The Keys to Progress (1-6): The Singaporean triad for economic advancement

Mohammed Ibrahim Eldesouki
Sunday 18 Feb 2024

Singapore has succeeded in maintaining a distinguished and prestigious position among prominent global economic powers, creating an impressive model emulated by others aspiring to achieve breakthroughs in sustainable development and technology.


Singapore’s economy currently ranks 12th with a GDP of $466.79 billion in 2023, owing to its pioneering and highly distinguished developmental experience. This has enabled it to withstand and remain at the top without significant setbacks.

The question arises: what are the magical keys utilized by the policymakers of this small Southeast Asian island, entirely deprived of natural resources such as oil and gas, to effortlessly unlock the doors of progress, economic and financial advancement, and technological prowess, keeping their country steadily atop unprecedented stability?

From the outset of its challenging developmental journey, Singaporean leaders relied on sturdy pillars that remain unchanged to this day. They mastered the utilization and mobilization of human resources, the most valuable asset they possess. Human capital is the primary cornerstone around which everyone revolves. It is invested in a manner that yields the highest anticipated benefits achievable, positioning Singapore consistently at the top ranks of the World Bank's Human Capital Index as the best country globally in human capital development. According to Singaporean scientific forecasts and estimates, a newborn child is expected to be 88 percent productive upon maturity.

Furthermore, successive governments excelled in leveraging the racially diverse population fabric, where Chinese represent 75 percent, Malays 15 percent, and Indians 8 percent. Diversity here was not a cause for ethnic conflicts or competition over wealth, ownership, or prestige. They all agreed that they are partners in building a nation that cares for and provides the utmost care to all without discrimination. Everyone stands on an equal footing, and the privileged ones are those who excel in competence and contribution. The average income of a Singaporean citizen is classified among the highest globally, reaching $82,807, with the government aiming to increase it to $100,000 in the coming years.

Perhaps the most prominent and evident characteristic of Singapore's investment lies in its rich human resources, particularly its education system, which receives unparalleled attention. Its essence lies in providing talents with their full opportunity to emerge, honing their capabilities continuously, and training them rigorously with scientific methods. So, they become a high-quality, productive workforce capable of adapting to new developments and meeting economic requirements consistently.

The Singaporean educational system is entirely fair to both rich and poor, grounded in an unwavering belief that exceptional talents and capabilities can be found among the poor as well as the wealthy. To this end, the efforts of the Singaporean government in formulating public policies focus on ensuring fair and comprehensive provision of basic services, including quality of life and respectable healthcare for its citizens.

In summary, sound public policies lead the state to cultivate a competent society, providing it with the necessary grounds for stability and averting causes that incite grievances and tensions. Thus, it avoids troubles and crises that consume a significant amount of time and energy to quell and mitigate their negative repercussions.

The educational system in Singapore is founded on the principle that every child possesses a talent awaiting expression for the benefit of society. Children gifted in various sciences are directed to specialized schools to nurture and develop their talents alongside peers who share similar abilities. Government scholarships are awarded to the brightest minds after they successfully pass rigorous, merit-based tests devoid of favoritism.

One of the outcomes of this rigorous educational policy is that top Singaporean students achieve relatively high acceptance rates among international elite universities such as Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, and Berkeley. This achievement contrasts significantly with Singapore's small population of fewer than five million inhabitants. Singaporean students rank second among foreigners enrolling in the prestigious British universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Upon graduation, students who receive government scholarships are required to work in government positions for a period ranging from five to eight years. They often occupy high-ranking positions at a young age because decision-makers truly want to maximize the returns from the youth's brilliant and innovative ideas, which serve the country's interests above all else.

Leadership positions, from the lowest to the highest, are selected based on promising competencies, leaving no room for nepotism, seniority, or interventions from any direction that would harm the public interest or hinder the smooth operation of the country's affairs. Singaporean officials keep in mind a principle articulated by the modern founder of Singapore, the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, which says: "If you want to build a good government, you must entrust it to good people."

The second key lies in meticulous planning based on a penetrating and clear vision of internal and regional dynamics and the strategic position of their country. This is manifested in the construction of a vibrant and dynamic economy characterized by flexibility and the ability to absorb shocks and unpleasant surprises. It could withstand wars like the Russo-Ukrainian War and pandemics affecting global supply chains and limiting travel such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, Singapore is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with its economy ranking fourth in terms of purchasing power parity.

Singaporean economic policies are founded on prudence, good governance, attracting foreign direct investments, continuous infrastructure development, and export-oriented manufacturing. These account for around 20 percent of the total GDP, particularly in sectors such as petroleum, electronics, and precision engineering. The services sector related to information and communications technology has witnessed an annual growth rate of 6 percent, while the finance and insurance sectors have grown by 5.9 percent annually, contributing to economic expansion.

Singapore offers an attractive business environment and capital attraction through low taxes on income and corporations, a skilled and well-trained workforce, the establishment of free zones, and a network of business incubators. Moreover, unemployment rates are low compared to neighboring countries and those outside the Asian continent in general.

Singapore is now the preferred destination for technology and innovative companies, with 80 of the top 100 international technology companies having branches and activities there. This is attributed to several factors, including modern digital infrastructure, strong digital talents, and robust intellectual property governance. It ranked second globally among 63 countries in the Global Digital Competitiveness Index for 2020, after the United States, with the internet economy in Singapore reaching $9 billion in 2020 and expected to grow annually by 19 percent to reach $22 billion by 2025.

Singapore's economy consistently achieves a positive surplus and high revenues, with no external debts. This surplus is primarily driven by exports of electronics, equipment, financial services, tourism, and its bustling shipping ports, which are among the busiest in the world. These advantages are further enhanced and protected by a stable political system and upholding the principles of the rule of law, which applies to all residents and visitors of Singapore.

Finally, the third key lies in combating corruption, especially in the government sector. Government employees, who are appointed without interference from politicians or others, are paid salaries that exceed what they would earn in the private sector, eliminating the need for bribery. If bribery occurs, it is strictly and severely punished, and government procurement is conducted through competitive tenders, awarded to the lowest bidder.

Singapore has established sovereign wealth funds, the largest in terms of asset size globally, with virtually no financial leaks. Meanwhile, other countries, which earn billions of dollars from exports, squander their wealth due to rampant corruption that corrodes their foundations.

These are the three fundamental magical keys that have propelled Singapore into the vast horizons of wealth and meticulously planned economic progress, away from stumbling and falling into the pitfalls of confusion, disorientation, and deviation from the path.


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