You would have noticed by now, that in my discussion on the Singapore Population White Paper, I’ve not discussed the details of the paper. However, I’ve been discussing mainly concepts and ideas behind what could have transpired behind the planning of the white paper. I think it’s important to understand the planning principles, so that we know where the starting point for discussion is, and so that we can tackle the discussion better. You need to know what PAP fundamentally thinks so that you can know what you need to debate with them on.
Essentially, we can debate with the government on the details until the cows come home and they wouldn’t budge on the details in the white paper. Why? As I’ve discussed so far and you would know anyway, PAP’s planning principles are aligned to looking at Singapore as a city and as a capitalistic node of economic production. It isn’t an accurate reflection by PAP to call the white paper the ‘Singapore Population’ white paper when what they should really call it is the ‘Singapore Workers’ white paper. Based on their planning principles, they are really looking at creating a conducive environment for workers to continue to work and produce for the city economy, and have just a bit of breathing space in between work. This is essentially what their thinking is.
We could ask for them to give Singaporeans more welfare, minimum wage, anti-discrimination laws, shorter working hours etc and these would never happen because they do not see Singaporeans as citizens living in a country. We are workers living in a city. You will see later how even as we are workers in a city, we can be accorded basic human rights yet these are taken from us. And we will attempt to find out quickly why this is so.
So, what then is a city, and what a country? According to UN-HABITAT, “cities can make countries rich because the high concentration of people enables industry to produce goods more cheaply. High population densities in cities reduce transaction costs, make public spending on infrastructure and services cheaper, and make the generation and diffusion of knowledge easier. In turn, these factors attract the fast growing sectors of an economy into cities.”
In the article, ‘What Makes a City Great‘, Donald Low, who was then Head of the Centre for Public Economies in the Civil Service College in Singapore, had said that much of the reasons that drive urbanisation has, “much … to do with the rise of the knowledge economy. Unlike large-scale manufacturing activities which require physical space and economies of scale, the knowledge economy — which relies on the creation, exchange and spread of ideas — requires dense networks of skilled workers and economies of scope.” He went on say that it is about “the ability to concentrate a large number of knowledge workers from many related disciplines in a relatively small area. Dense, compact cities are best placed to offer and exploit the network externalities and economies of scope that the knowledge economy demands.”
He added that, “From an economic perspective, a denser city confers much larger advantages. For a knowledge economy in particular, urban density is an even more importance source of economic advantage. The ability of highly skilled workers to congregate in a relatively compact area — where commuting times are minimised and the opportunities to trade and exchange ideas are maximised — is the very reason why cities are more innovative and dynamic.”
Donald had also made this comment by saying that, “All this suggests that instead of trying to create ever more space for households, our urban planners should instead focus on increasing urban density. This requires “compensating” our residents for the loss of private space with an increase in public spaces. In Singapore’s context, the most important public spaces the state can create are not necessarily physical ones such as parks and community facilities, but rather intellectual ones: room for the free exchange of ideas, a less fettered media, less government paternalism and the like.”
You can see that clearly that in the white paper, the government has adopted the idea of increasing urban density, whilst focusing on the increased accessibility to public spaces such as parks. The government has also adopted the idea of not creating more spaces for households but yet, ignoring mostly the creation of idea for intellectual spaces.
Donald surmised that, “Cities which are dense, highly connected and have lots of mixed-use areas are not only more vibrant economically; they also hold the promise of sustainable development.” Is this the mindset that the government has adopted as well? Clearly, it seems to be.
What then is a country, or perhaps, a “nation”? Ernest Renan describes this beautifully when he had said in his lecture, ‘What is a Nation?‘, that “A nation is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarized, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life. That, I know full well, is less metaphysical than divine right and less brutal than so called historical right. According to the ideas that I am outlining to you, a nation has no more right than a king does to say to a province: “You belong to me, I am seizing you.” A province, as far as I am concerned, is its inhabitants; if anyone has the right to be consulted in such an affair, it is the inhabitant. A nation never has any real interest in annexing or holding on to a country against its will. The wish of nations is, all in all, the sole legitimate criterion, the one to which one must always return.”
However, we would do well to also remember what nations really are. In an article, ‘What Is a “Nation”?‘ by the Global Policy Forum, it is described that, “A nation is a large group of people with strong bonds of identity – an “imagined community,” a tribe on a grand scale … National identity is typically based on shared culture, religion, history, language or ethnicity.” It further added that, “Nations seem so compelling, so “real,” and so much a part of the political and cultural landscape, that people think they have lasted forever (but) in reality, they come into being and dissolve with changing historical circumstances – sometimes over a relatively short period of time, like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.” The article further asked, “Why, then, does national identity give rise to such extremely strong feelings? And why would so many be ready to “die for the nation” in time of war?” and suggested that, “the pull of nationalism remains a powerful force to be reckoned with – and a glue that binds states together and helps many people (for better and for worse) make sense out of a confusing reality.” So, as much as we continue to believe in the notion of a ‘country’ because of the sense of security that it seems to provide us, we need to acknowledge the temporal nature of countries, as all political entities, and not allow ourselves to grow too attached to the notion.
But let’s back track a bit on our discussion of the city versus the country. I’m going to surmise that you can understand cities as economic nodes of production, whereas countries (or nations) tie to them a sense of cultural identity, and emotional and psychological ties and affects. This is, of course, a very simplistic distinction, but for the purpose of our discussion, will suffice.
So then, if you can understand that when the government plans for Singapore that it looks at Singapore as a city, you will understand that the principles that underline their planning is focused towards economic growth and production. As Donald had also said, the government’s focus should be on increasing the population density to increase economic growth in a knowledge economy, which the government wants to move Singapore into. And as you can see in the white paper, the government has clearly adopted this stance.
However, is this wise? According to the National Solidarity Party (NSP)’s Population Plan for Singapore, the government’s white paper is contrary to Singapore’s efforts to increase our fertility rate. According to NSP, “we can see that when population density increases, fertility decreases. This is supported by independent research in Austria. Increasing our population to 6.9 million by 2030 is therefore likely to further depress our fertility rate, creating a vicious cycle. We need to focus on improving our fertility rate if we want to continue growing our economy with minimal social problems.”
NSP had also created the chart below which shows that, “regions with the highest population density also have the lowest fertility rate. The correlation is even stronger when considering Singapore’s fertility rate from 1995 to 2010.”
So, you can see here that not only does the government plan for Singapore as a city based on economic principles and by increasing the population density, these very principles go against the very grain of building a Singaporean core and increasing the fertility rate. One does wonder how sincere the government truly is when they dispense initiatives and funds to ‘help’ Singaporeans raise children, when on the whole, they aren’t interested in creating an environment and infrastructure that supports the upbringing of a child.
To further explore how the government plans for Singapore as a city, rather than as a country, lets look at the international rankings of Singapore.
One just needs to look at the Economic Development Board (EDB) to understands how the government positions Singapore. In describing “Singapore’s Fundamentals“, EDB had talked about how, “Singapore is attuned to the needs of businesses and the need to protect invention and innovation.” Also, it is explicitly stated that, “The government has always adopted a pro-business policy, regardless of world economic situations or crisis. It has taken tough measures including reducing corporate tax rates, lowering employers’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates and capping office rental rates. For the quality of its government policies, Singapore has been rated The world’s easiest place to do business (Doing Business 2012 Report, World Bank).” The government isn’t shy about how it limits the rights of workers to enhance Singapore’s attractiveness for businesses.
EDB had also highlighted Singapore’s rankings, and said that, “Singapore has many accolades pegged to its brand, bolstering the Republic’s reputation as a key regional and global hub for companies to do business.”
You can see that the rankings (in the pictures below) are categorized into Economics Performance, Competitiveness and Business Environment, Business Legislation and Efficiency, Government, Labour and Expatriate Living. Laughably, under the ranking of governance, EDM champions Singapore as the most non-corrupt and transparent country in Asia.
