My reply to “Hong Kong is a better bet than Singapore”: A rising tide should raise all ships

posted on May 24, 2020

I read with amusement, Peter G De Krassel’s article on the SCMP today. And decided to dust the cobwebs off my blog and stretch my finger tips a little.

His title and its contents match each other perfectly for the immaturity of thought and opinion it possesses. It reminds me much of the self serving comparisons we used to make in primary school. Like: “My pencil box is better than your pencil box cos it has this compartment.” Except of course, neither Peter nor myself is in primary school.

Nonetheless, I shall indulge him.

Let it be said, before I begin, that I respect his sense of nationalism and pride in Hong Kong. I have many friends who hail from the great city, and I know for a fact, that they have great love for their home.

Whilst Singapore may end up a beneficiary of the troubles in Hong Kong, my personal hope has always been that Hong Kong will see its troubled days past it, and emerge stronger from it.

I do not think the Hong-Kong/Singapore equation is a zero sum game, in which one party’s loss is another party’s perfect gain. In my opinion, the loss of a free and prosperous Hong Kong, will be a nett loss not just to Singapore, but to the world.

Further to this, I personally have capital invested in some great Hong Kong companies, so have vested interests in its revival. As recently as last Friday (22nd may 2020), whilst people were taking flight in the capital markets of Hong Kong, I placed a small bet on it (In addition to other holdings beforehand). So I’m putting my money where my mouth and opinion is.

Moving on, I shall deal with some of Peter’s indirect criticisms of MY home, Singapore. My opinions shall be of greater comparative length than peter’s because I will not be lazy, and make generalizations, that do not stand the test of reality.

Housing Issue

The core tenet of any successful government should first and foremost, be the well being of its people.

Taking care of basic needs is critical, because if you do not have a bowl of rice on your table, or a roof over your head, the “higher”, more noble needs do not even get consideration.

In this arena, Peter concedes Singapore is superior, and I think you would find few who disagree.

Singapore’s Public Housing programme in partnership with our national savings programme, the Central Provident Fund, have ensured, almost every Singaporean has a a roof over their head.

And increasingly, this has not just been about four concrete walls and the space in between. But with excellent amenities like green spaces and park connectors, covered multi story carparks, covered walkways, and food conveniences just a step away.

From personal experience, I can say that many of these amenities, and the outlook of the public housing estates themselves even exceed the older private condominiums (such as the one I call home right now).

This for example is the view from my friend’s place. One of the many HDBs in Singapore.

Whilst Peter does acknowledge the problem in his article, and another opinion piece before it. He grossly understates its importance to the comparative argument at hand.

It might be because he is sitting comfortably in a paragon of relative luxury from those who live and are suffering from this issue in Hong Kong (Just a hypothesis)

I draw reference of course to the plight of Hong Kong people living in homes which would put some of our worker dormitory accommodations in the greatest of lights.

But also and beyond that, something that is becoming an increasing reality for even professionals.

As I have established above, and referencing Maslow’s heirachy of needs, one of the base needs of any population is shelter and accomodation.

Whilst he pays lips service to the problem, acknowledging it, and saying it needs to change; how can one argue “greatness” with the foundations cut beneath you.

p.s. Peter also seems to conveniently pin these problems on Hong Kong developers … and whilst they play a role in this … I think one has to remember not to blame the player, but to blame the game. The larger issue is governance and always has been, especially if you take into account that a government should provide for a peoples’ basic wellbeing.

Economic Comparisons

Everybody knows Hong Kong is one of the wealthiest cities in the world, in fact when I did a google search for GDP per capita, I was half expecting Singapore to be blown away in this regard.

I was surprised by the result. Singapore’s GDP per capita of roughly 65,000 USD is significantly higher than Hong Kong’s at 49,000 USD. But my hypothesis is this. In Hong Kong, there is a wider disparity between the “Haves” and “Have Nots”.

The economic data also suggests this, with Singapore’s Gini Coefficient being 0.43 and Hong Kong’s Gini Coefficient being 0.539 (Higher is worse in this regard).

The reality on the ground may be even starker, with wealth concentrated in a small number of companies and individuals.

If peter is making the argument that the RICH companies, enterprises and billionaires in Hong Kong are wealthier than the RICH companies, enterprises and billionaires in Singapore , then I think there is no fight. A quick scan of the forbes list will tell you that: entry into the Singapore’s Forbes Top 50 list requires you have at least 535 million USD of nett assets, whereas in Hong Kong … to be top 50, you would need to have a whopping 1.2 billion USD of nett assets.

Once again, in this area, as in the previous comparison, Peter’s narrative seems to favor the “haves” instead of the wider community. I doubt, with such vested interests, the “haves” are considering moves to Singapore.

