Minister Mentor: The Lesson from Singapore


By Sonah Ruchpaul

The article of Jan Arden in your issue of 13 January 22 – ‘Unpacking Corruption! The Lesson from Singapore’ – is well written. It is balanced and in terms of fairness would meet the requirements of the man in the Clapham omnibus. However, Jan Arden seems to be a Lee Kuan Yew fan, which I am not.

Like him I have at times also admired Lee’s unequalled courage in fighting petty corruption in Singapore. As a Monetary Economics undergraduate at the London School of Economics in the early 70s after being called to the English bar in Michaelmas 1973, I supported his crusade against monopolies in his country, which culminated in the expulsion of Slater-Walker Securities despite this conglomerate’s patrimonial links with a senior minister of the then British government.

The 48 hours given to Mr Slater to leave Singapore by Lee, a latter-day little dragon spewing venom inches away from the big toe of Chairman Mao, firm on his Great Wall, earned him instant acclaims in the United States, the home of the best anti-trust laws in the world. These acclaims last to this day and have caused the Singaporean model to be imitated, mimicked, adapted or simply cut and pasted across the world.

In the process two paradoxes became blurred, in that (a) the USA, the lead capitalist country of the Western world, had nursed and established within itself the most pro-worker industrial relations system East of Suez, and (b) this feat has been achieved with tremendous support from strong trade unions at both State and Federal levels.

Most of our academia, including L.S.E. in Mauritius Times two decades back and probably Jan Arden himself, have been used to seeing Jack Jones and and Hugh Scanlon (both British trade union leaders) in tripartite talks at 10 Downing Street in the good old Wilson days.

They would not have been watching the corresponding scenario in the United States, as there was nothing there to see at the State or White House levels. Over there, wage negotiations take place at arms’ length between the parties themselves periodically at each firm’s level and they turn around the new procedure agreement to be signed.

This doesn’t mean that the Jones-Scanlon negotiations at No 10 were not real, good faith negotiations. They indeed were. Sometimes the talking – and haggling –  with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the then Confederation of British Industry (CBI) took weeks on end, with the government acting as arbiter.

These negotiations properly so called are not, however, what we in Mauritius have inherited. What we proudly embark on every year and is presently taking place is a rigmarole of exchanges between the minister of Finance and as many as 13 federations of trade unions, during which the government proposes and disposes from beginning to end. One will remember boorish Bérenger’s celebrated 1982 proposals to his own “pep admirab” of 8% …  8% …  8%  which rhymed with the biblical “ma vérité, ma vraievérité, rien que ma vérité”!!

To come back to Lee Kuan Yew, he hasn’t always been admired in his own country until the late 90s, when he had clearly come clean of the then ongoing financial crisis. Dissonance to his policies appeared in Singapore, when in the late 1950s he successfully wrested his island from what would have been a Malay hegemony. In tactful, nay, crafty independence exchanges with the British, he safeguarded the interests of his 76% rich and middle-class Chinese in the island with abundant support from the remaining minority Portuguese and Indians. In the process Lee Kuan Yew carved for himself and his elected dynasty a golden throne in the new economic haven. Who wouldn’t?

Fresh from Cambridge the new Chinese Tsar had studied Chairman Mao from hair to toe as much as Stalin had examined Churchill before invading Poland and had concluded that the dollar‐hungry Chairman would stand and watch!

I heard similar views to mine expressed on Lee Kuan Yew, when I attended the LSE centenary celebrations at Houghton Street in 1995. They were expressed by LSE alumni from the USA, who challenged his right-wing stands on internal issues in Singapore and the family dynasty he had installed there.

That was 1995. We hadn’t heard yet of the cabinet seat of ‘Minister Mentor’ he had created for himself to perpetuate his family’s grip on the island state and the importation of the ‘concept’ by our own Sun Trust!!


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 27 January 2023

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