By Jayampathy Jayasinghe
Political stability and the rule of law of the government was the cornerstone of Singapore’s stability with a strong leader like Lee Kuan Yew who wielded power for a long period, said Tilak Abeysinghe, Director of Research, Gamani Corea Foundation and Adjunct Professor of the National University of Singapore delivering a lecture on “Singapore’s Development Experience: Lessons for Sri Lanka” at the BMICH in Colombo recently.
It was organised by the Gamani Corea Foundation.
Citing lessons learnt from Singapore, he said political stability alone does not guarantee the development of a country but has to seek the cooperation of the private sector to open up trade internationally. Referring to Switzerland, he said it was the role model of Singapore and there are lots of lessons that one can learn from Singapore as well.
Having gone to Singapore about 30 years ago the guest speaker said that he was able to witness the spectacular transformation of that country from a backward underdeveloped economy to a modern state. Prof. Abeysinghe said the per capita income of both Japan and Sri Lanka was very close to each other way back in the 1950s and the income of Singapore and Sri Lanka too was close to each other in the early 60s. However Sri Lanka’s economy stagnated up until 1980 and again, the eruption of the civil war affected the country’s economy.
Singapore’s economy too had stagnated before its independence but developed rapidly in 1965 following independence. He said Singapore has a very low infant mortality rate which is a reflection of the country’s health system and its development. Sri Lanka too has done remarkably well in that respect. In recent times the Singapore government has allocated vast sums of money on research and development and embarked on the electronic industry. But following competition from other quarters it deviated to other segments of the industry. Over the years Singapore has attracted vast sums of foreign reserves which they used to strengthen the state finances resulting in its people not being burdened with income taxes. But the corporate sector pays the highest income taxes in Singapore.
Although the western media was critical of Lee Kuan Yew’s dictatorial policies, he never gave into them. He challenged them in courts where the western media had to pay huge sums of money to him as settlement (for defamation). Singapore also spends vast sums of money on upgrading its defence capabilities despite its relative peaceful atmosphere since its independence to forestall any internal threats. The country does not allow any racial tension to erupt and strict laws are enforced, he said.
Economists Dr. Lloyd Fernando and Amal Sanderatne chaired the panel discussions.