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  • Jul 24, 2014
  • Updated: 9:57pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Singapore's leadership style won't work in Hong Kong

Bernard Chan says in style and substance, it cannot be replicated here

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 3:29am

Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, made his annual policy address a few weeks ago. Not surprisingly, it was front-page news in Singapore. But it also hit the headlines here in Hong Kong.

In fact, it was picked up by news media around the world, for two reasons. First, it signalled a shift in the Singapore government's approach. Second, this shift seemed to be a response to public discontent.

Becoming more like Singapore isn’t an option. We have to adapt our system to our freer society

It struck a chord in Hong Kong because many people are facing broadly similar problems. Economic and social inequality is a major concern; housing has become unaffordable for ordinary people; people are unhappy with education; and, the city has seen a major influx of outsiders, competing for space and resources.

The parallels are not exact. The Singapore government provides most of the city's housing, and apartments there are still cheaper, and bigger, than mass-market flats here. Singapore's influx of outsiders is very different. In Hong Kong, the problem is mainland shoppers. In Singapore, it is largely overseas workers who compete with locals for jobs and resources.

Still, to some, Lee's speech sounded like it was almost written for Hong Kong. He promised more housing subsidies, childcare payments to giver poorer children a better start in life, measures to open up top schools to students from poor backgrounds, and better health care for the elderly. He acknowledged that as a rich society, Singapore could and should do these things.

The Hong Kong media couldn't resist highlighting such measures, as if to say to our own government: how come you can't do this? How come in Singapore they can make housing more affordable or build a new runway, when in Hong Kong we can't even sort out our landfills?

In some ways, this is unfair. Our administration has rolled out serious measures to help the elderly and halted the influx of mainland mothers. While some business lobbies want to import cheap labour, the government has raised the minimum wage.

And Singapore has real problems. For example, a friend has to travel backwards several stations in the morning because the trains going into town are all full by the time they get to his neighbourhood. And let's not forget Singapore's higher taxes and compulsory savings rates.

But I can see why our media highlights Singapore's leadership style. There is something bold and decisive about it that we do not have.

There is a reason for that. Singapore's government is fundamentally authoritarian. The shift in policy direction announced by Lee did not include political reforms or greater media freedom. The government is reacting to popular demands because it has been coming under growing pressure in elections, and is facing public demands for a more liberal system.

In Hong Kong, our current political structure gives us relatively weak government. It gives influence to particular vested interests and encourages elected lawmakers to oppose the government without offering serious policy alternatives. Parts of our free press tend to support either the vested interests or the opposition politicians and can be equally negative.

Would we be better off with a more Singaporean-style system? Some think so. But becoming more like Singapore isn't an option. We have to find ways to adapt our political system to our freer, in some ways more chaotic, society.

Hong Kong is not short of ideas. We could sort out our waste problems - even housing - if district councils, commercial interests, the press and politicians disappeared and the government was left to execute policies. Since that's not going to happen, we must do the best we can in reforming our political structure, and probably make trade-offs. Even the Singapore government has to do that.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council

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This article is now closed to comments

JC
not surprisingly the speech of LHL was front-page news in the Singapore press, so Bernard Cahn says. Is he suggesting that if CY Leung were to make a major speech in HK, or Xi Jinping, that the SCMP won't put it on the front page because it's such a "free" media? Singapore has real problems, and he cites the city's crowded trains. I wonder if Mr Chan has ever taken HK's MTR during peak hours? He conveniently chose to overlook the Singapore government's efforts to address the problem with express buses to the CBD in the short-term, with the longer-term plan of growing the subway network. The only thing I must agree with him, is that HK has to find the best system that suits its needs, although I can't help but snigger when HK commentators see only the virtues of a chaotic and "freer" society and not the dark side of inertia and political paralysis as a result of vested interests. What exactly is the point of greater media freedom when it's pegged to vested interests as he concedes in his article? Mr Chan continues to live in the past about Lee Kuan Yew's authoritarian good governance when the new generation of leaders here have taken a far more consultative approach. LHL's speech arose out of a National Conversation that engaged broad segments of the population for over a year. Leadership is not about being populistic. You can't please everyone. It's about making the right choices for the society and country, including tough and necessary ones for the long-term
johnyuan
Whoever wants to compare the two cities is a waste of time. The conditions for the existence of the two cities are so different that making comparison meaningless. Singapore has been an independent state since the 50s of the last century with Singaporean ruling Singaporean withstanding political power lies within the same party and family all this half century. Hong Kong only gets ruling Hong Kong for mere 15 years of which the British Colonial system is still very much alive. Hong Kong is very much in its teething period both in learning to govern and be governed by Hong Kongers. So far, we have seen that governing in Hong Kong is particularly problematic. Besides of a questionable legislative structure quickly imposed on Hong Kong, the British ruler had been excelled in devising for obedient followers but deficient in training locals as political leaders. Hong Kong despite currently there is a spurn of leaders; it is more about fighting than leading. The very different timelines in the development of the respective cities must be taken into account if one must compare them for their current affairs. Or one may hope Hong Kong will get there given the same amount of time.
THC
Whatever type of government, as long as it is effective and able to resolve problems fast it will be beneficial to the people. In HK we can see tons of problems but the speed with which it is being resolved is excruciatingly slow. This is caused not just by the incumbent government but also by the social political system. These conditions create weak leaders because there are too many limitations and hurdles to solving problems. In the end you cannot blame anyone and the best solution is change your conditions and or let Beijing help HK.
L.L.
HK is HK en Singapore is Singapore, natuurlijk kunnen ze niet vergelijken. Zelfs onder je eigen kinderen kun je ze niet vergelijken... hihihi... elk mens is uniek is elk land uniek, iedere zijn eigen kwaliteiten, eigenschap, eigen-waarden... HK moet niet een copie van andere buurtland te maken, maar zelf leren omgaan met een nieuwe uitdaging te zoeken met de hulpmiddelen die ze nu hebben (geld/10-tycoon/topmannen), maar geen wolven adviezen aan nemen hoop ik... die de rijker nog rijker maakt, maar meer naar de Maatschappelijke Doelstelling zoeken... De samenleving in een Balans te brengen en te durven...
Vrijheid van Meningsuiting...
JC
Singapore pays higher income taxes? I urge Mr Bernard Chan to do a one-for-one comparison with HK, and he will be very surprised to find that actually the low-income to low middle income in Singapore pays lower taxes than their peers in HK in the Lion City's progressive tax system. In fact those earning S$20,000 or HK$130,000 a year don't pay any income taxes at all! In fact, they enjoy negative income taxes when you factor in the transfer payments and subsidies from the government. I know that Mr Chan's wife is a Singaporean. But really, he should do more to find out more about policies in the city-state before he opens his big mouth to talk and comment. Free speech does not mean saying anything that comes to one's mind you know.
 
 
 
 
 

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