Singapore 2025

What of Singapore towards 2025? Thoughts of a Singaporean.

TODAY online: A hub is not a home

Every once a while, a Singaporean steps up and does the country a service. On the basis of a letter sent to Today, a local freesheet last week, Vinita Ramani was that Singaporean. This line from her letter was particularly thought-provoking:

“Nations are built when its people are invited to participate in the process and are given a stake in the outcomes; not when they are handed a finished product, which they cannot, or dare, not, alter.”

I also think Today did well to publish the letter.


A hub is not a home

Vinita Ramani
Mar 04, 2011


I read with interest Professor Tommy Koh’s response, in The Straits Times on Wednesday, to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going. In his commentary, Prof Koh objected to three areas the Minister Mentor raised in his recently-published book. One was the state of nation-building here.

Prof Koh disagreed with Mr Lee’s view that we are not yet a nation, stating instead that its people identify as Singaporeans first and as Chinese, Indian, Malay or Eurasian second. While I admire Prof Koh’s spirited rebuttals, I am inclined to agree with the Minister Mentor on this one point.

I am a Singaporean. I moved here in 1991, became a citizen in 1999 and, over the past twenty years, I have interacted with young Singaporeans and immigrants from all walks of life. Our generation – those of us in our 30s – has learnt the textbook lessons of Singapore’s success perhaps all too well. But I would hardly say that these lessons have stirred a feeling of nationhood.

Instead, the moral behind these lessons is that pragmatism is the order of the day. Prioritising pragmatism above all else appears to have resulted in the following set of attitudes about life which I have anecdotally observed.

First, that one must do whatever it takes to survive and succeed. If that means Singaporeans should leave Singapore to take up jobs and buy property abroad to carve out a second home, so be it.

Our social and economic mobility has not engendered a sense of loyalty: It has ensured that we will work hard to achieve the Singapore dream. But it has also ensured that if the going gets tough in Singapore, Singaporeans will not necessarily suffer through a crisis. They have been taught to have a back-up plan and to take care of themselves and their families first. Patriotism does not feature in this picture.

Second, I have met Singaporeans who feel disenfranchised because they do not have a stake in Singapore, their country of origin. While it is easy to dismiss these people as armchair critics, Singapore would do well to take heed of their concerns.

A nation cannot be built even if a small segment of society feels deeply disconnected from the country’s future and are unsure as to how they can contribute to meet the challenges ahead. Moreover, Internet-based social media these days has enabled such Singaporeans to realise others share their sentiments, creating a strong sense of community among them.

Third, I encounter Singaporeans I would call the progeny of the Singapore success story. They went to the right schools, acquired the right jobs and are financially successful. Yet, their interest in Singapore appears to only extend to changes that affect them individually.

I am often startled to discover that they do not care to understand Singapore’s position in the regional context, let alone in the global one. They are wary of immigrants, and frustrated by the competition that foreigners increasingly present in the professional job market, regardless of the fact that such internationalisation is inevitable.

These attitudes go hand in hand with a larger project to turn Singapore into a “hub” for everything from manufacturing and education to the arts and international organisations. Singapore is the ideal place to work and do business – it has great infrastructure, is corruption-free, is efficient and safe, and has clean air to boot. Many are migrating to Singapore for these reasons.

But calling ourselves a hub suggests that we are a port-of-call, a one-stop-shop, a base. Each of these concepts spells transience, not permanence and rootedness. A hub is not a home, and patriotism must be heart-felt. Like Singaporeans, immigrants too have come to feel that to be loyal to Singapore is virtually synonymous with being loyal to one’s own needs. But that cannot be the driving ethos of a nation.

Nations are built when its people are invited to participate in the process and are given a stake in the outcomes; not when they are handed a finished product, which they cannot, or dare not, alter.

My recent trips to Sri Lanka and East Timor were revelatory in this regard. Both countries endured over 25 years of civil strife and uncertainty about the future. When I spoke to nation-builders in both countries, I found that the Timorese and Sri Lankans have a deep love for their country. Yet, they are intuitively aware of what is wrong with the current state of affairs, and what needs to be done to include its citizenry in the nation-building process.

I met people who said they would die for their nation and with what they have gone through, I had no doubt they meant it. Coming across patriotism in its purest form is a truly profound experience.

The Minister Mentor is correct to note that a nation cannot be built in 45 years. However, for it to become one in the long run Singapore needs to closely examine its driving ethos and ask itself if, and how, it will give Singaporeans and residents a deeper stake in the country. Without this, we really are venturing into troubled waters.

Vinita Ramani is a writer and co-founder of Access to Justice Asia LLP.

Written by singapore 2025

07/03/2011 at 2:36 am

%d bloggers like this: