CPF Ordinary Account upon retirement. This

would disqualify one from receiving monthly payouts for the rest of their lives through CPF Life, an annuities scheme aimed at retirement adequacy. This is an important consideration in the light of an aging society. Further, is accumulated housing equity indeed the “pot of gold” that could be—or should be— monetised upon retirement? Many of the elderly might be inhibited by the desire to bequeath the family with property and live out their golden years in the familiarity of their current homes, said Prof. Chia. In concluding, she suggested a re-think of the housing policy, including shortening the lease on HDB flats from 99 years to 60 years, which would have the twin goals of reducing the cost of owning a home and eeking out greater savings to qualify for CPF Life. A “first pillar” of a minimum pension guarantee could also be established for those who had less than S$40,000 in the plan upon retirement.

...there was a need to re-examine the CPF scheme by considering other alternatives to reduce the amount withdrawn from CPF for housing while ensuring “retirement adequacy”.

Debbie Soon ( and Chua Chun Ser ( are Research Assistants at the Institute of Policy Studies. · Jan–Mar 2012 · 23

Image: Paul Lachine

24 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·


Politics: a new paradigm? by Cheong Kah Shin, Debbie Soon, and Zhou Rongchen

The Institute of Policy Studies invited experts to debate the shifting political ground at Singapore Perspectives 2012.


ingapore needs to forge a new collective consensus to deal with the widening wage gap, while greater government-citizen trust and more collaborative policy-making approaches are required in face of an increasingly diverse electorate, they said. Addressing the issue of income inequality, Mr. Ho Kwon Ping, Founder and Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, framed the debate by asking whether Singapore aspired to be a Denmark or a Dubai. If Singapore continued along its current path, it might become an “increasingly rich and unequal society with growing dependence on an underclass of lowlypaid foreign workers”. But if the vision were a more equal and self-reliant society, then a strong collective consensus would have to be forged amongst all stakeholders of society in order to overcome transitional pains. To ameliorate income inequality, he called for Singapore to complete the wage revolution it started in the eighties. Mr. Ho explained how this “bold, even risky” wage hike effectively forced manufacturers to upgrade or close shop, while the Economic Development Board’s efforts, coupled with more vocational training, led to the genesis and development of high-skilled industries like the life sciences and pharmaceuticals in Singapore. The movement essentially weeded out the labour-intensive industries and encouraged the skills-intensive export industries. Unfortunately, this wage revolution did not extend to the domestic services industries, where wages remain low today. · Jan–Mar 2012 · 25

The country needs a gradual but relentless wage increase for the domestic services industries, Mr. Ho argued. This could be done by reducing the influx of foreign labour and by providing incentives to invest in productivityenhancing technology. Creating an educational and industrial training system that respects and rewards the concept of apprenticeship is key, while efforts to foster a social ethos where selfreliance and equality are practiced within a free market economy would be equally pertinent. Any meaningful attempt to move Singapore towards a more egalitarian and self-reliant society, as typified by Japan and Scandinavia, would require a paradigm shift, which “can only happen if there is a collective consensus which is at the heart of political exchange,” Mr. Ho said.

...deeper engagement would only be possible if the government acknowledges and re-examines barriers to forging trust with its citizens...

Reaching consensus Further, any search for a new collective consensus would also necessitate a meaningful process of deliberation and communication, the panel noted. Faced with a better educated and more engaged polity, the government needs fresh approaches to communicate with a third generation of citizens who did not experience first-hand Singapore’s early vulnerabilities as a young and independent nation, said Mr. Peter Ho, Senior Adviser to the Centre for Strategic Futures. They face new challenges that need to be addressed, and new 26 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

ways are required to resolve them. Mr. Ho also acknowledged the Internet’s role in increasing access to information. While social networking platforms provide citizens with ample opportunity to express their views and share information in a viral manner, virtual communities are also beginning to shape the debate and context of public policy issues. Today’s public officers, Mr. Ho said, can expect to face much greater public scrutiny of their actions and policies. In a technologically connected world, the “government knows best” mentality is increasingly outmoded because citizens and businesses can easily gain access to much of the information that governments used to control in the past. Thus, policy-making in this age should adopt a more collaborative approach and embrace a broader spectrum of society, Mr. Ho argued. “More conversations may need to be selectively extended into the public space to deepen collective understanding and build society’s capacity to deliberate issues rationally in a safe environment,” he noted. Engagement in the form of public information, public consultation, consensus building and co-creation would be crucial in engendering an invested citizenry. Yet, deeper engagement would only be possible if the government acknowledges and reexamines barriers to forging trust with its citizens, said Dr. Cherian George, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow of IPS and Associate Professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication, Nanyang Technological University. Government measures to increase engagement within the realm of social media after the general election of 2011 would be more persuasive only if greater government-citizen trust—an element critically lacking in Singapore’s communication context— was fostered, he added. Fostering trust The barriers to forging government-citizen trust merit more in-depth discussion. First, the mainstream media, perceived as acting as the government’s primary policy communication platform, suffers from a credibility lag, Dr. George said. Though the media provides reliable and professional service on most issues, on a small number of contentious topics, government media policy dictates that the professional judgment of editors must be subordinate to that of elected officials, he said. On hot-button election issues, for example, the media did reflect public discontent but the public “never got the sense that it was on their side”, Dr. George said. “This severely limits the power of the media to guide the public precisely where that influence is most needed,” he added.

Second, the communication environment in general lacks independent voices to act as checks and balances to Singapore’s largely one-party system. Despite fears that this could slow down governance and confuse the public, these risks, in Dr. George’s view, are small compared to the increased trust government could engender from subjecting its decisions to independent scrutiny. Third, in Singapore’s largely one-party government, state interests are sometimes conflated with the ruling party’s interests, and Singaporeans in general are cognisant of this. For instance, the way electoral boundaries are drawn and the unequal treatment that Opposition wards receive on upgrading projects does not pass what Dr. George called “the smell test”. But barriers to trust could only be overcome with stronger public institutions and a more accountable political system. “Since we no longer expect to be led by gods, proof of fallibility is not a liability,” Dr. George said. “On the contrary, timely and unvarnished revelations of the government’s mistakes are the proof people need that they are operating in a trustworthy communication environment.” Cheong Kah Shin, Debbie Soon and Zhou Rongchen are Research Assistants at the Institute of Policy Studies. They can be reached at, and zhou.rongchen@

...barriers to trust could only be overcome with stronger public institutions and a more accountable political system.


Governing for an inclusive society Singapore, despite being developed, is one of the few places he believes “an upwardly mobile society” was possible, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance and Manpower Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam says. He states this case at a dialogue on “Governing for an inclusive society”, the closing session at the Singapore Perspectives 2012.


pstream interventions, help for the elderly and efforts to arrest the development of “worrying micro-trends” will form the focus of the government’s strategy to improve opportunities and social mobility for Singaporeans, said Mr. Shanmugaratnam. As Singaporeans face growing inequality, it is essential for the government to ensure redistribution but without undermining the basic ethic of a society focused on work and family. The key to this would be to keep a "progressive slant" in government policies, with those at the lower end receiving the bulk of transfers and those at the upper end paying the bulk of taxes. Challenges of inequality in a global city “An inclusive society starts with economic strategies,” Mr. Shanmugaratnam said, “competing in the global economy in a way that everyone gets pulled up”. As a small and open economy, Singapore inevitably had a higher Gini co-efficient than most large countries. The government had focused its efforts on avoiding the stagnation of median wages that have afflicted many other developed countries over the last decade by putting tremendous resources into “raising the quality of every job, the skills and expertise of every worker”. Mr. Shanmugaratnam acknowledged that this would become more difficult as

workers in emerging countries exerted increasing pressure not just on low-skilled jobs but on middle-income workers as well. Amidst a global phenomenon of job polarisation, he remained confident about Singapore’s ability to remain globally competitive from low-end to high-grade jobs, as it had progressed over the years from competing with emerging markets to competing with advanced manufacturing industries in Japan and Germany. At the same time, he said that the government’s approach to ameliorate the effects of inequality on society had to be centred on improving opportunities for those at the lower end of the social ladder and preserving social mobility. A fair degree of mobility existed in schools, he noted, with about half of children living in oneto three-room flats making it to university or polytechnic, an unchanged proportion from a decade ago. However, he acknowledged that sustaining mobility over time would get more difficult with “social backgrounds becoming more defined”. “A spirit of inclusiveness” among Singaporeans and “a sense of obligation among those who are doing well to help others in their own society” were as important as the right policies in forging an inclusive society. Mr. Shanmugaratnam said that as a small city-state, with neither suburbs to which the rich could

retreat nor inner-city neighbourhoods for the poor, there was a higher premium for retaining social cohesion and ensuring an upward momentum of social mobility. When Dean Kishore Mahbubani of the LKY School asked if the top 1 per cent in Singapore—with the most number of millionaires per capita in the world—was doing enough to help the other 99 per cent, Mr. Shanmugaratnam recognised that there was room for more engagement by well-off Singaporeans and philanthropic groups. Taken together with economic and social strategies, “crowding in” better-off Singaporeans was an important third pillar for social progress, he said. Upstream interventions As for social strategies, Mr. Shanmugaratnam said more aggressive upstream interventions were necessary to assist low-income families. “Worrying micro-trends” had emerged among families, including divorce and cases where one or more family members are incarcerated. Intensive interventions were needed to arrest such trends early especially where young children are involved. Some conference participants were also concerned about the under-representation of certain groups in higher education and asked what more the government could do. Mr. Shanmugaratnam said this would require close · Jan–Mar 2012 · 27

Image: Paul Lachine

28 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

How do we maintain and strengthen our progressive slant, do more to support those at the lower end, while ensuring that we remain a society where at the core, people do have a deep sense of responsibility for their families, do want to work hard to improve themselves, and take pride in being part of a society where everyone moves up together that way?

cooperation with voluntary welfare organisations and self-help groups, and a greater effort to keep teenagers in school with informal activities to keep them engaged outside of school hours, give them the satisfaction of staying in school and encouraging interest. This was more pro-active than to respond later to problems related to drugs and gangsterism, he said. Help for the elderly Mr. Shanmugaratnam also drew attention to the unique plight of many older Singaporeans, who, having tolled for most of their lives on relatively low wages, now faced the struggle of meeting today’s higher costs on inadequate savings. More needs to be done to help them if they wish to stay employed, and help ease their fears over medical costs. He also explained that the elderly could be helped to “unlock the savings in their homes”, a unique feature of the Singapore social model. This may require a change in attitudes about changing residences in retirement years, but he noted the encouraging trend of rising demand from the elderly for studio apartments, defined as smaller units with 30-year leases. Minimising the middle class burden It was important that Singapore had managed to maintain a progressive system of social support despite relatively low tax rates, Mr. Shanmugaratnam said. Despite lowered income taxes and raised goods and services tax (GST), he reminded critics to view Singapore’s fiscal policies holistically over the last decade, as they had enabled the government to redistribute more net benefits to lower-income Singaporeans compared to ten years ago. Yet, this had been achieved with only a minimal increase in net taxes paid by the middle class. Mr. Shanmugaratnam said a low

middle class tax burden should be an essential feature of Singapore’s “progressive fiscal system”. Responding to a question about whether Singapore had the fiscal capacity to raise the income limits for those who can enjoy targeted subsidies in healthcare, Mr. Shanmugaratnam said that targeted policies like means-tested subsidies were important to a progressive regime that “gives more to those who start out with less”. Systems that granted subsidies more liberally to higher income residents might create a sense of inclusivity, but higher taxes were consequently borne by a broader mass in the middle, he warned. Singapore had an even more progressive tax system than Britain, where the middle class paid more taxes than benefits received, he argued. However, he agreed with some participants that more riskpooling in healthcare was necessary to help families facing “catastrophic illnesses and catastrophic costs”. This would require planning for sustainable higher spending on healthcare, while rules concerning the use of Medifund (an endowment fund to help needy Singaporeans with healthcare expenses) were being gradually liberalised across healthcare institutions, the minister said. Keeping the right perspective “No policies are sacrosanct,” Mr. Shanmugaratnam said. The government would refine them and make shifts where necessary, “instructed by empirical evidence” of policy efficacy. In his personal reflection on the issue of labour inflows, Mr. Shanmugaratnam noted that inherent to maintaining Singapore’s diversified economy on a limited local workforce was a need to employ some foreigners in every sector. A whole range of enterprises had given feedback that their ability to hire a certain number of foreign workers with the right skills and aptitudes was crucial to their capacity to be internationally competitive, and thereby able to upgrade the skills and wages of their local workforce. As Singapore decreased its dependence on foreign workers, this tightening of the labour market would inevitably result in higher costs, affecting working and middle class consumers. Ultimately, the businesses most vulnerable to a labour crunch were local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). At the end of Singapore’s economic restructuring, “we don’t want an economy with a denuded SME sector”, he cautioned. Mr. Shanmugaratnam said that it was important to keep a sense of perspective towards Singapore’s achievements vis-à-vis countries in the region: it had preserved very low rates of unemployment, and achieved a median income

in Singapore about 20 per cent higher than Hong Kong, and 30 per cent higher than Korea and Taiwan in purchasing power parity terms, a gauge of spending power. Having achieved these goals within a fiscally sustainable system, one had to conclude that “we are not doing too badly for the average Singaporean”, he said. “Why then are so many Singaporeans unhappy?” asked IPS Special Adviser Prof. Tommy Koh. Mr. Shanmugaratnam attributed it to a new set of economic circumstances facing Singapore, with increasing prices and decreasing social mobility compared to the first 30 years of Singapore’s development. Singapore was also going through a political transition from governance by a strong incumbent party towards more plurality. Adjusting to a new social compact was now necessary, he said. More government interventions would be needed in an increasingly competitive global environment, “but most importantly, let’s keep this as a place where people feel there is a realistic chance for their families and children, to improve over time”. Singapore, despite being developed, was one of the few places he believed an upwardly mobile society was possible. Rachel Hui ( and Danielle Hong ( are Research Assistants at the Institute of Policy Studies. The edited excerpt of Mr. Shanmugaratnam’s remarks is available on the Singapore Ministry of Finance website.

