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Singapore

Singapore, the Smart Nation?

08.24.17 | Comment?

I have mad respect for Min-Liang Tan because he is a brilliant businessman and master marketer who has built a world-class company that is hands down #1 in its category. This guy is our very own Steve Jobs with his own cult following, and if there’s anyone I’m rooting for to win this, it’s him.

But let’s get real. Whether the government decides to take his proposal or go with some other plan submitted by another industry player, what we are going to end up with will still be a nice little walled garden that’s not too different from NETS.

The numbers will be awesome just by virtue of the monopoly the government will bless it with, and at the end of the day they’re all going to pat themselves on the back for a job well done. This system will be many things, but what it will not be is a world-beater, because it will be completely useless to anyone else outside of Singapore.

No National Day Rally speech has been more injurious to the Singaporean psyche than the one just delivered by Lee Hsien Loong. These speeches used to fire up an entire people and inspire them with a vision of the future. No longer. Now Singaporeans have just been shocked into reality — that the people they used to brush off as ‘country bumpkins’ from that massive country up north now see them as ‘suaku’ and very ‘backwards’. Now, it is they that have to play catch-up.

Today, the words first uttered by Sim Wong Hoo some 18 years ago still ring truer than ever before. He observed that in Singapore, drivers are not allowed to make a U-turn unless a sign specifically allows them to do so, while in other countries drivers may make U-turns as long as a “No U-turn” sign is not present. He described this as the No U-turn Syndrome (NUTS), and this phenomenon has wide implications for all of life in Singapore.

With so many things going for it — a highly educated, well-travelled populace; one of the world’s fastest internet speeds and an economy that’s on the crossroads of global trade and finance — could the reason why Singapore hasn’t been able to produce its own Facebook or Alibaba or Uber be that Entrepreneur A is still waiting for a politician to “say the word”, Entrepreneur B is still waiting for some government body to study the proposal, and Entrepreneur C is still waiting for her proposal to be approved?

Even in China where the government is omnipresent, it wasn’t the government taking the lead to make the cashless society happen. It was the business sector (Alibaba, Tencent et al) forging ahead and making things happen on their own. They didn’t need no government to study and approve any goddamn proposal. They went out there and came up with better solutions — ones that went on to completely reshape consumer behaviour.

I appreciate the sentiment of an integrated system built “by Singaporeans, for Singaporeans” but please come fucking on, because in 18 months, the world would already have moved even further. We needed that system YESTERDAY.

There are many questions to be answered and much soul-searching to be done, but for now, we must just accept that Singapore is no longer on the frontier, and it is our destiny to either:
[A] just swallow our pride and copy what someone else has built,
[B] prepare to get deepthroated as we let foreign internet behemoths take the hell over, OR
[C] have our million-dollar ministers study yet more proposals and fall even further behind in the meantime.

The choice is ours to make now. Which rabbit hole are we going to collectively go down?

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