In this article, I looked at two recent global reports where Singapore is ranked. I had looked in detail into the rankings and scores to look into how Singapore can improve in these rankings. Interestingly, when you look into the detailed scoring, you can see that Singapore fares relatively well on most areas, except for a few areas – and this is where I would like to focus on in this article.
Note: If you would not like to go through the detailed analysis, please go straight to the conclusion at the end, which has a more substantial analysis of Singapore’s current socio-political situation.
Singapore is A Safe Place to Live in
The Global Peace Index (GPI) 2012was released on 12 June 2012. The GPI “ranks nations according to their level of peacefulness. It is composed of 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources, which gauge three broad themes: the level of safety and security in society; the extent of domestic or international conflict; and the degree of militarisation.”
The index ranked Singapore at 23rd, out of 158 countries.
Singapore is ranked 5th in the Asia Pacific region. New Zealand and Japan were ranked 2nd and 5th respectively. Bhutan, Malaysia and Australia were ranked 19th, 20th and 22nd respectively, just before Singapore.
Additionally, the report introduced a new Positive Peace Index (PPI). The PPI is a measure of the strength of the attitudes, institutions, and structures of 108 nations to determine their capacity to create and maintain a peaceful society. The PPI is based on a statistical framework which groups these attributes into eight key categories known as the ‘Pillars of Peace’. These pillars have been identified as describing what underpins a peaceful society.”
“The PPI is different from the GPI as it uses the definition ‘absence of violence or fear of violence’ to measure peace… In contrast to negative peace, positive peace is about the appropriate attitudes, institutions, and structures which when strengthened, lead to a more peaceful society.”
This new index ranked Singapore at 19th, out of 108 countries.
The report also said the following about Singapore:
Singapore is the only hybrid regime in the top 20 (France is the only flawed democracy in the top 20.)Out the top 20 nations Singapore is the only country which scores relatively poorly on three domains of the PPI. Compared to other nations in the top 20 it is lagging on:
- Acceptance of the Rights of Others
- Good Relations with Neighbours
- Free Flow of Information
The report also measured the following:
The positive peace gap is the difference between a nation’s GPI score and PPI score.
A surplus means that the institutions, structures and attitudes of the country can support a higher level of peace than is being experienced, while the inverse, a deficit, signifies that the country may be fragile due to weaker than expected institutional capacity.
Singapore was said to have a positive peace surplus. Our GPI Rank at 24 is higher than the PPI rank at 19 (according to the computation methodology in the report, “this gap is the difference in ranking between the two indices). This means that Singapore’s institutions, structures and attitudes are well-placed to allow Singaporeans to achieve a higher level of peace.
Thus Singapore is ranked relatively well in terms of the peacefulness of our country. However, the report highlight some areas where Singapore can improve on, only to become better. And perhaps to achieve the standards of living that the Nordic countries have been able to attain. According to the report:
The top five nations on the Positive Peace Index are all Nordic nations which all score highly in the Global Peace Index.
How can this be achieved? Let’s look at some of the concepts explored in the report.
Why is Singapore a Hybrid Regime?
Singapore is described as a hybrid regime. This is according to the Democracy Index 2011,
The index ranked Singapore at 81, out of 167 countries.
According to the report, the index values and regime types were explained as follows:
The index values are used to place countries within one of four types of regimes:
- Full democracies – scores of 8-10
- Flawed democracies – score of 6 to 7.9
- Hybrid regimes – scores of 4 to 5.9
- Authoritarian regimes – scores below 4
These are the four regime types:
Full democracies: Countries in which not only basic political freedoms and civil liberties are respected, but these will also tend to be underpinned by a political culture conducive to the flourishing of democracy. The functioning of government is satisfactory. Media are independent and diverse. There is an effective system of checks and balances. The judiciary is independent and judicial decisions are enforced. There are only limited problems in the functioning of democracies.
Flawed democracies: These countries also have free and fair elections and even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties will be respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.
Hybrid regimes: Elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair. Government pressure on opposition parties and candidates may be common. Serious weaknesses are more prevalent than in flawed democracies–in political culture, functioning of government and political participation. Corruption tends to be widespread and the rule of law is weak. Civil society is weak. Typically there is harassment of and pressure on journalists, and the judiciary is not independent.
Authoritarian regimes: In these states state political pluralism is absent or heavily circumscribed. Many countries in this category are outright dictatorships. Some formal institutions of democracy may exist, but these have little substance. Elections, if they do occur, are not free and fair. There is disregard for abuses and infringements of civil liberties. Media are typically state-owned or controlled by groups connected to the ruling regime. There is repression of criticism of the government and pervasive censorship. There is no independent judiciary.
According to the report, the following is how Singapore fared in the following areas:
- Electoral process and pluralism – 4.33
- Functioning of government – 7.50
- Political participation – 2.78
- Political culture – 7.50
- Civil liberties – 7.35
The higher the score, the better Singapore had fared in the area. You can see that Singapore fared relatively well in the areas of the functioning of the government, political culture and civil liberties. We would rank as a flawed democracy in these areas.
Singapore scored relatively poorly on the areas of electoral process and pluralism and political participation.
Singapore’s score in political participation would place us as an authoritarian regime. Our score in the electoral process and pluralism would place us as a hybrid regime.
Clearly, Singapore did not perform well because of the following:
- There is government pressure on opposition parties and candidates: During last year’s general elections, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan had insinuated on the sexual orientation of an opposition candidate to question the candidate’s integrity and ability, even though this should be of no significance. A furore later erupted and he had and his team issued a statement which continued his snide attack.
- Civil society is weak: Widespread demonstrations are not allowed. The only space allowed for civil rights demonstrations is at The Speakers’ Corner. In fact, Human Rights Watch had reported that, “Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis told the media in July that students at the new campus, expected to open in August 2013, can express their views but they will not be allowed to organize political protests on campus or form political party student groups.” It also summarised the barriers to civil freedom in Singapore: “Election returns brought no changes to Singapore’s reliance on the Internal Security Act to hold, without charge or judicial review,those suspected of subversion, espionage, and terrorism. Laws requiring mandatory death sentences (though the government has recently announced a rethinking, where “the courts will have the discretion either to sentence the trafficker to death, or alternatively to pass a sentence of life imprisonment with caning,” so this is an improvement), judicial caning, and criminalization of male same-sex relations remain in force. Government authorities still curtail rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. They deny legitimacy to associations of ten or more, if they deem the groups “prejudicial to public peace, welfare or good order. ” The government requires police permits for five or more people planning a public event, and it uses contempt of court, criminal and civil defamation, and sedition charges to rein in critics.”
- Our judiciary is not independent: Alex Au had written about his assessment here about how our judiciary is not.
Government Needs to Focus on Civil Rights and Open Flow of Information
The 3 areas that Singapore did not score well in, for the Positive Peace Index, are as follows (the lower the score, the better):
- Acceptance of the Rights of Others – 2.65 (38th)
- Good Relations with Neighbours – 2.30 (31st)
- Free Flow of Information – 2.54 (38th)
(Singapore ranked 19th overall.)
For the indicators of the Acceptance of the Rights of Others and Free Flow of Information, we rank lower than the world average. I will focus on these two areas, which is 2.57 and 2.50 respectively.
The following are the definitions for the two indicators:
Acceptance of the Rights of Others is a category designed to include both the formal institutions that ensure basic rights and freedoms as well as the informal social and cultural norms that relate to the behaviours of citizens. These factors relate to tolerance between the different ethnic, linguistic, religious, and socio-economic groups within a country.
Acceptance of the Rights of Others is measured by the following:
- Additive CIRI Empowerment Index constructed from the Foreign Movement, Domestic Movement, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly & Association, Workers’ Rights, Electoral Self Determination, and Freedom of Religion indicators.
- The Global Gender Gap Index (which) examines the gap between men and women in four categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.
- Intergroup Cohesion Index (which) measures ethnic and sectarian tensions, and discrimination.
Free Flow of Information captures how easily citizens can gain access to information, whether the media is free and independent, as well as the extent to which citizens are informed and engaged in the political process. In this sense, free flow of information is an attempt to account for the degree of access to information as well as the independence of that information from vested political and economic interests.
Free Flow of Information is measured by Freedom House’s Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index and the internet usage, measured by number of users recorded per 100 of population.
Clearly, Singapore falters in similar areas – of an respected and open civil society (as discussed above) and on the restricted flow and access to information.
A detailed analysis of the reports and Singapore’s scores continue to affirm the areas that Singapore can improve on – civil rights discourse and freedom of information. This is not new.
But Will The Government Has the Guts to Do It?
If we take a look at what the government has been doing over the past few years, the government has chosen not to regulate online discussions about social and political issues in Singapore. This is a welcomed move by the government. In fact, if you look at PM Lee Hsien Loong’s Facebook page, Singaporeans have taken to his Facebook page to express their frustrations about how they feel the government has not responded to their feedback – on how income inequality has continued to rise and the quality of life has degraded.
Government’s Wage Proposals – To Pacify or to Ameliorate?
This has actually prompted the government to respond. In terms of income inequality, PM Lee had announced a proposal to increase wages by a compounded 30% in 10 years. Mr Lim Swee Say had announced a proposal to increase the wages of 10,000 low wage workers to $1,000 by 2015.
However, what Singaporeans are asking is – is it enough? They don’t think it is. Prof Lim Chong Yah had proposed a “three-year plan includes a wage freeze for top earners while incomes for the poorest are raised by huge quantums – 15% in each of the first two years and 20% in the last year.” However, the government has been swift to reject the proposal as they claim that there will be adverse effects to the Singapore economy. Yet, they have not explained how it could be so. Singaporeans do not have a chance to understand how the economy could be adversely affected, and whether this is true. It is no wonder that only 15% of Singaporeans would trust the government leaders to tell the truth.
When Singaporeans had advocated for a minimum wage law, the government had similarly brushed it off, suggesting once again that the economy could be adversely affected, without explaining why so. Singaporeans are left asking questions again.
When PM Lee had announced the proposal to increase wages by a compounded 30% by increasing productivity by 30%, it took Singaporeans by surprise, because firstly, the growth in wages had never followed the growth in productivity. Also, if Singapore’s GDP growth is expected to slow down, all the more so that productivity growth is expected to slow down, and so will wages, according to PM Lee’s proposal. Lastly, research has shown that increasing productivity will not result in an equivalent increase in wages because companies are more likely to absorb any increase in productivity as profits, rather than channel the increase into increased wages.
Singapore’s Quality of Life is Good – As Look As We Can Make Believe
Furthermore, to pacify Singaporeans to let them think that the qualify of life is actually manageable, and in fact, very good, the government created a new Global Livabilities Index, which they have been planning for since 2008, which consecutively ranked Singapore 3rd in 2010 and 2012. This is so, even if other similar rankings have not ranked Singapore in the top 10 at all. The government further explained that this index was created to look specifically into the lives of those in the median income earners, even if it has been proven that it was never part of their planning to look into the median income earners. They had only said so because they know this is what Singaporeans want to hear.
So, the usefulness of this ranking has proven to be quite useless, except to conjure into Singaporeans’ minds what the government wants us to think – that our lives are much better and frankly, if it’s that good, why should they change anything?
Government Does Not Regulate Online Discussions – Why?
The question though, is, why did the government not regulate the internet but allow for the relatively free access to information and criticism of the government online?
First and foremost, the government has made an economic decision not to curb the freedom of internet because they have seen the impact of how China’s restriction to Google’s search engine has created a global discussion, which they have assessed to be not beneficial for the Singapore economy. Whereas China is the world’s second largest economy which can afford to close itself to the world, because of its huge domestic market and which the world cannot close up to, because of the interconnectivity between China’s economy and the world’s labour needs; Singapore is in a very different position – Singapore might created a niche within itself as a hub in terms of biomedical developments and clean energy, but it needs continued investment and needs to sustain an open economy. This is more so since Singapore have ventured into the knowledge economy where the free flow of information is necessary. The demand for foreigners has also reinforced this impetus to keep the internet unregulated, which otherwise, highly-qualified foreigners, which the government wants to attract, will be repelled by Singapore.
So, the government knows that it cannot restrict access to the internet because this is a key component for workplace efficiency and accessibility.
However, the government had taken to responding to internet criticism of their governance by, well simply, not responding. They have learnt to ignore our feedback and comments when not aligned to their planning principles. For example, Kenneth Jeyaretnam had written extensively about Singapore’s $4 million loan to IMF and it wasn’t until Kenneth wrote directly to IMF did the government respond in the mainstream media to his repeated questioning. A look at PM Lee’s Facebook page will show how Singaporeans might voice their displeasure on his page, but to no avail, as their feedback seemed to have been taken as noise, and not responded to.
The government has thus effectively learnt to limit discourse and criticism against the government by containing them online and not allowing the mainstream media to report on them, unless absolutely necessary, when this concerns their international reputation and as a business entity.
The Straits Times – Creative Manipulation of Ideas
The Straits Times have also began to use this technique for their Forum page, where viewpoints which are sometimes critical to the government are published. But one wonders if the feedback is actually responded to. What is more likely to have happened is that the government wants to create an impression where it seems that they have allowed for the freedom of expression to be allowed in mainstream media, where differing viewpoints are reflected, and thus creating this illusion that the government seems to be open to these criticisms – the very reason for allowing them to be published. But the government knows Singaporeans won’t remember what was discussed. Who keeps track of the forum section? In recent times, The Straits Times have even invited academics and people who are experts in their field to express their thoughts and analysis on the socio-political landscape. Most of them have not been highly critical of the government. In fact, The Straits Times has continued in its disguise of providing factual information behind an analysis that is aimed at swaying Singaporeans to the government’s agenda.
Where is The Change?
