Rags To Riches – (What Can Nepal Learn From Lee Quan Yew’s Singapore)

– Sandhya Regmi
(Founder President, BH Foundation)
(Published in the KTM Post on April 14, 2015)


“Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards! This is your life and mine! I’ve spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I’m in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.” This inspirational quote fairly reflects the doctrine applied by political genius Lee Quan Yew in repositioning Singapore’s map from the third world to the first. The visionary prime minister from 1959 to 1990 and influential politician until 2011, died on 23rdMarch at the age of 91.

When I first entered Singapore in 2001, soon after my 2-year stay in Japan as a researcher at the University of Tokyo, the first thing that astonished and welcomed me was the brilliant greenery and dazzling cleanliness of the perfectly managed & preserved metropolitan garden city, which I had not seen even in the highly developed European countries during my stay in Germany and visit in its neighboring countries. Singapore looked like the princess clad in silk and satin. Chewing gum was banned, littering was fined, and grafting was canned. The place that practically guarantees highly honorable, respectable, and safe life for women and children alike—free from both environmental and social pollutions. I recall my days, commuting by train, bus and on walk, all the way from the National University of Singapore, sometimes reaching my residence, Bedok North, at midnight, without any feeling of insecurity.

In 50 years, under the Singaporean Lion’s visionary leadership, the country got transformed from an impoverished British colonial outpost with swampy island having no natural resources—a stinking fisherman’s village suffering from poverty, malaria, and dunge fever—into a dreamland. Today Singapore stands tall on the global map as a knowledge-based economy, with one of the highest GDP per capita ($55,182) in the world, just 2% unemployment, third in the global education club, among the 3 least corrupt nations (including Finland and New Zealand), and almost the lowest crime rates. A clean and green city. A dream city in the real world.

This miraculous achievement by Lee’s Singapore has brought into limelight the issue on whether or to which extent other countries may draw from Lee and his Singaporean model. In Nepal’s context, Lee’s doctrine pyramid may be dissected as follows:

This miraculous achievement by Lee’s Singapore has brought into limelight the issue on whether or to which extent other countries may draw from Lee and his Singaporean model. In Nepal’s context, Lee’s doctrine pyramid may be dissected as follows:

Lessons for Nepal :-

(1) The vision for prosperous country and people forms the top block of the pyramid. Nepal needs a vision that goes beyond beggar’s mentality that seeks to limit the vision to the threshold of poverty or literacy over a decade or two, and yet fails to achieve it. We need a vision that is founded on stability, health, and prosperity of people and the country. In the past, some of our politicians had lip-served to make Nepal like Singapore. But a vision differs from such day-dreams in that a vision is premised on the state’s robust and time-bound plan and strategy with discrete roadmap to achieve the underlying goal.

(2) Sincerity and accountability of the state operators could constitute the second block. In fact, until it is installed in the system, the accountability can easily be swapped to the top of the pyramid in a country where, even after spending billions of rupees taxed from the people’s toil and spending over five-year period, our 601-member strong team of constitutional assembly has failed even to deliver a 100-page document. Why not put them to test to see if they are playing the ‘game of cards’, or if they are really working with the feeling of the ‘life’ that Lee was referring to? Look at his spirit: “Even from my sickbed, even if you are going to lower me to the grave and I feel that something is going wrong in Singapore, I will get up.” Hello, politicians of Nepal ! wake up to your conscience.

(3) The requirement for the elimination of prevailing practice of power abuse and corruption by authorities in all organs of the state does not need to be overemphasized. The recent case of Dr. Govinda KC’s Satyagraha typifies the extent to which the country is swamped with the evils at all levels of the state administration. We need to do introspection on why the state decisions are being sold or abused, and how the matter could be resolved. While the moral and ethics work for the majority, it does not seem to do so for all. So, craft strict punishment codes to account for such abusers. No mercy to corrupts. No shelter to criminals. No undue favour to anyone. Lee’s Singapore did not drop the ‘iron’ despite the mercy plea by the US president Bill Clinton in 1994: the American graffiti convict Michael Fay was not spared from canning.

(4) To put the country into the track of prosperity, Nepal must put the state-endorsed anarchism to an end once and for ever. Sparing peaceful demonstrations, ban and criminalize any and all forms of strikes: political, trade-unions, educational institutes, and any other. At best, a strike is an abuse of democracy and others’ right. At worst, it provides cover to anarchists at the cost of the country and people.

(5) Lee’s Singapore has proved the world that human resource is the most powerful of all the resources. For inclusive prosperity of the country rich in human resources, Nepal must devise mechanisms for and provide access to quality education, medical facilities, housing and other basic needs to all its citizens.

(6) And finally the country must stop begging, instead focus on enacting and implementing investor-friendly laws and regulations. The resource-starved Singapore—which even lacked drinking water in its land—was not transformed by begging or by any ODA fund, but by genius policy formulation and implementation. By crafting and implementing such genius policies, Nepal can score better, considering the abundance of natural-resources advantages that we additionally have.

© 2021 Buddha Harmony Foundation. All rights reserved.

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