Phillippines: Singapore ’s success: Will it work here?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Aug 25 13:45:35 UTC 2007

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Singapore's success: Will it work here?

By Benjamin G. Defensor

Here's how Neo and Chen describe the circumstances:

"Singapore's approach to governance is shaped by its leader's view of
its unique position, circumstance and history—its small size, lack of
resources, geographical location and multiracial makeup. Since
Singapore's founding by the British as a trading hub, it continues to
depend on external connectivity, especially international trade and
investments, for its survival. Its small market size led it to seek
economic integration with Malaysia in 1963. Its separation from
Malaysia in 1965 caused its leaders to look beyond its immediate
region and "leapfrog" to the more developed nations for investments
and trade to increase its chances for survival. Its historical
experiences shaped its deep sense of vulnerability and the recognition
of its dependency on development in the global economic and strategic
environment. Its lack of natural resources focused its leaders' minds
on their people as the only strategic resource for the country, and
the need to accumulate financial resources from economic growth in
order to build buffers for survival during lean years. The perceived
vulnerabilities of Singapore's position influenced the leadership's
intent and purpose, its activist stance, and the adoption of several
strategic imperatives for good governance: long-term thinking, global
relevance, sustained economic growth, financial prudence and people

Excellent governance framework

That was probably the first example of the application of the
governance framework. This was what happened in two years between 1963
and 1965. Singapore was then part of Malaysia and envisioned (thinking
ahead) a common market and a bigger hinterland. This was not realized
because political struggles that eventually led to the withdrawal of
Singapore from Malaysia.

"…It was obvious that its earlier strategy of creating a bigger
hinterland to ensure economic viability had to be reexamined [thinking
again]. Partly out of desperation and partly because of external
advice [thinking across], Singapore decided to 'leapfrog' the region
and seek investments and markers from faraway countries in the
developed regions of North America, Europe and Japan."

Governance, as defined by the International Dictionary of Public
Management and Governance, is "the relationship between governments
and citizens that enables public policies and programs to be
formulated, implemented and evaluated. In broader context, it refers
to the rules, institutions and networks that determine how a country
or an organization functions."

In Dynamic Governance, Embedding Culture, Capabilities and Changes in
Singapore, Boon Siong Neo and Geraldine Chen, say that "the typical
government institution is not usually regarded as a dynamic
entrepreneurial organization, but a slow, stodgy bureaucracy that
consistently and sometimes mindlessly enforces outdated rules and
sticks to procedures without any care concern for individuals or

They point out that "dynamism is characterized by new ideas, fresh
perception, continual upgrading, quick actions, flexible adaptations
and receive innovations. [It] implies continuous learning, fast and
effective execution, and unending change…"

To achieve these ends of dynamics governance, Neo and Chen suggest a
framework of thinking ahead, thinking again and thinking across.

"Dynamics Governance achieves current and future relevance and
effectiveness through policies that continually adapt to changes in
the environment. Policy adoption is not merely a passive reaction to
external pressure but a proactive approach to innovation,
contextualization, and execution. Policy innovations mean that new and
fresh ideas are experimented with and incorporated into policies so
that citizens will appreciate and respond favorably to them. Yet it is
not about new ideas and contextual designs but also policy execution
that makes governance a reality."

Since the civil service is the institution by which government
interacts with its citizens, Neo and Chen studied 25 civil service
institutions and projects to tell the story behind the Singapore

We take a look at a few of these studies from the point of view of
their framework of thinking ahead, thinking again and thinking across.

Education as priority

The first example—in the matter of thinking ahead—is in education, a
top priority in Singapore. Its main objective was to ensure that every
child had a place in school. The educational system was largely
inherited from the British. The system was overhauled in 1979. One of
the major changes was the "streaming of student." According to their
academic and language abilities as demonstrated in examination
results. Top students with exceptional bilingual (Chinese and English)
abilities from the national primary school leaving examinations were
given options to study in specialized secondary schools to develop
these capabilities further. On the whole, the edu­cation system and
skills that the economy needed…

This system "…was widely perceived as too examination-centered, too
grid, overly stressful on children, unforgiving, not catering to late
bloomers, stifling in creativity, too narrow and de-motivating."

Something for Neri

In the 1990s, the system "created large numbers of educated unemployed
who were a potential source of political and social instability, a
situation that Singapore's political leaders wished they could avoid.
Throughout the 1980s and as much of the 1990s, educational expansion
was undertaken with a manpower-planning framework. Manpower
requirements were forecast and educational intakes for each level
adjusted accordingly." Later the academic and vocational tracks were
integrated "to reduce wastage and… to ensure that all students left
the school system with skill that would help them secure employment."

In the 1990s "the focus of education policy moved gradually from one
that looked upon students solely as potential manpower for the economy
to one that sought to nurture and help each student to be the best
that he or she could be."

