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The Impact of Development: Progress for People Through Industrial Revolution—Singapore

Author(s):
International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
September 1970
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Peter W. Bocock

PERCHED at the hub of Southeast Asia, midway between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the tiny island-state of Singapore has benefited since its earliest days from its strategic position on one of the world’s great trade routes. Within a few years of its foundation in 1819, the trading post had become a major entrepot center. Here, in the warehouses which backed onto its superb natural harbor, were stored the exotic products of the region—such as cloves, cinnamon, and sandalwood from Java, tortoiseshell, nutmeg, and pepper from Sumatra; here too were stored the more mundane products of Europe, India, and China including iron, firearms, cloth, and porcelain—all to be exchanged at a profit by Singapore’s thriving merchant community.

The opening of the Suez Canal, the introduction of the telegraph and the steamship, and the development of Australia, Japan, and the American West provided new trading opportunities. Singapore prospered; its port and its trading houses grew.

Meanwhile, the British Government, which had early recognized Singapore’s strategic value, took over in 1867 control of the island’s affairs from the East India Company (on whose behalf it had been founded by Sir Stamford Raffles). Singapore became the administrative capital of all the territories Britain controlled in Southeast Asia. Subsequently, the British began to create a complex of defense installations on the island, making it a vital link in the world-wide chain of naval bases which Britain then maintained. The British defense “presence” (in earlier days a charge on the citizens of Singapore, and therefore a cause for complaint) had become by the 1920’s a major source of employment and income for the island’s rapidly growing population.

Problems at Independence

The physical destruction and economic dislocation caused by the World War II broke the pattern of almost uninterrupted prosperity and growth: rehabilitation programs undertaken during the postwar period did not significantly reduce the dependence of Singapore’s economy on earnings from entrepot trade and services. By 1958, when the island attained internal self-government within the British Commonwealth, its prosperity seemed seriously menaced by the pressures of rapid population growth and urban decay.

In 1958 the population was more than 1.5 million, and was largely concentrated in the built-up area around the port on the southern tip of the island. By 1960, the annual rate of growth of population was the highest then known in the world, 4.6 per cent—of which 3.6 per cent represented natural increase. The employment situation was already unsatisfactory, and was bound to worsen as the high birth rate shifted the age distribution of the population toward youths entering the labor market for the first time. About a third of the population lived in slums, either in the congested city center, or in squatter settlements on its outskirts. It was clear that the rate of growth of Singapore’s traditional sources of income would be insufficient to cope with the island’s economic and social needs.

Prosperity Today

And yet the Singapore I saw on a recent visit is a bustling, confident boomtown. Bright new buildings—apartment blocks, towering office buildings, and hotels—are springing up everywhere, the crowds thronging the streets are well, if lightly, dressed (Singapore is only 80 miles from the equator), and there is a general atmosphere of ebullience and optimism, both in the luxurious new American-style hotels and in the little Chinese restaurants where the ordinary Singaporean takes his wife and family out to dinner. The Chinese, who make up the bulk of Singapore’s population, are enormously family-conscious, and it is not unusual to see a party of 10 or 12 people representing four generations, ranging in age from 8 months to 80 years, crowded round a single table.

Thanks to a vigorous family planning program (which cut the rate of population increase to 1.5 per cent a year by 1968), combined with carefully controlled immigration and sustained economic growth (gross domestic product—GDP—has nearly doubled in real terms since 1961), the per capita income of today’s 2 million Singaporeans is the second highest in Asia—about US$700 a year, compared with US$400 a year in 1961. Slums have been razed, the streets (as a result of an ordinance prescribing heavy fines for littering) are among the cleanest in the world; millions of dollars have been poured into a public housing program which now provides apartments for nearly a third of the population.

Singapore’s excellent network of financial institutions—commercial banks, finance houses, government-sponsored savings institutions, a 49 per cent government-owned development bank, insurance companies, and an active stock exchange—is expanding rapidly with general prosperity. Bank deposits rose by 19 per cent to S$2.75 billion during 1969. The existence of a highly sophisticated financial sector, including 36 commercial banks of which 10 are indigenous (and account for nearly half of all bank deposit business) has been an important reason for the dramatic surge of economic growth experienced in recent years.

