Home Commentary Op-ed SINGAPORE COULD BE IDEAL MODEL FOR SENATOR

SINGAPORE COULD BE IDEAL MODEL FOR SENATOR

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Sen. Bryan says he wants to model the US Virgin Islands on Singapore, an island on the tip of the Malay Peninsula.
As a former vice president of the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands, I would like to emphasize one additional difference between the 4.5-million-person former British colony and the US Virgin Islands — a distinction that may have escaped Sen. Bryan, but which is of great importance to the League of Women Voters:
In spite of being nominally a democracy, Singapore is a repressive regime which is guilty of countless infringements on the civil rights of its citizens and repeated seizures of newspapers and magazines which displease the government, which has been controlled since independence in 1965 by the Lee family, including the current Deputy Prime Minister LEE Hsien Loong (since 28 November 1990) — it was his father who outlawed chewing gum.
Here are some data on Singapore from the CIA
Area:
total: 647.5 square kilometers , or about 402 square miles
land: 637.5 square kilometers or 395 square miles
water: 10 square kilometers or 6.2 square miles
Economy – overview: Singapore is blessed with a highly developed and successful free-market economy, a remarkably open and corruption-free business environment [Note that this CIA assessment of a "corruption-free business environment" is at variance with the State Department which says government corruption, especially as it relates to the use of police to thwart civil rights is a significant problem.], stable prices, and the fifth highest per capita GDP in the world. Exports, particularly in electronics and chemicals, and services are the main drivers of the economy. The government promotes high levels of savings and investment through a mandatory savings scheme and spends heavily in education and technology. It also owns government-linked companies (GLCs) – particularly in manufacturing – that operate as commercial entities and account for 60 percent of gross domestic product. As Singapore looks to a future increasingly marked by globalization, the country is positioning itself as the region's financial and high-tech hub.
GDP: purchasing power parity – $98 billion (1999 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 5.5% (1999 est.)
GDP – per capita: purchasing power parity – $27,800 (1999 est.)GDP – composition by sector:
agriculture: Negligible
industry: 28 percent
services: 72 percent
And from the Asian Human Rights Commission, this summary by a Singapore writer, of a meeting held in March of 2000 to discuss setting up an Singapore national human rights committee:
"Each of the speakers brought to the audience's attention that there was a lot of work to be done regarding human rights in Singapore. Basically, the idea of human rights not only needs to be concentrated upon by the government, but effort from the citizens is also needed. Singaporeans should not be afraid to discuss human rights. There was mention about the concept of 'self-censorship' in Singapore and how many Singaporeans consciously or unconsciously 'restrict' their own actions or the actions of others who dare to discuss the topic of human rights in Singapore."
Finally, the US State Department Human Rights Report for 2000 says about Singapore:
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were significant problems in some areas. The Government has wide powers to limit citizens' rights and to handicap political opposition. There were occasional instances of police abuse; however, the Government investigates and punishes those found guilty, and the media fully cover allegations of mistreatment. Caning, in addition to imprisonment, is a routine punishment for numerous offenses. The Government continues to rely on preventive detention to deal with espionage, organized crime, and narcotics. The authorities sometimes infringe on citizens' privacy rights.
The Government did not change the wide array of laws and government practices, or the informal methods of government influence, that continue to restrict freedom of speech and the press significantly and limit other civil and political rights. Government intimidation and pressure to conform result in the practice of self-censorship among journalists. Government leaders historically have utilized court proceedings, in particular defamation suits, against political opponents and critics. These suits, which consistently have been decided in favor of government plaintiffs, have chilled political speech and action, and created a perception that the ruling party uses the judicial system for political purposes. While no new defamation suits were filed during the year, some opposition leaders remain at risk of bankruptcy because of efforts by ruling party members to collect damages awarded in previous years. In June an opposition party leader lost a legal appeal to forestall payment of damages stemming from a 1998 defamation lawsuit filed against him by PAP members. There was a moderate level of ongoing debate in newspapers and Internet chat groups on various public issues, and the Government established a Speakers' Corner in a public park to facilitate the ability of persons to speak in public on a range of issues. However, government restrictions on such persons still inhibited their ability to speak freely. The Government significantly restricts freedom of assembly and association. Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church are banned; however, freedom of religion otherwise generally is respected. There is some legal discrimination against women, which affects benefits for children and husbands in limited cases. The Government has moved actively to counter societal discrimination against women and minorities, but violence and some discrimination against women and reports of trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution persist. Foreign workers are vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse.
All-in-all, now that I study on it, maybe Singapore IS the model that Sen. Bryant seeks.
Bruce Potter

Editor's note:Bruce Potter is president of Island Resources Foundation, a not-for-profit research organization that has done extensive marine research in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. He served as acting director of the V.I. Energy Office at one time in the late 1970s.

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