Monday, May 4, 2009

Governance in Singapore

There was an interesting analysis on BBC today marking 30 years after Margaret Thatcher first became Prime Minister, and an interesting article on the BBC website that questions the degree that Thatcher was responsible for the political ideology that carries her name - "Thatcherism". It remarks that Thatcher was, above all, a believer in pragmatic policies and that she cultivated a "radical" image to meet political ends. In UK, as it is all over the world, governance and public policy are seldom as clear-cut and ideologically driven as they might appear to be.

All of which brought to my mind several books on governance in Singapore:

  • Politics And Governance In Singapore: An Introduction by Bilveer Singh gives a comprehensive yet succinct account of Singapore politics. Set out in layman's language, it provides a foundational overview of the subject and examines the historical and structural dimensions of Singapore's politics as well as the way politics is conducted in the country. Key determinants and critical issues facing Singapore are analysed and discussed, including the state of nationhood, the role of civil society and democracy, and the sustainability of the current modus operandi.
  • Singapore: The State and Culture of Excess by Yao Souchou takes ideas and frameworks from philosophy, psychology, political science, cultural studies and anthropology to tell the larger 'truth' about the Singapore state. This book argues that this strong hegemonic state achieves effective rule not just from repressive policies but also through a combination of efficient government, good standard of living, tough official measures and popular compliance. Yao looks at the reasons behind the hegemonic ruling, examining key events such as the caning of American teenager Michael Fay, the judicial ruling on fellatio and unnatural sex, and Singapore's 'war on terror' to show the ways in which the State manages these events to ensure the continuance of its power and ideological ethos. Key subject discussed include: leftist radicalism and communist insurgency; nation-building as trauma; Western 'yellow culture' and Asian Values; judicial caning and the meaning of pain; the law and oral sex; food and the art of lying; cinema as catharsis; Singapore after September 11. Sidelights are also offered on the roles played by the Lee Kuan Yew family and several other major personalities.)
  • A Mandarin and the Making of Public Policy: Reflections of Ngiam Tong Dow edited by Simon Tay. Ngiam Tong Dow served in the elite Singapore Administrative Service for more than 40 years. His vision, foresight and leadership in economics and finance helped transform Singapore into a text-book case in development economics. As a senior civil servant and "mandarin", he has worked closely with the founding political leaders of Singapore including Goh Keng Swee, the late Hon Sui Sen, and served under two Prime Ministers, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. In this book, he reflects on his experiences and shares personal anecdotes and perceptive insights of the early decades of Singapore. He also boldly questions some of the policies of government and emerging trends in the country to suggest how Singapore must change to survive and thrive in the future.

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