I was flabbergasted to read of the scenario planning exercise at the Institue of Policy Studies (IPS). The article, “A Singapore with more .sg than .gov?” by the Straits Times, 27 Oct 2012 reported that IPS gave three scenarios of how Singapore might be governed 10 years from now. One is a strong pro-growth, pro-business government that citizens trust. The second is a pro-welfare state that sacrifices growth for inclusiveness. The last scenario is that of a corrupt and untrustworthy government, one which according to the ST report, is ruled by a coalition government that is corrupt and so weak that citizens are largely left to fend for themselves, running their own schools and hospitals.
I am not familiar with the details of the IPS exercise. My reaction from my reading of the article is, why are we painting such stereotypes? Why is a corrupt and untrustworthy government that of a coalition government? A coalition is necessary when no one party has enough seats to form the government. Is such a government necessarily corrupt? Many governments in the world are coalitions. A Singaporean based in Finland shared in my blog about the Finnish government. The current government is a 6-party coalition, with another 2 parties forming the opposition. The UK is currently having a coalition government. So are Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and many other developed countries. Are these corrupt governments? Are they weak and unable to execute policies? Surely these countries would be finished off by now, as some have been having coalition governments for decades. They have learnt to adjust and deal with the situation. Why can’t we have honest and capable coalition governments?
Is a single party government necessarily strong and non corrupt? There are many examples of single party governments in the world that are said to be corrupt or deemed weak in policy execution.
Sure, we need certain scenarios for planning purposes. If IPS wish to get people to talk about the possibility of a future corrupt Singapore government, why can’t it just be about a corrupt and untrustworthy government instead of a corrupt and untrustworthy coalition government? The 3 scenarios paint the typical cases we have been told so many times: Strong single party government having to choose between growth and inclusiveness, and an incapable non-single party government.
When repeated often enough, it is designed to lead people to make stereotype assumptions. You will hear such sterotypes repeated many times during elections, questioning the motives of opposition members (as if we have so much to gain by joining the opposition) and that Singaporeans will mess things up if we break the strong single party rule (TOC article and YeeJJ’s rally speech).
I am reminded of how as a child, adults would use a bogeyman story to get me to do things. I was told to finish my meal, or stop crying, or behave myself. If not, some bogeyman would come and catch me. At some point, I grew old enough to know this is just scare tactics. In this day and age, we have better access to open information. I just hate it when I read of such stereotypes. They are nothing more than putting up politics bogeyman to hope to frigthen people to behave in a certain way desired by certain groups.
Note: I had written and published this post after reading the ST article on 27 Oct. Later, I read through the paper by IPS. I did not see the word “corrupt” in IPS’s 3rd scenario. It was just “A coalition government is elected but public trust in government is low; no one central power dictates; this is a self-activating and self-correcting community.” So to be fair to IPS, I wasn’t privy to details of their scenario planning exercise and why ST chose to describe the 3rd scenario as “a coalition government that is corrupt and so weak that citizens are largely left to fend for themselves”.
Further Note (1 Nov 2012):
IPS wrote to me on 31 Oct to clarify that in their intended scenarios, the coalition government isn’t the one that is corrupt but it is the previous government that was. The government is gridlocked. The full version of the scenario in their media release is at: http://www.spp.nus.edu.sg/ips/docs/events/prism/Scenarios/Prism%20Project_The%20Prism%20Scenarios_English.pdf. They informed me that they have since added in a line (underlined) to make that even more explicit:
“The third scenario is called “WikiCity.sg”. The reference is to Wikipedia where there is no editor and therefore no central power, but is most critically self-activating and self-correcting by its own user-community — its citizens. This is Singapore after several political convulsions arising from years of being governed by leaders who were disconnected from ground sentiment. It was an incompetent government that lacked integrity. “Corruption in CPIB” is the most memorable headline of the decade. Trust in a central government is so low among the people in WikiCity.sg that they will not let it regulate, manage or control their lives. The old government is thrown out and a coalition government is elected but it is mired in policy gridlock, which further diminishes people’s trust in central government. The broad political consensus is that the state should take care of foreign relations, trade relations and maintain law and order. It should also keep the other burdens on the people, such as taxes and regulations, as light as possible. Critics call it a “donut state”.”
I replied to thank IPS for the clarification. I also let them know I had based my blog post on the report by ST on 27 Oct which did clearly state that the coalition government is the one that’s weak and corrupt and not the previous government. Even before IPS wrote to me, I had already posted my above NOTE after I had read from IPS’s website and realised that the scenario seemed different from what ST had reported. I am posting these NOTES as I have read comments that criticised IPS for painting this corrupt coalition scenario.
The scenarios are described in: http://www.spp.nus.edu.sg/ips/ipsprism.aspx. The scenarios will be acted out at NLB from 8 to 14 Nov by the Drama Box, a forum theatre experts.