Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent visit to Sri Lanka enlightened us on several major issues affecting us. It was of significance that the signing of several trade agreements between the two countries took place during his visit. His visit to Sri Lanka could be viewed as an opportunity to strengthen bilateral trade and economic relations and goodwill between the two countries and also to open up vast new fields for trade and investments beneficial to Sri Lanka. The Singaporean Prime Minister met the business community and the investors in Sri Lanka and held talks on their future plans for development.
His visit was of great significance in that it was for the first time after 13 years that a Singaporean prime minister visited Sri Lanka. It would be more beneficial to Sri Lankan than to Singapore, because the two counties have a world of difference. This difference had been vice versa about 50 years ago and it’s the political lesson that we must learn from Singapore.
In Singapore the law is strictly enforced in every sphere, but the police aren’t deployed to discipline people. Offenders, in the case of a breach of the law, are detected through CCTV cameras
It’s said that politics is an art in which truth and deceit are interwoven and they become powerful each in turn. Unless we do not distinguish between the real and the unreal, the future well-being of the society would be in jeopardy. The need to be free from this destructive political illusion and to have a people friendly political culture is being felt more than ever today. If we could see through this illusion and experience reality, it would be a political lesson well learned.
We must judge this interpretation in the light of a review of the much talked about old topic ‘Singapore and Sri Lanka’. Much has been talked and written about this popular theme in the economic and political history of Sri Lanka, particularly when referring to development. Economic development is a topic that has been subject to different interpretations of the rulers of successive Governments since independence. Our basic problem is that we take much time to realize the difference between their talk and the extent of their achievements. We realize that we have been suffering from an illusion only when we experience its consequences. The objectives of politicians and their limitations regarding development differ from the expectations of the people who voted them into power.
It’s said that politics is an art in which truth and deceit are interwoven and they become powerful each in turn. Unless we do not distinguish between the real and the unreal
Lagging far behind
This popular theme of discussions namely ‘Singapore and Sri Lanka’ can be used to distinguish between illusion and reality in the field of development. Former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has gone down in the annals of history as a great ruler who led Singapore along the right path to development. His statement in 1950 that he wished Singapore was a Sri Lanka would be of great significance to us islanders today. We can imagine from this statement the condition of Singapore at that time. Today we have a clear perspective of the progress achieved by Singapore which is beyond imagination. After 67 years, we are ashamed to find that Sri Lanka’s development has lagged far behind and today we have to take Singapore as an example when developing our country.
The total area of Singapore is 720 square kilometres and the population is 5.5 million. However, the per capita real income of the country today nearly exceeds that of the United Kingdom or the United States. How did Singapore, which had been a fisheries colony and a safe haven of robbers and thieves prior to 1950, revolutionize its socio –economic conditions and achieve its present development? It’s imperative that we have a clear perspective of it, to make a factual analysis of Sri Lanka’s development process.
Another factor of Singapore’s development is the measures against corruption and malpractices. It is a matter of serious concern that in Sri Lanka corruption and malpractice prevail from top to bottom and it has retarded the country’s development
Sri Lanka is a country rich in natural resources. Vast stretches of paddy fields, forest reserves and environmental zones rich in bio-diversity adorn the county. From the North to the South and from the West to the East the land is fertile and rich in water resources. A seed just thrown away would grow without any care or attention and bear fruit. However, Singapore, a country sans any natural resources or fertile land, made a pragmatic approach to development in a short time.
The historic statement of the outgoing Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was of great importance in any analysis of our development process. Replying to a query from the media whether he praised anyone for the miraculous development in the country, he quipped that he owed much to the leftist politicians in Sri Lanka. He said he was prompted to construct a harbour in Singapore to provide bunking facilities to ships sailing round the world when the Colombo habour was constantly crippled due to trade union actions led by leftist politicians and that it was the beginning of Singapore’s development.
Today we have a clear perspective of the progress achieved by Singapore which is beyond imagination. After 67 years, we are ashamed to find that Sri Lanka’s development has lagged far behind and today we have to take Singapore as an example when developing our country
The visionary leadership of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yu brought about that miraculous development in Singapore. The unstinted courage, determination and dedication of the Singaporean people were largely instrumental in his endeavour.
It’s worthwhile to study the factors that raised Singapore to the rank of a developed country in the world and how Sri Lanka adopted them in its development process. With this in view, it is pertinent that we take an example from Singapore, when there is gathering momentum about the need of an effective development plan for Sri Lanka. The strict enforcement of laws and the people’s respect for the country’s legal system were major factors that led to the fast development in Singapore.
Singaporeans are extremely lawful. It’s a matter of concern that we have to consider Sri Lankans as far behind when compared to the people of Singapore. Singaporeans take pleasure to abide by law and never resort to illegal activities. Law breaking is considered a shameful act that irks their conscience. It is sad that Sri Lankans uphold the law only in fear of a possible police action and not because it is their duty as law binding citizens. They use the Zebra crossing only if a police officer is on duty, or else they cross the road haphazardly at any point. In fact one must, like citizens in other developed countries, obey his or her conscience rather than the command of the police officer.
In Singapore the law is strictly enforced in every sphere, but the police aren’t deployed to discipline people. Offenders, in the case of a breach of the law, are detected through CCTV cameras. The offenders are subject to deterrent punishment. A smoker, smoking in a public place, is liable to a fine of SGD 1000. Whipping and the death sentence are still in force in Singapore. However, the people don’t resort to campaigns against punishments.
It’s of significance that in addition to the deterrent punishments, the Singapore Government has provided adequate facilities to citizens to uphold the law. In Sri Lanka drunken driving is a punishable offence, but no facilities are available for a man under the influence of liquor to transport himself. In Singapore taxi services are in operation round the clock.
Well maintained environment
Singapore is a country with a well maintained environment free of garbage. This has been largely possible due to the people’s respect for the law and the need to maintain discipline. It is important that a sense of responsibility should be inculcated in children from their formative years through the school curriculum.
Another factor of Singapore’s development is the measures against corruption and malpractices. It is a matter of serious concern that in Sri Lanka corruption and malpractice prevail from top to bottom and it has retarded the country’s development. One may resort to frauds for want of an adequate income to meet the bare needs. The Government of Singapore considers it a paramount duty to pay an adequate salary to everyone in the state administration, including the ministers.
Another glaring defect in the Sri Lankan administrative system is that any offender can make a plea against charges. For example the individuals who were accused of malpractice in issuing Sil Redi (Clothes to observe Sil) made a plea against the case stating that they only carried out the orders of the superiors. It’s an international law that evens the President, as the senior most official in the state machinery, should not resort to irregularities. Newburg International Judiciary passed this law when those during Hitler’s time who were engaged in war crimes took up the position that they carried out the orders of their leader. It is sad that a Presidential Secretary was ignorant about this international law. However the law has no place for ignorance.
Lack of consensus among institutions involved in decision making is another glaring defect in Sri Lanka’s development effort. Quite often decisions taken in parliament are declared null and void by court and vice versa the decisions of the judiciary by the President. All institutions involved in decision making should join hands and take undisputable decisions.
It’s a turn of fate that Singapore that followed Sri Lanka and developed the country has offered to open up paths to development in Sri Lanka. Truth and illusion play different roles in politics and development. The value of local investments in Sri Lanka by last July was more than US$ 530 million. Singapore is the fourth largest investor in Sri Lanka with more than 100 investors.
It is a fact that we need a benevolent despot to give leadership to the forward march of the country. His decisions should be acceptable to the whole country and be free of communal, religious or political differences. He must not hesitate to take stern decisions in the interest of the country leaving it to the future generations to decide on their correctness.
I strongly believe that President J.R.Jayewardene was the only visionary leader the county has had since independence. It was during his time that the accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme, Mahapola Scholorship Programme and the open economy were implemented and the country was led along the right path to development. However, his failure to resolve the ethnic problem resulted in obstacles in implementing his development programmes. Despite his five sixth majorities in parliament, he faced obstacles due to his failure to create public awareness on the essence of his decisions.
Sri Lanka’s development has been stagnating for more than half a century for want of a benevolent despot of the calibre of Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir Mohamed, or Nelson Mandela who took stern decisions and passed hard-hearted laws and educated the masses to strictly adhere to them, but not burdening them with any kind of hardship. Nations which are struggling have no alternative, but to look at the developed countries and repent their errors.
The Prime Minister of Singapore has been destined to visit Sri Lanka and sign a free trade agreement between the two countries. It is imperative that as Sri Lankans, even of late, must be determined to change their attitudes and lay the foundation for a dynamic approach to development.
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