Prices have been stable throughout the last decade, averaging an increase of about 1 per cent a year, reflecting the responsible attitudes of both labor and management, which have been encouraged by rapid economic growth, rising labor productivity, and sound government financial and labor relations policies. One businessman described Singapore’s new labor laws, adopted in 1968 after extensive discussion with both labor and management, as “an industrialist’s dream,” and I found widespread amazement, among workers as well as employers, at the gloomy strike record of the so-called “advanced” countries.

Singapore’s education system has been greatly improved in recent years. At least ten years’ schooling is now provided for every child from the age of six; primary education is free, and arrangements can be made for remission of fees at the secondary level in cases of need. Increasing emphasis has been placed on technical and vocational education at the secondary and post secondary levels; the great majority of the students at Singapore’s four institutions of higher education specialize in the physical, mechanical, or social sciences, or in technical or vocational courses.

The Government rightly regards Singapore’s well-educated and highly motivated labor force as one of its most precious national assets and considers further improvement of the educational facilities available to be a top-priority investment in the country’s future. Estimated 1969 government current expenditure on education represented 22 per cent of the total of such expenditure. This was actually a slight percentage decrease compared with levels in earlier years, caused by new and pressing needs in other sectors. Spending on education continues, however, to rise rapidly in absolute terms and is expected to increase still further.

Unemployment still exists, but has fallen steadily since the mid-1960’s to a current rate of 7 per cent (estimates are hard to obtain, and certainly include some “voluntary” unemployment—people living with their families while they look for jobs that suit their aspirations). The Singapore dollar (S$3=US$1) is one of the strongest currencies in the world, backed more than 100 per cent by Singapore Currency Board holdings of gold and “hard” reserves. GDP has grown at an average rate of 10 per cent a year since 1965, and is on an accelerating trend, although the Government expects a temporary slowdown in the early 1970’s resulting from Britain’s decision to withdraw its defense establishment from the island.

Industrialization

It has been said that the history of Singapore is written in statistics. A statistical comparison or two certainly helps to provide a clue to—and the measure of—the dynamic changes that have occurred in Singapore’s economy during the last decade. In 1961, entrepot trade and manufacturing contributed 18 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively, to Singapore’s GDP. By 1968 the combined contribution of trade and industry was providing 27-28 per cent of the total. But their respective shares in the new total had shifted sharply, now representing 16 per cent and 12 per cent respectively, with industry on a strongly rising trend. This is reflected in employment figures. Over the period, 50,000 or more new jobs had been created in the economy as a whole; in 1968, 14,000 new jobs were created in industry alone. Output statistics are equally revealing; between 1961 and 1968 the value of output of Singapore’s manufacturing sector quadrupled, as did the value of manufactured exports. Meanwhile, the composition of manufacturing output and the direction of manufacturing exports also shifted dramatically. In 1961 the emphasis was on relatively unsophisticated goods, mostly for domestic or regional consumption. By 1968 the most rapidly growing industries included chemical and petroleum products, machinery, electrical products, shipbuilding and ship repairing, and motor-vehicle building and assembling; at the same time Singapore’s exports were booming in the United States and Japan as well as in regional markets.

Why Industrialize ?

The decision to go all out for industrialization in the 1960’s was based on three main premises. First, even if rapid expansion of the entrepot trade proved possible, the direct effect on unemployment would be small since the import-export business was not particularly labor-intensive. Second, Singapore was heavily dependent on income from trade and from the British defense bases (which together contributed nearly a third of GDP); both these sources might be subject to fluctuations caused by political and economic factors outside Singapore’s control. (Subsequent events in the 1960’s confirmed apprehensions on this score—luckily after, rather than before—the decision to industrialize was taken.) Diversification of the economy was seen to be essential; with no indigenous raw materials to exploit, intensive industrialization was the only answer. Third, Singapore’s existing advantages—a traditionally hard working and adaptable labor force, a strategic geographical position, and an already existing sociopolitical, financial, and physical infrastructure—put it in a good position to become a successful manufacturing center if the process of industrialization was properly managed.

Thus industrial development seemed both necessary—to provide a foundation for soundly-based long-term economic growth as well as to ease immediate problems—and feasible. But the smallness of Singapore’s domestic market limited the scope for industrial development based solely or mainly on import substitution; it was clear that the long-run growth of the manufacturing sector would have to depend on export sales. It was also clear that industrial development would have to be carefully organized, so as to avoid turning the island’s tiny land area (225 square miles) into a single industrial slum. How was this aim—the orderly development of an economically viable and socially acceptable manufacturing sector—to be achieved?

The Economic Development Board—Mid-wife of Industry

My first appointment in Singapore was at the Economic Development Board (EDB), a statutory body set up in 1961. EDB has been the midwife—with all the range of activities and skills the term implies—of Singapore’s industrialization drive. During the past decade, EDB has set itself to import an industrial revolution, by encouraging firms from the industrialized countries to set up plants in Singapore. This policy was designed to ensure both that the physical and human resources employed in Singapore’s industrial sector would be tuned to a high level of technical refinement from the start, and also that the goods produced would either have assured markets in the parent company’s country, or would be of sufficient quality to sell competitively anywhere in the world.

But promotional activities were only the beginning of EDB’s work. It was set up not only to attract foreign industry to Singapore, but also to help firms—foreign and domestic—to establish themselves on a satisfactory long-term basis. To this end, EDB works with other statutory bodies and the Government on all aspects of policy concerning industry—ranging from tax and tariff policies to industrial training and recruitment from supporting services (such as economic evaluation of proposed projects) to the establishment and enforcement of industrial standards. (It is typical of the forethought of the Singaporeans that they have established a highly active Institute of Standards and Industrial Research at the beginning of their industrialization processed.)

Until mid-1968, EDB was also the main institutional source of long and medium-term industrial and commercial financing—a function now exercised by the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) which began operations on September 1, 1968. DBS, which is 49 per cent Government owned, took over a loan portfolio of S$45 million from EDB; in its first year of operation it approved 52 new loans totaling over S$100 million. It also approved equity participations in 20 projects to a value of nearly S$24 million. The work of DBS is an important part of Singapore’s over-all industrialization effort; it has recently received a World Bank loan of US$5 million (S$15 million). Together with a sophisticated and entrepreneurially-minded private financial sector, it is providing the essential seed capital on which future industrial growth will depend.

The establishment of DBS had been preceded a month earlier by the hiving-off by EDB of another of its former functions—the management of industrial estates. This job is now undertaken by the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), so named after the most important of these estates, located at Jurong nine miles from Singapore city. Though the increasing diversity and volume of EDB’s activities have required it to vest direct responsibility for estates in a separate body (JTC), Jurong township nevertheless represents perhaps the most impressive single manifestation of EDB’s contribution to Singapore’s industrial development.

Jurong

Nine years ago the Jurong site was a wasteland of scrub and marshes. Today, it is a thriving industrial complex with nearly 300 factories in operation, and with plans for ultimate expansion to accommodate up to 500. The industries already established produce items as diverse as steel, pharmaceuticals, textiles, electronics components, and books, but Jurong is broadly a heavy and medium industry complex (light industries and crafts can locate in so-called “flatted factories”-high-rise buildings on the new public housing estates near or in Singapore itself, where an individual car rent a floor or part of a floor for his business).

Jurong was meticulously planned from the start. Over S$200 million has been spent on the site and its facilities, which include all the necessary infrastructure—electricity (Jurong has its own power station, the second stage of which is currently well along in the planning stage), telephones, four-lane highways, water (including industrial water), sewage, and a rail link to the main Singapore-Malaysia railway. JTC employs 500 permanent staff, and a further 300 on a day-rated basis. The Corporation has spent S$60 million on land reclamation alone; it is currently moving a million cubic yards of earth a month. JTC also builds factories to its own standard designs for firms without special requirements; in urgent cases, it will work on a 24-hour a day basis to complete a factory.

Jurong has its own port, with a 3,000-foot, five-berth wharf for deepwater vessels; using bulk handling by conveyors, 250 tons of general cargo can be unloaded in an hour. There is also a 1,260 foot wharf for lighters and coastal vessels. One of the largest firms in the township is Jurong Shipyards Ltd., (JSL) a firm jointly owned by the Singapore Government and a Japanese company. Most of JSL’s earnings, which are expected to reach S$45 million in 1970, come from ship repairing, but it plans to set up a subsidiary to undertake more shipbuilding in the years to come.

The combination of Japanese expertise and a highly educated and motivated Singapore labor force has helped JSL to become a thoroughly successful and forward looking business: apart from expanding the shipbuilding side of its operations, the company is also planning to extend its ship repairing facilities to take 300,000-ton supertankers (today it can take vessels of up to 90,000 tons). I met the company’s Japanese general manager, who told me that prices for repair work were still slightly higher than in Japan, and labor productivity rather lower (though he put this down partly to Singapore’s much hotter climate).

But these slight disadvantages are more than offset by Singapore’s ideal geographical location; the general manager pointed out that Singapore was the only port between the Middle East and Japan with dry docks capable of taking the really big ships that owners now favor.

Shipping is a natural industry for Singapore, not only because of its geographical position, but also because of the infrastructure facilities it can offer and its traditional connection with the entrepot trade. Geography, infrastructure, and Singapore’s long-standing experience in the import-export business were among the factors which led another firm I visited in Jurong to locate there. This was Caterpillar Far East Ltd., whose Jurong depot is the main distribution center for South and East Asia—from India to Taiwan—of Caterpillar parts. Its managing director was emphatic in his endorsement of Singapore as an operational base. He stressed the excellence of the facilities at Jurong: the high level of locally available skills, the high degree of motivation of his locally hired staff, and the entrepreneurial attitude of both the public and private sectors. (The Government had the foresight to set in hand the building of a container terminal in the port of Singapore—which Caterpillar was the first company to use—and a local trucking firm was ready to undertake the transshipment of goods between Caterpillar’s depot and the docks.) He also noted Singapore’s refreshing freedom from corruption and “red tape.”

It would be reasonable to find businesses connected with shipping and distribution located here at the hub of Southeast Asia; some of the firms at Jurong are a little less predictable. There are electronics component assembly plants, whose U.S. parent companies find it more economical to transport parts to Singapore for assembly than to assemble them in the United States. There is a factory which both mints Singapore’s coinage and makes ammunition and small arms for its armed forces—currently being built up to give the country an effective self-defense capacity following the phased rundown of British defense personnel, to be completed in 1971. There is an integrated book printing and publishing company, one of the most advanced in the world, whose export sales are expected to amount to S$7-10 million in 1970; the firm sells text books and dictionaries to countries all over the world, from Japan and the Philippines to the West Indies and Canada..

Jurong is more than just an industrial estate: it is a complete city in the making. Already about 18,000 people (roughly a quarter of the current labor force of 25,000, together with their families) live in new housing estates within the township, and the JTC management plans to attract a much larger proportion to settle locally over the next few years. Apart from housing, existing or planned amenities designed for this purpose include schools, shops (over 100 already exit), a community center, a swimming pool, two cinemas (one conventional, one drive-in), sports grounds, a golf course, and even a night club.

This combination of practicality and concern for people’s welfare is something one finds countinually in Singapore. Jurong is an outstanding example of a practical solution to the problem of attracting industry to Singapore; it is also an outstanding example of the extent to Which the authorities are working to humanize the industrialization process-to make it enlarge rather than degrade the experience of the ordinary worker. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Singapore Government over the last decade lies in the fact that quantitative goals in the form of higher national income, more jobs, better infrastructure, and so on have been attained-but at the same time, material prosperity has been seen as a means, not an end in itself.

Expansion of Infrastructure

Apart from the work of the Economic Development Board, the factors contributing to Singapore’s industrial growth during the 1960’s have included the availability of trained labor and excellent financial and commercial services, together with wage and price stability fostered by the openness of the economy and sound government policies. But new industries could not have flourished in Singapore as they have if they had not been able to depend on a generally excellent network of physical infrastructure-the skeleton of power, transportation, and communications facilities upon whose basic strength the growth of any country’s industrial superstructure depends. Most of the infrastructural expansion in recent years has been financed by locally provided funds: the World Bank has, however, provided essential assistance through loans totaling $115 million for port development, electric power, water supply, telecommunications, and development banking.

The Port of Singapore

The Port of Singapore is the fourth busiest in the world. In 1968, 32,000 ships comprising a total of 129 million tons used its facilities; cargo handled reached a record level of 35 million tons. Of this total, 27 million tons was accounted for by oil. Singapore is one of the world’s most important oil distribution centers; five major oil companies have refining or storage bases there, of which the largest has a refinery capable of producing 6 million tons a year. Oil shipped to Singapore is re-exported to users throughout South and East Asia and to Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

General cargo, which made up the remaining 8 million tons of the port’s 1968 total, is unloaded either at the wharves of the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA)—three miles of them, with berths capable of handling 30 ships simultaneously—or in the “roads” of the outer harbor, where cargo is unloaded onto small lighters, which in turn are unloaded at wharves in the inner port.

Up to 200 ships a day may call at Singapore. PSA’s wharves consist entirely of “general service” berths, none of which is reserved for the exclusive use of any one shipping line. This makes for a high utilization factor—currently over 90 per cent—as no berth has to stand empty waiting for a ship belonging to “its” line to dock.

