It is very easy to make comments about the CFE reports. Just sit down and put a comb over it to pick put the white hair and the fleas and dust. It is also just as easy to make 7 or 10 motherhood statements about what should be done in the future. Just gather a few heads and within a day or two you could get all the motherhood statements you want. The big question, how real and how useful are these motherhood statements?
To gaze at a crystal
ball, to foresee the trends, developments and challenges, is not the normal cup
of tea for anyone not armed with the width and depth of intellect to look into
the future. You need very serious thinkers and dreamers to make out something
from nothing or from what we have today. Who would be up to it to make such
great insights into the future and come out with workable recommendations to
benefit from the changes? If only you can find someone who could make the right
intellectual and educated guesses, this guy would be as good as God.
As a small little
country with limited resources and limited aspirations, we need to be real and
practical about what we want to do and what we can do. No doubt having big and
wild dreams and wet dreams are ok, as these are just dreams. It is better to look
at more realistic and practical targets and solutions like capitalising on our
strength and how to fit into the changing world, and make the best of it. We
have several good starts but due to the lack of foresight, the lack of
dreamers, the lack of support, we let them passe. Sim Wong Hoo's sound card was
at the fore front of the computer industry. Hyflux's water purification system
too was well ahead of its time. Now they are just ordinary, one among many and
fading away. If only the govt had invested and supported them in bigger ways,
they could be the Samsung or the Xiaomi today. Samsung and Xiaomi did not have
any proprietory products to start with. They simply copied and improved on what
others have done and make it big time. We were the leading transportation hub
for many decades but now going to be eclipsed too.
A more down to earth and
more mundane model to understand how we have gone wrong and missed the
opportunities, and missed the boat is public transportation, the train. When we
laid the ground work for the first MRT, China was still an impoverished
country. Transportation in China was Second WW train system, running like
tortoises on coal. Today China is the front runner in high speed train system,
an authority and a big mover in building international train network and
infrastructure. They have developed many in house expertise and patents in
every aspect of the train system, from design to manufacturing, turnkey
projects to operations. They are building the train infrastructure for the future
and for the world.
What have we achieved in
managing our train network? What have we achieved for having a head start in
mass rapid transport? Nothing. We are still struggling to make sure the train
runs without fault daily. We did not have any expertise in anything concerning
mass rapid transport. When a fault occurs, we start looking out for outside
expertise for help, even stupid enough to pay for expertise from third world
dysfunctional train systems calling themselves experts in modern train technology.
We have not acquired any expertise in mass rapid transportation to turn it into
a business except as an operator. After 50 years in the business, no experts in
This example applies to
practically every industry. Should not Singapore be exporting our expertise
with our own experts in areas of air and sea port management and development?
No, we are dependent on foreigners to run our ports, to manage our ports, to
find new directions for our ports. We have zero expertise to talk about when we
have been big operators for decades ahead of other countries. We are top air
and sea ports but have no expert in these fields.
Look at the banking and
finance industry. This is another joke. We are the financial centre of
Southeast Asia and competing with Tokyo and Hongkong to be the top financial
centre of Asia. Ask what kind of expertise we have, what kind of local experts
and professionals we have that are sought after by other financial centres? It
is a joke that we have to import all our top financial talents from abroad,
even from the third world countries with rudimentary financial system and
village banks. Soon there will be no local bankers left in the finance industry
and all the top bankers would be foreigners. And I remember someone saying we
are starting to develop our top bankers that would come on stream in 50 years
time. No need to talk about the IT industry.
What is this CFE all
about? Should we be bothered with gazing at the crystal ball of the future? How
could such an exercise benefit the country and people when there are very
serious challenges facing the country that no one could see or want to talk
about? We may not have a thriving Singapore in another 30 years if we don't
address the serious fundamental problems of the country and the shallow mindset
that is supposed to be driving the country forward. We have happily awarded the
contract to build the HSR terminal to foreign contractors when we should be
building it ourselves and bidding for such contracts overseas like the Korean companies.
Maybe we should start to bid in a big way for contracts in other countries to
build hawker centres. This is about the last area of expertise we still have,
but not for long. Is there anything that we are good at today to compete with
the rest of the world?