Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Secret Recipe

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.



The Bruneian Dollar said...

I envy Singapore. Huhu. Brunei used to be simple back in the days. I wonder where it all went. Sigh.

If you've watched Kung Fu Panda movie, what you've said is exactly that. There is no secret because we already got it. :)

Keeran said...

You are spot on there with No.3, implementation and enforcement of the rules.

But in my opinion this isn't just a problem with the economy and business, but a general habit which is prevalent everywhere.

Smoking laws, driving laws, good business regulations, we have them all.. but unless you enforce them, they count for nothing (and by enforce I mean enforce all the time; not just for 2 months after press release)

Brains/No Brains, a human being will not self-abide a rule when he/she sees it blatantly being flouted left, right and centre.

How we go about getting everyone to accept that implementation is a perpetual activity? That's a tough one; but perhaps it's the secret ingredient to our own recipe for success!

Aged Golden said...

A viable solution is sought after often, only to be met by a cloudy mist of everything in between.

Abu Dhzar said...

Singapore is Asia's very own Israel. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

The key to Singapore success is efficient and strategic planning. They do not plan for the next two-three years but for the next 10-15 years. It also helps that LKY is a good visionary which sets a foundation for the future.

Azhar Hafiz said...

what about $20 fine for riding a bicycle?

common sense?

the government inject fear as oppose to educate them

Singaporeans are tamed in it's own country

look at them when they are out of the prison [country]

I still believe willingness over force

soure: am Singaporean

alai afiq said...

you are spot on that there is no real secret recipe on the success of spore. But if we look at spore history, it really is their survival instinct that drove them where they are now.

I do admire s’poreans for their competitive or their “kiasu” mindset (I don't use this term as derogatory) and I am fine if we judge success according to GDP but whether they are content and happy to live there, that is still a moot point- which explains why they are now many s’poreans migrating abroad.

Can we be like S’pore? yes, If the survival instinct no longer becomes an option but a required trait. If you read “the Paradox of Plenty” by Terry Lynn, resource rich countries often suffer from this resource rich curse because there is a tendency for such resource rich countries becoming lulled in their wealth and they lose the “competitive instinct”. I mean just look at us, we are almost entirely spoon-fed by subsidies almost from cradle to the grave.

Numerous studies, including one by Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner, have shown a link between natural resource abundance and poor economic growth. If we look at the petroleum-producing countries as an example, from 1965-1998, in the OPEC countries, gross national product per capita growth decreased on average by 1.3%, while in the rest of the developing world, per capita growth was on average 2.2%.
In the words of one Venezuelan politician Juan Pablo Perez "Ten years from now, twenty years from now, you will see: oil will bring us ruin … Oil is the Devil’s excrement”

Anonymous said...

I think effective use of information technology
also have contributed to the efficient administration
and management of SIngapore workforce.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your blog.. keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Some very good points in the comments. I want to put my vote in for the Anonymous who mentioned planning. I've only been 2 years in the workforce, but it seems to me Brunei suffers from lack of planning.

It is not good enough to have a "strategic plan", and not follow it through; it is not good enough for one person to drive a plan, the person's department/ministry must drive the plan together, for if that one person leaves, it all falls apart.

And very interesting point on Singapore's survival instinct. I have read that somewhere before, and I agree.

P.S. Ms. Rogue Economist, when is your next post coming? =)

Tey said...

dont learn from singaporean, they wouldnt teach u much, coz we r too close to them. Go further... go study the baltics . And also, go study China Finance policies. Recently, they have been aggressively trying to Shake Wall street as World Financial Center.

李蓉仲 said...


Anonymous said...

I wonder if our failure to enforce policies is because we know the person who goes against it - ie one of our relatives...? nda tesurong.......... or because we are often overruled when the guilty person is so and so's relative? or we never prepared for those who break rules.. like what actions/fines to be imposed or is it because we are afraid they can attack us through black magic........

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