Short political horizons are never helpful. It is how most of the developed countries have built up public spending in excess of revenues even during their youthful and rapid growth years, and now find themselves with unsustainable debts just as their societies age… We have to preserve a system of sustainable finances, so that we keep this position of strength as we address our challenges of helping the elderly live well, and keeping social mobility alive. It will allow us to invest in an inclusive society not just for two or three terms of Government, but for our children’s generation.

· Jan–Mar 2012 · 29


Singapore in 2011: the emergence of quality-of-life concerns by Prof. Mukul Asher A contentious debate about the quality of life dominated the 2011 election year. Professor Mukul Asher examines the reasons.


ith the end of 2011, Singapore’s policy makers have ample reason to be satisfied with their economic management, and the results of the long-prevailing business location growth model. Singapore’s macroeconomic indicators, excepting the inflation rate, exhibited encouraging trends in 2011. Real economic growth is projected at around 5 per cent for the year, generating about 100,000 new jobs in 2011, which is equivalent to 2.6 per cent of the total workforce, representing a solid performance. An impressive 61.5 per cent of Singapore’s total population was employed. Still, the inflation rate, measured by the consumer price index, has hovered around 5 per cent, while the domestic supply price index surged by 9.3 per cent in the third quarter of 2011. These rates are uncomfortably high compared to those which Singapore is normally accustomed to. The general and presidential elections held in 2011 highlighted the electorate’s growing concern with quality-of-life issues that encompass more than material living conditions. This is apparent across divergent demographic and economic groups. Citizens perceive that their quality of life does not reflect the wide range of options and choices they expect of an affluent country with a per capita GDP of US$43,867 in 2010, at current market prices. Their concerns have more recently manifested in demands for greater policy, media and electoral contestability. There is substantial infrastructure investment currently under way in transport, health, housing and education, which could help narrow the gap between rapid demand increases and the supply response. But much more emphasis needs to be placed on the softer aspects of 30 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

health care, childcare and education to mitigate concerns about poor quality of life for schoolgoing children, as well as working mothers and other citizens. The generational shift, particularly as younger citizens have grown up in an affluent environment, has accentuated this perception of quality of life in Singapore. An important element in this perception is that citizens’ upwardmobility prospects are being limited by the presence of disproportionately large numbers of foreign workers, particularly at the professional and executive levels. At mid-year 2011, only 63 per cent of Singapore’s total population of 5.18 million were citizens, 10 per cent were permanent residents and 27 per cent foreign workers. The share of foreign workers in the labour force is much higher, and could reach two-fifths of the total labour force by the end of this decade. Another important element is an increasing recognition of the growing inequalities in income and wealth to which government policies have contributed. Such policies include strong adherence to the business location growth model, with its concomitant rise in foreign workers; light taxation of capital income; and very limited measures designed to provide adequate retirement income and mitigate against retirement income risks. The population, meanwhile, is ageing rapidly due to the ultra-low fertility rate of 1.15 births per woman in 2010 (when 2.15 is the replacement rate) and improved life expectancy. These trends will lead to an increase in the median age (38 years in 2011) and in age-related social expenditures, whose burden needs to be shared equitably—and not disproportionately by the individuals as is currently the case. Policy makers appear to recognise these quality-of-life concerns, but their actions suggest a

continued belief in the adequacy of enacting relatively minor changes in the business location growth model, with its serious reliance on foreign workers; planned infrastructure expenditure; and minor refinements in the mandatory savings scheme (as administered by the Central Provident Fund). It is the excessive single-minded zeal in pursing these policies, when circumstances require their moderation and the introduction of additional measures, which has led to quality-oflife concerns. More could be done, for instance, by focusing on relative poverty rather than absolute poverty. This policy approach will likely be tested in the coming years as ageing accelerates, and the electorate’s expectations and aspirations continue to diverge from the outcomes of the current assumptions underlying Singapore’s social and economic management. Singapore’s prospects for 2012 depend on the global economy. The euro zone is experiencing a serious economic crisis, and growth in other industrial countries is expected to be anaemic. China and India are also facing challenges in sustaining relatively high growth. But Singapore is well positioned to benefit from any positive developments in the regional global economies, and to cushion any downside risk. Singapore’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations—billed as a new-generation preferential economic agreement—is one indicator of its future economic preparedness. Mukul Asher is a Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. This article has been reproduced with permission from East Asia Forum, where it was first published in January.


Image: Paul Lachine

Rethinking Singapore's social compact by Yeoh Lam Keong, Donald Low, and Manu Bhaskaran

After both a cataclysmic economic crisis and a watershed general election, Singapore stands at a cusp of forging a new social compact.


ingapore’s current social compact, founded on the principles of self-reliance, high growth, full employment and a social security system which emphasises individual savings and home ownership, has served Singapore well and is widely admired abroad. From independence until the end of the 1990s, this compact delivered · Jan–Mar 2012 · 31

and are highly vulnerable to bouts of unem"growth with equity" (World Bank, 1993), ployment and illnesses. These create major easy social mobility, and high standards in barriers to social mobility. housing, education, healthcare and public The most recent official data shows that infrastructure. median citizen full-time incomes have risen However, changes in the operating context 11 per cent between 2000 and 2010. While A rising, since the late 1990s have put significant strain this is a creditable performance in a world on this compact. These include markedly risemerging world characterised by stagnant median wages in ing inequality, increased economic volatilmany developed economies, in a city-state ity, and stagnating wages for significant segled by China like Singapore where the option to move to ments of the workforce as a consequence of lower cost areas does not exist, real income and India, rapid globalisation, skill-biased technological growth of just over 1 per cent per annum is change, excessive immigration, a maturing combined with effectively felt as stagnation, especially coneconomy and an ageing population. sidering growing concerns over the steeply While these trends are not new, two a weaker, more rising costs of education, healthcare, housing, major events around the turn of the last decand retirement adequacy. crisis-prone ade brought these pressures closer to a critiFurthermore, these annual income figcal turning point that could well determine if developed world ures tend to mask the real difficulties on the Singapore’s current social compact can conground. Including part-time earners, median tinue to flourish or will begin to unravel. The is probably income growth over the last decade is probfirst event was the global financial crisis of ably even weaker, especially if adjusted on here to stay for 2008–2009; the second, the general election an hourly basis. Full-time work has become of 2011 and the political trends and sentiments the foreseeable harder to find while structural unemployment it revealed. has risen stubbornly between 1998 and 2010 The global financial crisis brought home future. and the share of unemployed workers with two major lessons. The first is an ineluctapost-secondary qualifications has risen from ble shift in economic power from a declining 30 per cent to around 55 per cent in the same West to an ascendant East. A rising, emergperiod. It is increasingly common to experiing world led by China and India, combined ence longer working hours and witness dualwith a weaker, more crisis-prone developed income families struggling with part-time world is probably here to stay for the foreseejobs just to maintain living standards. able future. Persistent economic imbalances In this context, the inexorable global labour market trends towards wage and fiscal crises in the major developed economies point to continued volatility in global demand and asset prices. This does not bode well for income stagnation and sharply rising inequality in developed economies, with growth at the middle and lower ends of the income distribution. Equally attendant problems of chronic poverty, economic insecurity and insufficient important, the crisis of 2007–09 showed that unregulated markets and the savings for low-income deciles, have taken on a new tone with far-reaching implications for the political economy. blind pursuit of market fundamentalist policies could be hugely damaging to both econA different era omy and society. The idea that deregulation, Singapore’s key social policies that were the privatisation and competitive markets alone foundation of the old social compact in the can deliver stability and prosperity was laid areas of housing, healthcare, social security, to rest with the Great Recession. education and infrastructure were designed This does not for an era characterised by a smaller, more A watershed election youthful population, ample room to boost Domestically, Singapore’s general election of bode well for productivity, rising real wages and high rates 2011 was a political watershed. It revealed not income growth of economic growth. With slower growth, an just rising and irreversible demands for wider ageing, much larger population and stagnant democratic participation but also uncovered a at the middle wages, many of these policies simpy do not worrying undertow of discontent with key elework in the long run, even for middle-income ments of the current social compact. and lower ends Singaporeans. These difficulties have festered for over a of the income Rising inequality is bad enough when the decade. Starting wages for unskilled labour rich are getting richer and the bottom 20–30 have fallen significantly since 1995, not least distribution. per cent of households are left behind. It is because of the liberalisation of foreign worker much more worrying when the bottom 50–60 policies in the last two decades. The bottom per cent also begin to feel that improvements 10 per cent of working age households has in their economic prospects, well-being and difficulty making basic ends meet; while the quality of life are much more uncertain, both bottom third has little discretionary saving 32 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·


for themselves and their children. Small wonder that fertility rates have fallen sharply to historic lows over the last decade. These trends, combined with an increasingly difficult and uncertain economic outlook, the erosion of a naïve faith in market fundamentalism, and the rising political consciousness of Singaporeans, have moved the social policy debate in Singapore beyond the enhancement of social safety nets for the poor. Rather, Singapore also needs to reconstruct its social compact to one led by a more activist and redistributive state—one that strikes a better balance between growth and equity and between social protection and individual responsibility. At its heart, this new compact needs to pragmatically but creatively rethink how the state can more effectively ensure broad-based access, affordability and quality in the key areas of social security, public housing, healthcare, education, and public infrastructure and the environment. These five key policy areas crucially determine our quality of life and well-being. In each of these social policy domains, there are significant market failures that necessitate government regulation, subsidy or outright provision. The state has a critical role not only in ensuring socially desirable outcomes, but also in pursuing outcomes that are consistent with the aspirations of Singaporeans, while keeping within fiscal means and maintaining work incentives. Moderating the risk pendulum’s swing In doing so, the government has to realise that its previous policy stance—of emphasising only individual and family responsibility—may have excessively shifted risks from the state to citizens. As Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank and 2001 winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economic Sciences, observes, at a time of rising uncertainly, volatility and inequality, the state should instead be actively absorbing the increase in risks and insuring citizens against them. Singapore has good potential to improve the lives of its citizens in precisely this way. Government spending in Singapore as a share of gross domestic product of around 17 per cent is among the lowest in the developed world compared to 35–40 per cent of GDP in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries or 25–30 per cent of GDP in other advanced Asian economies. Singapore’s current levels of spending are low even by historical standards of up to 25 per cent of GDP seen in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. Singapore can afford to return to these levels of a public spending while maintaining competitiveness and long-term fiscal sustainability.

Singapore society should be requires wide public discourse and consultation as well as intelligent design and careful implementation. However over a 10–20 year period, this could result in a far-reaching overhaul of the way the Singapore state provides social security, housing, healthcare, education and infrastructure/environmental goods, re-defining the social core and character of Singapore society with significantly higher levels of citizen well-being. This means constructing the new social compact proactively as a shared strategic vision rather than as a series of piecemeal, reactive responses to populist demands of the day. It also means that the government must be prepared to review and discard long-held beliefs, fixed policy mindsets and taboos, in particular its reflexive aversion to welfare and increased government spending, or an undue bias towards “leaving it to market forces”. These mindsets constitute the greatest barrier to the constructive remaking of our social compact. After both a cataclysmic economic crisis and a watershed general election, we need to return to the Singapore state’s founding virtues of pragmatism, social activism and people-oriented policy innovations—virtues that so successfully guided Singapore in its first 40 years as an independent nation. Yeoh Lam Keong is Vice-President of the Economic Society of Singapore, an independent economic consultant and ex-Chief Economist of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation. Donald Low is Vice-President of the Economic Society of Singapore.

The bottom 10 per cent of working age households has difficulty making basic ends meet; while the bottom third has little discretionary saving and is highly vulnerable to bouts of unemployment and illnesses. These create major barriers to social mobility.

Forging a new social compact It should also be borne in mind that what is proposed here is a long-term strategy to construct a new social compact. Pursuing a vision of what · Jan–Mar 2012 · 33


Image: Paul Lachine

New media and politics: can old rules apply? by Arun Mahizhnan

Proponents of new technology tend to proclaim it as the revolutionary tool that would change the world; detractors respond with customary yawn. Arun Mahizhnan revisits the age-old debate.


n a recent, characteristically thought-provoking article, The Economist wrote about how Reformation leader Martin Luther “went viral” in the 16th century, half a millennium before the term became common code. On 31 October 1517, Luther nailed a copy of his protest dissertation, “95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, which challenged the Catholic church to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. His sympathisers took no time to exploit the then reigning new technology of the printing press to spread the word to thousands in Germany and elsewhere.

34 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

Luther’s friend Friedrich Myconius reportedly said later that “hardly 14 days had passed when these propositions were known throughout Germany and within four weeks almost all of Christendom was familiar with them.” Hyperbolic perhaps but a testament to the basic fact of rapid circulation. In today’s parlance, Luther’s message had gone viral. The Economist goes on to show the correlation between today’s cyber networks among citizens and the social networks of times past that forced religious reform in Europe.