PSA has met rising demand by building a new container port. Containerization offers important advantages in speed and efficiency of cargo handling. The maximum amount of freight that can currently be loaded and unloaded in an hour by conventional work gangs (using six gangs simultaneously) is 120 tons an hour; with containerization, two cranes will be able to load and unload a total of 800 tons an hour. By 1977 PSA expects 10-15 per cent of general cargo handled to be in container form. The construction of the container port is being assisted by a US$15 million World Bank loan.

Electricity

The foresight, adaptability, and willingness to make use of new facilities to meet rising demand demonstrated by both management and labor at PSA are equally evident in another of Singapore’s “infrastructure” authorities, the Public Utilities Board (PUB).

The growth of industry, and the rising general prosperity it has brought with it, have created a surge of industrial, commercial, and private demand for power and water facilities for whose provision PUB is responsible.

Singapore’s per capita consumption of electricity—950 kilowatt hours a year—is the second highest in Asia after Japan’s. The island’s small land area, with most consumers densely packed in urban areas, means that PUB is constrained for space in the building of its distribution substations, and must observe very high safety standards since substations are often placed immediately adjacent to the public housing projects whose power needs they serve. I saw some of the Board’s new SF 6 (sulphur hexachlotide) insulated switchgear installed in a substation at one such housing estate. The equipment is extremely compact and airtight—important advantages in a crowded and humid urban area—and PUB is one of the first electricity authorities in the world to use it. The substation itself was built on three stories, a practical solution to the problem of land use (and, incidentally, to that of occasional floods which occur when the rains are particularly heavy)—and an elegant contrast to the sprawling masses of cables, transformers, and other equipment which disfigure the environment in many western countries.

The substation I visited was one of a number equipped with the assistance of a World Bank loan. Although PUB’s total revenue—from electricity and water—has doubled since 1963 (from S$80 million in that year to S$162 million in 1969, a figure which represents a current rate of return of 11 per cent), the expansion of demand has been too rapid for the Board to find all the capital it needs from its own resources. The Bank has made four loans totaling US$60.5 million to PUB for electricity generation and transmission since 1963; it has also made two commitments totaling US$15 million for PUB’s other main activity, water supply.

Water Supply

Until very recently, Singapore obtained barely a quarter of its water requirements from its own reservoirs; the rest was supplied from the Johore River Waterworks (whose development was assisted by a US$6.8 million World Bank loan, made in 1965) on the Malaysian mainland. But the new reservoir at Seletar, built with the assistance of a US$8 million World Bank loan, will increase the domestically obtained supply to somewhat nearer 40 per cent of Singapore’s total water consumption (which averages about 100 million gallons a day). There had previously been a small reservoir here, with a total capacity of 150 million gallons; the new reservoir, which covers 800 acres, holds 5,400 million gallons.

Seletar is an extraordinarily beautiful spot, huge and glittering,’ its irregular edges surrounded by thick woods into which little boys rushed as our boat passed; they had been fishing, currently an illegal pastime at Seletar, although PUB hopes soon to restock the reservoir with algae-eating fish and to permit anglers to try their luck legitimately. The Board has other plans, too, to make Seletar a recreation center for the people of Singapore. Two hundred and seventy acres bordering on the reservoir have been set aside as a zoological garden, where animals can roam freely in their natural habitat, and plans are afoot to allow oarsmen to make use of the reservoir for boating. These facilities should notably increase the Seletar’s recreational drawing power, which already brings as many as 600 visitors a day on weekdays, and up to 3,000 a day over weekends.

Housing, Urban Renewal, and Environmental Planning

When the Housing and Development Board (HDB) took over the function of providing public housing in 1960, demand for new housing in the decaying urban areas far exceeded supply. Applicants were liable to have to wait three years for rehousing, and were forced to live in the interim in squalid slum houses subdivided into tiny cubicles. A Singapore Government publication of the time has a prophetic ring for many European and American cities today, “… rapid unplanned growth has led to urban sprawl and a general exodus of the upper and middle income groups … to the suburbs.

As the wealthier classes have moved out, so the poorer sections of the community, in search of employment opportunities and a roof over their heads, have moved in. And inevitably with them have come the criminal elements….”

