The city and the hinterland in Singapore

8 March 2018 01:46 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


I assume that the government is using the Singapore model of economic development, which focuses on services and not on agriculture or industry. In the 1970s when economic development or development economics became the favourite subject of politics and economics I was lucky to do a one year post graduate diploma in Oxford University for government officers. One question raised was “How valid is the Singapore model?” and the short answer given by Robert Mabro, an Egyptian academic who ran the course was: Singapore has no hinterland.

The recent local body elections which took on a kind of national referendum image were in the hinterland and appear to confirm that thesis that the Singapore model is invalid for a country with a hinterland. Singapore is only a city state. The reader can work out for himself what this implies and it includes what the recent local elections have conveyed as a message.   

Let’s look back briefly on the history of economic development in the last couple of centuries in our country. Economic development in its transformational mode began with the Colebrooke Reforms of 1832 which freed the country from the feudal system, made the factors of production: land, labour and capital available and mobile for exploitation and development. The Sri Lankan middle class or bourgeousie was a product of this freeing of the economy and society.

Education, employment and a new social and political structure came into being. This macro view is based on the universally accepted proposition popularized by Marx that matter precedes mind. In 2000 AD when the Time Magazine carried out a world survey as to who was the most influential person in the 10 centuries since the year 1000 A.D. the choice was Karl Marx.   

We know how our country adapted to the internal and external changes since 1500. We now have a free and self governing society, based on the rule of law, equality and freedom. The very recent events like the defeat of the Eelamists, consolidation of a unitary state and economy, the political activity based on the separation of powers and one man one vote have strengthened this process. The latest all country round of elections for local authorities has clarified and strengthened the political system.

The very recent events like the defeat of the Eelamists, consolidation of a unitary state and economy, the political activity based on the separation of powers and one man one vote have strengthened this process

The results of the local elections illustrate the thesis that the Singapore model of a city state does not fit a country like Sri Lanka, which has a hinterland, independent of the city and able to influence the activity of the city. Even in the case of Singapore we can see in the relationship with Malaysia the strong economic bond with the hinterland, Malaysia. In Ceylon/Sri Lanka however the connection is unbreakable and this is the lesson that the recent local elections has produced.   

The familiar signs of the Singapore model are with us in Colombo. High rise buildings all over the city with no indication of any kind of moderation respecting the wishes of its citizens. I remember a Singapore taxi driver telling me when I told him I was from Colombo a few years ago.   

“Colombo. Wonderful place. Lot of room. Can live on the ground. Not in the sky.”   

Meanwhile the other worse aspect is also there: digging up the sea and putting iron towers in it. Galle Face was the face of our island beauty. It is now made up of iron structures and both water and sky have given up. The made up maiden is no longer worth visiting.   

Thank God we have a hinterland and that the democratic system expressed the views of the hinterland. And expressed the suppressed wishes of the city.   


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