The basic tale of a new communication technology “revolutionising” information sharing is as old as the hills. From conch shells, skin drums and smoke signals to the printing press, telegraph, television and the Internet, almost every new kind of information technology has had a significant effect on how people communicate and, invariably, how politics is conducted. Proponents of new technology tend to proclaim it as the revolutionary tool that would change the world; detractors respond with customary yawn. Three samples Thomas Carlyle claimed in 1834 that “he who first shortened the labour of copyists by device of movable types was disbanding hired armies, and cashiering most kings and senates, and creating a whole new democratic world: he had invented the art of printing.” Echoing Carlyle, historian Daniel Boorstin used pretty much the same words in 1978 to elevate television to the pedestal in his book The Republic of Technology by referring to “its power to disband armies, to cashier presidents, to create a whole new democratic world—democratic in ways never before imagined, even in America.” More recently, in 1996, John Perry Barlow, an implacable advocate of Internet freedom released a “Declaration of the Independence of the Cyberspace”. Among other things, he said: “I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs,... without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.” Go tell it to the Falun Gong, to the Iranian Green Movement, or to the newly minted North Korean supremo Kim Jong Un. Many sceptics hold that old rules still apply when it comes to controlling and suppressing the new media, and powerful governments and corporate interests will always trump the media freedom fighters. Really? The nature of the beasts Though it is tempting to devalue the power of any new technology, one has to examine its fundamental difference from the old ones in their nature and impact. Old media such as newspaper, radio and television, and new media such as email, blog, SMS, Facebook and Twitter, are similar in that they reach out to the masses. How the latter engage and empower the masses is quite different. First, old media is defined by one-way communication—from producers of content to consumers of content. New media users are producers as well as consumers of content, sometimes called “prosumers”. Moreover, they deploy the same technology for one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one and many-to-many communications. A method of dissemination and consumption unmatched by old media. Second, old media ownership required enormous capital investment, high level technological know-how, large workforce and, in most cases, permits to operate. Not so with the new media. Almost anyone can be a publisher or broadcaster online to reach big audiences—imagination and effort are all one needs. A facility unavailable through the old media.Third, old media almost always function as legal entities—identifiable and apprehensible. They have geographic and operational constraints that make them highly controllable by governments as well as by owners. With new media, no individual state or corporation can wield the degree of control they had over old media. It is instructive to note that while authoritarian states have managed to reduce the amount of political dissent in the old media, the same

cannot be said of new media. In each of those countries, there is more political dissent in cyberspace now than in the past. Even in the strictest system, it is creeping in. Its flow can be regulated but not eliminated. This is where new media trumps old media. Political mindscapes So, what is the impact of new media on politics? Can old rules still apply?First, the agency of the individual citizen is now vastly different. He/ she can communicate and share information with fellow citizens on a scale and with a speed impossible before. More than information, the individual has a conversation, a critical improvement over old media communications. It leads to what in military jargon is called “shared awareness,” the ability of each member of a group to not only understand the situation at hand but also understand that everyone else does, too. Social media enables citizen networks to enhance and increase shared awareness, allowing them to harness a potent force to mobilise and confront anyone from elected leaders to implacable tyrants. The ouster of Philippines President Joseph Estrada in 2001, with the help of mobile phone text messages, is often cited as the first instance of social media dethroning a reigning ruler. Ten years on, the more dramatic examples of the Arab Spring dominate such discourse. Second, precisely because such citizen networks are not always founded on common causes or common views, nor centrally controlled or even coordinated, they have fundamental weaknesses and a high risk of failure. Outcomes of social network impact are often unpredictable, certainly not preordained. Juxtaposed against every Arab Spring triumph is a multitude of failures and fatal repercussions. Most recently, the Syrian government is ruthlessly hunting down political dissidents despite numerous social media initiatives to protect them. In recent memory, the Red Shirt uprising in Thailand saw much support in the social media but was crushed by the military by conventional means. Far worse was the fate of the Green Movement in Iran in 2009, despite wide international support. For more than a decade, China has managed to exercise a stranglehold on Falun Gong movement’s cyber networks—though unable to shut them down completely. Old rules or new rules, the political game is always unsettling and unsettled. Third, legislation to control political dissent in the new media is ultimately doomed to fail—though it may promise short-term successes. As mentioned earlier, almost all old media are legal entities and therefore lend themselves to legislative control—for good or evil purposes. The new forms of media proffer an altogether different proposition. Cyberspace being borderless, netizens respect no national boundaries. Besides, netizens could remain anonymous and untraceable to authorities. Witness Wikileaks. This facility has upended the power ratio between the regulator and the regulated. Old rules of the old media can no longer function effectively in cyberspace. But even new rules by authoritarian states have far less effect than imagined. Some governments have taken to discreet neglect of those rules. Some others claim to exercise a soft touch out of benign disposition but that may be the only position open when a harsh touch may be impossible to execute or extract too high a political cost. Still, it is pertinent to point out that where common agendas prevail, such as the containment of child pornography and terrorism, collective actions by different states have been extraordinarily successful. Thus it takes a smart state to know when to apply which rules. Or even no rules. Arun Mahizhnan is the Deputy Director of the Institute of Policy Studies. His email is · Jan–Mar 2012 · 35


Immigrants entrepreneurs by Nicola Pocock

When migrants set up businesses in home countries, the ripple effects on the local economy and employment can be advantageous for both remittance and non-remittance receiving households. Nicola Pocock examines why.


orty-year-old Jean is a formidable entrepreneur, as demonstrated by the five businesses she owns in the Philippines. These include a riceretailing business, food supplement wholesaling and a recycling business. The average monthly profit of the businesses combined is S$2,000 (US$1,582), enough to cover her extended family’s needs. “Now, I’m starting to build a resort, which will have two houses and a swimming pool”. Jean has worked in Singapore as a domestic worker for the past 25 years. Having learnt the importance of saving for the future, she has put aside money throughout her time here and continually reinvested profits into businesses managed back home by family members. Growth and financial sustainability are her main goals— “I want to be able to go back to the Philippines without worrying about money”. Transient Workers Count 2 (TWC2), a migrant rights advocacy organisation, estimates that nearly one million foreign workers in Singapore earn low wages, and are employed in construction, shipping, sanitation services, manufacturing and domestic work. Manual workers do not enjoy a minimum wage, and neither do the 201,000 domestic workers in Singapore, of whom only 12 per cent have a weekly day off, according to TWC2. Amid the debate about migrant rights in the city-state, remittances offer a positive story in the maelstrom. A study by the Asian Development Bank estimated that migrant workers from the three main sources of labour—the Philippines, Malaysia 36 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

and Indonesia—remitted a combined total of US$506,625,270 from Singapore in 2005. The large number of migrants in Singapore and competition between remittance providers has helped to drive down the cost of sending money home, especially to Bangladesh and the Philippines. Remittance fees between Singapore and Bangladesh are actually the cheapest in the world, and those between Singapore and the Philippines the fourth cheapest globally. A large body of literature on remittances at the micro-level reveals numerous positive impacts, including the increased ability of remittancereceiving families to purchase land and durable assets, invest in education and make other purchases that stimulate the local economy, which includes non-migrant households. As migration and remittances expert Hein de Haas asserts, when a remittance-receiving family decides to construct a house, the local construction industry experiences a positive effect on wages, prices and employment (Hein da Haas 2007, Remittances, Migration and Social Development: a conceptual review of the literature, UNRISD Social Policy and Development Programme Paper no. 34). But, because international migrants tend to be from comparatively wealthier families, the direct beneficiaries of remittances are also not the poorest community members. These are reasons why migrant entrepreneurship—migrants in countries like Singapore saving and remitting money to family members in the Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh to

Table 1: Fee charged to sender and exchange rate margin for US$200 from Singapore


Total cost as % of remittance amount

















Source: Remittance price data, World Bank, 2011. Country-Corridors/from-Singapore

start businesses—is an important phenomenon. When migrants set up businesses in home countries, the ripple effects on the local economy and employment can be advantageous for both remittance and non-remittance receiving households. Jean employs six people, two of whom are not family members in her native village. Fostering savings and entrepreneurship is the explicit goal of aidha, a micro-business school for migrant workers, especially domestic workers, in Singapore. Set up in 2006, aidha provides financial literacy and entrepreneurship training to migrant domestic workers via an integrated curriculum that includes savings clubs and

Figure 1. Types of businesses, aidha alumni survey, 2011

Grocery/Sari sari store


Other business


Farm or livestock (piggery)


Transport (jeepney/tricycle)


Property (rental)




Mobile top-ups




Other businesses include money lending, school supplies, recycling, internet café.

Figure 2. Assistance provided to family members or friends, aidha alumni survey, 2011

Provided some (less than 50%) of start-up capital


Provided advice


Business was my idea


Actively trained/supported the family member/friend


Respondent may tick more than one option so percentages may add up to more than 100%

hands-on business experience via Project Makan, a restaurant management training program. A recent survey with 52 alumni (a third of aidha’s graduates) revealed that more than 66 per cent have invested their savings in two or more income-generating assets whilst working abroad, the most popular being rearing of small animals, provision of transport services and land for business purposes. Of the sample, 39 per cent are currently business owners, with an average

monthly profit per person of S$374 from various business ventures. For one in three business owners, this is enough to support most or all of their household’s monthly expenses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 100 per cent of these businesses were financed partly from savings, followed by employer loans and profit from former businesses. Furthermore, migrants help family members or friends back home to set up their own businesses.

Half of the alumni surveyed by aidha had provided some kind of assistance, with 67 per cent providing some of the startup capital required. By fostering migrant entrepreneurship in both source and destination countries, remittances and micro-businesses can be leveraged for local development. Succeeding as an entrepreneur can also provide migrants with an alternative to the cyclical pattern of migration so common in the Southeast Asia region. Migrant entrepreneurship can be facilitated by designing financial products in host and source countries that help migrants to save and invest, as well as by encouraging institutional investment in micro-enterprises run by migrants remotely or by their families. In Singapore, the low cost of sending money home is an added advantage. But migrants arguably face difficulties in accessing savings products suited to their needs, particularly at local banks. New account openers must provide a S$500 deposit, a substantial sum for many migrants. Singapore banks often restrict access by occupation, with the most widely used bank, POSB, allowing those with work permits to open an account but not those with domestic worker permits to do the same. Some domestic workers have been refused accounts at the branch level, even when this is not explicit bank policy. Migrants face prejudice at the branch level—this has to change. If the city-state prides itself as being a financial services centre, and if migration is expected to be temporary, as indicated by the government’s emphasis on guest worker programs, then surely enabling migrants to access savings products is a win-win solution, if not a basic right? Programmes like aidha’s that offer training in essential business skills can help migrants to set up successful businesses in home countries. Singapore should be encouraging employers of migrant workers as well as including domestic workers and those in other sectors, to help employees to conceive and plan for their futures by investing in their training and development— just as they might for their local employees. Offering migrants access to financial services and business education could enable them to take a proactive role in shaping their own futures, rather than be subject to structural constraints that provoke them to seek employment abroad in the first place. Nicola Pocock is a Research Associate with Asian Trends Monitoring Bulletin and the cohead of research at aidha, a micro business school for migrant workers in Singapore. · Jan–Mar 2012 · 37


Immigrants and their rights by Frances House and Salil Tripathi


ong before there were national borders, there have always been people who left their homes to seek a better life. Some were attracted by the promise of wealth in cities they had only heard about, some were pushed out of their homes because the land was no longer productive, or a prolonged drought had destroyed a way of life. Others simply left for the sheer adventure such opportunities offered. Today we know them as migrant labour, expatriate workers, foreign workers, and other, often derogatory, terms. Almost all governments have restrictions on free movement of people across borders. It is fair to say that goods, services, and capital move more easily across borders than do people. Even people who can travel to different countries without visas are welcome only up to a point; after a certain number of days, they must return. If they look for work, they must inform authorities and change their status. Rules are strict in some countries, which make it hard for foreigners to cross their borders. Pragmatic countries have kept borders open for people to come and work under set rules—many do well economically, but those countries also tend to have economies open for trade and investment. Human beings are not goods or capital; they have rights, which states are obliged to respect and protect under all circumstances. When an individual crosses the border, the host government has the responsibility for his safety and security. While the

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host government may favour its own nationals on many grounds, it has core minimum obligations that extend to people who are not citizens. Southeast Asia itself is a multiethnic region, with no country entirely mono-cultural, and each country presenting a mélange of cultures, religions, languages, and ethnicities, which gives the region its dynamism. Some countries in the region, such as Singapore and Malaysia, are labour-importing countries that have a need to support booming economies. Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, as well as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, are among the labour-exporting economies. In the latter cases, many of their citizens seek work abroad even if their home economies are growing rapidly, to seek better comparative pay in predominantly low-paid jobs in factories, on construction sites or in domestic service. Recorded remittances received by developing countries, estimated to be US$325 billion in 2010, far exceed the volume of official aid flows and constitute more than 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in many developing countries. Bangladesh receives more income from foreign remittances of overseas workers— estimated US$12 billion in 2012—than from foreign aid or investment. The economic profile of the Philippines is similar, according to World Bank statistics from the Migration and Remittances Handbook 2011. And yet, migrant workers often operate

without protection and are frequently denied basic liberties. Exploitation and abuse of rights can be found throughout the employment cycle during recruitment, during employment and upon return. Their exploitation begins at the time they apply for jobs—recruitment agencies in home countries levy exorbitant fees and charges on the workers, who take out loans at onerous rates of interest to cover these costs. Once overseas migrants often find that the work, terms pay and conditions are not what they were led to expect. Employers often retain their passports and other documents, restricting their mobility. Their working hours tend to be long, sometimes exceeding legal limits. Wages are sometimes not paid on time or paid at all. Due process is not followed if their employment is terminated. If they are hurt or sick, medical care is not necessarily free of cost. Women migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence. If a contractor goes bankrupt, workers are left without any resources in a country where they may not be familiar with the local customs, language, legal processes, and thus become susceptible to criminal gangs. Their contracts often exclude clauses on their return passage. Should the political situation worsen, as in many Middle East countries last year, some employers wash their hands off the problem. Without any evacuation plan, the responsibility falls on their home states, international organisations, or relief agencies.

