Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Singapore as the world’s most efficiently managed company

Whichever way you look to Singapore, that tiny dot in the middle of vast Malay archipelagos, there is something proven about the way it is being managed. Efficiently and successfully since the little nation broke its rank from Malaysia.

Forget about the claim that it has less democratic space whereby opposition is almost, non-existant. The autocratic style of the leaders may have done wonder as the majority of its population is Chinese. Historically, Chinese had been ruled thousands of years under the same harsh rules of emperors and communist leaders.

Some claims that the first premier whose son is the 3rd and current PM is still running the show under the pretext of Mentor Minister. Other claims that the 'bumiputeras' of Singapore are second class citizens. Of course for known reasons, Singapore is very close to Israel and USA for strategic defense matters. Almost everyone of its population is trained as military personnel.

Like I say, whatever those claims from its critics, this tiny island of Johore is a world class nation for all the right reasons. And we as the 'big brother' needs it more than ever for some economical reasons, even we have to bear or subsidize the cost of supplying cheap water to Singapore for another generation. Do not forget that we had lost an island in an international court, fair & square (or is because of the incompetency of our AG team?)

Yes, Iskandar Malaysia as some claim is just another extension of Singapore...well, Dubai proudly claims that its development modeled after Singapore after all.

Paradigm Shift in Singapore
Ramzy Baroud

25 November 2009
Like scores of journalists, I attentively listened as Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering his closing remarks, and for the last time answering journalists’ questions. It was the conclusion of 17th APEC Economies Leaders’ Meeting in Singapore, on November 15, and Prime Minister Lee was clearly tired, although unruffled.

Lee is an impressive man. He has a commanding presence and is very articulate, despite his soft poise and humble demeanor. He speaks with the confidence of a leader of a great nation, not an island city-state, the smallest nation in Southeast Asia.

In fact, Lee’s confidence is well earned, and greatly deserved, and, by any reasonable standards Singapore is indeed a great nation. His country, once a site of a small fishing village, which saw a most tumultuous history of hardship, occupation and war, is now a prosperous nation, economically notwithstanding; its GDP per capital makes it the fifth wealthiest country in the world. Singapore’s official reserve is estimated at more than US $170 billion. For a country of 4-5 million people, it isn’t too bad.

In some way, Singapore is the world’s most efficiently managed company. Every facet of society contributes to the prowess of the corporate machinery that never takes a break. Its people are the employees in a hierarchy that has little room or patience for favoritism or corruption. But, despite the callous and, at times dehumanisation nature of business, the nation is immensely proud, its people are most helpful, self-assertive, resourceful, expressive and confident.

That explains Lee’s coolness as well. From his opening remarks at the APEC Summit to his last comments, he showed a particularly different breed of leadership. His was neither the reactionary nor the submissive language that is associated with leaderships in countries that are regarded as “small”, thus not so consequential.

Hosting an event of such magnitude as one that brings together presidents, prime ministers, foreign, finance and trade ministers of 21 countries — representing more than 40 per cent of total world population, nearly 55 per cent of its total GDP and about 44 per cent of world trade — should be a bit intimidating, daunting even. But not for Singapore, as everything fell into place, in such an impeccable and seemingly effortless manner. The APEC Summit, including its ministerial meetings, adjoining CEO summit, and the APEC leaders’ meetings, in addition to a consignment of other significant events on the side, all progressed with very few problems. Life in Singapore, outside the immediate grounds of the summit venues, carried on as usual.

I had prepared several questions to ask Lee. My first pertained to the APEC leaders’ faltering on their commitment to the environment, ahead of the Copenhagen summit on climate change.

In their initial draft, according to the Dow Jones Newswires, the leaders had committed to a specific agenda. That, however, abruptly changed. “Global emissions will need…to be reduced to 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050,” the draft read. The final statement however, reneged on that promise, delving instead to good sounding, yet hollow avowals: “Global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will need to be accompanied by measures, including financial assistance and technology transfer to developing economies for their adaptation to the adverse impact of climate change.”

It was strange how such summits tend to resort to specifics when such issues as tariffs, protectionism, investment, trade, currencies, and so on are referenced. But when human development, the environment and other subjects that have no formidable champions to back them up are mentioned, then its all about clich├ęs and truisms.

Luckily, or unfortunately for me, other journalists had similar concerns. Here goes my first question.

Then I wished to ask about free trade: how can the less powerful members of APEC survive a free trade agreement with giant economies, which demand everyone but themselves, to drop tariffs and abandon protectionism?

Currently APEC member economies, as they wish to be called, don’t have a binding free trade agreement, but a de-facto one, since most APEC members are bound by various regional and bi-lateral agreements. But US President Barack Obama is now leading a campaign to cap the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum with one single agreement. It’s, more or less, an attempt at recapturing the lost markets of Asia, where China has in recent years emerged as a powerful, albeit affable partner.