Yet, even as the government plans for Singapore as a city based on economic principles and it seems that there cannot be any allowance for the people’s basic rights to be accorded, why then is it that another seeming city-state, such as Hong Kong, is able to account for its people’s rights yet create a conducive business environment? I got the photo below from Occupy Singapore’s Facebook Page.
Even as Singapore and Hong Kong are ranked head-to-head as the most economically competitive cities and the world’s 3rd and 4th largest financial centers, Hong Kong is yet able to cater to the people’s basic and fundamental human rights needs. Why not Singapore?
In fact, according to the UN-HABITAT report report, the report also says that, “Municipal authorities must maintain ‘inclusiveness’ policies if they are to narrow the gross social, economic, political and cultural inequalities that divide residents in many cities of developing nations.” It also says that, “In an inclusive city, residents take part in decision-making that ranges from the political to issues of daily life. Such participation injects a sense of belonging, identity, place into residents, and guarantees them a stake in the benefits of urban development.” This is a process that is clearly lacking in the consultation, or lack thereof of the white paper. The report also describes that even as cities are planned according to economic principles, “Cities wanting to design and implement plans for inclusiveness can only succeed if they fully understand how the social, economic, political and cultural can, together, best be integrated into the daily lives of the public. Indeed, viewing economic opportunities in conjunction with other forms of political, social and cultural rights in societies is what builds capable social capital in developing countries.” Importantly, the report also explains that political inclusion, by having “A politically inclusive city (that) upholds citizens’ rights and liberties, encourages social and political participation so that city officials will make better informed decisions and in a democratic manner.” This again, is sorely lacking in the governance of Singapore.
Why then is our government unconcerned about the social well-being and rights of its people? The answer lies in our governance and the mindset that besets them.
According to the Public Research Associates, “Fascists particularly loathed the social theories of the French Revolution and its slogan: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”
- Liberty from oppressive government intervention in the daily lives of its citizens, from illicit searches and seizures, from enforced religious values, from intimidation and arrest for dissenters; and liberty to cast a vote in a system in which the ; majority ruled but the minority retained certain inalienable rights.
- Equality in the sense of civic equality, egalitarianism, the notion that while people differ, they all should stand equal in the eyes of the law.
- Fraternity in the sense of the brotherhood of mankind. That all women and men, the old and the young, the infirm and the healthy, the rich and the poor, share a spark of humanity that must be cherished on a level above that of the law, and that binds us all together in a manner that continuously re-affirms and celebrates life.”
The article also goes on to say that, “Fascism and Nazism as ideologies involve, to varying degrees, some of the following hallmarks:
- Nationalism and super-patriotism with a sense of historic mission.
- Aggressive militarism even to the extent of glorifying war as good for the national or individual spirit.
- Use of violence or threats of violence to impose views on others (fascism and Nazism both employed street violence and state violence at different moments in their development).
- Authoritarian reliance on a leader or elite not constitutionally responsible to an electorate.
- Cult of personality around a charismatic leader.
- Reaction against the values of Modernism, usually with emotional attacks against both liberalism and communism.
- Exhortations for the homogeneous masses of common folk (Volkish in German, Populist in the U.S.) to join voluntarily in a heroic mission–often metaphysical and romanticized in character.
- Dehumanization and scapegoating of the enemy–seeing the enemy as an inferior or subhuman force, perhaps involved in a conspiracy that justifies eradicating them.
- The self image of being a superior form of social organization beyond socialism, capitalism and democracy.
- Elements of national socialist ideological roots, for example, ostensible support for the industrial working class or farmers; but ultimately, the forging of an alliance with an elite sector of society.
- Abandonment of any consistent ideology in a drive for state power.”
Does all this sound familiar to you?
The reason that the Singapore government doesn’t believe in respecting the basic human right and well-being is because our government has styled themselves along the lines of a fascist government. Our government believes in the same ideology as Hitler did. If Hilter was to be the leader of Singapore now, he would be very glad to hold regular elections and keep the affront of democracy too, because he would be able to control the people and make them willingly vote him in as their leader, no matter how much he takes advantage of them. Singaporeans are very easy to loot and plunder. Our crime rate might be low – the government won’t let others steal from Singaporeans. Why let others steal from Singaporeans when you can steal from Singaporeans yourself?