Images: Choo Meng Foo

Human beings are not goods or capital; they have rights, which states are obliged to respect and protect under all circumstances.

Missing his family already.

In recent years, scrutiny of business conduct in recruiting migrant workers has increased, with major international human rights organisations publishing reports about the workers’ vulnerability in countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Civil society organisations have run campaigns targeting high-profile projects that are dependent on migrant labour. Labour-exporting countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Bangladesh have set up government departments and ministries to oversee the welfare of their citizens who work abroad. Forward-thinking employers are aware of the situation, and they wish to eliminate practices that are unconscionable or sometimes violate the law. Increasingly businesses are realising the need to extend due diligence regarding business rights further into their supply chains beyond their immediate, or tier one suppliers, to ensure that conduct is proper and rights are protected. Lack of scrutiny of these relationships can negate many of the efforts companies are making around better practice generally. A worker in a situation of debt bondage engendered by an unregulated recruitment process is being exploited and is vulnerable to further abuse even if their subsequent employment conforms to expected codes. The benefits of remittances to both the worker and country of origin are also seriously eroded by exploitation of migrants at all stages of the employment cycle. At the Institute for Human Rights and Business, we have initiated a multi-year process with leading employers, workers’ organisations, migrants’ rights organisations, academics, lawyers, and governments, to develop the Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity. The underlying idea is based on the recognition that migrant workers remain among the most exploited workforce

globally due to widespread irresponsible practices during both their recruitment and subsequent employment. Leadership from the private sector in cooperation with government and civil society could dramatically improve standards of worker protection. Our Business and Migration programme engaged the private sector and other critical stakeholders with the aim of raising standards of protection for vulnerable workers. These Principles follow consultations in London, Mauritius, and Dhaka over the past two years. We see these Principles as important and necessary steps. We expect most responsible companies to welcome these principles and use them as a basis to develop their own codes and guidelines. We also expect governments—particularly labour-exporting governments—to support these principles and include them in bilateral agreements with receiving countries. But it is also in the interest of labour-importing countries to support these principles. Human rights have no boundaries, and governments and businesses need to recognise that. Regardless of geography or industry sector, migrant workers’ rights must be protected in accordance with national law and international labour standards. Governments, business and civil society need to work together to restore migrant workers' dignity and decency. Given the scope of their contribution to the global economy, having their rights and dignity protected is the least these migrant workers should expect in return. Frances House is Director-Programmes at the Institute for Human Rights and Business, and leads its work on migrant workers. Salil Tripathi is Director-Policy at the Institute for Human Rights and Business. The website is

The Dhaka Principles • Workers should not have to pay recruitment fees; • Contracts should be clear and transparent; • Employers should not retain workers’ passports and other identification documents; • Migrant workers, even contractual employees, should be included in all codes of conduct and other regulations that protect workers; • There should be no discrimination against migrant workers on grounds of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or any other factor, in accordance with laws and standards • Compensation should be fair and paid directly to migrant workers; • Migrant workers should enjoy the same rights of representation and free association as enjoyed by other workers in the country; • Migrant workers should have the same right to access grievance mechanisms as other workers; • Migrant workers should have access to health and safety cover and training available to local workers, and material made available to them should be in their language; and • Migrant workers’ contracts should include the provision of safe and timely return to their home country, with full benefits paid, at the end of the contract, and even during the contract, in the event of an emergency.

· Jan–Mar 2012 · 39


Droughts or floods: what is important for Singapore? by Asit K. Biswas


aving reviewed the current situation carefully, my view is that Singapore should be significantly more concerned with droughts than floods. Flash floods that damaged high-end luxury stores and popular shopping malls in the main shopping district in Orchard Road and brought traffic to a standstill on a few major thoroughfares have hogged the headlines and forums in the blogosphere in the past two years. In the aftermath, the main water management agency, PUB, has been criticised severely for its flood control performance. Yet, the fact remains that Singapore has a world-class and cost-effective flood management system, which can, at best, be improved incrementally. If one has to criticise the agency, the main point would be that it has not managed to convey successfully to the public the scientific and economic philosophy underpinning its flood management practices. Only then can we have an open and informed discussion on the fundamental issues. Put another way, Singaporeans are most likely to baulk at the high costs of paying for the additional flood protection measures when they realise that the benefits are likely to be incremental at best Let us consider some of the scientific and economic facts behind flood management. First, floods can never be completely eliminated: this is a hydrological fact of nature. Many have argued that Singapore should plan for a 200-year flood, like Hong Kong, rather than be satisfied with a 100-year flood buffer. What is missing from the public discussion is the realisation that this has become a subject of media hype, a matter of polemics, and does not constitute a serious dialogue on what is the needed for the long-term benefit of Singapore based on scientific facts and analyses. A 100-year flood does not 40 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

occur every 100 years, and a 200-year does not occur every 200 years. Over a 2,000-year period, a 100-year flood may occur 20 times. However, a 100-year flood may occur each year for the next 5-years, and not occur again for the next 1,000 years. Similarly even if Singapore is protected from a 200-year flood, there is no guarantee that it will not face a monstrous 500-year flood, or even a 1,000-year flood, within the next few years. Technically, the country can be protected from any flood, but the cost of this protection goes up exponentially if we move from a 100-year to a 1,000-year flood. The productive capacity of any society is limited. If Singaporeans are to decide they need a protection from a 200-year or even a 500-year flood, the society will have to make a fundamental decision to invest an enormous amount bracing against flood —which may not come for several generations. This extra expenditure comes at a cost to other societal pillars such as education, health or transportation, which need regular investments for a productive and functional economy. Over the past 31 years, the government has invested an estimated S$2 billion (US$1.59 billion) on drainage infrastructure and flood control measures. Currently, improving such infrastructure costs another S$150 million yearly. Consequently, unlike other Asian countries suffering from serious floods, Singapore’s main problem at present lies with flash floods that last for less than 30 minutes on average. According to historical records, the last flood fatality was in 1978, when six people died during the December monsoon while a seventh was electrocuted by a falling street lamp. It is highly unlikely that death by drowning in a flood will be a feature of Singapore life in the future.

Let us put things in perspective. In my view, Singaporeans should be more concerned with droughts rather than floods, and spending on water management infrastructure should give adequate weight to droughts and also to floods. As night follows the day, it is simply a question of time when the country will face droughts for a prolonged period. Singapore’s equatorial climate is governed by a northwest monsoon and a southwest monsoon punctuated by two dry seasons. Unlike the current floods, a serious drought will affect all Singaporeans for several years, including its high-tech industrial and commercial activities, all of which require reliable water supply. Investor confidence could be seriously damaged. Singapore is a small island, and is still dependent on neighbouring Malaysia for much of its water supply until the agreement expires in 2061. Singapore has not been idle. She has made tremendous strides towards water self-sufficiency, including desalination and recycling. But recycling requires assured supply of freshwater to start with. If drought reduces freshwater availability in Singapore and Johor, new water production will suffer as well. At the end of 2011, Singapore had 17 reservoirs after the addition of Marina, Punggol and Serangoon water bodies, and two-thirds of the tropical island is now left unmolested as catchment areas to shore up supplies, even as it has undertaken technologies to recycle water. NEWater, high-grade reclaimed water, now accounts for 30 per cent of the country’s water needs, mainly for industrial use, and the goal is for it to meet 50 per cent of needs by the time the Malaysian agreement expires. Singapore also started desalination in 2005 to supplement water sources. These are legacy policy lessons from an era of Singapore’s development years amid a time

of drought, that threatened the pace of her industrial progress. A generation has grown up without experiencing the “Save Water Campaign” by the PUB in May 1971 to educate the public to curb consumption. Back in the 1960s, pre-independence Singapore suffered severe drought that threatened a growing population and nascent industrialisation. Not only were the reservoirs not being replenished, with very low water levels, the same was true across the border in Johor, which supplies water to Singapore. PUB records show that the government of the day had to impose water rationing over a four-and-a-half month period between September 1, 1961 to January 16, 1963 and again over a 10-month period from April 23, 1963 to February 28, 1964 in the aftermath of the drought. Droughts cause attendant problems. The last recorded dry spell was in February 2005, which was the driest month in 29 years, causing 388 bush fires over a period of more than seven weeks and sending temperatures soaring above 34 degrees Celsius daily for five weeks, according to the National Environment Agency. Such fires cause lingering particle build-up in the citystate. In 1997, forest fires in Indonesia from the El Nino dry spell blanketed parts of Southeast Asia in general and Singapore in particular in a thick, acrid haze for weeks. For a small city without a hinterland, drought-induced bush fires have a disproportionately large impact on a densely populated urban society and servicebased economy. The longest dry spell in the agency’s postindependence records was 35 days in 1976. If Singapore is to face a prolonged drought like the one witnessed recently in Australia which lasted several years, or even a decade-long drought, it could inflict major social, economic and reputational costs that merits careful attention. A large country such as Australia endured a 7-year drought with considerably difficulty. However, water could be transferred from other parts of the continent through various means. This is a luxury an island simply does not have. Thus, Singapore should be more concerned with droughts and not floods, and prepare a comprehensive plan to successfully withstand prolonged droughts. Asit K. Biswas is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore, and Founder of the Third World Centre for Water Management, Mexico. He received the Stockholm Water Prize in 2006, which is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for work related to water.

Frequent incidences of flooding in Singapore in the past two years have diverted the key debate over the threat of drought and greater inherent risks for the city-state, Professor Asit Biswas argues.

Image: Paul Lachine

· Jan–Mar 2012 · 41


political salaries in singapore:

paying for talent by Kenneth Paul Tan

In adjusting political salaries, the government did its sums but missed the mark in calibrating the mood of the people. Kenneth Paul Tan gives his insights.


ingapore introduced the controversial policy of paying top dollar to politicians and senior civil servants in 1994, a policy grudgingly accepted by most, even as they questioned and criticised not only the mechanics of this policy but also the assumptions and values that underpin it. These criticisms, along with criticisms of other burgeoning policy problems confronting the government today, came to a head in parliamentary elections held on 7 May 2011. The People’s Action Party (PAP), the ruling party since 1959, won only 60.1 per cent of the votes— the lowest share of the popular vote since independence. Though it secured 81 out of 87 seats, for the first time in history, it lost a team-contested multi-seat constituency to the opposition Workers’ Party. More crucially, political heavyweights such as Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo and Lim Hwee Hua (Singapore’s first and only female minister) both lost their seats. In this one-party dominant system, the 2011 results were the PAP’s worst since Singapore gained independence in 1965 and in more ways than the numbers alone suggest. Very soon after these elections, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a review of political salaries. Paying for talent In 2008, I wrote an article ‘Meritocracy and elitism in a global city: ideological shifts in 42 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

Singapore’, in International Political Science Review, arguing that Singapore-style meritocracy had seen a shift in balance, since the 1980s, away from egalitarian values and towards elitist ones. This was especially so in the management of talent for political and public sector leadership. This shift, I argued, had something to do with the global city’s tightening embrace of market logic, an article of faith associated strongly with the twin orthodoxies of neoliberal globalisation and new public management. I observed signs of social tension and division, as well as some political strain. A socio-cultural mood marked by cynicism, resentment, and social disengagement all pointed at the beginnings of a legitimation crisis in a state that had enjoyed tremendous hegemonic success due in no small part to the spectacular material achievements credited to daring and far-sighted policies. Earlier this year, in my article, ‘The ideology of pragmatism in Singapore: neoliberal globalisation and political authoritarianism’ (Journal of Contemporary Asia), I observed the paradox where even pragmatism, a key principle of governance in Singapore, was becoming ideological. Singapore’s success strategies have started to become dogmatised as a form of market fundamentalism, while the global city faces increasingly intractable problems induced by a fluid and engulfing globalisation. The ongoing

nation-building project has become fraught with contradictions, tensions, and mismatched expectations. In last year’s elections, an enlarged and re-energised electorate showed itself to be capable of challenging the hegemonic pre-eminence of an elitist technocracy, which was now having a much harder time justifying its high salaries. After a three-day debate in January 2012, parliament accepted the committee’s proposal to benchmark entry-level ministers’ salaries to 60 per cent of the median income of the top 1,000 Singaporean earners. This would replace the previous formula that pegged these salaries to twothirds of the income of the top four earners in six professions, resulting in a 37 per cent cut from S$1.58 million (US$1.25 million) to S$1.1 million. The Prime Minister’s salary, falling 31 per cent from S$3.07 million to S$2.2 million, remains the highest salary earned by any political leader in the world. A question of governance But the debates surrounding political salaries are unlikely to be over. They reflect much deeper concerns and anxieties about governance in Singapore. First, this is not simply about determining the right salary formula as a technical matter of getting prices right, although it is of course important not to get it far wrong. It is one thing to turn to the market for an approach to a solution, but

Image: Jayeb333

The decimal point is in the wrong place.

quite another to become constrained by market logic in ways that fetter our creativity and understanding of human nature. The emotional and idealistic dimensions of this problem should not be treated, as they often are by a frequently patronising technocratic government, as irrational and impractical pressures from a short-sighted public that needs to be pacified. Technocrats tend to assume right from the start that their policy is correct and that the problem lies only in public communication. Second, a meritocratic government once drew the best talents from Singaporeans of varied backgrounds. Today, the justification for high political salaries suggests that it has become a government that only really welcomes Singaporeans from an elite strata of society that commands the kind of private sector salaries available to the top one per cent. There are a number of potential problems with this. Can a leadership uniformly consisting of highly-paid elites be representative of the general population? Can they really understand

poverty and daily struggle beyond an academic notion of it? Can privileged leaders, in the spirit of noblesse oblige, avoid simply imposing their values and prejudices onto the realities of a wider population, infantilising them as ignorant, selfish, or even malicious? Will this system cultivate politicians to value leadership and public service in terms of money and profitability, while devaluing others whose talents, motivations, and concerns cannot be so crudely measured? Third, the pool of talent for political leadership may have been drained for other reasons than simply the competition from the private sector. Could worthy Singaporeans have developed a bad taste for politics because of decades of political intolerance? There have been perhaps too many examples in the past of well-meaning people ridiculed in public by a prickly, defensive, and over-bearing government, just for having an inconvenient view that managed to touch a nerve.

Technocrats tend to assume right from the start that their policy is right and that the problem lies only in public communication.

Kenneth Paul Tan is an Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. · Jan–Mar 2012 · 43


Everybody's money by Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski

As Singapore once again scrutinises its policies amid tackling economic and social challenges, a look back at the reform of the Central Provident Fund in 2007 may be instructive.


ver touched a hot stove burner? You probably haven’t made that mistake again. Yet here was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the leader of Singapore, one of the world’s most prosperous nations, getting ready to touch that hot burner again. Intentionally. When Singapore’s government tried once before, in 1984, to reform the country’s Central Provident Fund—the functional equivalent of the U.S. Social Security system, but based on fully funded personal savings accounts—it ignited cries of pain from nearly everyone, including employers, workers, and the elderly. The government quickly backed off and left the system alone. Now (in 2007), despite incremental changes over the years, serious reform was needed even more urgently. Improved life expectancy was threatening to undermine the CPF. When the CPF was originally set up in the 1950s, the average Singaporean lived 60 years. If someone worked until age 55, his accumulated lifetime savings need only last on average five years. By 1984, when the government tried to push through a change that would have advanced to age 60 the point at which workers could tap into their accumulated contributions to the CPF, life expectancy had already grown to more than 70 years of age. By 2006, life expectancy was 80 years, and elderly Singaporeans were beginning to exhaust their CPF accounts. The system had to change. Singapore simply couldn’t condemn its elderly poor to destitution. They were the generation that lifted Singapore up from Third World to First World status.

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But how would the system have to change? Lee, who was educated with honors at Cambridge University and was Singapore’s youngest brigadier general, knew he could impose his own ideas if he thought it necessary, and he leaned toward creating a private pension system as the best solution. Yet he also knew that whatever the decision, he would be upsetting several constituencies. Businesses were intent on maintaining their competitive edge in the global economy, and any changes that raised their costs would bring howls of protest. Unions representing workers would want higher contributions from business and had long been pressing for an extension of the retirement age so their members could work until they were older. And Singapore’s elderly were growing increasingly worried about outliving their savings, yet didn’t want to put off the age at which they could tap into their CPF savings. “It’s a super-sensitive subject, first because it affects everybody’s money,” Lee says. “Second, these are personal accounts, so it’s all the more painful for people, who think, ‘It’s my money, give it back to me now.’ And third, that one attempt in 1984 to delay the withdrawal age by five years, from fifty-five to sixty, nearly brought the house down.” The trick would be to fashion a system that spread the burden of reform equitably among the various constituencies so that no individual group would feel singled out to surrender too much. To do that, Lee knew he needed to listen carefully to each constituency, as well as to his own government advisers, to figure out not only what was

most important to each group, but also what the government could afford to do. First stop, the various government ministers that could offer expert advice and make recommendations. The prime minister put together a group of representatives from different ministries, including many bright young men and women, to study various issues such as demographic trends, estimates of return on various investments, and possible ways to restructure the CPF, including the pros and cons of switching the entire retirement security program to a private pension plan. Lee took on the role of first among equals, encouraging his colleagues and associates to speak out forcefully and without fear about any concerns they had. As the prime minister listened to their expert opinions, it became evident to him that his private plan wouldn’t work. A private plan, his advisers told him, would put the onus on people to manage their funds themselves, something those with low incomes were not well equipped to do. And when everyone agreed that extending the point at which a person could begin to tap his CPF account was a basic goal, there was one objection. “One of the youngest of the ministers, said, ‘You know, this is going to be very difficult on the people who are in their fifties, because they are the ones who are nearly at the point when they are hoping to take their money out, and just as they’re reaching the target, we’re moving the glass away. So how about a little bit of sweetener for these people so they feel that you’re helping them make this transition?’”

Workers in their fifties who suddenly saw access to their nest eggs receding three years into the future were given bonus interest payments on their savings to help mitigate the impact.

Second stop, the employers, all of which were concerned about maintaining their competitive position in the global marker. Yet listening to them enabled Lee to pick out some very specific hot points. First, the employers knew their workers wanted to stay on the job longer, rather than retire at the mandated age of sixty-two. But they told Lee that older workers often were not as productive as they once had been, and they also had higher medical costs than young employees. What’s more, they said, if older workers held on to their senior-level jobs longer, it would be difficult to promote ambitious young employees. Next stop, the unions that represented many of Singapore’s workers. Over the years, Lee had established a rapport with many union leaders, often inviting them to lunch or tea to discuss various issues affecting workers, and he knew they would be candid with him. As he expected, the unions were all for extending the official retirement age. But as he listened to them, it became clear, too, that they knew their older members weren’t as productive as they had been and that employers would strongly resist any efforts to force them to keep older workers on the payroll. They were eager for ideas about how best to overcome that resistance through some compromise proposal. Finally, what were older Singaporeans thinking about work and retirement? Lee had to listen carefully to understand their concerns in order to communicate how the changes he wanted to make would affect them. To do that, as well as to get a preview of what Singapore might look like in the year 2020, Prime Minister Lee visited Radin Mas, a district in which nearly one person in six is 65 or older, compared to the one in 12 in Singapore as a whole. Radin Mas’s demographic profile is where Singapore will be in 2020. As he listened to the elders, Lee once again identified two hot points: employment opportunities for older workers and having sufficient funds for old age. One woman of 67 put it bluntly to Prime Minister Lee: “My CPF runs out this year. What happens after that?” He could only tell her that the government was working on the problem. Amid all the consultations, the prime minister

was careful not to be too specific about what he and his team of government experts were thinking. “You can’t go around asking, ‘Do you prefer this particular scheme or that scheme?’ People don’t have informed views on how to design a social security system,” he explains. “You have to think about how you’re going to present it and persuade people to come along.” But he was gratified to find that the people with whom he consulted understood the nature of the problem confronting Singapore. A woman representing one of the labour unions told him, “It’s not going to be very popular, but you have to do it. I know this. I was young, I paid no attention, and only when I had two children did I start doing financial planning for my old age.” “She’s telling her people this is going to have to happen, so let’s see how we can massage the package to make it more acceptable,” Lee says. “So that’s reassurance to me that it’s saleable.” Still, the days leading up to the unveiling of the new CPF provisions were tense. Just a few days before details were to be released, the Straits Times, Singapore’s national newspaper, released a poll that showed heavy support for working to an older age and for increased returns on personal savings in the CPF system. But when asked if they favored an increase in the age at which people would withdraw their funds from the CPF, the answer was a resounding “No!” Finally, on August 19, 2007, Prime Minister Lee used his annual National Day Rally speech to unveil the result of the many interviews, meetings, consultations, and studies about how to reform the CPF. To help sell the reform program, he illustrated the speech with photographs taken during his visit to Radin Mas, painting a picture of what Singapore will look like in 2020. The new plan addressed the various hot points that each group had voiced, granting concessions to offset the pain. While the official retirement age remains 62, employers will be required under new re-employment legislation to offer workers a new job at age 62. It maybe a less-senior job and at a lower rate of pay, but at least an employee won’t be forced out. And to provide incentives for older people to work and for employers to hire them, a negative income tax will offer

workers a wage supplement of up to 25 per cent of their salary. To help the poorest Singaporeans, the interest rate that the government pays on each employee’s required savings in the CPF will rise modestly on the first S$60,000. But the biggest change of all was the extension of the age at which workers can draw down their CPF funds, to 65 from 62. Workers in their fifties who suddenly saw access to their nest eggs receding three years into the future were given bonus interest payments on their savings to help mitigate the impact. The sweeping plan to reform the CPF was broadly accepted. There would be some finetuning to do as the various changes were implemented, but because Prime Minister Lee invested large amounts of time and effort listening to his various constituencies’ concerns and weighing them against what he thought the government needed to do to ensure the long-term viability of the CPF, he was able to convince his fellow citizens that if they all shared a little pain, Singapore would continue to have a healthy economy with no one left behind. This extract is reprinted from the book, “How the Wise Decide”, with the permission of co-authors Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski (Crown Publishing Group, New York, 2008).

· Jan–Mar 2012 · 45

70th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore (through the eyes of a British prisoner of war)


es Betanny (1919–2000) was born in the Lancashire mill town of Burnley, the year after the First World War ended. Early in 1939 he joined the Territorial Army (Royal Artillery). Lance Bombardier Bettany fought in France and Belgium with the 88th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, manning 25 pounder field guns, and after evacuation from Dunkirk, served in various locations in southern England, in preparation for the anticipated German invasion. He was then re-equipped and shipped to the Far East, travelling on the troopship ‘Empress of Canada’

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via Freetown (West Africa), Cape Town and Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka). In the Malayan campaign he fought the Japanese at Ipoh and Alor Star. He was at Kuantan on the east coast, off which the ‘Prince of Wales’ and the ‘Repulse’ were sunk. In the company of the Australian 8th Division and the Indian 9th Brigade, he saw most of the major actions in Malaya until capitulation in Singapore in February 1942. He had small sketchbooks with him, and drew using various media including pencil, ink, water colour and pastel. He continued his artistic

endeavours during his new life as a P.O.W. As well as documentary sketches, he kept spirits up by producing a series of cartoons. A sketchbook was found and Betanny was hauled before General Saito (‘the big boss of the prisoners’ as a 94 year old ex-POW put it). General Saito warned him not to repeat the offense at the risk of a ‘short haircut’ with his samurai sword, or a beheading. Des Betanny’s artwork is reproduced with kind permission of his family. To see more images and read more, go to

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Executive Education

LKY School’s growing presence in Central Asia by Aigerim (Aika) Bolat

Mr. Amantai Kurenbekov, Vice Minister of Internal Affairs, Alumni of Executive Programme for Senior Government Officials of Kazakhstan.


ingapore and Kazakhstan may not have many similarities in terms of climate, food and culture, especially in the middle of December, when it is minus 30 degrees in the Kazakh capital of Astana. However this did not stop LKY School’s faculty from actively training and educating the young leaders and policy makers of the Kazakh Government throughout 2011. LKY School’s Executive Vice-Dean Mr. Stavros Yiannouka visited Astana in December 2011 to meet with the growing number of alumni from Kazakhstan, which now stands at 200. The gathering took place at the Radisson hotel in Astana where 45 alumni attended the event despite their busy year-end reporting period at various ministries and state agencies. Adding to their busy schedules were the vast preparations underway to celebrate the 20th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union on December 16 as well as parliament elections which took place on January 15, 2012. At the opening ceremony of the gathering Mr. Yiannouka stated that the LKY School was proud of the achievements of its alumni in Kazakhstan. Moreover, the presence of so many alumni at the gathering was testament both to the heartening goodwill that the Kazakh alumni feel towards the LKY School and the bonds forged among themselves. Some of the alumni of LKY School from Kazakhstan hold senior positions in government, starting from the top with the Prime Minister and members of the cabinet. They had attended a special two-day Public Policy and Management executive program, specifically designed to meet the needs of senior officials in March 2011 52 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

and held at the new international Nazarbayev University in Astana. LKY School is helping to set up a worldclass Graduate School of Public Policy under the Nazarbayev University, which was established in 2010. This long-term commitment between the two universities is the fruit of the past five years’ cooperation in education between the two countries. At a meeting with the international partners of the Nazarbayev University on December 12, 2011, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov said that it is not just a partnership among the world’s leading universities but a friendship and a strategic collaboration which is important in connecting minds and developing relations between the countries. The international partners of Nazarbayev University are some of the top educational institutes from Asia, USA, Europe and the UK. In addition to the LKY School, the partners include Harvard Medical International Inc., Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, University College London, Carnegie Mellon and iCarnegie, University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Pennsylvania. In his closing remarks, Mr. Yiannouka said that the LKY School looked forward to a long and mutually beneficial partnership with Nazarbayev University and appealed to the alumni for their support for the new Graduate School of Public Policy of the Nazarbayev University.