President Obama spent eight days on his first trip to Asia touring Japan, then Singapore where he attended the APEC Summit — then China and finally South Korea. His visit was a watershed moment in this history between the US and Asia, the former being more modest, the latter more assertive. “Equality”, as in “more equal” relationship, whether in trade or politics, was the buzzword that accompanied Obama throughout his trip, especially in Japan and China. In Singapore, Obama was a star, not exactly because of the country he represents, but because of him as an individual who promised earthshaking changes. The fact that he is yet to deliver on any of his promises seemed unimportant. But even a bigger star, was Chinese President Hu Jintao, not because of him as an individual, but because of the great country he represents.

What a strange turn of fortunes.

Thousands in Singapore, a country with a Chinese majority, many of whom are the descendants of poor immigrants from South China, came out to meet President Hu. Many tears were shed as he spoke, with force, command but also benevolence. Singapore’s APEC 2009 was the forum where the new balances of power were at full display: China was making its move to the front of the line and the US, hesitantly but willingly was making room, accepting the unavoidable ordains of power. What could follow is either a natural economic, thus political transition and repositioning, or a new cold war, in which other Asia-Pacific countries — and others — are likely to be embroiled; for how can countries, such as Chile, Mexico, Brunei Darussalam, Peru and even Singapore itself, for example, benefit from such gatherings without being trampled in the long run by the march forward or hasty retreat of the economic giants? That was the last question I wished to ask Lee. The questions and answers period, however, was cut short despite the palpable agitation of many journalists.

The APEC Summit, although answering a few questions, certainly delineated the new paradigm shift. It was a chance for Asia to assert itself, and for others to listen. But it also presented a new set of priorities, an agenda even, one in which the environment didn’t seem to top the list. A most unfortunate conclusion, indeed.

Ramzy Baroud ( is a distinguished Arab American author and editor of His forthcoming book, My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story, is now available for pre-orders on

Thailand, Bahrain better than Malaysia for expats to live

I read about the growing number of expatriates from African continent in Malaysia. We have growing problems and increasing crime rate. There are certain areas populated by these expats who had entered the country legally but prolong their stay illegally with illegal activities which are normally condoned by the authorities for some reasons, which I think I know. It could be CORRUPTION.

It is surprising though that Malaysia is not in the top 10 list. We have millions of expatriates from Indonesia, Philippine, China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Sudan etc however these expatriates could not be part of the survey. Malaysia is heaven for illegal expatriates as so many levels of back door arrangements. Please correct me if I am wrong here, our country is the best place for expatriates to live as some legal matters can bes solved through some means of win win situation.

Wonder why Australia, Canada and Thailand have topped a survey on the best countries for expatriates to live? And Bahrain is in the list, not sure why UAE is not as last year's list.

The second annual Expat Experience survey, which was commissioned by HSBC Bank International, revealed the top 10 countries that give the best quality of life to expats, the easiest to integrate into and the best value for money.

The survey questioned 3,146 people working in 30 industries across 50 countries on the quality of life, accommodation and entertainment that each of the countries offered. Thailand claimed 3rd spot in the survey despite being one of the worst affected areas for expats during the global downturn.

Singapore, Bahrain, South Africa, France, USA, Spain and Hong Kong completed the top 10 of most desirable countries for expats. Last year’s survey found Germany, Canada and Spain being ranked in the top three.

The UK was ranked one of the lowest locations for expats after being named as one of the most expensive places for expats. In addition, 44% of expats in the UK are considering returning home, compared with only 15% overall. However, from those questioned, 62% said that employment prospects were what was keeping them in the region.

Results from a different section of the survey showed that Russia was home to the highest number of expats earning more than $250,000 with 30% taking away that amount a year. Hong Kong followed in a close second.

Canada, Australia ranked best places for expats

25 November 2009
Looking to work overseas? Head to Canada, Australia or Thailand, according to an annual global survey which found recession-hit Britain was one of the worst locations to live for expatriates.

The second annual Expat Experience survey, commissioned by HSBC Bank International, revealed that expats in Canada have the best quality of life and found it among the easiest places in the world to integrate with the local population.

Australia and Thailand also came in the top three in the survey of 3,146 people working in 30 different industries and 50 countries, even though Thailand was one of the countries worst-hit by the recession for expats.

“We have seen that there is a distinct trade-off between income and overall quality of life, as many of the top performers ... scored towards the bottom of this report’s league table (of the best places to make and save money),” said Betony Taylor, spokeswoman for HSBC Bank International.

“What is clear is that the locations where salaries may not be as high, such as Canada and Australia, are where expats are really enjoying not only an increased quality of life but are also finding it easy to fit in to their new communities.”

Last year Germany, Canada and Spain were the top three countries deemed to have the best lifestyle for expats.

This year Britain was one of the lowest ranked locations when it came to lifestyle after being named as one of the most expensive places for expats with the recession taking its toll.

About 44 percent of expats in Britain are considering returning home, compared with only 15 percent of expats overall.

About 41 percent of expats in Britain find it difficult to find somewhere to live, most find the quality of their accommodation drops after moving to Britain, and a third claim their health has deteriorated since moving there.

“Despite this, the UK does hold the crown for being expat entertainment capital of the world, with over half (58 percent) of expats in the UK saying that the quality of entertainment had increased,” said Taylor.

She added that 62 percent of expats also said that employment prospects were the main reason keeping them in the region.