"After 10 years of sustained development, the transformation of
education policy and management in Singapore is still an ongoing
effort. New energies have to be constantly infused in to the system to
prevent it from inevitable atrophy. That is the nature and challenge
of dynamic governance."

In the matter of thinking again, Neo and Chen quote Albert Einstein as
saying. "The problem is not to think, but to think again."

"Thinking again is the capability to confront the current realities
regarding the performance of existing strategies, policies and
programs, and to redesign them to achieve better quality and results…

"Although thinking again is based on hindsight of what has already
occurred, it uses the known facts and other feedback to ask questions,
open up conversation and engage in dialogue to facilitate learning
about underlying causes for the observed results."

A significant example of the application of thinking again was done in
the two years between 1963 and 1955. Singapore was then part of
Malaysia and envisioned a common market and bigger hinterland. This
was not realized be cause political struggles eventually led to the
withdrawal of Singapore from Malaysia.

"…It was obvious that its earlier strategy of creating a bigger
hinterland to ensure economic viability had to be reexamined. Partly
out of desperation and partly because of external advises, it decided
to 'leapfrog' the region and seek investment and markets from faraway
countries in the developed regions of North Ame­rica, Europe and

Population policy

Another example of the reversal of a successful policy was population
control. The policy was "formulated in the 1960s to cope with the
overwhelming demands for jobs, housing and other social needs of a
rapidly growing population in a bleak economic environment.

"As the economy grew, the population became more educated and delayed
marriages and child-bearing. The policy disincentives for larger
families exacerbated the situation such that fertility slowed to below
replacement levels. The 'stop-at-two' population policy overachieved
the intended results, created limits to economic growth and compounded
issues related to an aging population. The policy was reversed and now
generous incentives are provided for Singaporeans to have more
children at an earlier age."

To facilitate thinking again, Singapore adopted a policy of rotating
its leaders, both political and appointment holders and public sector
leaders, every two years. "Each change in leadership is invariably
accompanied by through review of past policies and performance.
Although this can be disruptive to the organization, it has the effect
of causing people in it to think again what has been done and how
further improvements can be made. This has often led to strategic
renewal in both policies and organization."

In the 1990s Singapore's public libraries were ranked as No. 3 in the
world. While this was considered a significant performance,
facilities, membership and readership was declining, calling for a
rethink of the policies.

Best library system in the world

A new chairman and deputy chairman was named from the National
Computer Board which in an earlier report envisioned a digital library
without walls. A new non­librarian chief executive was also appointed.

The think again of the public library system led to a new mission to
enhance the learning capacity of residents: new concepts, lifestyle
libraries, new facilities, bringing libraries to the people in
shopping malls, new processes, self check-out, returns at other
locations, faster availability of new books, better customer service
and new skills for librarians. The result has been revolutionary.
Library facilities are now attractive places for people to visit and
access information.

Today, Singapore's libraries are first in the world, worthy of a
first-world country.

And in the final example, Neo and Chen explain how all three—thinking
ahead, thinking again and thinking across—work.

And now, casinos

"In 2006 Singapore awarded tenders of more than five billion Singapore
dollars [about $3.25 billion] of investments each or two international
resort with casinos, to be built in downtown Marina Bay and the resort
island of Sentosa. In doing so, it thought again and reserved a
long-standing policy against having casinos in Singapore. The policy
change resulted in thinking ahead and setting a strategic goal to grow
the tourism and hospitality cluster, especially meetings and
conventions, into a major sector of the new Singapore economy. The
policy change was also the result of thinking across boundaries and
discovering how such resorts transformed Las Vegas from a gambling
city to a global entertainment and conventions hub. Describing the
decision as the most difficult he had taken up to that point as Prime
Minister, Lee Hsien Loong said:

"Because if you are making a decision where the advantages are
clear-cut and the opinions are not polarized, it's easy to do. But
here the advantages were not so clear, and the dissenters had valid
arguments, which we ourselves subscribed to for a very long time. But
now the world is changing and we're starting to think that we have to
re-evaluate our position. Eventually we decided to do it because as we
understood better how these resorts operate and the way Las Vegas was
going and the way the tourism scene was developing in Asia.

"However, it adopted the legalization of casinos with built-in social
safeguards to discourage casino gambling among the locals. Guidelines
were drawn up for the amount of space within the integrated resorts
that could be used for casinos, charging an entrance fee for local
residents at the casino, and allowing a person's immediate family to
apply for him/her to be barred due to gambling addiction issues."

How politicians think

If it were just thinking ahead, thinking again and thinking across
that were involved, it might not be hard to achieve policy objectives.
But this assumes that politicians will always support policy
objectives that will redound to the benefit of the nation. However,
political power is among those at stake, the capacity to think ahead,
think again and think across may not work because policy tends to be
polarized between the administration and the opposition. And the
tragedy of its all is the pola­rities regularly change according to as
to whether a politician were "in" or "out."

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