Singaporeans have grown used to the PAP’s media monopoly on a regular basis citing studies showing Singapore topping one or more global indices or statistics proving that we are one of the richest countries in the world. These include indices for global competitiveness, transparency and lack of corruption and economic freedom. Singapore also is at or near the top of the PISA rankings for maths and science. Our universities are also ranked ahead of many more prestigious and venerable institutions despite the fact that academic freedom when it comes to Singapore is non-existent.
While we should be proud of Singapore’s achievements, which owe next to nothing to the PAP, we should rightly be sceptical of the fake news machine of our state media. Many of the announcements and economic statistics do not stand up to scrutiny. For instance the PAP is fond of citing Singapore’s very high GDP per capita. However this is inflated both by a very low dependency ratio, because so much of Singapore’s population consists of foreign workers without dependents, and by the long hours we work. When measured as GDP per hour worked Singapore’s record is appalling, coming in at around the same level as countries like the Czech Republic or South Korea. This is despite the fact that Singapore is a city with a relatively small population and should rightly be compared with other global cities such as London, New York or Los Angeles, which boast much higher GDPs per capita. It is also difficult to understand how Singapore can rank highly for economic freedom when the Government controls so much of the economy and owns most of the land as well as having a stranglehold on people’s savings.
A good example of the way state media aims to deceive foreign observers by comparing Singapore as a city with countries, all in the interest of boosting the PAP’s argument that authoritarian kleptocratic government is good for you, is the announcement in Today Online on 24 January that Singapore had maintained its second position in the INSEAD Global Talent Competitiveness Index. This supposedly measures the way nations and cities lure, develop and retain talented people. The first sentence reads:
On the face of it this looks like a stunning achievement and a great feather in the PAP’s cap. However on reading further I discovered that INSEAD had also ranked global cities. It was no surprise to read that Singapore came in at no 19 with the top ten places taken mostly by European cities, with Los Angeles and San Francisco being the only outside cities. In addition London, Madrid, Paris all outperformed Singapore. Singapore ranked badly at growing and retaining talent, as one might expect. Having to serve NS for two years, but unfairly only if you are male, and living in an authoritarian (or close to totalitarian) state in which you are denied the basic rights citizens of the best performing cities and countries take for granted, has a lot to do with it. INSEAD’s report can be found here.
So when you next see another statistic extolling some achievement that seems too good to be true, remember it probably is. We have all read about the new PAP committee to examine the “problem” of fake news. It is as certain as the fact that the Finance Minister will raise GST substantially in the next Budget that this committee will come up with new draconian penalties designed to deter people from criticising the Government. However it will be silent about the fake news machine that is our state media or the incomplete and misleading statistics issued by our partisan Statistics Department. Trump and the Republicans recently handed out “Fake News Awards” to America’s free media who have been relentless in holding him to account. Despite all his bluster he can only dream of having the Familee’s control over the media and the power to ensure that no one can inquire too deeply into their assets or the way they have captured the state.
* The author blogs at https://kenjeyaretnam.com/.