Mr. Zhomart Abiyessov, Chairman of Public Private Partnership Centre, Ministry of Economic Development & Trade and 2007/2008 MPM Alumni of LKY School.

Aigerim (Aika) Bolat is an Assistant Manager at Executive Education. Her email sppaika@

Dr. Shigeo Katsu, President of Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan.

Senior Management Programme 4–29 June, 2012 • Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Preparing Executives for New Levels of Leadership In the fast-evolving 21st Century, Asian nations and societies have begun to gain new influence on the world stage. At the same time, economies in Asia and across the globe are struggling to maintain their growth and development during the ongoing economic crisis. The challenge will be for systems of governance and leadership to keep pace with and adapt to the new realities, which are shaped by changing international dynamics and rapid, technology-driven globalisation. To help meet this challenge, the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University, New York and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKY School) at National University of Singapore are pleased to offer the 7th annual Senior Management Programme (SMP) on leadership, governance and strategic management. Together with a distinguished team of experienced academics and practitioners, the four-week SMP will provide participants a holistic learning experience across a gamut of pertinent topics and equip them with the skills they required to have a positive impact on their organisations and society at large. All participants will benefit from a rigorous study of policies, framework, tools and cases that have succeeded and those that failed. JOIN THE SMP—An invaluable platform for participants from the world over to gather, discuss and exchange ideas on how societies are best governed and led in a globalising world.

"SMP is an extensive concentration of

knowledge and experiences put into just one month. It has been definitely

a great journey among great minds of government affairs and colourful participants!" Ott Pärna (SMP Class of 2011) Founding CEO, Estonian Development Fund


Organised by:

For more details and registration, visit Programme.aspx or email us at · Jan–Mar 2012 · 53

Executive Education

Interview with Professor Jeffrey D. Straussman

Professor Jeffrey D. Straussman joined the LKY School of Public Policy in August 2011 as a Visiting Professor and Faculty Director of Executive Education.

by Aigerim (Aika) Bolat

GIA: What do you find to be most exciting about being an academic? Since you have spent more than 30 years as an academic can you tell us the main reason you chose to be an academic? and, if you weren’t an academic who else would you be today? JS: Well, I didn’t exactly have a burning desire to be an academic from the age of five. I actually was not the best student in my high school and university days. But that changed by my junior year when I got interested in the political economy of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. I worked in a few different jobs after university, went to graduate school and then got serious. University life appealed to me and I was intellectually curious— still am—so academia seemed appealing. I taught in several universities, the State University of New York, Michigan State University and Syracuse University (for 26 years). I still love learning things and there is no better place for that to happen than in a fine university environment. GIA: You have consulted extensively on leadership, managing performance, public budgeting and public affairs education to many international organisations in developing and transitional countries, including Hungary, Macedonia, Czech Republic, PRC, India and Vietnam. Can you tell us about this and what value did your work add to these countries? JS: Most of my international activities have revolved around short -term executive education teaching and consulting. The challenge of working in different settings, making management and policy content useful for diverse audiences—usually middle or senior level public servants—is very challenging. I believe that these experiences have enhanced my teaching and research. I have met many interesting people and visited many interesting places. GIA: What brings you to Singapore and LKY School, specifically? After being Dean of Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy University at Albany, State University of New York for the last five years, what were your reasons for joining the LKY School? Can you reflect on your role with the Executive Education at the LKY School and how do you see the Schools’ role and its alumni in transforming Asia? JS: I have been a friend of the LKY School since its inception, having 54 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

visited four times. I have great admiration for what has happened at the School in only seven years. I was dean during a very rough time in New York due to instability at the senior management level at the university and, in particular, deep budget cuts. While I believe that I accomplished a lot in a tough environment, I was ready for a change. When I spoke to Scott Fritzen, then Academic Vice Dean, and Dean Kishore Mahbubani about my interest in joining the LKY School, I mentioned Executive education as one of my interests. I like the entrepreneurial nature of executive education, the team-based approach to programme development and implementation, and I like working with mid-level public servants. The LKY School is a leading policy school in Asia and it is only natural to see part of its role in developing the next generation of leaders in the region. GIA: Prof. Straussman, you have done extensive research in various fields including public finance, budgeting, and administrative reform. You are the author of several books including “The Limits of Technocratic Politics” 1978 and “Public Administration Strategies” 1990, as well as many articles published in professional journals in Russian, Hungarian, Ukrainian and other languages. What do we expect from you now since you are based in South East Asia? Do you plan to write about Asia while you work at the LKY School? What topics in Asia interest you the most? JS: My most recent paper, which will be published in the International Journal of Public Administration, is about the effectiveness (and lack thereof) of legislatures in budget processes. This is a cross-national study that draws on accountability and transparency data from the International Budget Project. I plan to extend this subject by looking further at selected dimensions of accountability and transparency in fiscal systems in the region. I am also interested in the subject of policy learning and I have just started a small project with a doctoral student that focuses on the development of a market-oriented approach to managing prescription drugs in Vietnam. As I mentioned above, I always want to learn something new! Aigerim (Aika) Bolat is an Assistant Manager at Executive Education. Her email

Executive Education

Indian Economic Service officials hone their skills by Aditi Rao


he Indian Economic Service (IES) of the Ministry of Finance of India constitutes specialised officers, trained in economic analysis, policy formulation and implementation. Officers of the IES are by qualification post-graduates in various economic disciplines entering the service through highly competitive exams, thereby representing the brightest young economists in India. Twelve such economists arrived at the LKY School to conclude their year-long probationary training period at the Ministry by undertaking a comprehensive Executive Programme on Policy Development. This two-week programme was customised to incorporate interactive classroom discussions, leadership tests, negotiation simulations, interactions with Singapore government officials, as well as site visits, including an outer island, Semakau Landfill. Courses offered ranged from public financial management, environmental macroeconomics, Europe’s debt crisis, energy security, to leadership and tools for decisionmaking. In addition to the classroom-learning experience, the probationers were exposed to Singapore’s policies through site visits to Semakau Landfill, Land Transport Authority, NEWater water treatment facilities, and Marina Barrage. Additionally, the current state and outlook of Singapore’s economy was gleaned from interactions with officials from the Ministry of Trade and Industry and Monetary Authority of Singapore. These visits exposed the Indian officials to the Singapore model of governance in

waste management, housing, transport and water management—areas that are important to India’s economic growth/development agenda. The programme concluded with six presentations by the IES officers, comparing Singapore’s policies to those in India, bringing to light challenges and opportunities India faces in adopting the Singapore model. One such presentation was a comparative analysis between India and Singapore’s transport policy, analysing challenges India will face in implementing schemes such as the Area Licensing Scheme, Electronic Road Pricing Scheme etc. Others included comparative analyses of education policy, water policy, waste management techniques, as well as the differences between Singapore Airlines and Air India, each country’s national carrier. The programme was a strong success. In the words of Prof. Mukul Asher, one of the course teachers, “The IES officials combined sound fundamentals in economics with the awareness of learning and approaching issues from varying perspectives. It was the most satisfying experience.” This customised executive programme for the IES truly exemplified LKY School’s vision of “Improving lives, Inspiring leaders, Transforming Asia” by engaging and in the process building strong links with the best and brightest of the future generation of public leaders of India. Aditi Rao is an Executive at Executive Education.

About Executive Education Executive Education at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy plays an integral role in the School’s mission of inspiring leaders, improving lives and transforming Asia. The programmes are designed to serve the needs of organisations and working professionals in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, helping strengthen their leadership and management capabilities to perform more effectively in this rapidly changing environment. Established in 2005, Executive Education programmes have been delivered to almost 8,000 individuals from 68 countries. For more details, Executive.aspx

· Jan–Mar 2012 · 55

Alma mater

Master in Public Administration and Management graduates mark a milestone by Debbie Min


n the evening of January 4, 2012, 78 students from China and Taiwan celebrated their graduation from the Master of Public Administration and Management (MPAM) Programme after ten intensive months of training on principles of good public governance, business management and leadership. The graduation ceremony and valedictory dinner were held at the Shangri-la Hotel in Singapore, with Minister of Education Mr. Heng Swee Keat as Guest-of-Honour. The MPAM Programme had its beginning following an agreement between the Singapore and Chinese governments, signed by Chinese President Hu Jintao during his visit to Singapore in 2009. Highlighting this close, longstanding tie between Singapore and China, H.E. Wei Wei, Ambassador, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, was also in attendance in addition to Deputy Director General Dr. Wang Xintang from China’s Central Organisation Department who made a special trip from Beijing for the dinner. In the words of Minister Heng, “The MPAM Programme was borne from a framework agreement to establish exchange programmes with 56 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

Images: Leon

Graduate Zhu Jianming having a toast with Heng Swee Kiat, Singapore's Minister for Education

middle to senior level officials from both countries. This programme is testament to the excellent bilateral relationship between Singapore and China, and I hope that this programme will facilitate more exchanges between officials and academics from both countries. In the coming years,

China’s experience will offer many insights for Singapore. There will be much we can learn from you.” Other distinguished guests included Mr. Yeo Guat Kwang, Member of Parliament (Ang Mo Kio Group Representative Constituency), Mr.

Table-tennis diplomacy

Ng Joo Hee, Commissioner of Police (Singapore Police Force), Mr. Sam Goi, Executive Chairman of Tee Yih Jia Group, and Mr. Tan Cheng Gay, Chariman and CEO of EnGro Corporation Limited. Representing NUS was Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, President of NUS who had this to say as part of his Welcome Address: “The MPAM programme is very much in line with NUS’ vision to be a leading global university centreed in Asia. While aiming at creating high research impact internationally, we are also placing a strong focus on pioneering innovative programmes to engage Asia, particularly China, India and Southeast Asia”. The 10-month long MPAM programme, conducted entirely in Mandarin, attracts senior public officials from China’s central, provincial and municipal authorities, and increasingly so from

other countries with native Mandarin speakers such as Taiwan and Malaysia. (As one measure of its success, the MPAM 2012 cohort comprised of 78 students as compared to 55 for the 2011 graduating class). It is jointly offered by the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and NUS Business School. This is in recognition of a globalised 21st century in a world that is more complex and interconnected, and embodiment of NUS’ belief that public policy training needs to provide multi-disciplinary perspectives to better equip future policy leaders with “bridging” skills. The customised curriculum reflects this by combining the strengths of public administration and business management education, and is designed as a leadership training programme. Students also have much sought after opportunities to spend time and interact with officials from the Singapore

government, statutory boards and governmentlinked companies through site visits, guest lectures and externship attachments, providing them with exposure to the “Singapore experience”. At the end of a night celebrating, dancing and singing, Ms. Huang Zuying, valedictorian of MPAM 2012 summed up the evening by saying “The MPAM programme has broadened my outlook and in particular, helped me to master a more complete knowledge of the modern market economy. It has also laid a theoretical foundation and simultaneously provided a systematic study of public administration and economics to better understand the general rules of world economy and good governance”. Debbie Min is a Manager at External Affairs. Her email is · Jan–Mar 2012 · 57

Alma mater

Profile of an alumnus: Ye Minn Thein by Aigerim (Aika) Bolat


Ye Minn Thein, First Secretary, Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, New Delhi, India

58 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

hile sipping masala chai, Ye Minn Thein tells me “some people are born with a strongly dedicated heart to do good for public—it is given and it defines you, it can not be denied”. The bright, optimist before me who harbours great ambitions to help others hails from Myanmar and graduated in 2009 from the LKY School with a Master’s in Public Management (MPM). During my Christmas holidays I met my former schoolmate in New Delhi where he is a diplomat and currently serves as the First Secretary at Myanmar’s Embassy in New Delhi. Ye Minn spent his early years in the UK, where his father, a military attaché, taught him to be honest and passionate in order to serve his country. Heeding his advice, he sought a place at the LKY School because he believed it to be the place for young people who ardently believe in improving the lives of others. It served his purpose: the tremendous pool of knowledge at the LKY School expanded his horizons while his core values were strengthened with the guidance of experienced and knowledgeable LKY School’s faculty. LKY School as well as Harvard University helped him master management skills and taught him leadership skills. His attachment internship as part of the MPM programme, with the Infocom Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) helped to develop his ideas. Based on this invaluable experience and knowledge, he plans to help Myanmar’s entrepreneurs to establish digital info-technology, improve info-com technology and develop e-governance in Myanmar. He started implementing what he learned from IDA at his Embassy in New Delhi by computerising registration procedures

and easing information access for potential investors and traders. In the past two years in New Delhi, he has worked to maintain the momentum of trade relations between India and Myanmar. He has been promoting Myanmar’s investment sectors to the Indian business community by being a link between the private and public sectors. He has organised trade fairs and encouraged many Indian investors to go to Myanmar, which he describes as a bridge between India and ASEAN countries. His hard work has garnered multi-million dollar investments in the energy and infrastructure sectors in Myanmar by India. He believes India is a strategic neighbour for Myanmar, which also shares a border with fast-growing China. While at Harvard he spent hours in and out of the class debating with his professors to challenge their conventional thinking about Myanmar, leading to the initiation of several training programs for current public officials in the capital Naypyidaw. He believes his government has started a long journey to open up to make irreversible reforms to meet the interests of the Myanmar’s people, and learn from the lessons of strategic development of fellow ASEAN countries like Singapore. Ye Minn is genuinely excited about the recent positive changes in his country and happy that opposition champion Aung San Suu Kyi is finally freed and political prisoners are given amnesty to create healthy political environment. He too has great plans for his country’s future. Aigerim (Aika) Bolat is an Aassistant Manager at Executive Education. Her email is

