Little Vietnam (Guillemard Road) and Immigration Policies

Had my pho fix on the way home from London, but we were quite happy to help F satiate her Vietnamese food craving at Little Vietnam Restaurant (facebook, 511 Guillemard Road, #01-25, Grandlink Square). Little Vietnam Restaurant & Cafe, 511 Guillemard Road, Singapore

Possibly because the place was staffed by Vietnamese people, the pho, bun bo hue, bun xeo, and fried quail tasted exactly right.

What a pity if Singapore, like so many countries in Europe and in the rest of the “Western” world, were to close her borders to immigrants. We would lose more than good food from around the world.

Remember Philipp Rösler, the dynamic Vice-Chancellor of Germany a few years ago? He was born in Vietnam, adopted and raised in Germany, and identified as a German. Yet, his “Asian face” was raised as an issue, instead of his achievements as Health Minister and Federal Minister of Economics and Technology. Whether or not this was the reason why his party did badly at the polls, he resigned as chairman of the Free Democratic Party thereafter, and is now on the board of the World Economic Forum. If race had indeed been an issue, it would have been stupid of the Germans to deprive themselves of a good public servant just because of a problem with the colour of his skin, not with his intellect or leadership or integrity.

A few months ago, I commented to an Indonesian friend that the dislike of foreigners seemed quite rife in the Singapore society I’d returned to.

“Not dislike, she’d said,”outright hatred.”

“The government keeps bringing in foreign talent who take our jobs” goes the common refrain, not just in Singapore, but all around the world. But surely this xenophobia bodes especially badly for Singapore.

quail. Little Vietnam Restaurant & Cafe, 511 Guillemard Road, Singapore

Taking a leaf again from Rawls and applying the presumption of good faith, I thought to examine Lee Kuan Yew’s past speeches to understand the rationale for our immigration policies, and not only that but how the need for talent for the survival of the nation impacts taxation and education policies:

  • the need for talented people to lead the country:

    From 23 years of experience in government, I have learned that one high-calibre mind in charge of a Ministry, or a Statutory Board, makes the difference between success and failure of a major project. A top mind, given a task, brings together a group of other able men, organizes them into a cohesive team, and away the project goes.

    That was the way Goh Keng Swee set about the Ministry of Finance in June 1959. He picked Hon Sui Sen as his principal lieutenant, Permanent Secretary (Ministry of Finance), and then in 1961 made him Chairman of the EDB. Hon Sui Sen collected an able team in the EDB and Singapore’s industrialization slowly and steadily gathered steam.

    Even in 1982, I find it difficult to imagine how we could have made the economic development of the last 23 years without the ability, the creativity, and the drive of these two able men. Whenever I had lesser men in charge, the average or slightly above-average, I have had to keep pushing and probing them, to review problems, to identify roadblocks, to suggest solutions, to come back and to discover that less than the best has been achieved.

  • the inability of Singapore to withstand potential harm brought about by mediocre leaders:

    Decline into mediocrity disastrous

    There may be those who believe that having sound men with modest minds in charge of the government will not make all that difference. Indeed, an anti-elitist ethos prevails in many Western countries, especially amongst New Left groups in Britain. They glorify mediocrity into a cult. They condemn excellence as elitism. They advocate wild programmes to dismantle their own institutions of excellence because the children of manual workers are under-represented in these institutions.

    There is a heavy price to pay if mediocrities and opportunities ever take control of the government of Singapore. And mediocrities and opportunities can accidentally take over if Singaporeans, in a fit of pique or a moment of madness, voted for the politics of opposition for the sake of opposition. Five years of such a government, probably a coalition, and Singapore will be down on her knees. What has taken decades to build up in social organization, in industry, banking commerce, tourism, will be dismantled and demolished in a few years. The World Bank has a queue of such broken-back countries waiting to be mended: Jamaica, Uganda, Ghana, Nicaragua, to name a few recent casualties seeking emergency World Bank aid. At least they have land for plantations or mines to dig from, or rivers to be dammed for hydro-power and irrigation. Singapore has only got its strategic location and the people who can maximize this location by organization, management, skills and, most important of all, brains. Once in disarray, it will not be possible to put it together again.

    Singapore, a small, barely established, nation, cannot afford to have anything less than her ablest and her best, to be in charge of the government. If we are to preserve what we have, and more, to build on the present, and achieve further heights, we cannot have mediocrities either as Ministers or Permanent Secretaries. Prompters and ghost-writers are a luxury for those who have large margins of safety due to their large size, great wealth, and considerable institutional strength.

  • the negative knock-on effects of having mediocre or bad leaders:

    Here we see a law similar to Gresham’s at work. Gresham pointed that bad money drives out good money from circulation. Well, bad leaders drive out good men from high positions. Idi Amin was a bad leader. He killed or drove out good Ugandans, ruining Uganda for decades. Solomon Bandaranaike was not an evil man like Amin. But he was a bad leader who brought race, language and religion into the centre of political debate. He ended up, intentionally or otherwise, by driving out good Ceylonese, and later Sri Lankans, from politics, whilst able administrators took jobs in UN agencies, leaving their own administration impoverished of talent. On the other hand, a good leader, in government or in large corporations, attracts and recruits top talent to reinforce his own capability to overcome problems. Hence the high quality of Germans in top position under Konrad Adenauer, and of top Frenchmen under Charles de Gaulle. Charles de Gaulle’s Cabinet included Pompidou and Giscard d’Estaing, both to become French Presidents.

Ok great, one might say, so where can we find this talent? What about within the Singapore population?

  • the lack of natural talent in Singapore due to its small population:

    What was the most important single factor for Singapore’s rapid development since 1959? Without hesitation, my answer is the quality of the people. For not only are our people hardworking, quick to learn and practical, Singapore also had an extra thick layer of high calibre and trained talent . In the protocol list of the first seven persons in Singapore, I am the only Singapore-born. The President, CV Devan Nair, the Chief of Justice, Wee Chong Jin, the Speaker, Yeoh Ghim Seng, the two Deputy Prime Ministers, Goh Keng Swee and S Rajaratnam, and the Minister for Finance, Hon Sui Sen, were not born in Singapore. One Singapore-born out of the top seven Singaporeans! This is the size of the contribution from the non-Singapore-born. If we had relied solely upon the talent of our natural population pyramid, Singapore’s performance would not have been half as good.

  • well what about giving scholarships so that our best and brightest will, in return for university expenses being paid for, come back to contribute to society? Well, we know how that’s going – scholarship holders accuse the government of violating their rights and tricking them into bondage for a few years while they were still teenagers! They feel justified in breaking their bonds for better job offers elsewhere.
  • the lack of a wide range of talent even amongst remaining non-bond-breaking scholars:

    Let me spell out our talent problem. Most of our scholars went into medicine, the law and engineering, but none into banking or finance because they were professions that were not open to our bright students. Even now our banks want to reserve their top jobs for the sons of the families that control them. Moreover we draw our talent from only 3 million people. A short mountain range is unlikely to have peaks that can equal Mt Everest. You need a long mountain range like the Himalayas…

  • the lack of necessary leadership traits in remaining non-bond-breaking talented scholars:

    Alas, not all of these bright minds have strong characters, sound temperament, and high motivation to match their high intelligence. I have found, from studying PSC scholarship awards for the last 15 years, and reading confidential reports on their work in the public service and the SAF, that the scholars who also have the right character and personality, effectively works out to 1 in 3,000 persons. In the 1970’s, our annual births went down to 40,000. The numbers of talented and balanced Singaporeans will be between 12-14 persons per annum at one per 3,000.

bun bo hue. Little Vietnam Restaurant & Cafe, 511 Guillemard Road, Singapore

That’s tough. How can we get this paltry number to stay in Singapore? Well, there are school programmes to instil love for the nation in schools but many teachers and students and parents dismiss them as mere propaganda, not realising that it’s not the PAP who will lose out but they themselves. And perhaps, also, it means we can’t assume that all theories of distributive justice and equality of opportunities are right in all circumstances and can be applied wholesale to the Singapore context:

  • preventing brain-drain by instilling patriotism and self-respect, and holding off punitive taxation:

    Now, we ourselves may be threatened by a brain-drain of Singapore-grown talent. These figures have serious implications for us. The figures for engineers and other professionals are less devastating only because they are less professionally mobile across national boundaries. Unless we are able to instill patriotism and self-respect, unless we succeed in inculcating a sense of commitment to fellow-Singaporeans in our talented youths, we can be creamed off. We shall become diluted like skimmed milk. We must ensure that because Singaporeans value their Asianness, they will not want to be tolerated and patronized as minorities in predominantly Caucasian societies. Therefore, any policy which denies trained talent its free-market rewards by punitive taxes, as in Britain, must lead to a brain-drain and to our inevitable decline. It is the chicken and egg cycle. As long as we are able and growing, our talented will stay and help our economic growth. Because they stay, we can offer them comparable standards of life, and decent prospects for their children’s future. Furthermore, we can attract talent from abroad to work in Singapore. The reverse cycle will be devastating and swift in bringing about our ruin.

    The Singapore-born must be the pillars on which we can place the cross beams and struts of foreign-born talent to raise us up to higher standards of achievement. If we begin to lose our own Singapore-born and bred talent in significant numbers, then the pillars are weakened, and additional cross beams and struts cannot make up for pillars. The Singapore-grown talent must, by the nature of his upbringing and schooling, be the most committed, the most emotionally and intimately attached to Singapore. We shall lose our own Singapore-grown talent if our policies punish the outstanding and the talented by progressive income tax with the objective of income redistribution. It has happened in an old established society like Britain.

