I have the privilege of attending a training course on Economic Development in Singapore and today was actually the second day. I must say I’ve been enjoying it and so far have learnt a couple of ‘development tricks’.
Now, we (at least, I) often wonder how did Singapore do it? From Rags to Riches. From Zero to Hero. From Third World to First World. What are the secret recipes or the brilliance of it? Well, the answer is NOT so secret or complex at all! In fact, it’s all about simplicity.
We know for a fact that Singapore has no natural resource and uses its human resource to develop the country into what it is today. But it doesn’t mean Singaporeans are different from any other people in the world. What actually make Singaporeans appear to be superior (or cleverer or more hardworking) than Bruneians, for example, are simple basic rules that they live by.
1. Do Not Make Life Difficult: Especially for a small country where human resource is limited. We don’t have many people to handle too many regulations/jobs/complexity. Take Ease of Doing Business as an example. In Singapore, there’s only 1 form to fill and takes less than a day for a business application to be processed. Does this mean the Singapore government is not being vigilant i.e. by letting any Tom, Dick and Harry to set up whatever business he wants? Does this mean the business can be set up anywhere and anyhow it wants it to be? So how does the government ensure that any business is properly set up? The answer lies in no. 2 and no. 3.
2. Treat People as Humans with Brains: Normal human being should be able to think rationally and generally will abide by the rule. Not forgetting, almost everyone wants to do well for themselves. So a genuine businessman should follow whatever regulation there is.
3. Implementation is Key: No matter how perfect a policy is designed, without implementation, it is guaranteed to fail. So in our example of setting up a business, any businessman that does not follow the regulation, must be punished and treated according to the law. The implementation act is the perfect deterrence of any wrong-doing.
4. Think Ahead: Singapore policymakers are trained to think ahead, see the bigger picture, and to do something now in preparation for the future. This act of pro-activity as opposed to re-activity, to me, is the secret recipe to the Singapore success.
All of the above appear to have been applied to all sorts of policies including the administration such as the appointment of leaders and top management, the budget allocation and so forth and so on.
So to conclude, Singapore did not and perhaps never adopted any complex policy after all. All they did was applying the commonest sense in all of its development policy. And this continues until today. And it works.