It is as paradoxical as it sounds.
For a start, there is all this talk now about Singapore being a First World country with Third World treatment of migrant workers, who have long been subjected to squalid living conditions.
Singapore has also been dubbed a First World country with Third World citizens, thanks to a people who are found wanting in graciousness and civic-mindedness.
In the latest World Press Freedom Index, Singapore has slumped to an all-time low of #158. It’s nothing new – we have consistently been ranked below developed countries, and alongside Third World countries, so we can in all honesty say that we have a Third World media.
Rubber stamping in the House
What about Parliament?
Under our dominant one-party rule, there is hardly robust debate and plenty of rubber stamping. Members of Parliament vote according to the party line, not according to their conscience.
It is surely no exaggeration to say that we are First World country without a First World Parliament. Shades of a Third World Parliament?
Let’s talk secrets now.
While it’s true that governments do keep secrets from their people, they usually have to do with the military, diplomacy or secrets obtained through intelligence.
In our country, though, the size of the reserves is a state secret, and so too the salary of the wife of the Prime Minister and head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund.
It would not be amiss to say that we are a First World country with Third World secrets.
Fool’s errand – no protest allowed
As for the country’s civil society, it has been smothered and squelched. To say that the state of our civil society is unbecoming of a First World country is an understatement.
A one-person peaceful protest is a public assembly. And to hold a public assembly, you need a police permit, but try applying for one and you will be rejected.
It’s not funny being made to go on a fool’s errand, but of course you can’t protest about it.
How did we get to be where we are?
Singapore checks all the boxes to be undeniably First World – political stability, economic stability, rule of law, capitalist economy, high standard of living.
Unfortunately, there’s where it stops and we end up being a First World country with many Third World traits.
Who cares what the people think?
There has been no correlation of progress when it comes to attainment of First World ideals – freedom of the press, civil liberties, political rights, human rights, tolerance, inclusiveness, greater voice to the people.
How different are we today than when Lee Kuan Yew spoke these words in 1986?
“We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.”
The government still scrupulously does the job of deciding what is right for the people and the people just follow.
More often than not, what is right for the people must first and foremost be right and good for the government.
If our citizens are Third World, it’s not so much due to a lack of civic-mindedness, it’s because we have outsourced our thinking to the government.