The scale of the problem was enormous, and no time was wasted in tackling it. In its first full year of activity, 1961, HDB completed 7,320 new housing units, over four times the average for the period since 1948. By the end of 1965, HDB had built the staggering total of 54,430 units, well over twice the total built in the 33 years between 1927—when the first public housing authority for Singapore was set up—and 1959. By the end of 1968, the total of one, two, and three-room units completed had reached over 93,000; nearly a third of Singapore’s population of 2 million now lived in public housing (compared with less than one tenth of the 1960 population of 1.6 million).

The Board’s chief aims have been first to clear the backlog of the homeless, and then to improve upon the relatively austere standards of the early years, providing tenants with more room, more privacy from their neighbors, and a wider range of community facilities. The architecture of the buildings, which are grouped into neighborhoods of tower blocks of apartments, is never unpleasing and at best it is quite spectacularly good. Each neighborhood forms a self-sufficient unit, complete with its own shops, parking facilities, schools, community centers, playgrounds, and other amenities.

Occupancy rates have fallen since the early 1960’s from about seven people per unit to about four people per unit today. Light industry, in the form of “flatted factories” is located on or near the estates and HDB works closely with other bodies (such as the State and City Planning Organization, which is concerned with long-run, over-all planning of Singapore’s physical development, involving questions of land use, transportation networks, air and water pollution) in planning the location and design of its sites.

HDB’s first task was to deal with the priority needs of Singapore’s poorest citizens. It still regards this as a prime responsibility, and there is still much to be done; resettlement of the squatter shantytowns on the outskirts of the city has now taken the place of clearing city-center slums as the Board’s chief target. But it and other statutory authorities are also beginning to develop Singapore as an attractive place for foreigners to visit as well as a civilized environment for Singaporeans themselves. A number of projects are being undertaken to make Singapore a popular tourist spot, including a “golden mile” development along the waterfront involving the creation of new commercial and office facilities and the provision of sites for hotels. The current hotel-building boom reflects the rapid recent rise in the number of visitors to the city, from just over 90,000 in 1964 to over 200,000 in 1967 and over 250,000 in 1968. Twenty-eight hotels with a combined capacity of 13,000 rooms are currently under construction.

The world-wide growth of the package tour business, and the rapid development of air travel, have encouraged the Singapore Tourist Board to undertake ambitious plans for resort facilities on a 700-acre island, a ten-minute boat ride from the city center. Currently a military base, the island will be converted into a complete tourist center, with a golf course, beaches, hotels, restaurants, and night clubs. Lacking the ancient attractions of its neighboring countries, Singapore, with typical pragmatism—a favorite word in the Republic—has decided to turn its smallness, its ethnic and cultural diversity and its relatively short history to advantage with the slogan of “Instant Asia.” Model areas reflecting the traditional cultures of Singapore’s four main ethnic groups—Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Tamil—are planned. Here, the promotional argument runs, you can see all Asia at a glance, and play golf as well—a shrewdly calculated bid for the custom of today’s Grand Tourists from Manchester, Milan, Minneapolis, and Munich.

Conclusion

I confessed myself a little unhappy about “Instant Asia” to a Singaporean friend, and his reply seemed to me to sum up Singapore, its strengths and weaknesses, its problems and its potential. I should remember, he said, that this was not an ancient society like those of Europe, not even one of moderate antiquity like the United States. Singapore was “instant everything”—instant trade in its early days, instant industry, instant public housing, instant ethnic integration. “We are a small island,” he said, “and a small population; we have to make our way in a world of giants. We do our best to make our society humane as well as efficient, and we think we succeed in this. But you must realize that we have very many problems still, and very little time or space in which to solve them. So we must work harder, give better service, be more honest, clean and polite than everyone else. In Europe, you can afford quaintness; in America, there is enough space and wealth for mistakes to be made. But we must get things right first time, and we must do things quickly. We have so little time.”

Although I still had some doubts about the specific concept of “Instant Asia,” I left Singapore with quite unreserved admiration for all that its people had achieved in a few short years, and with the thought that perhaps reservations about “instant everything” were those which only the old, rich nations of the developed world could afford. Indeed, perhaps even we could no longer afford such reservations; perhaps the developed nations as well as the developing ones could benefit from my friend’s warning that we do indeed have “so little time” in the global effort to make our planet a tolerable place for all its people to live. It is this proper sense of urgency which makes Singapore such an exciting place to be, and which, tempered as it is with humanity and concern for the well-being of the individual citizen, lies at the heart of Singapore’s outstandingly successful development achievements.

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