Singapore celebrated 42 years of independence today. The celebration could have been right out of a James Bond film. The huge floating platform on Marina Bay where soldiers, police officers, civil defence workers and various other groups paraded looked like something out of a Bond movie when shown from the air on television. The movie effect was heightened by the action that followed, as navy and coast guard boats churned up the waters in high-speed mock chases and jet fighters buzzed past city skyscrapers in close formation before peeling off in different directions and helicopters skimmed the bay.
Singapore always puts on a good show on National Day. But no less impressive than the show was the old man himself — Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s father. Dressed in white, with his white hair, he looked like an old lion as he impassively watched the proceedings, no doubt recalling previous National Day parades and how Singapore has prospered under his leadership.
The growing income gap
I missed the prime minister’s National Day message telecast yesterday. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke from the top floor of the National Library building, I read in Today. The scene must have been rich in symbolism. The prime minister, a government scholar with a first from Cambridge, addressing the nation from the National Library, speaking about globalisation and the knowledge economy.
He spoke about growing prosperity and low unemployment but expressed concern over the widening income gap between the rich and the poor. That happens with globalisation, Today quoted him as saying.
I wonder if he thinks his own government has widened the gap by sanctioning huge pay rises for ministers and civil servants. His own pay went up from 2.5 million Singapore dollars last year to 3.1 million Singapore dollars ($2 million) this year, the government-linked Channel News Asia reported in April. That’s five times the salary of President Bush, who earns $400,000 a year. Even the average Singapore minister, earning 1.9 million Singapore dollars ($1.25 million), is paid more than the US president, reported the International Herald Tribune. PM Lee, to his credit, pledged to donate the pay hike to charity.
‘Globalisation not to blame’
Globalisation need not inevitably increase income gaps, according to the latest report from the Asian Development Bank. Wealth gaps have increased in China, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Cambodia — but narrowed in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, reported the BBC quoting the bank. Look at the bank’s own report; it says:
"… the development experience of Asia’s newly industrialising economies—especially Korea and Taipei,China—among others, has revealed that a rapid rise in inequality is not an inevitable result of high economic growth".
Only China shows more disparity
The report shows the richest 20 percent earn 9.7 times as much as the poorest 20 percent in Singapore. That’s the second highest income gap in Asia, exceeded only by China and matched only by Hong Kong, according to the economic indicators published in the report. But it also shows no one in Singapore lives in abject poverty on less than $1 a day. It’s impossible to live on less than $1 a day in Singapore. Even a cup of coffee costs more than 50 cents in the humblest hawker stall.