Real change? We know there’s no real change. Not when the government refuses to implement a wage proposal or law that will look at holistically hauling the wage distribution in Singapore, to be one that is more equitable, at least to the lower income earners. Not when the government does not look seriously into increasing the livelihood by increasing the number of months for maternity and paternity leave to allow for work-life balance for parents. Indeed, the government’s proposal to increase fertility rates in Singapore is one that is steadfast towards its non-compromise towards productivity and economic growth, even if it has been shown by a wealth of research that work-life balance, a healthy respect towards citizens to promote their psychological well-being and structural changes, such as shorter hours, do not actually reduce productivity, but might actually be beneficial to it.
But yet, the government continues to resist changes or to overhaul the system. They continue to harp on the principle of meritocracy and self-reliance because this has been the guiding principles of Singapore since our modern inception, and thus we should continue to believe in it, since if it’s not broken, why fix it? But it is – research has shown how the principle of meritocracy has the ability to create income and social inequalities in a capitalistic society, where the rich, who have benefitted from the principle of meritocracy which had allowed them to move upwards, thus continue to protect and preserve their economic status, which thus perpetuates income inequality. Even the members of parliament who are not ministers in the government have spoken up against the approach of self-reliance, as Dr Lily Neo had.
Have We Gone Too Far?
The question all of us are asking, once again, is – have we gone too far? Have we gone too far, PAP?
The question that everyone is asking – PAP, do you still care for us? Will your party still act for the people? Or are you still, as you have always been, primarily interested in growing the economy, and one can argue, at all costs.
We Are Tired, PAP
The question that we are asking is – PAP, we are tired of just being workers in Singapore Inc. For the past 40 years, Singapore needed to grow and we have been by your side growing it with you, and for ourselves. And we are grateful. How many of us in this world can travel around the world, because our currency is strong? But PAP, we are tired. Over the past few years, as we grow richer, and we become more aware of our personal growth, we realise that we don’t have to put our hearts and souls fully into just making money. We realise that other than money, we need to grow emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.
It’s not because we aspire because we have seen what others can. We aspire because we have this feeling inside us that something is not right. It is not right when we become angrier at angrier at other people – at our neighbours, nursing homes which come out right next to us, in our neighbourhood, at foreigners, when it is in no part their fault when wages are suppressed because of them but due to the government’s policies, or lack thereof. Why do we complain to no end when there are other ways of coping with issues that crop up? When we can learn to face problems by creating solutions? We are angry because in the process of systematically creating a workforce for the economy, the government has systematically removed our ability to think creatively and be innovative. The government has eliminated our passion for ideals and beliefs by systematically removing our ability to critique and discuss about issues. This has been confirmed by numerous studies which praise Singaporeans for our abilities at work but highlight, every so often, how innovation is our weakness. PAP, we are tired.
Where Art Thou Our Souls?
Where have our souls gone to? Why are we concerned only about making money? Why have we learnt to be so wary for others? Why have we learnt not to watch out for others? Why have we learnt not to be empathetic? To be aware of others’ needs? Some of us now have more than enough money, even if our government leaders ask for more. But more and more, we are beginning to see how many there are people who do not have as fortunate the lives as ours. And we have started to question.
PAP, We Want to Work With You. Work With Us!
PAP, you can still change this. You can still make things work, as you’ve always have over the past 40-odd years. We are still Singaporeans and we are in this together. But PAP, you have to hear us. You have to reach out to your heart, and not just your mind. You have to listen within and hear what is right. For far too long, we have thought about making money, and for a long time, it is perhaps the right thing to do. But now, we have grown, as you have. We are tired of materialism, we are tired of the goodies you dispense, timed right before every elections. You know it no longer works because we aspire for more.
PAP, you can still do this. You can still return our full rights to civil liberties and the right to be – to be human, and not a worker. You can. And we will stand by you. Why are there opposition parties? We are all saying the same thing, aren’t we? We are all saying – give us the freedom to be us. And you know what, we will work with you to make things better. And then, we will trust you, as you can then learn to trust us. We can make things better. Many countries have already shown that this is possible – when humans are respected as who we are, we will be empowered and be more passionate in the things we do in our lives, and we will strive even harder in what we believe in, in our work.
PAP, you know this is possible. But now, it’s time for you to take a mindset change. To recognise that we will be here with you, if only you care for us. We can make it with you.
Help us govern Singapore by believing in meritocracy. Help us govern Singapore by believing in us. Help us. Be with us.
And perhaps we know that you have assets which you have invested in which you might not have told us about, or not told us in full. Then tell us. Or rather, then do the right thing. Give what needs to be given back. And earn what you need. Myanmar has been able to let go, but of course Myanmar is on a different level playing field.
But our dear government, do the right thing. For yourself. And for us. To allow us to have the freedom to be, to believe and to be happy. Because eventually, that’s what we want – be happy.