The National Trade Union Congress is headed by a cabinet minister, free speech is restricted to a tiny patch of grass in the Central Business District (and activity there can be cancelled at a moment's notice), every newspaper and TV and radio station remains under the ownership of the government, and free and fair elections is just something Singaporeans talk about.
None of this is news, of course.
What is less talked about is how such a political model will hold up as deteriorating economic circumstances, both globally and domestically, ask evermore trenchant questions of the PAP's authoritarian system.
The state liturgy is that political control is necessary for the rapid economic progress that Singapore has experienced post-Independence – a development model that its maker touts as an alternative to the more chaotic one fostered by liberal democracy.
But half-a-century later, the autocratic-neoliberal arrangement seems to have run into a wall. Singapore's economy has seen 12 consecutive months of contraction (we are the only Asian economy to see a contraction in nominal GDP in the second quarter of 2016), labour productivity growth has remained at or near zero percent for the last few decades, and income inequality continues to dog our society.
More saliently, Singapore has become overly reliant on foreign workers. Goh Keng Swee's “impression” 40 years ago has turned out to be more than that.
Nearly 40 percent of our workforce now comprise non-Singaporeans. Our various industries are stacked with expatriates and migrant workers at every level. From doctors to domestic helpers, academics to artisans, foreigners have become the main feature in our economic landscape.
To be fair, the idea to import foreign talent and technology as a way to give a young economy a kick-start is not a bad one. But what started off as a necessary tactic has, unfortunately, morphed into a long-term, not to mention debilitating, strategy.
It is the absence of open debate resulting from the crushing of the political opposition and a free media that has put us in the present situation.
We have become so dependent on foreigners so much so that we are unable to produce our own professionals – at least enough of them to power our economy.
For example, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently lamented the shortage of engineers in Singapore. Given that the PAP has had more than 50 years of rule and waxes impudent about its political far-sightedness, such an outcome is unacceptable. Yet, the dearth of such professionals is real.
How did this come about? Former GIC chief economist, Yeoh Lam Keong, explained in a Facebook post that this was due to the excessively liberal importation of cheaper regional engineers for over two decades which “has bid down the real wages and working conditions of such professions such that the return on investing in such a tertiary education and career is unattractive to locals.”
The policy has created a vicious circle where engineering firms have found it difficult to recruit Singaporean engineers because of the shortage in supply and have to continue to hire foreign engineers.
A glamourised kiosk
Another reason why we have become so dependent on foreign labour is the PAP's inability to transform our economy. Instead of ensuring that multinational corporations (MNCs) coming into the country transfer their know-how to a local workforce hungry for knowledge, the government has aligned itself with foreign businesses, enticing them with evermore attractive tax holidays and generous repatriation of profits – and, of course, cheap labour from the region.
As a result, unlike Japan, Korea and Taiwan, we have been unable to build an enterprising, knowledge-based economy dependent on home-grown entrepreneurs. Instead, we have grown into a glamourised financial kiosk, servicing our rich MNC clients around the world.
This is a dangerous position to be in. As the developed world becomes increasingly critical of globalisation and the developing world competes for foreign investments, we are caught in the worst of possible worlds.
Clearly, there is a urgent need for a change in our politico-economic course and the longer we tarry, the more dire our situation becomes.