Saturday 28 January 2012

Stronger leadership makes for a better Singapore

Letter from Raymond Chua Soo Chew, TODAY, 21 Jan 2012

Singapore's first generation of leaders won our respect by doing what was truly good for our country.

Many policies then were bold and visionary, such as attracting multinational investments, implementing the Central Provident Fund, road pricing, high road and petrol taxes, taking a hard line on crime and drugs, and constructing Jurong Island.

These were the subject of ridicule amongst academics and other politicians but, nevertheless, laid the foundation of Singapore's success. Many of these policies are now emulated in many countries.

Over the last decade, policies were less visionary and bold. Our ministries appeared to favour conventional, textbook wisdom and to almost worship the free market. To name some recent examples:
- Increasing Gross Domestic Product through population growth is well documented in economics textbooks but has caused much social displeasure. 
- The Monetary Authority of Singapore appeared to resist a direct role in the mini-bonds saga, preferring market participants to resolve their own issues, even as our citizens and town councils lost millions from apparent mis-selling. 
- The Housing and Development Board's obsession with controlling supply to ensure no oversupply of flats. 
- The belief that only a profit-making enterprise can provide public transport efficiently despite examples of successful state-funded public transport in other countries. 
- Monetising medical services and expenses to a point that a major hospital deemed it necessary to collect medical fees from a hero who suffered injury while saving a drowning stranger. 
- Despite multiple high-profile failures in the private education industry, the Ministry of Education (MOE) continued to take fees for registrations but, until last year, resisted providing accreditation and left it to the market to weed out the bad players. 
- Believing that productivity gains and profits would flow naturally to workers, resulting in a widening income gap. 
- We need international consensus before implementing a "fat tax" on junk food. 
- And the entertainment scene was liberalised such that Time magazine rated Geylang and our nightspots as must-visit destinations in Singapore.
However, recent measures by the current team of Government has been very encouraging. The release of housing supply, information and additional stamp duties aimed at cooling prices was much welcomed.

We are exploring ways to introduce hawker centres as social, not market, enterprises. And it is good that the MOE has decided to place more emphasis on values.

I personally do not think Singaporeans are looking for leaders to introduce half-cooked policies for us to cook together.

I believe we prefer leaders with the ability and courage to suggest and formulate policies that would benefit Singapore in the long term, leaders who give higher priority to making Singapore our home than as a business city.

I urge our Government to be visionary and bold leaders again, just like our first-generation leaders were, to make Singapore succeed.

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