SG50! We celebrate 50 years of independence today…it is our Golden Jubilee!
Congratulations, People of Singapore, for 50 years of national freedom, independence, and sovereignty! 50 years in which Singapore has moved decisively, in GDP terms, from Third World to First World. 50 years in which we have experienced peace and security, while reading every day about flare-ups, terrorist attacks, and wars in many places of the world. 50 years in which we have enjoyed freedom from natural calamities such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.
These have been 50 years of being the master of our own destiny. We had to figure out our own economic directions and social policies.
The potential of nations is determined by just three factors:
- Demographics, and
Geography – our land mass, whether we have natural resources, our geographical location, our presence on any world map (where Singapore fits just nicely into the letter “o” of the name of our country) – represents our physical limitations. It is why Indonesia’s former President B.J. Habibie once referred to Singapore as “the little red dot”.
Demographics – our population, our age profile, our skills and our education profile, as well as our racial, language, cultural and religious profile – represents our human limitations, which are mitigated by having foreign brawn and foreign brains to supplement and complement what Singaporeans can do.
Technology – our openness and ability to handle IT, R&D, biotech and nanotech, as well as our capacity to be innovative and creative – offers us some ability to make up to some extent our geographical and demographic limitations, but only to some extent.
How well we develop our potential
Two factors determine how well we may achieve our potential borne of geography, demographics and technology. These two factors are:
- Economic policy
- Political culture
Economic policy, led by the government, determines:
- our ability to deploy the economic factors in geography, demographics and technology for the best benefit to Singaporeans in economic growth and
- the capacity our economic growth allows us to provide for the social well-being of Singaporeans
Political culture determines how much the people of the country will allow the government to pursue economic policy to its maximum logical extent.
For all the good things we as Singaporeans have been able to enjoy, it would be appropriate for us all to Honour Singapore.
Honour is the act of ascribing value or worth, and giving weight. For all the disappointments or imperfections we may think about Singapore, fairness and objectivity on our part demands that we also Honour Singapore and all the people who have made things happen for our nation.
So SG50 is not only a time for celebration…it should also be a time for reflection and a time to honour those who have contributed to our lives: our parents, our teachers, our friends, our pioneers, our bosses, our colleagues, our defence forces, our leaders in government and the community, and so on.
In honouring the leaders in government, we have to include every worthy Member of Parliament, whether they belong to the governing party or the opposition, because government in Singapore comprises the:
- Legislative arm
- Judicial arm
- Executive arm
Members of the opposition are an important part of the legislature, and are expected to be loyal to the country and always seeking the well-being of the nation and Singaporeans, regardless of whichever political party they belong to.
The coming General Elections will, for the first time, have more voters born after 1965 than before 1965. This brings a special significance in talking about SG50. A clear majority of Singaporeans have no personal sense of the significance of 50 years of independence, as they were not around when Singapore suddenly became independent in 1965.
Let us therefore spend a little time to think of what we should see in the past 50 years of independence that would be critical for Singapore to not only survive, but also to thrive.
We need to think back to 1959. Singapore was then a British colony that had been carved out of Malaya as the British had their naval base, air bases, and army headquarters in Singapore.
In 1959, the British granted Singapore internal self-government, which meant Singapore was in charge of all its own affairs, other than defence and foreign affairs. The PAP’s election manifesto was that if they became the government, they would seek merger with Malaya.
Both Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Dr Goh Keng Swee believed that Singapore could not survive on its own: we needed an economic hinterland for which a merger with Malaya, then the world’s largest producer of tin and rubber, would be a natural thing to seek.
Singapore merged with Malaya in 1963 to form Malaysia, together with Sabah and Sarawak. But it was a short-lived marriage, marred by various economic and political disagreements and scarred by two racial riots in 1964. Thus on 9 August 1965, Singapore became independent.
This immediately threw into question why Singapore could expect to survive and succeed, when just two years before this was felt to be impossible. The Singapore solution was to treat the whole world as its hinterland for investment capital, management capability, technology, and markets. This demanded, above all else, a Singapore Government and a Singapore workforce that were trustworthy: investors had to believe that their investments in Singapore would be safe, and that all the money they put in Singapore would be secure for the next 5 – 20 years. Singapore had to be a place and a people who would Honour Our Word. This is the brand value of Singapore that we have to uphold moving into the future.
The Singapore of the future will be more diverse in its make-up. A much better educated population, a rapidly rising middle class, a workforce ambitious for the good life, means we also need to be a place where people Honour Each Other as human beings and fellow citizens.
There must be a willingness to seek to understand each other as well as accept that we may disagree in our beliefs and perspectives, but still recognise that enlightened self-interest calls for all of us to be united in a common purpose to create the best conditions for Singaporeans to succeed and for us to prosper.
Whatever we want to see in Singapore cannot be just for our pleasure and comfort today, but must be good and right for our children and grandchildren. A Singapore that survives and succeeds 50 years from now is a Singapore that is built to succeed for two generations down, and not just for the people of today.
Success for Singapore in the years to come therefore hinges on us continuing to be a people and a government who Honour our Word, as well as a people who Honour Each Other despite our differences in race, religion, beliefs, and background.
To Honour is to give weight to another person or institution, despite our differences.
Honour is ours to offer each other as we seek the well-being of our nation for ourselves, our families, and our workplaces…for without the survival and success of our land, it is impossible for families and businesses to thrive, and for us to have the opportunity to strive to be the best that we can be. It is our initiative and our privilege to be able to do so.
Happy National Day…Honour Singapore!