The Sunday Leader

The “Singapore Model” Vs the “Miracle of Asia”

From time to time, someone trots out an invidious comparison/contrast between Sri Lanka and the South Asian City State created and managed by Lee Kwan Yew and his successors.  Let me, this Sunday, make a similar effort.
Sri Lanka emerged out of World War II, with its foreign exchange coffers brimming with hard currency reserves  and democratic governance that was the envy of many newly-independent nations in the region and elsewhere.  In that newly-euphoric post-colonial time, our Uncle-Nephew-Party-led nation was doing not so badly in comparison to its contemporaries.

Singapore streets ahead of Sri Lanka Picture courtesy : www.blog.growingleaders.com

The architect of Singapore, leading a party with “Socialist” on its masthead, if memory serves me right, went on record when his city state was on the cusp of independence, saying that `it would be modelled on what was then the newly-independent Ceylon.
Sri Lanka had made the transition from Dominion Status to independence with very little fuss and bother, with many seeing us as simply the beneficiaries of the arduous and often violent struggle for independence waged by our big brother across the Palk Strait, India.  D. S. Senanayake and his allies in the United National Party did not have as defined a quasi-socialist policy as Jawaharlal Nehru and his Congress Party did.  While there was a strong nationalist complexion to the politically dominant Sri Lankan entity it was, in the terminology of its Marxist enemies of the time, a comprador bourgeois party and, to ensure that the public did not mistake the UNP for some pinko outfit, the parties of what are now called “the old left,” kept up an incessant stream of vitriol, accusing the party of the Senanayakes, Jayewardenes and Kotelawelas of being representative of capitalism incarnate!  The Stalinist Communist Party and the Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party and their many subsequent “splits” were consistent in their condemnation of the UNP and its policies, even pooh-poohing such “leftish” policies as the free public health and education  systems and state-owned industries for which the UNP was responsible.
Interestingly, the ultimate beneficiary of the slings and arrows directed at the UNP was a breakaway faction of that very party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party which S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike led to victory in 1956 on a blatantly communalistic policy platform.  To modify that old chestnut somewhat, he “sowed the wind and (we) are still reaping the whirlwind,” and we have not, it seems reached the bottom of that abyss of hate, corruption, discrimination and destruction.
The economic success of Singapore stands out in stark contrast to our Sri Lankan reality and I would venture to say that it can be attributed largely to the level of fiscal rectitude that Lee, his successors and those around them maintained and NOT to the suppression of civil liberties and the squelching of any form of opposition that has been a feature of that worthy’s governance.
Singapore is and always has been an intellectually and politically sterile state  and its recent lack of overt threat to and intimidation of those who don’t worship at Lee Kwan Yew’s altar is because, through many past years of suppression of anything resembling dissent, a pseudo-democratic  state, projecting an aura of good governance, justice and the rest of the democratic virtues has been established.  What Singapore singularly lacks is real freedom, both political and intellectual.  This is an unfortunate fact that many who make invidious comparisons between the current status of Singapore and Sri Lanka conveniently ignore, suggesting instead, for obvious reasons, that we can achieve the seeming peace and prosperity of that nation by suppressing dissent of any kind.  And thereby hangs another hidden agenda!
The  real chasm that separates Singapore from Sri Lanka is that of corruption.
Sri Lanka has succeeded in consistently proving wrong those who figured, every few years, that we had achieved the nadir in corruption and violence in the conduct of our affairs and that we could not sink any lower.
In fact, just when those who had any belief left in such airy-fairy concepts as honesty and moral conduct in running this country began to think that it was truly impossible for things to get any worse, along came the current regime!  The fact that one daily newspaper runs a regular cartoon titled “Banana Republic,” is symptomatic of Sri Lanka’s reality.  The difference, though, between  those late-unlamented countries in South and Central America and our Pearl of the Orient is that the economic rape, pillage and plunder is performed without the help of an Uncle Sam or someone similar but with the post-Iron Curtain, China and Russia providing active support via a mantra that reads, “If you are in power, you may do whatever you wish in your country and to your people and any effort to remove you, constitutes a challenge to national sovereignty, something which we will assist you in resisting in every international forum.”
This seems like an attempted response to the West’s “Responsibility to Protect” with one that could well be defined as an over-riding “Imperative to Support Our (Violent and Venal) Friends.”  India and Pakistan have not been far behind by virtue of those countries practising governance of a similar kind.
Going one better than good men being silent and permitting tyrants to rule, the Russians, Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis have made it abundantly clear that they will actively support the current Sri Lankan government, come hell or high water.  What is conspicuously lacking in these relationships is anything even vaguely resembling principle or a moral or ethical code.  It is the crudest form of tyrants hanging together by virtue of a belief that they will, otherwise, hang separately!
What is, increasingly, emerging out  of any comparison or contrast between the economically successful nations and the current basket-cases of this world is that, in the latter, the combination  that has led to that state of affairs is one in which the suppression of dissent and democratic freedoms marches in lockstep with a proclivity for pillaging the public purse.  This combination leads directly to the economic mess in which these nations are mired.
Singapore is an exception to this rule for a single reason: it has succeeded not because of some weird and wonderful financial or economic mantra coupled with a suppression of democratic rights but because Lee Kwan Yew and his successors have not indulged in blatant banditry and thieving.  Instead they have single-mindedly pursed a vision of financial success for all of their people, not just their friends and relations.  Can that contrast be any more obvious to anyone with even the skimpiest knowledge of our two countries?
I suppose I should add a footnote to this piece in which I state very simply that I do not measure “success” by the number of designer coffee-shops in Colombo, the number of over-the-hill entertainers  performing for Sri Lanka’s blue-rinse set, not the number of school children (and others) not getting butchered on the roads of Sri Lanka, or the women avoiding  sexual assault in their homes and elsewhere.  I will leave that kind of measurement to the sycophantic hordes of Sri Lankan journalism!

