It’s OK for someone like me with a narrow vision, no reputation and no pretensions of great — or even little — intellect to shoot off my mouth after a visit or two or three to a country, pretending to speak like an expert to end all experts.
This is because those kind enough to hear me out would know that I’m no authority and they might be poorer in knowledge if they treat what I articulate as gospel.
Not so when it comes to those who are who’s who in their sphere of influence and when visiting Singapore, the country’s elite will sit at their feet waiting for pearls to pop out from between their pearlies.
Such elevated folk should, no, must be more thoughtful with what they articulate, not make sweeping pronouncements about their host countries when their comments carry disproportionate weight.
It doesn’t matter whether the remarks are positive or negative. What matters is that they are opinions formed without thorough thought.
Let me cite two recent examples where I think the conclusions these “experts” have formed about Singapore are dead wrong, even if the conclusions are flattering to my country.
First, there is Paul Vocker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve and economic adviser to President Obama.
When he was in Singapore recently to speak at the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, he said: “I wander around the city and wonder where the poor people are!”
Also by stating that he hasn’t seen a poor person — while intended as a compliment to the country — Dr Vocker actually makes nonsense of efforts such as the Straits Times Pocket Money Fund, Comcare, NTUC free text book distribution, public assistance etc etc
Like it or not, while we are not Somalia or even Bangladesh, there are poor people in Singapore!
The other person’s pronouncement that got my goat is New York Times bestselling author and explorer, Dan Buettner, whose five-year global study on the keys to personal happiness fingers Singapore as the happiest in Asia.
This is because in Singapore, people of different ethnicities feel they belong and fit in. Citizens are able to trust their Government and police. Unemployment is low, home ownership is high. The country gives people access to green spaces despite having one of the highest population densities in the world.
I’ve no quarrels with his findings so far.
Mr Buettner says where security is concerned, Singapore shows that feeling secure is more important than freedom when it comes to happiness.
His kicker: “In Singapore, you cannot freely buy pornography, it is harder to start a political party, but if you’re a woman, you can walk down the street any time of the day and you can be pretty sure no one is going to bother you.”
Alas Mr Buettner is somewhat out of touch with recent reality. Even men aren’t quite safe.
So Mr Buettner, Singapore may not be Mexico where violent crime is concerned; but we aren’t Bhutan either.
It’s best that those who flit in and out of Singapore don’t ruin their reputation by passing off fleeting impressions as erudite research! Even if it does my country no harm, it can’t do much good for your reputation. Or your street cred, uncle!