Saturday, June 21, 2008

Growth Report finally arrived

Launched in April 2006, the Commission on Growth and Development brought together twenty-one leading practitioners from government, business and the policymaking arenas, mostly from the developing world. The Commission was chaired by Nobel Laureate Michael Spence, former Dean of the Stanford Graduate Business School, and Danny Leipziger, Vice-President, World Bank, is the Commission's Vice-Chair.

Over a period of two years the Commission gathered the best understanding there is about the policies and strategies that underlie rapid and sustained economic growth and poverty reduction.
The Commission has finally released its final report, The Growth Report: Strategies for Sustained Growth and Inclusive Development, which looks at how developing countries can achieve fast sustained and equitable growth.

At this occasion, The Straits Times of Singapore covered a double central page in its Saturday edition about the report and had a full interview of the Senior Minister Mr. Goh Chok Tong. One the questions asked was a very interesting one, in which an official paper mixed in the same sentence Singapore and Democracy. Here is the question and answer.

"The Straits Times: As Singapore develops, will the rights and freedoms associates with a liberal democracy become more important?

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong: I think it’s going to be discussed more because, as the people get used to long periods of growth, and their wealth goes up, so will they move up the hierarchy of needs.

They will look for things beyond bread and butter, like intellectual discourse, political expression, arts, sports and so on.

More people will want our politics to be more liberal. That is fine, provided you’re not worried about your stomach and shelter, security and physical freedom, economic growth and unemployment.

I think it is fair to ask and debate, “Can Singapore practice liberal democracy now that we are a middle-income country? Are we now so strong and secure that we can ignore our geography, our neighborhood and our permanent vulnerabilities? What are the long-term implications for us if we move away from our present system or government?”

Liberal democracy includes the right to gather, demonstrate and protest against anything under the sun. Do you want demonstrations every day along Orchard Road or Shenton Way? I don’t think so. This is a small place. If there’s a big demonstration in our city, the whole place comes to a halt.

It’s different for big countries. If there is a demonstration in the capital city, the rest of the country will keep on producing. We can’t follow that model of liberal democracy.

But we can have a marginal kind of freedom to demonstrate, like designating Speakers’ Corner, for example, as a place where you can demonstrate as long as you don’t spill to other areas and hold up other people’s daily activities. Or we can allow people to rent a stadium and demonstrate. "