Understanding Singapore’s Success


Good Governance

By Harry Booluck

Though both Singapore and Mauritius became independent around the same time (Mauritius in 1968 and Singapore in 1965), their trajectory insidiously diverged over time. The former is rubbing shoulders with the First World and the latter has sunk deeper into the Third. How could economic, political, and social historians account for their success and failure as both are deficient in natural resources?

Their futures rested on the mission and vision of their respective leaders in both theory and practice and on their concept of governance. For Singapore, these were elaborated in an interview of the former Dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Kishore Mahbubani.He pointed out that in 1965 when Singapore was expelled from the Federation of Malaysia, it was lucky to have a brilliant no-nonsense Cambridge-trained PM to chart the destiny of the country. Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) inculcated in his ministers, civil servants, and people the acronym MPH which laid the foundation stone of Singapore’s success.

Singapore’s Success. Pic – BBN Times

M stands for Meritocracy:you choose the right man in the right place irrespective of colour, creed, or religion. LKY borrowed this from the Chinese leader Deng Xiao Ping who once told his people ‘you don’t look at the colour of the cat as long as it catches the mice’.LKY proceeded with the selection of the best brains to run the country irrespective of whether they were Indians, Chinese or Malays. This principle has ever since been strictly adhered to by the Singapore Public Service Commission even though LKY is no more.

P stands for Pragmatism:you don’t stick to any rigid formula or ideology (communism, socialism, or capitalism) but select the best from whatever source, blend and see the magic. The cat story comes in again: whatever your superstition about the colour of the cat, it is irrelevant as long as it delivers the good.

H stands for Honesty: Singaporean public in general and the civil servants in particular (including MPs and Cabinet Ministers) need to be like ‘Caesar’s wife’ beyond suspicion. Politicians caught or suspected of fraudulent or corrupt practices are dealt with on the spot. Mahbubani mentions the case of a minister, who accompanied a businessman on holidays,and was arrested when he returned home, accused of corruption by the businessman. Senior civil servants aren’t exempt either: if anything goes wrong in a ministry, the top brass of the ministry cannot claim ‘pas moisa, li sa’and escape prosecution. They are the first to be prosecuted. The fear of prosecution has cleaned and purged Singapore Civil Service and is regarded as a model in Commonwealth countries. 

It is this acronym MPH, bequeathed by LKY, that has contributed to make Singapore what it is today: the envy of Third World countries, including Mauritius which, regrettably, has been faltering of late.

Back in the mid-70s when LKY visited Mauritius, he expressed his surprise at the level of our development, the running sugar factories spewing thick smoke and the burgeoning textile and tourism sectors absorbing the unemployed and fast becoming major economic pillars. We were on the right track while LKY’s Singapore was still behind. But not for long! With his MPH and an iron discipline cracking at the heels of local communists, LKY succeeded in overtaking Mauritius. Where did we go wrong and is there a way out?

The rot penetrated the fruit in 1982 with the 60-0. The revolutionary change brought irreparable damage in certain quarters like the Civil Service where the top brass was liquidated. This opened the door to the appointment of nincompoops promoted by the new phenomenon ‘sak zako proteze so montagne’ which destroyed the very concept of good governance and meritocracy. And the avalanche was unstoppable.

Meritocracy was murdered and the so-called ‘protection of mountain’ became the new motto. Public sector recruitment by the appropriate agencies became a farce with Government House running the show. Interviews became a public show fit for the gallery. Once recruited, promotions and transfers were based on ‘get figir’ and ‘proteze montagne’ went on unabated. In the process, brilliant UK qualified candidates were sacrificed in favour candidates with inferior degrees by the Public Service Commission. Justice was rendered after judicial reviews later.

In the health sector, many doctors were recruited along the same principle and retained their seniority when many better qualified ones were appointed later. Add to these the persecution of juniors when something goes viral as with the purchase of Molnupiravir at the Ministry of Health during the Covid-19 pandemic: the real sharks got away and resigned with all benefits with impunity.

Public sector watchdogs just bark but have long ceased biting and have become the regime’s goalkeepers. Murders are camouflaged as suicides by the very authorities tasked to maintain law and order and protect the citizens. Public funds are squandered with impunity year in year out according to the annual Audit Reports without any remedial action. Further, one learns about the plundering of financial institutions and the parking of the loot abroad in safe havens beyond the reach of ICAC or FIU, and the setting up of looting machines like the various SPVs unaccountable to parliament.

What about the drug business? Far from breaking the backbone of the drug mafia, the country has become a drug platform in the region with drug traffickers plying their trade with impunity along the Mauritius-Reunion-Madagascar route. To be in the good books of the authorities, the mafia do not shy on greasing the right palms, donating huge sums for end-of-year celebrations and elections. The national television funded by the public has become an overt government propaganda machine with the news content allegedly crafted and approved elsewhere.

With such a track record, how do Mauritians feel when comparing their country with Singapore? For my part I love the country, but I am ashamed of its government. The forthcoming elections should provide an opportunity to redress the situation by the electorate seeking a pledge from the potential winner that he should initiate a complete U-turn at the level of the country’s governance and never repeat the same mistakes of its predecessor. Therein lies our only salvation.

Harry Booluck was formerly Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 28 April 2023

An Appeal

Dear Reader

65 years ago Mauritius Times was founded with a resolve to fight for justice and fairness and the advancement of the public good. It has never deviated from this principle no matter how daunting the challenges and how costly the price it has had to pay at different times of our history.

With print journalism struggling to keep afloat due to falling advertising revenues and the wide availability of free sources of information, it is crucially important for the Mauritius Times to survive and prosper. We can only continue doing it with the support of our readers.

The best way you can support our efforts is to take a subscription or by making a recurring donation through a Standing Order to our non-profit Foundation.
Thank you.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *