Times may pass, things may change but some facts about Singapore will never change. Singapore will always be a small country and hence, vulnerable.
Singapore is not a natural country. It is artificial and man-made. For Singapore to survive, it will have to be better organised than countries in the region, said Mr Lee Kuan Yew back in 1996 when he was speaking at the Singapore Press Club.
Mr Lee listed two necessary preconditions that must be met for Singapore to survive.
First, leaders of quality – tough-minded, dedicated, determined, able and honest. Second, the people must be aware of its fundamental vulnerabilities and be willing to pull together to face challenges.
Be successful or be reabsorbed
“We have to remain more tightly knit, better organised and more competitive, or we will eventually be reabsorbed. Remember, Singapore together with South Johor was part of the Riau sultanate,” said Mr Lee.
Soft options are a luxury Singapore cannot afford
Sound policies which bring long term benefits are usually tough, Mr Lee said. Otherwise, all populist governments would be successful.
People have to understand that the Government need and deserve their support for sound policies which must be tough to bring long term benefits, Mr Lee said.
For a small country with limited land and no natural resources, sustainable development matters. To ensure sustainable growth, Singapore operates with careful long-term planning, optimising the use of resources and always looking for ways to stay relevant to the rest of the world.
Policies are designed and built on the belief that economic development and environmental considerations are not contradictory, but complementary.
Nimble and adaptable
While checks and balances are good, a point that Mr Lee made is still relevant.
He said that Singapore cannot have a government that is ‘fettered by checks and balances that it cannot do what it knows to be necessary, like the US’. Such a government cannot be nimble or adaptable.
Today, the global economy is marked by accelerating pace of change, with shorter business cycles and rapid digital disruption. Singapore needs the world. As a small and open economy, it is thus important that we stay nimble and adaptable to change.
No viable alternative programme for Singapore
At the time of his speech, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said there was just not any other viable alternative programme for an island city state like Singapore other than what the PAP have empirically worked out since independence.
Hence, he did not envisage an alternative government emerging through political dissidents and opportunists coming together to produce an alternative programme. Those who have come forward to be an alternative to the PAP are mostly lightweights or worse, flawed characters.
Things can go terribly wrong very quickly
Mr Lee warned that things can go terribly wrong very quickly if Singaporeans do not understand our vulnerabilities.
If Singaporeans fail to vote for strong, able, honest and determined leaders, and to back their policies, then Singapore will flounder, Mr Lee said.
“We are not an ordinary country. If we switch from a competent government to an incompetent opposition, in less than 2 elections, we will squander all our resource and assets, and will never recover. See the price the Japanese have paid after the LDP split and the LDP government fell. Political instability in a very stable society has nevertheless cost Japan very dearly.”
Be realistic, be bold, innovative, willing to change
The story of Singapore’s journey from third world to first is one marked by sacrifice, determination and willpower. It is a story about how a people built something from nothing, how a nation’s fate that was determined by guts and gumption, and how the will of a people determined to survive managed to succeed against the odds.
For Singapore to stay relevant and exceptional, it is important that we become more productive and competitive. We must be bold, be innovative and willing to change.
In the 2011 book Hard Truths, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was asked what it will take for Singapore to survive, given the rising challenges that Singapore face.
His advice was simple, clear and straightforward: