New book questions policy 'hard truths'

Two Singaporeans have written a book that argues against the way the Singapore Government provides housing and social support, and questions how it has dealt with values such as meritocracy and identity.

At the launch of the book Hard Choices: Challenging The Singapore Consensus at the National University of Singapore (NUS) UTown yesterday, its two authors Donald Low and Sudhir Vadaketh said they wanted to encourage Singaporeans to question the beliefs and practices that have become hard truths in the public policy arena.

Hard Truths is also the title of a book by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Elaborating on this, Mr Low said: "We think that policymakers, and Singaporeans in general, should be less guided by hard truths, the ideologies, policies and practices that have served us well in the past 30 to 40 years, and be more guided by this idea that perhaps there are few hard truths, there are very few eternal truths.

"The far more meaningful debate we should be having is what are the choices we realistically have."

He is the associate dean for executive education and research at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and a former civil servant.

One such choice is whether Singapore must be a global city, said Mr Vadaketh.

He said the antagonism towards foreigners in Singapore is a result of tensions between those who see Singapore as a global city with a global identity and those who want it to have a more local identity.

Mr Low, 40, and Mr Vadaketh, 36, wrote most of the 15 essays in the book, which also includes contributions from Dr Linda Lim, professor of strategy at the University of Michigan, and Dr Thum Ping Tjin, research fellow at the Asia Research Institute in NUS. The book is published by NUS Press.

Mr Low said he hoped for a return of "the debate that used to characterise the Singapore Government" but had been "sucked out of the system" because of the Government's success.

He cited a 1972 speech by former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee that raised concerns over Singapore's continued reliance on foreign investments and foreign workers for economic growth. "I think we have regressed."

This article was published on April 23 in The Straits Times.

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