  • amidst the usual sometimes green-eyed chatter about growing income inequality, and the common sneering at elite schools and disdaining the perceived elitism of the Gifted Education Programme, training and rewarding the talented might actually be the best for the whole society:

    It is in the interest of the not-so-talented that the talented should be adequately rewarded for the contribution they can make to the total progress of Singapore. Drained of our trained talent, Singapore will be like a man with a truncated right arm, unable to function effectively.

    If a brain-drain ever happens in Singapore, if our brightest and our best scatter abroad, because of populist appeals to soak or squeeze our able and successful professionals to subsidize those who are less able, less educated, and less well-paid, Singapore will be ruined. The sufferers will be the mass of the workers and their families who cannot emigrate because they are not wanted by the wealthy and developed English speaking countries.

And since we have such a small local pool of talent, who may not even stay in Singapore, how can we entice foreign talent to come and help us survive in the future? Foreigners “prepared to start life afresh in a strange new environment, are usually exceptional in enterprise, drive and determination to succeed – key attributes for high performance”.

  • Everyone knows that Shanghainese are the brightest and sharpest of people. But few know why. It is because for over a hundred and fifty years, ever since it became a treaty port for the foreign powers it has drawn the ambitious, energetic Unless we change our mindsets, we will be out of this race. We have to go out to tap talent. To get top talent, you must take in those who have not yet reached the top but are on their way up because when they are in their 30s we do not know which of them will make it to the top. You will only know when they are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. This is the way to protect our future.

  • Singaporeans must realize and accept as desirable the need for more of the able and the talented to come to work in Singapore. We have to compete against the wealthy developed countries who now also recruit such talent. We have to make these people feel welcome and wanted, so that they will make Singapore their permanent home and contribute to the overall progress of all our people. We should encourage them to take up permanent residence with a view to citizenship so that they can enjoy the same opportunities to buy HDB executive flats and HUDC homes as Singaporeans, and to shoulder the same responsibilities. They can give that extra boost which has lifted our economy andour society to heights we could not have achieved if we had depended only on Singapore-born talent.

all quotes a mash-up from: “THE SEARCH FOR TALENT” BY LEE KUAN YEW, PRIME MINISTER

And also this arrow from LKY:

Instead of getting high quality men; we have imported over 150,000 unskilled workers as work permit holders. Instead of importing first-class brains, we have imported unskilled brawn. To continue this policy is to court disaster.

LKY was a magnificently holistic thinker. As Christians though, we have even more reason to welcome foreigners whether of the brain or brawn variety. Though we are not part of a nation like Israel, nor do we intend to build a nation in this world, the rationale for care-for-sojourner still stands:

33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Actually, our incentives are greater – we haven’t just been rescued from slavery and brought to a mere physical Promised Land as the Jews were; we have been rescued from spiritual darkness and eternal death and brought into the light and given eternal life. And we have been given God’s Spirit in us who helps us think his thoughts after him. So if God does not change, then his compassion for the weak, helpless, and the foreigner has not either.

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On the Second Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

7-day Period of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew:

Last Day of National Mourning for Harry Lee Kuan Yew – State Funeral Procession

On the Sixth day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew, and the Wilful Blindness of Man

On the Fifth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

On the Fourth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

Third Day of National Mourning: Long Snaking Queues to Pay Last Respects to Lee Kuan Yew

On the Third Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

On the Second Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

Farewell and Good Night, Harry Lee Kuan Yew – 7 Reasons for Respecting LKY

On the second day of national mourning for Lee Kuan Yew, I happened to be the Singapore General Hospital when I looked past the doors near Bengawan Solo at Block 7 and saw a large pile of cards and flowers under white tentage.

balloons, cards, flowers at the Singapore General Hospital after the death of Lee Kuan YewIt was a remarkably sad scene – amidst the expired “Get Well Soon” cards and balloons, there were messages of condolences from Singaporeans and people who identified themselves as coming from many other places around the world. Several older folk were weeping openly in their wheelchairs or were, supported by their children, bowing to images of the man.

I have no political affiliation and, like some families, have relatives who might not have benefitted from the so-called iron-fist rule, but I do respect the guy.

It was interesting to observe the re-emergence of naysayers after a day. These hostile responses all seem to riff on 3 ideas:

  1. woohoo, the human rights-trampling dictator is dead and cowed and fearful Singaporeans are free!
  2. what mourning period? How dare you curb my freedom of speech to say what I want and when I want to!
  3. he’s not as great as you think ok – stop all this myth-making.

