Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hard truths you won’t read about elsewhere, Part I

With elections so near, the Straits Times has gone to town with recent prognostications and opinions by ministers from the ruling party. Coverage has been extensive, and article layout in the paper has been tweaked to give the PAP maximum favourable exposure. Most of all, Straits Times journalists have hung on to every word spoken by our ministers, branding each gem with the moniker of “hard truth”. The most recent egregious example was about how anything more than one strong political party was “unworkable”.

Since the media has seen fit to play fast and loose with the term “hard truths”, why shouldn’t I take a stab at it as well?

Here’s *my* list of hard truths, one you won’t read about in the mainstream media. Readers can judge for themselves how “hard” and how “truthful” they really are, compared to what is in print today.

The PAP government will fail one day. And when it does, it will likely take Singapore with it, permanently.

The long form argument for this is available in my previous post. Additional points follow.

Failure can be measured in many ways, just like success. And as anybody who has measured things over time will attest, measurements are useless unless they are consistent over time.

It wasn’t so very long ago, a decade perhaps, that our government laid down bold plans for Singapore to aspire to a Swiss standard of living, sending a football team to the World Cup (among other grandiloquent visions), and making Singapore a “best home”. For whatever reasons, these goals have been lost along the wayside. The GDP figure is now the primary determinant of success.

The PAP could already be failing Singapore, if held to the same measures of success and failure that were espoused by it so many years ago. That it sees itself as being successful may be a function of shifting metrics rather than a reflection of true performance. In other words, the PAP’s performance has been and continues to degrade, but its decline has been masked by the managing of its appearance.

Even in elections, the PAP chooses to delude itself. Gerrymandering may be a tactical strategy to retain power by the incumbent, but the flipside is that it also has the side effect of distorting the voting signals that political parties rely on. Without consistent GRC boundaries, how will any political party track its performance and endorsement by the population over time?

Unless the PAP knows the vote of each and every individual, and can model its election performance based on the votes cast and the historical drawing of GRC boundaries as they have changed at each election cycle, it will not understand how sentiment towards the PAP has evolved over the years and how this might translate into the political change. Possession of this kind of data is clearly prohibited under the current legal regime, if the regime is in fact adhered to.

Hypothetically (or not so hypothetically), if the PAP was indeed failing, and sentiment on the ground was indeed souring, it would not be apparent at all. And no political change would occur due to this masking of sentiment. The PAP would continue to congratulate itself on a job well done (and pay themselves accordingly). Wrongheaded policy errors would continue to be perpetuated unabated, until their deleterious effects become too late to reverse, and too obvious to ignore.

When an adverse outcome does finally materialize for Singapore, I expect its appearance (but not occurrence) to be non-linear in nature. In other words, it could happen really, really fast.

Consider how the severity of public transportation and housing problems in Singapore are related to the PAP’s immigration policy.

And consider how apparent these policy missteps were when the immigration policy was first conceived (Do the LTA and MND even talk to ICA??? And this is just for a country of all of 4.5 million people, not even as populous as the greater New York or Tokyo metropolitan area).

And consider how much consultation, monitoring and review the immigration policy subsequently received, after problems started becoming apparent. Or were criticisms just pooh-poohed and then superficially addressed only when elections finally rolled around.

Now imagine the effect multiplied a hundred-fold, across all the policies the PAP crafts and implements, those policies that have been articulated publicly, and those that are now being quietly implemented which none of us know about. And which will not brook any argument, criticism or consultation in the future.

The quality of the PAP’s policies is often criticized. But the quality of the PAP’s policy-making processes itself separately deserves scrutiny. The latter could have greater implications for Singapore’s future than any one policy crafted by the political elite, and I do not have a sanguine view of that at all.

Hard Truth #2 to be unveiled in the next post.

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