Singapore—A few days ahead of the country’s National Day celebration on August 9, Friday, Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh published his birthday wishes for the nation in an article for The Straits Times (ST) wherein he traced Singapore’s history not just to the bicentennial, but from the beginning.
Mr Koh’s wishes are fivefold, with the last wish on his list involving democracy. Notably, he writes, “We should accept the right of all citizens, including intellectuals and artists, to hold alternative or dissenting views. We should strengthen the culture of respecting different points of view, including those with whom we disagree. This is the essence of democracy.”
The Ambassador-at-Large began his birthday greetings with the premise that Singapore has always had a unique place in the history of Southeast Asia, especially when it comes to maritime trade. According to Mr Koh, “This was and still is the reason for the existence of Singapore.”
Therefore, he emphasized the importance of always keeping the best seaport, entrepot port, shipping hub best international maritime centre in the whole region.
However, the country’s Ambassador-at-Large also said that while our pro-Asean stance, as it is, is good, there is more to be done. He specifically mentioned encouraging more Singaporeans students to participate in exchange programmes in ASEAN countries, as well as study languages in the region.
Mr Koh mentioned a particular survey wherein students from Singapore ranked as the least knowledgeable and least interested in the ASEAN among the 10 member countries.
He wrote, “The Singapore Government’s pro-ASEAN policy must be shared by the business community and by our civil society and young people. This is especially important at a time when certain countries in the West are turning inward. In this increasingly uncertain world, ASEAN is a bright spot.”
After discussing the merits of the British legacy to Singapore, Mr Koh went on to enumerate his wishes for the country’s future—particularly in five aspects: the economy, the environment, equality, justice, and democracy.
For the economy, Mr Koh wrote that he wishes to see Singapore’s economy “continue to grow at a sustainable rate, focusing on knowledge-intensive and creative industries, green technology, green finance, and other environmentally friendly business. I would like to see Singapore become one of the world’s leading incubators of inventors, start-ups and innovators. I am confident that Singapore will succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but we should take care of workers who will be displaced by the revolution in manufacturing, retail, banking, and other sectors.”
For the environment, meanwhile, the Ambassador-at-Large said that the country needs bolder efforts “to make Singapore a clean, green, liveable and delightful city.” Among the efforts he mentioned were: replacing existing buses, taxis, government-owned and private vehicles with electric vehicles, promoting the wider use of solar power and the building of more net-zero energy buildings, and imposing a tax on bottled water and single-use, non-biodegradable plastic. According to Mr Koh, the examples set by Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan in the recycling of waste are worthy of emulation.
Perhaps Mr Koh’s most ambitious birthday wish for Singapore is his third one, which has to do with equality. He writes, “We should reduce the number of Singaporeans living in absolute poverty – mostly the elderly poor – to zero.
We should have the courage to follow the international best practice and set the poverty line at 50 percent of our median income, which would be S$2,200, and ensure that our workers earn wages above the poverty line. The Government should ensure that workers under the Progressive Wage Model and the Workfare Income Supplement earn wages above the poverty line.”
When it comes to justice, Mr Koh is pushing for increasing the retirement rate to 70, since the majority of people in Singapore live in good health to that age. He also advocates raising the current percentage of the disabled in employment to 40 percent, and to accept the LGBT community “as full members of the Singapore family and end all forms of discrimination against them.”
For democracy, aside from encouraging the acceptance of alternative or dissenting views, Mr Koh urged measures that would strengthen transparency and accountability in the nation, particularly having an ombudsman.
To end his birthday wishes for the country, Mr Koh wrote about a takeaway lesson from the Bicentennial Experience.
“At the end of The Bicentennial Experience, visitors were asked to vote on which of the following three options was most important to Singapore: (a) openness, (b) multiculturalism, and (c) self-determination.
By a big majority, the choice was self-determination. The message is clear. Singaporeans do not wish to be ruled by Johor, London, Tokyo or Kuala Lumpur. They want to be the masters of their own destiny.”/ TISG
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