Saturday, November 20, 2010

Still Fumbling After All Those Years

Addressing the Economic Society of Singapore in 2004, Nigiam Tong Dow told his audience that, "from sunrise to sunset, economists always think they are right and every other Gentile is wrong. But when the sun sets and darkness descends on an economy, economists are as much at a loss as anybody else unschooled in the dismal science." Unfortunately for the lesser mortals struggling in the dystopia, these government appointed experts always seem to be able to walk away with a positive spin on their follies.

Yesterday's festivity was the occasion of the launch of his book, "Dynamics of the Singapore Success Story" - actually a collation of his speeches, inteviews and articles - and the author and Singapore's youngest Permanent Secretary in 1972 at age 35 had gained notoriety with public quips like, "I think our leaders have to accept that Singapore is larger than the PAP." Foreign Minister George Yeo had to admit Ngiam "almost killed (his pet) the Esplanade project." There was no budget to justify Yeo's extravagance, but the dilettante pandering to snotty tastes of the bejewelled elites used "future earnings" to bankroll the monstrous edifice. We do not know the context wherein Yeo claimed Ngiam purportedly complimented him "when the Esplanade proved to be a resounding success." Like the Clarke Quay watering holes, the Esplanade is patronised by the expatriates and the nouveau riche, or rich kids spending dad's old money, not exactly the destination of choice for the majority of HDB heartlanders. Maybe the "success" inferred to had to do with the influx of foreigners.

Ngiam revealed that in the 1970s, at EDB where he was wet nursed, the planners wanted to have a bigger population because they studied the populations of small countries like Israel, Norway, Sweden and somehow concluded that they were very successful because of the critical population size of 5 million. Today, according to Ngiam, technology has changed, and while Singapore must remain open to ideas from outside, he recommends that we should be more selective.

"You bring in someone from outside, his average education must be higher than our average. Otherwise he doesn’t add anything. So you must always bring in a better chap, not just bring in the numbers. Numbers are no longer what counts. What counts is knowledge and education."

Now hold your horses. Didn't the PM, SM and whatever M, said that foreigners are needed in large numbers to build the HDB flats, nevermind that nobody can afford the prices that Mah Bow Tan rigs up anyway? Is the emphasis on the "foreign" or on the "talent"? Are we on the verge of a new diaspora when Singaporean professionals will have to start packing their bags because this ex-civil servant is advocating they be replaced by foreigners with more "knowledge and education"? What good will this ethnic cleansing exercise do, if future Singapore is without Singaporeans?


  1. The case that eventually succeeded in financing the Esplanade has nothing to do with future earnings.

    Instead, it was successful because it was taken off the government's budget and funded by Tote Board / Singapore Pools. This allowed the funding to be taken outside of the budget process which MOF (Budget) will have control over.

  2. Ngiam makes sense, as usual.

  3. the cleansing process has already begun...unfortunately.

  4. The part about a selective immigration policy was first suggested in an exclusive Feb 2004 interview with Sunita Sue Leng of The Edge Singapore, when Ngiam talked about people, education and retirement under the title "But we overdid it". Obviously, his advice was ignored.

  5. Preferably, Mr Ngiam Tong Dow could be more active in campaigning and or raising proposal and suggestion for better policies for the benefits of the people and the State.

  6. put simply if every tom dick and harry foreigner is better qualified, that means singaporeans all got to become hawkers, cleaners, clerks, drivers since we are inferior. Economists! bunch of hot air!