By: B. Goode
In the aftermath of the 1997 financial crisis, when the country was gripped with the fear that we might not survive, the government led by Goh Chok Tong decided to form an economic committee helmed by a young Brigadier-General. The purpose was to re-structure the economy.
I could remember the taglines then. `No stones will be left un-turned.’ `No cows will be considered sacred.’ Everything was considered fairgame.
And out of the ashes, borne out of panic, hatched an albatross, which today is still hanging around PAP’s neck.
Two words were bandied around then. One of those words was actually coined by Goh Chok Tong. Two words that would cause so much anguish and the beginning of the people’s distrust of the PAP.
Privatisation and Foreign-Talent.
In an attempt to open up the economy and to make it more competitive and efficient, the government embarked on a massive privatisation program. And true to the tagline, sacred cows were sacrificed one after another.
Billions of dollars of public transport assets were given to private companies to manage, practically for free. Public healthcare was retructured to mirror that of private hospitals. Public housing policies were changed allowing market forces to enter the fray. HDB coffee-shops and shops were allowed to be sold on the open market. Whatever that the government could privatise, were privatised.
And then in order to attract companies to do business in Singapore, the immigration doors were flung wide open to cheap labours. Everything from engineers to technicians to bankers to nurses and to the ahmoys who serve you coffee at the coffeeshops who don’t even know a word of English.
It doesn’t matter their political inclinations. Or their cultural background. Or whether they could assimilate into Singapore’s society and way of life. As long as they could help to re-structure our then high-wage economy, as long as they could contribute to economic growth via domestic consumption, they were welcomed here.
And remember project Worldcup2010? As long as they were good at kicking a football, they would be welcomed here.
And as if that wasn’t enough, they were offered PRs, citizenships, scholarships and thus allowed to buy subsidised housing, enjoy subsidised medical facilities and education.
At one stage, the government was like a mad man on steroids. Singaporeans practically woke up one day and realised that they were surrounded by unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar accents and some woke up without jobs.
It was as if the government had discovered a drug to solve the problem of growing the economy. And boy were they addicted.
Despite warnings from experts that the growth model was not sustainable and would lead to social problems, it went on relentlessly.
The results are the very problems that we are having now. High cost of living. Expensive housing and healthcare. Over-crowding. Xenophobia. And most importantly, the social fabric that we have carefully nurtured for almost 3 generations is threatened to be rend asunder by the influx of immigrants.
And so it has become an albatross.
All the speeches and promises that will be made this election season will be made under the shadow of the albatross.
“Choose your leaders wisely. Choose people who can lead the country forward.”
Did we choose the correct leaders to begin with? Would a different people have made different decisions that would not have caused the problems we are having now?
“For a better tomorrow!”
Better for who? Certainly not for my children as long as the Albatross is flying free.