Singapore: Fine Tuning


Dr Chua Beng Huat

The parliament had one of its irregular sittings in the middle of the month. The major business was the second reading of a proposed compulsory education legislation, which will compel parents to send their children to six years of primary education. For all its emphasis on education as the only means of developing human resources, hitherto, the PAP government has no compulsory education regulations. It has always assumed that ‘self-interest’ of the parents would motivate them to send their children to school and, indeed, the number of school going age children not in school has been very small. The legislation is perhaps symbolically significant. It is definitely politically correct. The only reservation came from the Malay/Muslim community because its desire to seek exemption from the legislation for the students of its religious schools, the madrasahs. The compromise is that the national primary school curriculum will be conducted alongside religious education.

The publication of the second volume of Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs was delayed due to the need for significant rewriting following the regional economic crisis. It appeared immediately after Lee’s first official visit to Kuala Lumpur, after a decade of absence. In the warm after-glow that this visit had generated in Malaysia-Singapore relations, the second volume did not raise any negative response from Malaysia as the first volume did. An immediate effect of the visit was the stepping up of ‘goodwill’ from politicians and media on both sides of the causeway and an official visit to the UMNO Youth from the Young PAP (People’s Action Party).

An unforeseen outbreak of ‘foot and mouth’ disease among young children tested the government’s commitment to be ‘family friendly’. To prevent the spread of contagion, all pre-school centres were closed for approximately two weeks. The civil service immediately allowed parents affected by the closure to rearrange their work responsibilities, including taking leave with pay. Employers in the private sector followed accordingly. Such family-friendly responses are likely to be the way of the future in view of the government’s worry about declining national marriage and birth rates.

Finally, given that economic recovery has been better than expected with the growth of the year being adjusted upwards to 9 per cent, the cut in the Central Provident Fund instituted in 1998 will be partially restored. Employers will have to contribute an additional 4 per cent to the employees’ fund from January, 2001.

WATCHPOINT: : Further fine tuning can be expected from the government, mindful of domestic and regional sensitivities.


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