13 Comments for “The “Singapore Model” Vs the “Miracle of Asia””

  1. shantha

    Singapore has a high standard of living and home ownership and world class transport system and the lights never go out.and the streets are clean.
    Sri Lanka will remain a hundred years behind the very modern Singapore the best place on the planet.

  2. Banana Republics are in South America. Sri Lanka is more like a “Kiribath Republic.”

  3. Dandenong Rangers

    SL is the curse of Asia. This corrupt thug regime is hoodwinking the public and calling it the Miracle of Asia. With more than 80% of the population under the poverty line, no proper infrastructure and transport, people living in shantys and beggars all over the city. Even Bangaladesh and Afganistan is better than SL. Damn shame.

    • Ma-Rout-Ti

      dandenong.. (where the hell’s that ??? Some australian shanty town? )
      where do you get your figures ? Can you prove by any method besides wild dandenong dreaming, that 80% of Sri Lanka is living below this ‘poverty line’ ???

  4. laksiri

    even in another 100years,there are no way to come closed to Singapore like great nation in the world.law in order,independence judiciary with real political leadership make Singapore is great nation.his founding father and his great son make this nation to top of the world.if you need to develop sri Lanka in to that stander ,first you need to send more ministers to do toilet clearance job in Singapore few years.our animal will never can come to such great nation.how you compare to this nation.

    • Ma-Rout-Ti

      you forgot to add “Great Son-InLaw”, “Great Younger Son”, “Great Daughter-in-Law” and “Great Daughter”

      and while at it, check this guy. “Devan Nair” and what happened to him.

      We are happy to see an authoritarian leader like LKY in Singapore and always say “we should be more like them”.. but when we do get one, no one is happy cos’ then the penny drops.

  5. Anurasiri

    i agree with you Laksiri. Totally

  6. Radhakrishnan

    Everyone has the right to dream including the author of this article.

  7. Johann Gunasekara

    Corruption is universal but more apparent when it occurs in third world nations like ours. The open economy of the JR and successive govts gave corruption a new dimension, be it Mahaveli, Ports & Ships, Textile quotas, Cutoms, Income tax, BOI later on Gamudawa, privatisation of Airlanka, CWE and the list goes on, not for getting Arms, ammo and supplies during the entire period of the 30 year war. Desipite all of this I am perplexed how the media almost uses the term corruption to describe the current regime.

    There is said to be some 60 UNP(main opposition) MP’s who have crossed over to support this regime and many of them are holding top possitions in this Govt. Infact the only person of some significance in the UNP (prior to the recent party shake up) who has not crossed over at some time is RW. It is also not a secret that those who crossed over did so on various conditions and if you look at the salaries of MP’s there is no way they could support their life style.

    Lee Kewan Yeu paid his MP’s top salaries so they would not fall into the trap of corruption, when a private sector manager earns about 100,000 and a MP only 60,000, a policemen 30,000 it is mirace that SL’s GDP is at 8%.

  8. Dilshan

    I cant understand why you guys are screaming at the top of your lungs for just 2% of the population, utter waste. what keeps you going? surely it cannot be newspaper sales.

  9. Kd

    Mr.Lee kuan yew said in his books and speeches that he learnt ftm srilanka,s mistake especially from the language issue and make sure that those mistakes are not repeated.Will Sri Lanka ever learn.

  10. gajan99

    Of course, Sri lanka will becoming a ” Miracle of Asia” very soon.

  11. B.Fernando

    We are mot going any where as a corrupt, lawless Banana Republic, other than going under. Hope some miracle will reclaim our lost democratic Sri Lanka.

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