"Dynamics of the Singapore Success Story" launched

Dynamics of the Singapore Success Story" was launched on Friday at the Fullerton Hotel

SINGAPORE: A look at how Singapore climbed the success ladder is captured in a new book by retired civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow.

Titled "Dynamics of the Singapore Success Story" — it was launched on Friday at the Fullerton Hotel.

Many books have been written about what some would call the miracle story of Singapore.

But not many — with insider knowledge like Ngiam Tong Dow — have written it from a knowledge—based economy perspective.

Mr Ngiam became Singapore’s youngest permanent secretary in 1972, at the age of 35.

He worked closely with many of the country’s founding fathers, including the late Dr Goh Keng Swee, former Finance Minister Hon Sui Sen, as well as Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

"It’s the duty of all of us who have gone on before to write it down, and pass it down, to the next generation. They may agree or disagree, doesn’t matter but at least you have given them the benefit of your experience and that is very valuable to them, because you don’t need to make a mistake twice and policies which are enduring you can continue," said Mr Ngiam.

Foreign Minister George Yeo described the book as "interesting and very readable."

He said it complements memoirs written by political leaders such as Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Yeo also described Mr Ngiam as a self confident, high—minded individual who sometimes raised eyebrows.

Mr Yeo said, "When he was in the Civil Service, his views were expressed within government walls. In retirement outside those walls, he speaks and writes publicly which sometimes raises eyebrows. But, and I can personally vouch for this, it is the same self—confident, high—minded individual whose starting and end—point is what is good for Singapore and Singaporeans.

"When I was in MITA, Mr Ngiam was Permanent Secretary in the Finance Ministry. He almost killed the Esplanade project about which he paid me a high compliment years later. On the revolutionary transformation of our National Library system, he gave his fullest support. The acquisition of knowledge has always been his passion."

Mr Yeo added, "Could he like Hon Sui Sen and Howe Yoon Chong have joined politics? I don’t know. But what I do know is that he is well aware of the pressures and constraints which political leaders face and which civil servants have to factor into their recommendations and in their implementation of cabinet decisions."

Mr Ngiam said Singapore should not rest on its current success and stressed that it should be a case of quality over quantity when it comes to foreign talent.

He said, "We should not be flying on auto—pilot. That’s our tendency. Once we become very efficient as a government, you tend to say, this has worked before, just continue with them, but the world has changed.

"So, in my book I discuss our population policy. It is true that in the 1970s, at EDB where I was, we wanted to have a bigger population because we studied the populations of small countries like Israel, Norway, Sweden and before they probably had about 5 to 6 million. And they were very successful.

"They can compete with the Americans and all the rest but today, you must realise that technology has changed, so you don’t need that kind of numbers but we must be open to the outside ideas and so on. But we should be more selective.

"You bring in someone from outside, his average education must be higher than our average. Otherwise he doesn’t add anything. So you must always bring in a better chap, not just bring in the numbers. Numbers are no longer what counts. What counts is knowledge and education."

Mr Ngiam did not pull back any punches during a short forum after the book launch. One subject he spoke about was the issue of foreign consultants and CEOs in local companies. He asked the audience, "Why do we need foreign consultants and CEOs? Singaporeans should do things themselves."

Using Singapore Airlines as an example, he noted that when the airlines was being set up, Singaporeans held the helm and turned it to what it is today.

When talking about the two casinos in Singapore, he said he was still against the idea and added that "people sometimes think I am a Christian fundamentalist, but I am not," to loud laughter from the audience.

Asked by Channel NewsAsia if he would stand for the next presidential elections, Mr Ngiam stressed the answer is, "NO".

— CNA/fa