The following is a speech opposition politician Chiam See Tong made in Parliament on 14 Jan 1994. 23 years ago he predicted that Singapore will face formidable challenges, particularly from China and advocated that Singapore should nurture intelligent risk takers to counter that threat. He said that Singapore’s authoritarian political system is an impediment to the entrepreneurial spirit Singaporeans should develop.
Singapore’s economy has done well over the last 30 years. But there is no guarantee that Singapore’s economy shall continue to grow as it has done before. The President in his Address has warned that:
“The international environment is becoming more competitive. Fast growth in the region means more opportunities but also formidable challenges. Countries with abundant land, low wages and hardworking, intelligent workers want to plug into the world economy.”
Indeed, the challenge to Singapore shall be formidable, in particular, from China and then Vietnam. The people of China and Vietnam have great similarities in culture and believe in discipline, hard work and thrift to those in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Now that they have discarded their Communist system and embarked on the free market economy, there is no reason why they cannot catch up and even overtake those countries. Indeed, the challenge to Singapore shall be formidable and Singapore can rise to the occasion. But old tested methods, such as having a good infrastructure, stable government, attractive tax regime, are not enough. China and Vietnam’s costs shall always be lower than that of Singapore. They have more abundant labour and land. Investors shall go to the places where they can make the most profit. In the future, Singapore may not be the favoured place to invest for foreign investors. They shall be looking towards China and Vietnam and other countries in the region. Singapore must ultimately fall back on its people to meet the challenge and earn the income for Singapore.
In this respect, Singapore must produce abundant intelligent risk takers, entrepreneurs and leaders in industry and business. I have contended in the past that under our present authoritarian style political system, it is difficult to produce the great numbers of intelligent risk takers, entrepreneurs and leaders in industry and business. Our society at the moment is too closed, too strict, too much fear and too much control.
The Government wants almost absolute control in every area of life in Singapore. The Government has made it a point that they must be seen to be the one who can take the initiative. The problem under the present system is that the Government wants almost absolute control in politics. It does not want the Opposition if it can help it. And if it can help it, it also does not want anyone to criticize its policies. The Government tells the people of Singapore: you can go on earning a living, a good living if you can, but do not interfere in politics.
Is this kind of policy good for Singapore? I say, no.