Singapore: It’s The Neighbours’ Fault


Dr Chua Beng Huat

Economic indicators continue to be negative: private property prices have fallen for seven consecutive quarters, closing and down-sizing in the retail sector continue, and the stock market index dropped more than ten per cent during the week of the worst violence in Jakarta. However, because of falling prices, the take-up rate of new private housing has increased by 17 per cent in the first quarter and the tender prices for the Certificate of Entitlement for car ownership increased significantly for the month of May. These conflicting economic signals reflect the prevailing attitude that their economic woes are largely of the neighbouring countries’ doing while the home front is essentially sound. Accordingly, the Prime Minister’s message to the business and wider communities is to look beyond the present crisis and prepare for the future, so as to be ‘streets ahead of competitors later’. Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also urged Singaporeans to ‘chip in to capitalise on its strong position to spring forward when the recovery starts’. Such a forward-looking stance is a trademark of the People’s Action Party (PAP) Government. In practical terms, liberalisation of the financial sector has been speeded up with officials of the Monetary Authority of Singapore being tutored directly by the New York Federal Reserve. Away from economics, the most prominent event was a two-day conference on civil society in Singapore, organised by the Institute of Policy Studies. In his keynote address, George Yeo, Minister of Information and the Arts, suggested that in a globalised ‘web-world’, the State is weakening as an institution while civil society and the market expand to fill space left by the State. He suggested that, accordingly, the PAP Government has become less hierarchical and has begun to decentralise and transfer many responsibilities to civil organisations, especially in areas where the Government is not good at achieving results. This image of Government was not generally shared by conference participants, for whom fear of State reprisals continues to be a factor in civil society activities. The conference was more significant as an event than for the substantive debate. It was the first time that non-State-sponsored civil society groups and individuals, who have often been disciplined and marginalised by State bureaucracies, have been given public recognition as a collective presence.  

WATCHPOINT: Change in State/society relations may be an outcome of the financial crisis.


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