Alma mater

Lunar New Year with migrant labourers by Tan Lai Yong


few days before the recent Chinese New Year, a construction worker told the volunteer doctors at the Healthserve clinic that he and his dormitory mates were given five days of vacation for the coming festival. That night, a group of volunteers and some workers met at a small coffee shop outside their dormitory to plan some activities for the coming vacation. We had to meet at about 9.30 p.m. as the workers had long work days—a 12 hour work day, six days a week, would be the norm for many of them. A 2005 study by Mizanur Rahman and Lian Kwen Fee published in the Asia Pacific Population Journal showed that 61 per cent of the migrants worked from 8–14 hours on a Sunday. What would they like to do for the coming Chinese New Year? Various ideas were thrown up but they were constrained by various factors. The activity had to be low cost—these workers were paid about S$20 a day. It had to be something they enjoyed. It had to be at a venue that isn’t too crowded (indeed a challenge in Singapore) to avoid complaints from locals who may feel that the presence of many migrant labourers and foreign construction workers intrude on their privacy and enjoyment. “We like to swim … but we do not know how to swim”, one of them said. One immediate response to spend the day at the beach was quickly vetoed the idea without the presence of lifeguards to prevent possible drowning incidents. The alternative of a gathering at a swimming pool turned out to be a popular choice. It was affordable (S$2 per person) and there are lifeguards on duty. We could go in the early morning during the New Year holidays when it wasn’t crowded. We chose a swimming pool with water slides and a jacuzzi. Chinese New Year's eve We wanted to surprise the workers at the dormitory. Traditionally, ethnic Chinese visit one another, bringing greetings and some gifts of

fruits and cakes. Younger folks will have to visit their older relatives to pay our respects and bring good wishes. We rounded up some teenagers who then got more volunteers from a nearby church and together made a traditional Chinese New Year visit to the dormitory. The workers were very happy that we visited them. Since firecrackers are banned in Singapore, we held a balloon blowing contest. Prizes were given out to those who could quickly blow the balloons till they burst. The cacophony of bursting balloons sounded like firecrackers. I had an ulterior motive for bringing the Singapore teenagers to the dorms. Some years ago, when I visited the dorms, they were terribly congested and crowded. These days, it felt less congested as there were only 12 people in one room, in bunks stacked three tiers high. It was a learning time for the teens who came along for this dorm visit; Singaporean teens who were generally more fortunate. Seeing that the workers slept on hard wooden boards, a few teens offered to use their New Year money to buy some mattresses. The dorm monitor was thankful but said that mattresses were not suitable for the crowded dorms and it was too difficult to keep the mattresses clean, giving yet more insight into their lives and how even the best intended gift may not be appropriate for their needs. Swimming day The next day, we got onto the bus and headed for the pool. A well-wisher had sponsored half the cost of each entry fee of S$2. A lifeguard on duty, informed that these foreign workers were here for their first swim, welcomed them and promised to keep a close eye on their safety. The first stop was the jacuzzi pool as a safe introduction to the waters. While they were having fun, I noticed a young worker sitting by the pool, still dressed in his jeans. He had just arrived in Singapore recently. He did not swim as he had no suitable swim gear nor did he own any pair

Dr. Tan Lai Yong wrote this account a few months after being introduced to this group of workers when a Singapore doctor called him one night, grieving at a tragic suicide in a workers’ dormitory. The doctor was asked to provide comfort and counseling.

of shorts. A volunteer said that he will buy him a pair of shorts but alas, the shops were all closed for the holidays. One of the older workers came out of the pool and said to us, “Brother. It is Ok. There is no need to go buy a pair of shorts. Later, we will come out of the pool and he can go in to swim when we loan him our swimming trousers.” Obviously they had a different way of overcoming a setback. Tan Lai Yong is a second-year Master in Public Administration student at the school.

Backstory This outing with the workers came a few months after a young labourer of the dorm had hung himself. The security guard and other workers were shocked and sad at the suicide, and the doctor for comfort and counseling. Dr. Tan was approached for help. He said, “This tragedy reminded us of the tough living that foreign workers endure in Singapore. We have to do better in caring for them. After all, they build the homes that we live in, the offices that we work in, and the schools that our children study in. The workers could share their swimming trunks. We Singaporeans must learn to share more.” He said it is heartening to note that there are key leaders who step forward to appreciate the hard work of the migrant construction labour force. At their respective opening ceremonies, the hospital director of the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and the Principal of the National University of Singapore High School arranged for a thank you celebration for the construction workers who laboured to complete the buildings.

· Jan–Mar 2012 · 59

Research sojourn

Developing human capital for a new Asia by Lily Kong


uman capital is a complex concept. It is most often used by economists and politicians when discussing competitive advantage in a knowledge based economy. Governments say they need lots of it; companies say they can’t recruit enough of it; and management consultants say you can’t succeed without it. What is the state of human capital in a rising Asia? In terms of numbers, there is no lack in Asia. After all, we are the most populous region on earth and here are perhaps some of the hardest-working people in the world. In terms of quality, it would not have been possible for Asia to have produced four “Tiger” economies, several other “NICs”, two of the “BRICs”, and Japan if there had not been human capital appropriate to the efforts. So if the numbers and a successful track record of achievement exist, what is missing now? Developing human capital for a new Asia requires a radical departure from past practices. We may have the most populous region in the world, but we still have lingering factionalism due to linguistic, religious or ethnic intolerance, indifference and even ignorance. And while we may also have some of the hardest-working people in the world in this region, we also have some stifling social hierarchies, disparities in access to opportunities, and, many posit, a creativity deficit. For many parts of our region to make the spectacular economic achievements they have only to be undercut by social intolerance and indifference would be most unfortunate. For the many post-war economic achievements of our region to now be stymied—worse still, decline— because of an inability to respond to the needs of a new knowledge economy would be a lost opportunity. For people who have shown resilience and ingenuity to lose the competitive edge

60 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

in a knowledge economy would suggest, inter alia, deficient human capital development efforts. To help sustain Asia’s development—economic, but also cultural, political and social— we need future generations of regional leaders and citizens who are able to navigate complexity, exploit interconnectedness, and offer new ideas, creations and solutions. In Asia, there is growing interest in and acknowledgement of the value of liberal arts education. From China to South Korea to Hong Kong to India to Japan, there are myriad expressions, explorations and experimentations with this educational concept. It is taking shape in a bold and prominent project in Singapore in the form of the Yale-NUS College. Yale-NUS College aims to offer students just the kind of learning and education that will make the leaders and citizens that a new Asia needs. It requires and inculcates breadth and depth in individuals—the graduates will be able to appreciate in equal parts, religion alongside rhetoric, music alongside mathematics, business alongside biology, politics alongside poetry. A student who studies a spectrum of disciplines—social, natural and physical sciences, mathematics, arts and humanities—will be better able to understand and accommodate the differences across our region’s many different religions and cultures; the same student will be trained in scientific inquiry and rigorous debate to help formulate independent opinions and make better decisions for themselves and, more importantly, for others. On a day to day basis, the region is in need of liberal arts teaching and learning because we need more social, business and political leaders to respond effectively and sensitively to their community, customers and constituencies; we need scientists who are broad thinkers and understand

the humanistic and societal applications of their research; and we need artists and critics who appreciate the full range of human expression and emotions. When the first students arrive at Yale-NUS College in mid-2013, the educational experience they may expect will represent a departure from that which is common in many parts of Asia. The invitation will be insistent: to think broadly, question fundamentally, analyse rigorously, debate thoroughly, imagine creatively. The opportunities will be novel: the deliberate integration of living and learning; the purposeful teaching and learning of Western and Asian civilisations, cultures, economies, and politics in comparative and contextual perspectives; the conscious exploration of the intersections and interstices between disciplines; the intentional dovetailing of curriculum and co-curriculum; the enthusiastic involvement of students in global experience and experiential learning. Ultimately, leaders in Kent Ridge (Singapore) and New Haven (Connecticut, USA) aspire to create a novel model of residential liberal arts education, one based on the strongest elements of the American liberal arts tradition but contextualised to a rapidly advancing Asia in the 21st century. The efforts to bring to fruition this exciting educational endeavour will ultimately help a new Asia develop its new leaders and citizens. Lily Kong is a Professor of Geography and the Vice-President (University and Global Relations) at the National University of Singapore. She is currently also the Acting Executive Vice-President (Academic Affairs) at Yale-NUS College. She can be reached at

On the move

The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy continues to attract leading scholars from around the world. This semester, scholars from the London School of Economics, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and American University have taught courses and conducted research in the School.

Steve Kelman (Li Ka Shing

Rutgers Universities and has been a visiting pro-

civil-military relations of ASEAN’s largest

Service, American University, Washington, D.C.

Professor of the LKY

fessor at the University of Amsterdam and the

nation (Indonesia) with the largest country in

Prior to this, he was Chair of Global Governance,

School, March 6–April 3)

University of Witwatersrand. Her teaching and

Latin America (Brazil).

Department of Politics, and Director, Centre for

gave a series of public lec-

research have focused on comparative urban

tures and seminars. Prof.

public policy, planning theory, and urban rede-

Dr. Goodman was Professor and Dean Emeritus

of Bristol, United Kingdom (August 2007–

Kelman is the Weatherhead Professor of Public

velopment. Among her books are The Just City,

at American University’s School of International

December 2008), Professor, Deputy Director

Management at Harvard University’s John F.

The City Builders: Property, Politics, and

Service (SIS) in Washington, D.C. He has pub-

and Head of Research, Institute of Defence and

Kennedy School of Government. A summa cum

Planning in London and New York; Restructuring

lished widely on civil-military relations, foreign

Strategic Studies (now S. Rajaratnam School of

laude graduate of Harvard College, with a Ph.D.

the City; and Urban Political Movements. She

investment in developing countries and determi-

International Studies), Nanyang Technological

in government from Harvard University, he has

has co-edited volumes on urban tourism (The

nants of career success for blue-collar workers.

University, Singapore (2001–2007), and

written extensively on the policymaking process

Tourist City, and Cities and Visitors), gender and

He is also a specialist on the economics, poli-

Professor, Department of Political Science, York

and on improving the management of govern-

planning, planning theory, and urban theory. She

tics, and development of the Global South. In

University (1993–2005).

ment organisations. In 2001, he received the

is a recipient of the Distinguished Planning

1992, he served as President of the Association

Herbert Roback Memorial Award, the highest

Educator Award of the Association of American

of Professional Schools of International Affairs

His book, Whose Ideas Matter? Agency and

achievement award of the National Contract

Schools of Planning. She received her AB from

and as the longest-serving dean of that associa-

Power in Asian Regionalism (Ithaca: Cornell

Management Association. In 2003 he was

Harvard, AM from Boston University, and her

tion, is a widely recognised expert on interna-

University Press, 2009), was shortlisted by the

elected as a Director of The Procurement

PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

tional affairs education.

Asia Society as one of five books recognised “for

Governance and International Affairs, University

their exceptional contributions to the understand-

Roundtable. In 2010 the American Political Science Association awarded him the Gaus

Norman Fainstein (Visiting

Francis (Frank) X.

ing of contemporary Asia or US-Asia relations”

Prize, which honors a lifetime of achievement in

Professor, February 27–

H a r t m a n n ( Vi s i t i n g

for its Bernard Schwartz Book Award for 2010.

public administration scholarship. He currently

April 22) is teaching the

Professor, Dec 29, 2011–

serves as editor of the International Public

module “Policies for Urban

February 24, 2012) taught

Yo u n g - c h e o l C h a i s

Management Journal.

Intervention”. He is an inter-

the module “Effective

attached to the school as a

nationally recognised scholar in urban studies:

Implementation, and Learning for Effective

Senior Fellow from the

Dr. Mohamed Razeen Sally

urban sociology and politics, planning and

implementers”. He is Adjunct Lecturer in Public

Institute of Foreign Affairs

(Visiting Associate Professor,

development, public policy, race and social

Policy, Senior Research Fellow Program in

and National Security. He is

January 3–present) is teach-

movements. He was a founding editor of Ethnic

Criminal Justice Policy and Management,

a senior diplomat at the Republic of Korea,

ing the modules “Asia in the

and Racial Studies. His current research interests

Harvard Kennedy School of Government. In

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFAT), and the

World Economy” and “The

include metropolitan and regional policy, subur-

addition to his association with the program in

first from the ministry to do research at the

Political Economy of International Trade”. He is

bia in Europe and North America, and the politi-

Criminal Justice Policy and Management, Dr.

school on issues associated with East Asia,

Senior Lecturer in International Political

cal evaluation of urban development.

Hartmann is Faculty Chair of the Kennedy

ASEAN cooperation and community building at

School’s Summer Program and its Irish

the school. He has served as Head of

Economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he has taught since

Professor Fainstein joined the Connecticut

Executive Programs, Leaders for Tomorrow and

Development Planning & General Affairs Unit

1993, and head of its International Trade Policy

College community in 2001 as its ninth president

Leadership for a Changing World. Previously,

of ASEAN-Korea Centre, March 2011–

Unit. He is a Visiting Professor at the Institut

and served in that position for five years. He has

Dr. Hartmann was Director of the Hartford

September 2011; Chief of the Situation Centre,

D’Etudes Politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris, and at

been a visiting scholar at the Kennedy School

Institute of Criminal and Social Justice, Director

MOFAT, February 2010–March 2011; Deputy

Tallinn Technical University in Estonia. He was a

and held a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship.

of Research and Evaluation for New York City’s

Director General of the South Asian & Oceania

Addiction Services Agency, and a Program

Affairs Bureau, MOFAT, August 2007–January

Officer at the Ford Foundation.

