Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ho Kwon Ping missed the key point

Ho Kwong Ping as the first SR Nathan fellow for the study of Singapore gave his first of four lectures recently. It was a good and interesting lecture.

May be he has to keep his lecture simple but the price to pay will almost certainly be so heavy to the point of useless. How so? He had ignored Singapore's external environment. Goh Chok Tong recently at the S Rajaratnam school explained eloquently how foreign policy is our second wing and you need two wings for Singapore to fly was mostly ignored by the media. They gave most of the publicity to George Yeo at IPS instead but readers missed that Yeo was in his people pleasing mode and had purposely skipped evaluating potential threats to Singapore.

Back to Ho's lecture.

Leaders are produced from the people they govern with incredible insertion of good and frequently bad luck. All over the world like never ever getting a currency at fair value, people regularly get better and mostly worse leaders than they deserve. For all his faults and nobody is perfect, we got far better than we deserved in Lee Kuan Yew and his co founders. Why didn't Ho Kwong Ping make this the subject of his first lecture. It is as if he had talked about selecting the cart and assumed the horses are in place to pull it along.

Our external environment has not only been benign but also largely supportive of our growth and prosperity. Historically it was a fluke. It is wiser to assume that this will not last and we will be tested and frequently severely in the next 50 years. Are we ready?

The next 50 years belongs to the young today and that is the reason why I am writing this blog post. Most of them learn about the historical Venice in their social studies class. It is full of government propaganda and serving the PAP. Nothing wrong with that as long as it is based on historical facts. What was conveniently left out the kids will discover as they grow up. But there is something which they fail to emphasize a lot more: Venice response to its external environment vis a vis our response in foreign policy.

The students are taught how the external environment for Venice changed and eclipsed her strategic role forever leading to her irreversible decline. Singapore have to work against this all the time and the greatest and perhaps only asset we have is foresight and boldness to defend our interests.

The story of  Singapore tomorrow is not who win elections as that is confining our analyses and vision but more broadly whichever approach we adopt, how do we produce the farseeing and bold leaders we need. For many countries such leaders are nice to have; for us it is a matter of life and death.

That is why I often rue that we have the best leaders but are only tops in a class of failures. We need to aim higher and do better. To begin with talking about who will win elections is really missing the point and should be confined to the dinner table with his friends and not a public lecture.

What my kids have to watch for is when foreign leaders stop coming to see our leaders, actually mostly LKY, to explain the region and the world to them. That would be the day the canary dies. Quality first and last, as it won't matter the colours and stripes of the political party in power.

Update: 7:35am

Ho Kwong Ping hit the bell of optimism when he spoke about growing self agency among our young. That is at the individual level. What matter is how they organize and especially contest each other constructively is absolutely critical. Do we descend into chaos or emerge and create new order out of chaos? Someone who could lay down some insight to achieve this would be very helpful. A topic to consider for his next speech.


  1. I am glad you said that. Yours is indeed the voice of reason in an echo room full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

  2. /// And if Singaporeans become cynical about the absolute incorruptibility of their government and see their leadership as being no different than that of counterparts in Asean, in Hong Kong or Taiwan, or indeed in India and China, then the calculus of governance will change forever.
    There is no evidence that corruption has increased in Singapore’s public life, despite a few scandals involving mid-level bureaucrats. ///

    I think Ho KP is either in denial or down-playing what has happened in recent years. It is not just a few scandals involving mid-level bureaucrats. They are scandals involving the top honcho of SCDF and CNB. And the top guy in the police force has been moved because of incompetence.

  3. Just in case you miss this - So how many other Occupys the yanks fund??
    Interesting article from Global Research

  4. Interesting what Pope Francis last week said "Corruption is a greater evil than sin"!!

    Washington Blog has an interesting follow-up piece :