“There is clearly a huge dissonance between what Western observers think is happening in Singapore and what’s really happening on the ground,” said Linda Lim, a Singaporean economist at the University of Michigan who has been critical of the Singapore approach, arguing the government’s failure to allow industry growth to be more determined by market forces has left the country dominated by multinationals that have created a glass ceiling for the Singaporean nationals they employ, and open to extreme volatility from its economic dependence on trade.
“The bottom line is, competitiveness cannot be created out of thin air, competitiveness must be based on what you have and who you are,” she said. “You need to figure out what is different about you. There is no generic policy.”
Still, Canadians on the ground in Singapore say their resource-rich homeland can learn a few things from Singapore – the focus on bringing the best and brightest into government as well as industry, on recruiting from around the world, and on directing government dollars and programs to maximize the potential for innovative new industries.
“The intentions in Singapore are all very good but it’s their ability to implement those high ideals which I credit them for. … By default, this country should be not even a Third World nation but a fourth-world nation. At the turn of the century it was an opium den, a prostitution den and a gangland area. What they’ve done well is they have sought out the best and the brightest and recruited them into key leadership positions,” said Rohan Belliappa, executive director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, which counts such iconic Canadian firms as Research In Motion, CAE and Bombardier among its membership.
He says he sees opportunities for Canada’s regions, including his native Atlantic Canada, to replicate some of Singapore’s efforts in areas including logistics management, financial services and the biosciences – all knowledge-based industries requiring few natural resources.
“They are continually looking for the growth opportunities. They don’t just follow the trends, they stay ahead, with best practices and investment improvement, on everything, even public relations and relations with neighbouring countries; they are friends with everyone in the region,” he said. “They’ve got the smartest people from the private [sector], the money from the public [sector], and build the nation on that basis.”
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