Magazine article Management Today

Poor Little Rich Country

Magazine article Management Today

Poor Little Rich Country

Article excerpt

Singaporeans are legendary worriers. Their current concern is prosperity,

Pity Singapore, where gloom and doom scenarios abound. A quarter century of stability is threatened, as voters defy new leader Goh Chok Tong and in a snap election pick four opposition MPs to face 77 on the government benches. Workers fear for their jobs, as the numbers of unemployed balloon to nearly 2% of the labour force. The integrity of Treasury officials is questioned, as foreign exchange reserves fall to less than US$60 billion. Inflation races out of control to 4%.

Yes, Singaporeans are now fretting that the rising standard of living is bringing growing pains. Explains Goh, 'Ours are the problem of affluence - obesity, controlling the number of cars, and meeting the aspirations of a population accustomed to rapid progress and high standards.'

Prime Minister Goh took office in November 1990 when Lee Kuan Yew stepped down after 31 years in power. Just before the election, he said that if his liberalism did not find favour with voters, 'then we can all go back to authoritarian government, the way in which most Asian countries are governed.' The threat did not work; PAP's share of the vote fell to 61% 'I hoped for a solid endorsement to strengthen my position,' he said' 'That endorsement did not come.'

The declining numbers of tourists is what Trade and Industry Minister Mah Bow Tan frets about. On current performance Singapore will be lucky if final arrivals figures are up 4% in 1991. Mah attaches at least some of the blame for this downturn to the Japanese, the biggest single group of visitors to the tropical island-state. They are not queuing to buy branded items as they used to. The rate of the Singapore currency, up 7.6% against the greenback over 1990 alone (in 1991, up to April, the rise was 3%), and the reduction in luxury taxes back home, have conspired to make the Lion City less of shoppers' paradise.

Arrivals were over 5 million in 1990. Employment in the sector accounts for one in nine jobs and receipts add up to around 6% of GNP. Singapore has by far the biggest slice of the meetings and incentive travel business in Southeast Asia, and is on a US$ 625 million spending spree to keep things that way. A new convention and exhibition centre is being built and a marina for cruise ships. The venerable Raffles Hotel re-opens in 1992 after a S$100 million facelift. Singapore is touting its cultural heritage as it once paraded its shopping malls.

It goes against the grain for Singapore to sell itself as an ultra-modern city-cum-clearing-house for regional business deals, but that is what it is. With probably the world's best airport and some of its finest hotels, peerless communications and jam-free roads, Singapore is rightly seen as a super-efficient base for business forays into the region. …

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