Photo of Tommy Koh from Straits Times

This article is written in response to Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ ambassador-at-large Professor Tommy Koh, you may read his original post on state media Straits Times here.

It is a bitter fact, and a particular ego-bruising one for the gang of leaders who pay themselves the highest political salaries in the world: Singapore is indeed the sick man of Asia.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ ambassador-at-large Professor Tommy Koh’s piece itself is a blatant proof why so. Singaporeans today can no longer deny that the present state of affairs under the present leadership is a bar below the former administration under past Prime Ministers. However, when Singaporeans or foreigners, or independent economists commented negatively on the prospects of Singapore as in Prof Tommy Koh’s response, the present leadership is quick to mount a defensive position and hit back at the criticisms.

Such knee-jerk responses would have been given the benefit of the doubt had the response been backed with facts and constructive reasoning, but the government response fell victim to its own propaganda. Take Professor Tommy Koh’s article on Straits Times, he particularly chose the state media platform because his work would have been trashed on the first read by any self-respecting editor – not so for the 154th ranking in credibility Straits Times.

In his article, Professor Tommy Koh misled readers by framing the definition of the title “sick man of Asia”, with 4 questions he came out with.

1) What is the current state of the economy?
The former lawyer side-stepped recent economic developments and ignored the fact that Singapore is the only country to post a negative GDP growth in the latest quarterly report. Instead, Professor Tommy Koh used lopsided government statistics like Singapore’s per capita GDP when the country has an income inequality worse than all OECD nations except Chile. The civil servant said that Singapore’s per capita GDP is at S$72,711 – the highest in Asia – but this information is useless in revealing the actual state of wealth in Singapore especially when purchasing powers in Singapore is ranked lower than Kuala Lumpur according to a Mercer International wealth survey.

2) Is Singapore the worst-performing economy in Asia?

Professor Tommy Koh claimed that Taiwan is the worst-performing Asian country because their projected growth for 2016 is 1.1% (this is a factual mistake, Taiwan has raised its outlook to 1.73%, also, since we are on the topic of China, Professor Tommy Koh as a foreign diplomat of Singapore should stop disrespecting the One-China policy and stop referring Taiwan as a country). Singapore taking the second-worst spot isn’t anywhere comforting, and only acknowledge the fact that Singapore is performing below par.

3) Are the problems cyclical or structural?
As expected, Professor Tommy Koh claimed that “world trade is weak” – a often-repeated “excuse” recycled many times in Singapore history whenever the domestic economy is not doing well. Apparently, “world trade is weak” only for Singapore while the other economies are still registering positive growth and more notably, Malaysia, has attracted tens of billions of foreign direct investments from China. Neighbouring countries are doing well, so why isn’t Singapore catching up? The professor failed to see that Singapore’s structural problem lies in its manner of international diplomacy.

China-Singapore ties is at rock bottom because the Singapore Prime Minister imposed his “rule of law” view on its top trading partner. Multi-national companies and manufacturing plants are also relocating because Singapore’s infrastructures have stagnated and that neighbouring countries have caught up with development and infrastructure comparable with the island state. The economic problems of Singapore are heavily reliant on sound and warm diplomacy with major trading partners like China, US and Malaysia.

4) Pessimism or optimism?
In his response, Professor Tommy Koh actually fell victim to his government’s own propaganda. “Corruption-free”, “world class”, “easy to do business”, “smart nation” blah blah blah and nothing constructive came out. No facts, no figures. The professor is a blind man led by the blind and leading his blind followers. Singapore’s leadership is exactly in such state and the failing economy is only a by-product.

Economic performance aside, Singapore has also proven itself indeed a “sick man” when a 17-year-old teenager has to resort to asylum seeking, or when the government leaders pays itself the highest salaries in the world, or when the ruling party government can re-write the Constitution to fix elections, and there is no one in Singapore voicing out the injustice. The country remains third world when it comes to politics, culture and its “software” and “heartware”.

STR Editor