Just a few cents to stop all this from rattling around in my head:

Hostile Response 1 (human rights, iron fist, dictator, defamation suits) is a little boring in that while so many wag their heads about it, I have yet to read a single commentary that has anything concrete to say:

  • there are the ones with clumpy thinking – that is, they conflate all sorts of ideas without any necessary logical or causal link between them. “Lee Kuan Yew was powerful, therefore he must be rich, and all rich people obtain their ill-gotten wealth through corruption.” Well, there’s nothing to suggest he was corrupt (in fact, there’s evidence to the contrary). If he was paid well, heck, any country in the world would have cobbled together to double his salary. And if he’s saved up a tidy sum – maybe the lack of home renovation, upgrading of technological equipment, expensive cafe-hopping and restaurant-hopping, purchasing of designer goods might be a factor.
  • there’s a lack of clarity in use of terminology – we young ones have grown up believing that once someone labels anything or anyone as being anti-democratic or in violation of human rights, that person is to be damned. I may not be an expert in this but having written about human rights as my final year thesis and also having helped organise an international conference on the topic, I know that human rights are never absolute and however they may be defined, those rights are always balanced against other rights within a society. A similar question might be asked about the concept of democracy. So there is a spectrum of understanding as to what constitutes human rights, whether human rights are even right, and whether democracy (whatever it is) is the best model for the government of a society.
  • so there are also baseless assumptions – that iron-fisted-ness = dictatorship and dictatorships are always bad. (i) Dictators aren’t always a bad thing for a nation. I think dictators were actually appointed by Roman democracies in instances of emergencies, because have you ever tried getting anything done by committee? Just ask a group of people where they want to go for dinner or what movie they want to watch…(ii) To be ruled absolutely by an intelligent person who cares for the good of his people and is able to plan rightly for the future? Why should any one mind? (iii) According to S Dhanabalan, in the decision-making process, there was consultation and sparring and disagreement amongst the ministers, so it wasn’t an LKY dictatorship.
  • what we want is meaty discussion about possible alternative solutions. LKY himself was perfectly candid about having to lock people up without trial (the Marxist Conspiracy). He explained the dangers he saw and the necessity of doing so. He sued opponents for defamation because he understood that he needed moral authority to rule and could not do so if he did not vigorously dispute what he saw to be lies and impeachments on his character. Assuming this is his thinking, we must then focus not on calling him names but figuring out what he could have done differently. If he did his best, then what can we learn from the mistakes he might have made – what would be a better way to address those concerns then and how might we be able to do so in the future?

flowers, balloons, cards at the Singapore General Hospital after the death of Lee Kuan Yew

Hostile Response 2 (don’t trample on my freedom of speech). Well, do go ahead darling, but you see, there is really a time and place for everything – it’s good manners, and it’s just the way people show their humanity and their empathy. What comes out of the mouth just demonstrates the heart of the speaker. See, for example, ex-Opposition Chiam See Tong’s condolence letter – that is an example of a man of good character.

  • Also, what do you mean by free speech? To have a proper discussion about this, it might be better to understand this concept in relation to other concepts that fall under the nebulous category of human rights. There isn’t a country in the world where you have a complete right to free speech, because it must always be balanced with other people’s right to protect their reputation (from lies, slander – yes, defamation) and people’s right to live in peace (because most violence is incited by the hateful, spiteful words of others).
  • Different countries would also necessarily have different boundary markers for free speech, because the racial, cultural make-up of each country is different, and there are a host of other national concerns that must be considered.
  • The proper use of free speech (just like the proper use of democracy) occurs when those speaking are keen to contribute to the good of society or humanity. In this regard, Hostile Response 2 already suggests otherwise, but in any case, outside the mourning period, it would be much more helpful for everyone if we had something concrete to say when discussing these matters. That is, strawman statements may get you loads of “Likes” on Facebook but doesn’t quite support your demand that complete free speech is a necessity.

flowers, balloons, cards at the Singapore General Hospital after the death of Lee Kuan Yew

Hostile Response 3

Again, I think these are eulogies. You don’t speak ill of the dead out of compassion for the bereaved. So in eulogies, you remember the good things he has done. Yes, it is skewed, but no one is writing a definitive history; they are comforting the mourners.

And don’t worry. I’m sure the Catholic Church isn’t going to canonise him anytime soon. Nor has the “state-controlled press” attributed miracles to him, nor were there reports of thousands of crows swopping down on Singapore General Hospital. (Otherwise, you would have seen it on social media, and someone would have accused the gahmen of slacking on pest control.)

And certainly, no one is saying Lee Kuan Yew did this all on his own. He was well aware of the need for a ruling elite (yes, elite) and also middle managers who could get things done. See Transcript of Speech by the Prime Minister at a Meeting with Principals of Schools at the Victoria Theatre on 29th August 1966. And in his speech on The Search for Talent in 1982, LKY credited Goh Keng Swee and Hon Sui Sen for Singapore’s economic development (and also had things to say about foreign talent!).