59_G15_InFocus_Singapore

Global Issue 15

In Focus Singapore of a different political colour may alter the course. This has undoubtedly been one of the country’s strongest suits and prevented the sort of political fractiousness that has paralysed progress in many developing nations. But the danger is that such dominance could lead to an ossifi cation of ideas – something that could prove fatal to a society that owes its position in the world to its originality of thought and swiftness in adapting to changing circumstances. It can also create a bubble around the government, cutting it off from the concerns of the people and, perhaps, inducing an arrogant attitude within the ruling circle. These concerns came to the surface in the lead up to the 2011 elections. A younger, more restive and better-connected electorate complained about rising prices (especially for housing), the level of immigration (a third of Singapore’s 5.3 million population is composed of foreigners), lower wages and the astronomical salaries paid to ministers and top civil servants. Although PAP won 81 of the 87 seats, the result came as a shock and was seen as a humiliation of the ruling party, as it was the smallest margin of victory since the 1960s. The message was clear: while the electorate did not want a change of government, it wanted the government to change its style. The warning was accepted with very good grace by Loong, who called for serious ‘soul searching’ by his party and initiated a ‘national conversation’ to regain contact with the people. He had already tabled several reforms during his fi rst term, for example legislating paid maternity leave and bigger allowances for larger families in a bid to increase the nation’s fertility rate, which remains one of the lowest in the world. He addressed popular concerns about immigration by increasing the foreign-workers levy, paid by employers, from S$250 a month to S$330 and reducing the ratio of foreign workers to local citizens. While this has stemmed the infl ow of foreigners, it has created other problems (see also Trading up, pages 56-57). He also set up an independent committee to review salaries of ministers and, following their recommendations, accepted a 36 per cent cut in his annual salary of S$3.4m. The president’s salary was halved and ministers had a pay cut of around 40 per cent. Special pension privileges for politicians have also been scrapped. Despite this, Singapore’s politicians are the highest paid in the world. They justify this by saying high salaries ensure that the country remains one of the world’s least corrupt places to do business and helps to Thailand Malaysia Malaysia Singapore Indonesia Indonesia attract some of the best talent around. There is no doubt that Singapore is not only one of the most effi ciently run countries in the world, it is also one of the most Key data  Population: 5,188,000 (2011)  Offi cial languages: English, Chinese (Mandarin), Malay, Tamil  Ethnicity: Chinese (77%), Malays (14%), Indians (8%), plus small numbers of Europeans  Life expectancy: 81 years  Capital: Singapore City  Land area: 699 sq km  GDI: US$222.6 billion  GNI per capita: US$42,930 pleasant to live in. It takes a great deal of talent to achieve this and if the country can afford to pay for outstanding talent, who can argue otherwise? No smoke without re Indonesian palm oil companies are suspected to be behind what environment minister Vivian Balakrishnan has called “the worst haze that Singapore has ever faced”. Smog fi rst arrived in the country on 19 June and within days had surpassed ‘hazardous’ levels, according to Singapore’s pollutant standard index, making this the worst haze in the country’s history. The elderly and those with respiratory ailments were most at risk, and residents were advised to remain indoors while schools and hospitals shut their windows against the dangerous smog. The pollution was the result of illegal forest fi res in neighbouring Indonesia’s palm oil plantations. The oil, used for cooking throughout South-East Asia, is the single most traded vegetable oil in the world. Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer and, historically, farmers have used slash-and-burn methods to clear land quickly for production. Though illegal, they are diffi cult to monitor or prevent. By late June, the bulk of the smog had shifted to Malaysia, but Singporean offi cials warn that it could return. Investigations into the event have been slow and only one arrest has been made, to date, of a former Indonesian bank offi cial, accused of torching “thousands of hectares”. Kate Bystrova global thi rd quar ter 2013 www.global -br ief ing.org l 59


Global Issue 15
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