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Singapore Pte Ltd – a letter

Samuel Lai

Dearest PAP,

You have been running Singapore like a business, like a corporation, where you are the top management, where the people of Singapore are your employees and where all other institutions like education, health and transport, are your subsidiaries. No sir, this is not Singapore Pte Ltd, and we are not working for you.

Every policy that you have come up with has been made with economic growth in mind, i.e., to increase profitability for Singapore Pte Ltd, with retained earnings going into the national reserves.

Our education model has been structured to produce a quality workforce so that we can contribute efficiently and effectively to the nation’s economic growth. You dispense with the arts and concentrate on the commerce and sciences. You bring in plenty of foreigners into our schools so that we have to learn to work and study harder in the face of more competition. And you have succeeded. We now work one of the longest hours in the world with low wages.

This has been done at the expense of social costs. As human beings, we have needs to get married, to start a family, to have kids. As human beings, we have needs for work-life balance, needs for social activities, and needs for communal living. The culture and environment you have so delicately created have come at the expense of those needs. We don’t have time to play football and therefore we suck at it. Ok, in fact we suck at everything that does not make money. And we definitely suck at making children.

When you look at our low fertility rate, which you have so created because of the environment you have made, you try to improve it by offering stop-gap solutions in baby bonuses and tax reliefs. And in fact, the reasons you want the fertility rate to rise is to continue providing quality workers to work for Singapore Pte Ltd, put more money into the reserves through taxes, HDB profits, consumption, investment, i.e. increase Singapore’s GDP.

And of course, the other viable solution is to attract talented foreigners to fill up this institutional void. This causes another set of problems, like whether locals find it harder to get jobs, and whether these diasporic communities will take up citizenship, or leave without further contributing to birth rates. Well, what the hell, talented foreigners are always good for Singapore Pte Ltd.

You privatize our transportation system. You couldn’t run such a basic necessity of a first-world country with the same efficient and effective fervor. So,  running it as a private entity was the only viable way? You talk about health tourism. Is that what the health sector is about, making money from foreigners?

Once in a while you declare dividends (grow and share) to appease us, so that we don’t remove you from your managerial posts.

Perhaps the most telling of Singapore Pte Ltd are the KPIs of top management. Our CEO, earning $3 million per annum, has his wages pegged to GDP growth, and so are the wages of the COOs, the CFOs, and the various department heads. Your main motivation is Singapore Pte Ltd’s profitability. And given that at least 60% of Singapore’s GDP is contributed by Temasek Holdings and GIC, it certainly makes sense to increase the coffers of the national reserves.

It’s all about economic growth, economic growth, and economic growth.

However, countries are not just rated by economic growth. There are many other indicators that one may use to determine a country’s standing in the world, such as the purchasing power of the average citizen, the culture and ease of living, the efficiency of transportation, the range of quality education, the cleanliness of the streets, personal safety risks, and so on and so forth. You have undoubtedly excelled in some areas, but certainly not in others.

You forget that Singapore is not a corporation, but a community of individual human beings who have feelings, who can discern between what is good for us and what is not, what is fair and unfair. We, who have basic needs to have a roof put over our heads, and food to eat, have willingly contributed to your goal of building up the nation’s economy not because we are your employees but because we want Singapore to prosper, to achieve the vision of a first-world nation in which its citizens do not have negative emotions of fear, fear to vote, fear to speak freely, fear of the struggles of putting food on our table.

So, let me remind you, dearest PAP, that we have voted to put you where you are today. This makes us the shareholders. We are social beings, not economic assets. Together, we the citizens of Singapore own Singapore. It is us, the citizens, with our problems of rising costs of living, and not the profitability of the country that you have to care more about. And if you, dearest PAP, continue to run Singapore not as a nation of citizens but as a business, there will come a time when us, the shareholders, the real board of directors, vote you out and replace you with another management team.

Yours sincerely,

A shareholder of Singapore Pte Ltd