Sunday, 1 February 2015

S’pore exited as it had no common market with Malaysia

Janadas Devan says Singapore made the move to go its own way because it saw no economic advantage in its merger with Malaya.

KUALA LUMPUR: If Singaporeans had allowed themselves to be cowed, they might still have been offered “one country, two systems” as late as August 1965.

“Fortunately, our forefathers were a pride of lions led by lions,” said Institute for Policy Analysis Director Janadas Devan, the son of former Singapore President Devan Nair, in a speech delivered at the Singapore Perspectives 2015 seminar on January 26.

Why does he recall this history?

“To remind ourselves there was nothing inevitable about our founding. What might have been and what has been point to one end, which is always present, the poet T S Eliot wrote,” he cited. “A people who forget their history will perish. I fear we might well become such a people. “

Raised in clover and accustomed to success, our elite especially have come to regard themselves as self-created, self-sustaining, self-perpetuating entities, he added. “What is is; they have no antecedents; history is bunk. So they come to believe, for instance, that we were never vulnerable, that vulnerabilities are myths, lies. Only a people who forget their history can delude themselves so.”

Again, he wants to consider that “we came close to getting one country, two systems before we stumbled on Separation. All our founding leaders initially believed Singapore couldn’t survive without a hinterland. They only abandoned the idea when it became obvious a common market with Malaysia wasn’t on the cards”.

Singapore saw (eventually) no economic advantage in merger (with Malaya), argues Janadas. “The reason why we joined Malaysia in the first place, was because of believing that a small island state could not survive without a hinterland.”

He cited an example: the Economic Development Board (EDB) had to seek permission from Kuala Lumpur to award pioneer certificates to prospective investors in Singapore, entitling them to tax-free status for five to 10 years. “In the two years we were in Malaysia, only two out of 69 such applications were approved, and one came with so many restrictions it amounted to a rejection.”

As another example, he recalls that Dr. Goh Keng Swee recounts in his Oral History a conversation he had with a World Bank expert who was advising Kuala Lumpur and Singapore on the common market.

“Suppose [the Malaysian Finance Minister Tan Siew Sin] does not play the game and the common market does not get off the ground – what happens?” Dr. Goh recalls asking the World Bank expert.

The expert answered presciently thus: “In that event, Mr Minister, it’s not the common market which should be in danger; the whole concept of Malaysia would be in danger.”

“Even then, it hadn’t occurred to them the world could be our hinterland; or if it had occurred to some of them, they didn’t as yet know how to give effect to that vision,” continued Janadas. “The notion of a ‘global city’ was some years away; globalisation decades. That we could be a hub in a variety of fields, that MNCs could be our ticket, and that we could be the centre of this, that or the other – none was obvious.”

“The one constant in our history has been our audacity.”

It means the paths not taken as well as the paths taken remain always possibilities – now, he stressed. “It means the risks avoided, the successes attained, the dangers circumvented, the achievements chanced upon — all are never ever wholly voided or erased. It means our history — for 50 years now a triumphant arc that bent always toward sunlit uplands and fresh pastures — and that our history can still turn tragic.”

What might have been and what has been point to one end, he reiterates, which is always present. “The one constant in our history has been our audacity.”

He prays that it may always remain so.

Janadas’ speech must be read in full for a better appreciation, and again, read together with another at the same seminar by Bilahari Kausikan, Ambassador-at-Large and former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He explained why being a small country in South-East Asia was not as simple as it sounds for Singapore.

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