You know what the problem is? The problem is that we have a government which believes that it is a national central government and it is one which believes in fascist ideals, even as it models itself outwardly, based on democracy. Our government is a wolf in sheep skin, or essentially, a fascist government which appears like a democracy. Also, this government that we now have isn’t a national central government. It’s a municipal local government. The way this government functions and the mindset that it operates on is severely crippling in its ability. It’s only able to think and plan economically, so essentially it’s functioning as a city government on a municipal local level. This government doesn’t have the capability to operate on a national level, where it needs to consider the other non-economic aspects of national governance, to also develop policies and plans for the people’s social, political and cultural well-being.
This is why this PAP government is only able to think and plan for Singapore as a city, because that’s how it sees its role. It cannot envision Singapore other than a city, of a Singapore that is about a shared imagination of the people and one that builds on the people’s intellectual, emotional and psychological needs. When Singaporeans talk about our government as being inept and incompetent, what are we really talking about? We are saying that this government functions on a municipal local level, which plans along only economic principles and which believes in fascist ideals. It is not able to think otherwise, for the people’s well-being, and why it’s a crippled government.
Singaporeans, we need another government. We need a government which understands its role as a truly democratic national central government, which will not only plan based on economic principles, but also along social, political and cultural principles, and one which engages the people’s intellectual, emotional and psychological needs. We need a government which is encompassing and understands its role well beyond the current limitations and rigidity that the current municipal local PAP government has enclosed itself within.
How can we have another government then? We can do so by allowing the current municipal local PAP government to continue to run Singapore, or parts of it, based on economic principles. But we need to create a new national central government which the municipal local PAP government will be subsumed under, and where this national central government will also plan for Singaporeans along the needs of social, political and cultural principles. In fact, we should demarcate the parts of Singapore which are the city core and allow the municipal local PAP government to only handle these areas, while the national central government takes care of the whole of Singapore. This means that the PAP government should only manage Raffles City, Marina Bay, Orchard Road, the Jurong Gateway, Tampines commercial hubs, the Science Parks and the new proposed commercial belts of the North Coast Innovation Corridor and the Southern Waterfront City.
In this way, the national central government will then be able to create policies which will take care of the people’s social needs, such as implementing a minimum wage law, shorter working hours, anti-discrimination policies, fairer revenue and expenditure distribution to provide Singaporeans a more manageable standard and cost of living, and to abolish the Internal Security Act and defamation laws. This national central government will also then be able to ensure equality be accorded to our education system to reduce the stresses and competition, so that our children are able to enjoy learning and growing in a truly embracing environment. This national central government will also be able to oppose the municipal local PAP government if PAP decides to reduce how much Singaporeans can withdraw for their CPF or to prevent unreasonable increment to the Medishield premiums and Medisave Required Amount. This national central government will keep the municipal local PAP government in check and put PAP in its place.
Is such a government feasible? Maybe, maybe not, because will Singapore’s size allow it to have two governments running one country and city? Well, why not? But if you believe otherwise, and if you want a government that will represent your needs and not one which plans only along economic lines, then do something about it. If you are a capable person who knows what you can do for the social, political and cultural needs of Singapore, then join the other political parties and allow the other parties to become more credible in their representation and qualification. Come 2016, we will vote for the government that will truly represent our needs and wants, and one which will not only plan for Singapore as a city and just along economic principles, but one that will be all-encompassing, that will cater to the social, political and cultural needs of Singaporeans, and will accord equality and fair treatment to Singaporeans, and indeed, all of the peoples living in Singapore, so that we will have a just society which respects the rights of each and every individual, and one where we would talk about each other with genuine empathy and compassion.
Is this a Singapore that is foreseeable? Is this a Singapore that you want, and want that you want your children and grandchildren to grow up in? Is this a Singapore that we hope can be, one which has a heart and one where we are able to set aside our struggles and worries, and to reach out to one another to care for one another?
So, what will you do?
You can read more about Fascism on Wikipedia here.