A Sobering Reflection on Singapore's Progress

Raffles Place
 
I have made a series of sobering reflections after attending a dialog on challenges facing the country within the next five to ten years:
 
Firstly; Singapore is an anomaly in many ways.
 
1. We are basically a sovereign city state in the same category as Vatican City, Monaco and maybe Hong Kong. If history is to be believed, there are few sovereign city states like us that have survived for fifty years or longer. History has taught us that Carthage was destroyed by the Romans while Athens eventually because a part of the nation of Greece. So even though we are the masters of our own destinies, we will always have to proceed carefully as a country to ensure our own survival and longevity. 
 
2. Politics: Our refusal to engage in race based politics (despite our opposition constantly trying to play the race card like our neighbours) has allowed us to always ensure that we remain focused on the tackling the challenges in front of us. 
 
3. Economics: We never had the critical mass or resources to compete against world economies such as London, Tokyo, New York. But investors still flock to Singapore. Our SEA neighbours' constant struggles with corruption will always serve as a reminder about why our insistence on incorruptibility has paid off for us in spades.
 
To say that we have done well is not an understatement, but the maintenance of status or even outdoing ourselves this will be more difficult than before. We have four key challenges that we need to overcome:
 
1. Strategic relevance: How can Singapore and its people be of use to people around the region? We have to start thinking ourselves as not just Singaporean citizens but as citizens of ASEAN and the world.  Is Singapore and the greater Southeast Asian region a place where the international conglomerates would want to situation businesses and by extension their regional HQs? Can Singapore value add in terms of international contribution? Can we give the a real reason, beyond little petty issues, to give a hoot about this little dot of a nation? Apparently we have some pull thanks to the goodwill the late Lee Kuan Yew garnered from other world leaders. The question before us is how do we get out of Mr Lee's sizable shadow and stop coasting on his name?
 
2. Jobs: How do we continue to create good paying jobs for our people? We read every day about countries in turmoil thanks to high unemployment rates. We appear to be an exception to the global norm because of our tight employment situation. But how do we ensure that our kids are armed with the necessary skills that make them employable tomorrow?  
 
Well take journalism for example. I have met a few aspiring reporters who have absolutely no clue about how they could talk to people and cultivate sources. Some rookie reporters do not even know the names of local newsmakers and show up to interviews completely unprepared. I really wonder if these fresh faced university graduates even realize that they have to have their finger on the pulse of society if they want to be good at their jobs, let alone desirable recruits for a local news outlet. Our youth need to realize that they actually need to be good at what they do if they want to remain relevant today. 
 
3. Our relations with neighbours: One very cogent point raised during the night's discussion is the issue of how the behavior of our neighbours affects their relations with us. Indonesia's cabinet for whatever reasons known only to them, cannot seem to make up their minds about the haze situation. We have heard about how their Vice President said that Singapore should not hesitate to go help fight the fires raging in Indonesia. We have also heard repeated statements from other Indonesian ministers that they do not need our help. I don't know about you but it almost feels like our biggest neighbour is trolling us. 
 
4. Home: We are a paradox. We are a city and a nation at the same time. That is why we have to always ensure that the country remains viable economically. We need to realize that the open door policy our G put in place is not a one way flow: Yes people come and go and they often see us as a stepping stone to bigger things. But we should also see the open door policy as an opportunity as well; it's an opportunity to learn more about other countries and peoples and build networks that we can tap on for future opportunities. 
 
The Chinese have the same word for crisis and opportunity. Perhaps the best way forward for us as a nation is to see the challenges in front of us not just as challenges to be surmounted, but as opportunities to be capitalized upon as well.

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