What the CE can take home from Singapore
Soon after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s visit to Singapore, the first foreign country she visited since becoming Hong Kong’s leader, it was widely announced she will follow the city-state’s example and start a Civil Service College for Hong Kong. Admirable as that is in increasing efficiency and effectiveness of the civil service, there are a number of other things which, to my mind, Hong Kong can learn from Singapore.
The first thing that struck me when I came to Singapore was that living conditions of most families here were much better than those in Hong Kong. I was also surprised to find out that roughly 80 percent of the families here own the apartments which they live in. This came about because of apartment building under the Housing and Development Board (HDB). Soon after independence, the HDB started acquiring land to build housing for the people. Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s stated philosophy was that government policies should aim to help 80 percent of the population while the top 20 percent could always help themselves. Another trend of his thought was that people who owned their own housing were more likely to look after the units; in addition, having a mortgage to pay would make it less likely they would create disturbance in society. The HDB soon started to acquire land to build apartments which were sold to the people virtually at cost. At times, that involved acquiring land cheaply. Personally, I know of at least one family where a sizeable chunk of its vast land holding was forcibly sold to the government, and they decided to move to Australia, and as an aside, now that Singapore has become such a success, they realized that had they just hung on to the piece of land that was not taken away from them at that time, that remaining piece of property would have been worth much more than what they now have in Australia!
Can Hong Kong achieve a similar goal — having 80 percent of her families becoming homeowners? This might require the government battling the big developers but I think it’s an essential goal to achieve. It will bring about a greater sense of security and belonging to the young people of Hong Kong. Lam has been saying her policies do not exclude the possibility of using the government’s vast financial reserves in this respect. Perhaps some of that money should be used in developing something similar to the HDB of Singapore.
Meanwhile, English, being the language of commerce, science and law, and one of Singapore’s four official languages, is now widely used in the schools, in business, in all the professions and in the courts of the city-state. Should Hong Kong, which has also designated English as The author is a consultant hematologist in Singapore, a lecturer in several leading medical schools, a certified senior mediator and a former senior Singapore Armed Forces officer.
Can Hong Kong achieve a similar goal — having 80 percent of her families becoming homeowners? This might require the government battling the big developers but I think it’s an essential goal to achieve.
one of its two official languages, adopt a similar policy? The language known as English is no longer the preserve of the British Empire or of the United States; it has in effect become the lingua franca of business and science. If Hong Kong is to maintain its status as an international financial center and continue to be an important gateway to China and not be over taken by Shanghai, or even Shenzhen, its people have to continue to maintain a high standard of English, which has deteriorated in recent years.
A perennial problem facing Hong Kong is the shortage of doctors in the public sector. Singapore has a similar problem but that problem is solved by employing foreign-trained doctors, without requiring them to take any local medical exams. Imagine senior consultants, say in heart surgery in an advanced country, having to sit an exam that covers all areas of medicine, areas in which they have no interest, in order to get a license to practice; is that really necessary? Can a senior consultant working in Hong Kong pass that same exam now? The way the Singapore system deals with foreign specialists coming to practice here is that first, they have to work in a government-linked hospital for a number of years. They might be appointed as consultants, due to experience in their own countries, but still they have to work for a number of years locally before being given a full license. If they are not up to par in the hospital, then they can be denied a license, but they are not required to take any formal exams.