Filipinos, with the exception of our politicians and crooks, aspire to be like Singapore.
Many say it is not possible.
It has nothing to do with our intelligence or capacity for work. Singapore is manned by Filipino nurses, retail staff, maids and croupiers so we can do it. It is just the other things.
Sociologists attribute Singaporean discipline -they line up everywhere- to the Confucian ethic while forgetting that the country is a mix of Malay Muslims, Hindu Indians and Chinese (and now Catholic Filipinos). Others say it is inherited from British rule and the playing fields of Eton.
Singaporean discipline has much to do, I believe, with the army, specifically the requirement that all young males undergo military service. Forced conscription is the great equalizer. The sons of the wealthy and the politicians are forced into the same conditions as the poor. Switzerland, S. Korea, Israel, Austria, Norway, and Taiwan -disciplined societies all-have a draft so there must be something to this. If the Philippines wants to emulate these countries, it should consider compulsory military service or some form of community work for our young.
The other great equalizers are education and income distribution. In Singapore any qualified student is assured of higher education regardless of income. Money is forcibly taken from a parents’ contribution to the Central Provident Fund (the equivalent of our GSIS/SSS) to support their child’s university education. However, once the child is working and paying into the Fund, the latter deducts from this to repay the parents.
Singapore believes building a strong middle class is the key to social harmony and stability. This means controlling the disparity in incomes through the social welfare net.
Then there is the bureaucracy. Singapore works because its civil service works. The Government attracts the best and the brightest to run the country and pays them accordingly. Senior officials earn private sector salaries which can be upto SGD $2 million a year. With the worldwide financial crisis, these officials recently voluntarily reduced their pay as part of the burden sharing.
The bureaucracy also works because public service is portrayed as an honorable profession. Even the lowliest Government employee is treated with respect. In Singapore, bus drivers are not called bus drivers, they are bus captains. So Lesson #2, we need to bring back honor to public service if we are to attract and retain capable civil servants.
In exchange, Government leaders are subject to intense public accountability. A recent headline in the Straits Times was about a second tier official caught padding his expenses. In other countries this would have qualified as a two-liner in the back pages of the papers. In Singapore it was a big deal.
Private citizens are equally accountable. In Singapore criminals actually go to jail.
Singapore uses the best of authoritarian and free market models to run the economy. Private enterprise is encouraged but this is guided by central directives to temper the abuses of capitalism. The State uses its financial muscle like the Central Provident Fund to finance key economic activities and social priorities.
Market forces are at work in all levels of daily life. To decongest traffic, taxis impose a surcharge during rush hours. The Government is considering lowering public transport fares during off peak hours. At the same time, the number of private vehicles is controlled by restricting the supply of so-called Certificates of Entitlement (COEs) to own a car. COE prices are determined by economic forces, fetching as high as SGD 90,000 (around P3 million) for luxury vehicles.
Sometimes Singaporean policies work too well. For a time the country encouraged family planning. This has however become a problem because of the ageing of the population so the Government is now reversing itself.
The modest size of Singapore (population: 5.1 million) has been cited to explain its progress. Yet there are smaller countries in the region (e.g. Brunei) with vaster resources who have not achieved its economic status. Singapore has no natural advantages and was forced to contend with cross-cultural and racial differences. Yet it succeeded because of enlightened Government, accountability, and vision.
In Singapore our countrymen are respected for their ethic and their skills. They are part of what makes the system work. So let us not say the Singapore model is impossible in the Philippines.
Singapore’s parliamentary system allows for a centralized authority to get things done. With its public mandate and control of Congress, the Aquino Administration now has such a monolithic power to effect meaningful reforms. What we need is simply the vision, the commitment and the leadership to make it happen.