2010, as well as Protocol Officer to the Korean

Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.

Louis Wolf Goodman

Prime Minister, July 2003–July 2004.

(Visiting Professor, January Susan Fainstein (Visiting

17–March 20) examined the

Amitav Acharya (Visiting

Professor, February 27–

achievements of the first

Professor, January 9–

April 22) is teaching the

seven years of the school

February 14) taught a mod-

module “Policies for Urban

including the advantages provided by its

ule on “Regionalism and

Intervention”, drawing on

Singapore locale, and developed his personal

Region Order”. Acharya is

her expertise as Professor of Urban Planning in

research agenda that focuses on the rise of Asia

Professor of International Relations and

the Graduate School of Design at Harvard

and 21st century international relations. He will

UNESCO Chair in Transnational Challenges

University. She has also taught at Columbia and

compare the foreign policies and the

and Governance, School of International · Jan–Mar 2012 · 61

62 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

· Jan–Mar 2012 · 63


Faculty achievements Asit Biswas

Visiting Professor Received an award for Excellence for “seminal contributions to environmental and natural resources conservation” in conjunction with the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas of the Government of India in Jaipur, 5 January 2012. Invited to join a distinguished set of global experts chosen by The University of Alberta, Canada to advise on its research and development activities under the leadership of Peter Brabeck, Chairman of the Board Nestlé. Named one of 25 ‘water heroes’ of the world by Impeller Magazine, alongside Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and Prince WillemAlexander. Impeller, established in 1962, is published three times a year in nine languages by Xylem, a world leader in transportation and treatment of wastewaters. It has a circulation of 60,000.

Caroline Brassard Assistant Professor

Co-published an article entitled “Resilience in Post Disaster Societies: From Crisis to Development” (with Anne Raffin, Sociology Department of NUS) in the Asian Journal of Social Science, Brill Academic Publishers, December 2011. Co-published an article entitled “Aid Effectiveness and Inclusiveness in the Housing Sector in Post-Disaster Contexts” (with Patrick Daly, Asia Research Institute at NUS) in the Asian Journal of Social Science, Brill Academic Publishers, December 2011.

thinking on the issue of Taiwan” in Today English Service, 1 December 2011.

is project leader with Dr. Vishakha N. Desai, President ofAsia Society.

Savita Shankar

Talked on ‘US-China relations in 2012’ in CNBC Asia, 13 December 2011.

The WPLA project seeks to uncover and understand obstacles such as societal biases and discriminatory policies and practices affecting women’s upward mobility in these work domains in Asia, catalysing reform in policies undermining gender parity and equity in the region. It supports Rockefeller Foundation’s goal of re-imagining regulatory, legal and policy frameworks in the area of Social and Economic Security.

Appointed to a position at the Asian Institute of Management, Manila. Dr. Shankar studied under the supervision of Professor Mukul Asher, specialising in micro finance, and recently graduated from the PhD programme.

Spoke on “Russia’s Election” in Channel 8 “Focus” programme, 15 December 2011 Interviewed on “Challenges ahead for the North Korea, Kim Jong Un, the region and international community” by BBC World Television, 28 December 2011. Discussed “Taiwan’s Election” in ChannelNewsAsia “Insight Special #32” programme, 12 January 2012. Interviewed on “China’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean basin” in Juju Films, Réalisateur programme, 16 January 2012. Interviewed ‘live’ on “President Obama’s speech and China’s likely response” by Bloomberg, 26 January 2012. Published “Grand Strategy: China’s Awkward Rise’ in China Economic Quarterly in March 2012

Kishore Mahbubani

Alok Mohan

Published review on World Health Organisation by Kelley Lee in Global Public Health, 14 February 2012.

Phua Kai Hong

Associate Professor

Associate Professor

Awarded the NUS Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Research Fellowship in Dec 2011, worth S$50, 000 for a project entitled ‘Singapore—Global City, Global Risks’.

Re-appointed to the Singapore Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) Resource Panel for Health, 2011-2012.

Huang Jing

Visiting Professor Panelist on discussion on “Re-shifting in US 64 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

Research Consultant at LKY School

Nominated as one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, 28 November 2011.

Heng Yee Kuang

Published an article entitled “What did New Labour Ever Do for Us? Evaluating Tony Blair’s Imprint on British Strategic Culture”, in the forthcoming volume of British Journal of Politics and International Relations.

Kerstin Duell


Appointed to the Council of the Singapore Red Cross and the Constitutional Review Committee, 2012

Published a journal article entitled “Confessions of a Small State: Singapore’s Evolving Approach to Peace Operations”, Journal of International Peacekeeping, February 2012.

Student achievements

Recently awarded a PhD from the National University of Singapore.

Invited to debate on the topic "Barack Obama's re-election will be of no consequence to Asia" with Prof. Andrew White, Dr. Deborah Elms, and Jeff Watkins on Channel News Asia on March 13.

Invited to become a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, UK, where membership is by invitation only.

Received support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for “The South Asian Science Engagement and Diplomacy Project” which seeks to enhance the quality of life and standard of living for the people of South Asia and China, through building a robust peer network for scientific dialogue, the sharing of the latest research and new technologies, and the setting up of joint projects among them to solve common problems affecting their countries.

Re-appointed as Associate Editor, Singapore Economic Review (SER), 2012.

Master in Public Management Fellow 2012 Awarded India’s President's Police Medal for Distinguished Service in recognition of his exemplary record in police service. Mohan, Additional Director-General of Police, Western Range, Mangalore in India, joined the Indian Police Service in 1987, and has worked as the Commander of International Police Task Force and taken part in the British Police Command Course. The President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service is the highest order police medal at the national level in India and was awarded to four police personnel this year on the occasion of India’s National Republic Day.

Michael Raska

LKY School Doctoral Graduate

Astrid S. Tuminez

On 2 March 2012, successfully defended his PhD dissertation titled "Searching for New Security Paradigms: Israel and South Korea's Defence Transformation (1990-2011)." His thesis explores the diffusion of military innovation in the context of progressive security challenges of the selected states, and draws both theoretical as well as policyoriented implications on state's capacity to recognise, anticipate, exploit, and sustain military innovation. Dr. Raska studied under the supervision of Associate Professor Darryl Jarvis.

Awarded US$99,860.02 by the Rockefeller Foundation to support the initial, broadspectrum research portion of the “Women’s Pathways to Leadership in Asia” (WPLA) project for a period of one year. Dr. Tuminez

Appointed to a position at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (Nanyang Technological Institute). He will pursue both teaching and research in the Military Studies Program.

Appointed to the Council of the Singapore Red Cross and the Constitutional Review Committee, 2012. Wrote with an article “Medical tourism and policy implications for health systems” with Nicola Pocock which was published in Globalisation and Health 2011. The article was ranked “Highly Accessed” by BioMed Central.

Vice-Dean (Research)

LKY School Doctoral Graduate

Case Writing Competition 2011 winners The Case Writing Competition 2011, now in its 2nd year, received 17 entries. A panel of four judges, Vice-Dean (Research) Astrid Tuminez, Assistant Dean (Student Affairs) Suzaina Kadir, Assistant Professor Oraorn Poocharoen, and Case Manager Rakhi Shankar named the following as winners:

Winner (S$2,500) Fazlin Abdullah and Goh Ann Tat for the case "The Dirty Business of Sand”, supervised by Associate Prof. Surya Sethi. The case is about sand-dredging in Cambodia for export to Singapore and the policy options available to an international NGO, Global Witness, to address this issue.

Joint Runners-Up (S$2,000) Anisha George for the case “All the Maharajah’s Men”, supervised by Visiting Prof. Jeffrey Straussman. The case outlines the issues in the Indian aviation sector. Sarah Bales for the case “Drug Policy in Vietnam”, supervised by Associate Prof. Scott Fritzen. The case outlines the problems in Vietnam’s drug policy and its transition from a centrally-planned to a market-based economy.

Certificate of Recognition (S$1,000) Fazlin Abdullah and Hor Serey Vath for the case “Cambodia’s White Gold”, supervised by Visiting Associate Prof. Teresita Cruz-del Rosario. The case discusses the problems in the rice sector in Cambodia. Shriya Mohan for the case “Talking with the Rebels”, supervised by Assistant Prof. Boyd Fuller. The case outlines extremism in India and can be used in courses on negotiation and conflict resolution, the first of its kind at the LKY School.

Shrink wrap

Intuitive decision making by Jonathan Marshall


Their discoveries came from inspiration, not thinking.

any researchers claim that we make all our decisions from a place of self-interest. Presumably, then, Mother Teresa chose to help millions of people out of her own need to be needed, not because of a fundamental concern for others. However, through some recent interviews, I have discovered that there are at least a few, very successful leaders who have a different, powerful, and unselfish way of making decisions. To find them, I looked for the most profoundly happy people alive. I reasoned that they would have the least interest in acting selfishly. I sought the help of the Centre for the Study of Non-Symbolic Consciousness as they have tracked down more than 1,100 people who show remarkably high levels of well-being. In order to understand the cause of their well-being, researchers have scanned their brains at Yale University and New York University. I recently spoke with Gary Weber, one of the participants whom scientists have most closely examined. Over a decade ago, while doing a yoga posture he had done thousands of times before, he had an unexpected, sudden, psychological shift that led to profound, on-going well-being. Like others in this study, his remarkable happiness is associated with a permanent reduction in the amount he thinks. I asked him how thinking less has helped with decision-making. He explained that many of the remarkable achievements of humanity have come from a place of mental stillness, e.g., Archimedes who found his answers while stepping into a bath; Friedrich Kekule dreamed the solutions that made him famous; and Benjami Franklin watched a lightening storm. Their discoveries came from inspiration, not thinking. “At board meetings,” he described, “people are only 10 per cent to 50 per cent present. And that’s optimistic. They are distracted by how to get even, what's going on at home, or how much better everything would be if so-and-so were not around.” The quality of ideas is related to one’s ability to be present and discursive thinking can contaminate those ideas. So most people, like those board members, do not reach their potential at coming up with good ideas. Gary, by contrast, lets ideas “well up inside—as if they come from a place in the body.” Oddly, he is as surprised as anyone else with the content of these ideas. “When I speak aloud these inspirations,

they tend to be so good, I look like the smartest guy in the meeting!” Gary, and others I met in this study, use this “thought-less” decision-making method in aspects of life that range from finding a parking space in rush hour to investing corporate funds. Gary’s success is evident. He became the senior vice president of a Fortune 500 company, PPG Industries, with 1,000 people working for him, five research labs, and a budget of a quarter of a billion US dollars. And, he rarely gets parking tickets. To see if others could learn how to do this, I asked him to advise me on how to help a coaching client who was very stressed as he considered getting back with his ex-wife. “After considering the main issues, your client should get into a state of stillness and he should ask himself ‘Should I get back with her or not?’ If his answer feels like it comes from his head, that's not the right answer. If he feels it rise from some place deep within, that's more likely to be correct. To re-test his answer, he should ask himself why he believes that is the right answer; if he gets an explanation in the form of discursive thought from his head, he should be suspicious. But if he gets no explanation but simply a sense of the answer, that's probably the right way to go.” Perhaps thought-less decision-making is not as odd as it at first seems. After all, it was only a couple of hundred thousand years ago that our species developed the capacity for conscious thinking. That is the twinkling of evolution’s eye. Perhaps Gary and the others in this study are so profoundly happy because they have rediscovered something we lost generations ago. In any case, it seems this technique can be taught, and, according to Gary, if we learn to trust the ideas that come from stillness, our decisions and our lives will be enormously better. In the case of my client that meant getting back together with his ex-wife.

All details regarding coaching clients have been kept anonymous, and no identifying information included. Jonathan Marshall ( sg) is an Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies at the LKY School. A psychologist and executive coach, he heads the School’s coaching project and maintains a consulting, coaching and counselling practice. · Jan–Mar 2012 · 65

Tsunamis. Glacial Flooding. Flash floods. Dam Breaches. River disasters. In 2011, water-related disasters afflicted people around the world. The year was witness to a devastating tsunami in Japan with rare and raw television images beamed worldwide, unprecedented glacial melting in the Himalayas, flooding in China, Pakistan, Indochina, Brazil, Australia, and the Mississippi river. How do we gather the knowledge to comprehend the causes and effects of these catastrophes, and respond effectively? What can we do more to understand the dynamics and impact of these catastrophic events?

The Waterleader, the flagship publication of the Institute for Water Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, attempts to answer these questions. The 2012 issue is focused on “Flooding: Causes, Prevention, and Mitigation,” with a panel of experts from Nepal to Cuba who cover a variety of specialties from archaeology and history, to agriculture and engineering. Contributors include respected academics, seasoned policy makers, journalists, and award-winning entrepreneurs. Each of them offers a unique perspective. All of them draw on deep pockets of knowledge and personal experience to share important lessons and ideas to help the global community. This year, the Institute for Water Policy and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy present a double issue of Global-is-Asian and The Waterleader.

66 · Jan–Mar 2012 ·

Image: bbcworldservice

· Jan–Mar 2012 · 67

Global-is-Asian #13  
Global-is-Asian #13  

Magazine of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy