Singapore: Mergers And Urgers

2001

Dr Chua Beng Huat

After more than two years of announcing its desire for local banks to merge into larger entities, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is finally getting what it desires. The Overseas Chinese Bank Corporation, of OCBC Bank, is acquiring the smallest local bank, Keppel Tat Lee Bank and the Development Bank of Singapore and the United Overseas Bank are in competition to acquire the Overseas Union Bank. The five local banks will thus eventually be merged into three. Apart from the frenzy of the bank acquisitions and mergers, the economy is in recession, having been in decline for two consecutive quarters.

In the past, only the trade unions and occasionally the Ministry of Manpower were involved in job-placements for laid-off workers. This time, even the Community Development Councils, which are specifically set up to ‘coordinate’ social welfare activities at the greater constituency level, are also setting up job-placement services. Such eagerness to serve is perhaps a reflection of how every institution in this very small island nation has to prove its relevance so as to ‘legitimize’ its existence, even if it had been set up by the government in the first instance.

The economic downturn does not help the local print media in its desperate attempts to fan an election ‘fever’. It has further increased the nonchalance showed by Singaporeans towards the general election that has to be called by the middle of next year but is generally expected to be held during the second half of this year. Even the PAP has put off any electioneering activities, although visible ministerial presences in community activities have been stepped up. As usual, the only excitement politically comes from the ‘opposition’ parties; James Gomez, the founder of Think Centre, who staged several highly-publicized ‘civil’ society activities around issues of civil rights, has joined the Workers’ Party and will most likely be a candidate in the coming election.

In a move partly related to the election, the Singapore Internet Community (Sintercom) website has been asked by the Singapore Broadcasting Authority to register with the authority because the site engages in ‘propagation, promotion and discussion of political issues relating to Singapore on the Internet’. Although such registration has been required by law since 1996, Sintercom, which started operation since 1994, has only been asked to register this month, after Deputy Prime Minister Lee asked the Elections Department to set up ‘appropriate’ rules to guide the use of the Internet by political parties during an election. Sintercom has had to comply with SBA’s ‘request’.

WATCHPOINT: How will the government contain the consequences of economic recession?

 

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