When he references the stock market of Hong Kong as being more attractive than Singapore, I have to agree! The Hong Kong stock market and bourse in the recent decade in particular is highly tied to the economic success of China (a huge hinterland, which Singapore does not have). But then again, I started my company in Singapore, listed it in Australia, and could have equally done so in Hong Kong (given the right timing and size) …

My capital and where I should invest it, has hardly any bearing on where I should base myself physically. That is lesson 1 of “Capitalist 101”.

Whilst China and the Pearl River system that it is developing is an amazing opportunity for Hong Kong … should the current unrest and societal disruptions continue, Hong Kong might not be able to capture those opportunities. Singapore has its own challenges in capturing opportunities across a fragmented asean, so truthfully, it is a toss up at this point, where the greater opportunity lies.

Simply because, past performance does not guarantee future success.

Ultimately, the economic argument has two components to it. Future opportunity, and the ability to profit from it. With the opportunity a toss up (due to the uncertainty of Hong Kong’s position in China), and an uneven distribution of such opportunities anyway … unless Peter is only targeting the “haves” in his article … it does not cut any cake.

A rising tide should raise all ships.

Political System Comparisons (System and Civic Discourse)

Political declarations are in order here (Not that peter afforded us the same privilege).

I used to be a card carrying member of the ruling party in Singapore, the PAP, and a youth wing chairman. However, after the elections of 2011, I took a step back, and am no longer active. Even then, I wasn’t a voting cadre. Anybody can join a party. Its a simple form and a small fee.

My inclinations are certainly towards the ruling party, however, I was not happy with some decisions made here and there, and have voiced my opposing views in various forums, private and public.

Having said that, because I was actually part of the process, I had a front row seat to the democratic process in Singapore and how it is conducted. And I continue to follow political discourse and developments closely.

To brandish the western favored argument that freedom of speech should be unfettered, in my opinion is not a popularly supported notion in Singapore.

The politics in Singapore have been nurtured to be collaborative rather than confrontational.

What do I mean by this?

Well for one, trade unions in Singapore were nationalised in 1961 and the reason for that was that instead of working conditions and wages being a confrontation between workers, employers and the government, LKY who was borne of those trade union movements, realized we should seek collaborative outcomes.

On governmental level as well, they have sought to do this. Through a one party system, and differing greatly from a central and authoritarian command system in China, access, engagement and outcomes are prevalent.

Anybody who wants to have access to their MP’s can do so. Enter your postcode into the form, find the address and time and like a clinic, you can easily access your MP or a Minister who will deal with your grouses (Even a broken lightbulb in your corridor).

Besides these pull engagements (to deal with matters of personal importance), there are also push engagements, which means leaders, and ministers regularly seek to meet cross sections of the community to hear your points of view on various matters.

On a national level for example, in 2012, the Singapore government conducted a series called Our Sg Conversations, meeting people across a swathe of industries, and with various political inclinations (Here is one example). I was lucky to be invited for one such engagement with our Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, as part of a group that represented the social media community.

This is NOT AT ALL like  the China Central system that Peter compares Singapore to.

This level of engagement, at such an open level, with outcomes that affect your daily life, you will never see in China. Perhaps you never will, simply because its too big.

There is validity in the one-party system argument. And I say here, that this also weighs on my mind somewhat, when the ruling party sometimes uses its tools and apparatus to stunt the growth of alternatives.

One can hardly blame them though, should any political party be responsible for the growth of another? (This was LKY’s common retort).

With resolve, ingeunity, sacrifice and the PAP dropping the ball on core livelihood issues, an opposition party could bear fruit. But since livelihood issues are well addressed at this point, a 2 party system, which in any case is not a given good, is not in sight.

The part that I take real affront on is that Singaporean youth are an nonchalant bunch. It is true that we do not throw molotov cocktails or raise a riot … but besides people like me who walk the corridors knocking door to door …

There are many others who speak their minds openly.

This is a pic of  the pro gay movement Pink Dot. They are getting more and more vocal every year. And I think given time, and societal acceptance, they will achieve their aims.

Lastly, in Singapore, having been a participant of the 2011 election, and watching the count of each vote (members of all parties can have representatives to witness the count) … I can tell you our democracy is much more real and ACTUAL than Hong Kongs, where only half of the legislature is elected directly. The other half are chosen. This means Hong Kong elections have a democratic deficit, because they will never result in a chief executive of the people’s will elected.

What that leads to of course, is confrontation not just on the streets, but also in the legislative chambers.

Even IF the rules changed and a new chief executive was directly elected by the people, he/she would still be bound to observe the rules and laws set from above. Right?

Covid 19 Case Comparison 

With regards to the ongoing Covid 19 situation. This is where Peter was the most cavalier.

Like President Trump citing the numbers as though its a competition, to use this as an argument for anything is simply a low blow and classless.

In this regard, all I can say is we are in it together … AND

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

On that note, I will leave a video for you guys to enjoy. Interpret what you want (its not a marathon though), but only time will tell.