Aerial view of Singapore business district and city at twilight in Singapore, Asia (Prasit Rodphan/Shutterstock.com)

Singapore’s political system and itself will fail not by corruption or incompetence but by systemic failure of imagination and will for change

by Tay Kheng Soon

Unlike the fall of the Najib regime It may well be that the Singapore political system and Singapore itself will fail not by corruption or incompetence but by systemic failure of imagination and will for change. It’s a very different kind of malady peculiar to a small rich city state.

Traditional analysis based on electoral performance and governance does not pay appropriate attention to creeping moral inertia.

What is moral inertia? Moral inertia starts when unpleasant truths are swept under the carpet. People don’t voice out their deeper thoughts. They only want to say nice things or vent their spleen in wild invective and rude language.

This is the result of a number of factors. First is the de facto belief in excessive caution due to smallness and fear of disorder. This is itself based on a widespread distrust of human nature. This distrust practiced in a small island city state gets magnified. Indeed there is no escape from its impact and influence.

From early childhood to adolescence and well into adulthood, excessive caution suppresses the positive aspects of human nature - curiosity, compassion and creativity.

Big business and State owned companies take up the slack. SMEs are weak. Meritocracy becomes elitism.

The rising cost of living due to the State's ever anxious devotion to saving money for a rainy day drives up land prices. Rents soar. High rents kill initiative as does the high cost of micro managing every inch of Singapore's real estate and its human resources. These all translate into the high cost of risk taking and conformism.

So here again the diminution of the human spirit is compounded. Stirring uneasily under these burdens there is simmering disquiet that the rulers of the State have to carefully watch over. Fear is induced to attain conformity. "Cut the head of the chicken to teach the monkey."

Thus more burdens get loaded onto the sagging shoulders of citizens. The weight of ever more pre-emptive rules and regulations all for the own good of citizens of course. It increases! It’s our brand of governance.

This are the much neglected areas of political thinking that fail to grasp the unique situation of a small, materially developed, clean and green city state but which has the trappings of a liberal democracy.

Citizens and political leaders like to compare Singapore with bigger states. It feels good but distorts perception. Western commentators make the same mistake of comparing Singapore to big Western democracies but that is the obverse of "the white man's burden."

Our success does not fit that narrative. Maybe because we don't seem to need their patronage they have to then find the flaws in our success to reinforce their superiority?

That aside, we have problems of our own. We need to move forward with a new mind-set. The mainstream media refuses to do so but it needs to do so for Singapore to take a hard look at itself from top to bottom. The press has to be set free otherwise we have become a victim of our own success propaganda.

Our peculiar small clean and green island city state needs new thinking and new self-awareness warts and all. Only then can a new kind of leadership expand our imagination and self-perception beyond our physical and mental size.

This is a new "hard truth." My apologies.

This was first published on Mr Tay's Facebook page and reproduced with permission