Results from a different section of the survey, which was conducted by research company FreshMinds, released earlier found Russia was home to the highest proportion of expats earning more than $250,000 with 30 percent of international workers there banking that amount, followed by Hong Kong and Japan.

The lowest-paid expats live in Australia and Belgium with the majority — 63 percent and 61 percent respectively — earning less than $100,000.

Making Sense of Putrajaya (and other similar capital city developments)

I am not an architect or urban planner by profession but have involved directly, professionally with several urban mega city developments in Dubai. It is something that I cherish for being able to expand my horizon and enrich my own experience in areas that used to be my childhood dream.

At one time I was given the role as 'Development Manager' for a city project A long way from my 'IT or computer science' academic background.

Currently, I am currently involved with certain mixed development projects in two distinctive up-and-coming 'cities' in new Dubai. One billed as 'The new business capital .' There was one time another mega project that claimed to be the new Dubai capital, it was aborted due to the global financial crisis. Abu Dhabi has a new capital city as well, which will span an area of 4,900 hectares and be located about 15km from Abu Dhabi city and would be able to accommodate three million people by 2028...that's a long way to go.

The word capital reminds me the used-to-be-called new capital of Malaysia, which is now coined as the administrative capital, Putrajaya. Does it mean the business capital is still Kuala Lumpur?

However, I do not really like Putrajaya for some personal reasons. It is nice city, awesome (aloof) architecture but for common people to deal with government departments and agencies, it would be very much desired to have better transportation links to other parts of old cities. Parking in certain areas of Putrajaya is also a problem. I could be wrong as there could be some improvements.

Building democracy

Architecture Inside Out

WHEN I first laid eyes on the Prime Minister’s Office in Putrajaya, and when I first looked over the country’s new administrative capital, I said to myself that this building and the city it is in will be emulated in other states, even in local municipalities, if on a lesser scale.

Needless to say, I was right: Penang announced its own version of Putrajaya a while back; and the word “Putrajaya” itself now seems synonymous with the ideal architecture of statehood, domes and all.

The Skudai municipality (in Johor) where I live has embellished its streets with ornamented roadways, Art Nouveau lampposts and expensive sculptural landscaping. Everyone seems to be competing to see who can be the biggest, the most lavish and the most grandiose in following in the footsteps of the shiny new city of Putrajaya.

Meanwhile, there is little effort to lay pedestrian-friendly pavements in the streets, make proper crossings for school children, and provide enough libraries, temples, community centres and useable public furniture. The first lesson of democratic architecture has been lost when what is discernable is architecture for the few and not for the many.

This building speaks of aloof imperialism

Single ethnic references

For an example of what I mean by architecture for the many, one has only to look at the building in which Parliament sits, in Kuala Lumpur. The Parliament building makes no specific ethnic reference, which is one aspect of democratic architecture. Such architecture either uses all ethnic references or none at all.

To emphasise one particular ethnic reference is quite out of sync with a Constitution that guarantees equal rights to all. Granted that Malaysia is, historically, a country of the Malays, but need one shout that message so loudly that one risks breaking eardrums?

The PM’s office in Putrajaya attempts to claim a Muslim heritage with its domes and emphasises its Malay ethnic origins. The Parliament building, on the other hand, sports an international style that makes no ethnic references; instead, it uses this country’s tropical heritage as its dominating theme.

And the ribbed prism on its podium speaks universally of a traditional roof heritage common to most ethnic groups in this region.

Though some architects may frown at my idea of a multi-ethnic, eclectic approach, the fathers of architectural semantics say that such an approach is viable. Of course, to subscribe to this approach, architects have to stretch their minds a little to do some thinking rather than sticking to their usual modus operandi of “typological copying”.

Regionalism and accountability

The Parliment building is more democratic.
Next, let us venture into the realm of architectural regionalism. Regionalism as an approach found favour among architects looking to conserve energy.

In Malaysia, experiments with regionalism produced some marvellous buildings, such as the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur with its use of generous serambi (veranda) areas, air wells and light courts with ventilated wall assembly.

The Parliament building did not go as far as the National Mosque but it does display the famous “pineapple skin” that some say functions as a sun shading device.

It matters not whether there is a great saving of energy in relation to the tower’s cooling load; what matters is that the message of democracy is clear: elected leaders simply cannot mess around with public money held in trust. The money belongs to the people who are the true “bosses” in a democracy.

What does Putrajaya show in reference to minding public funds? There is no discernable attempt to create any kind of shading device or serambi that would act not only to cool the building but also to welcome the people. Its palatial French architecture is clearly an out and out imitation since palaces in temperate climes don’t need shading devices.

Undemocratic language

The architectural language used in Putrajaya is very “imperial” as opposed to the “business as usual” architecture of the Parliament building.

In his writings and speeches, renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) always criticised “palatial” architecture (as exemplified by the federal buildings in Washington DC). He was, in fact, imprisoned for a day when he refused to retract his cutting comments.

Wright felt that by emulating the architecture of aristocratic or autocratic regimes of the past, Washington’s architects did not attempt to portray the new ideals of democracy, which lays the reins of governance in the people’s hands.

Wright’s architecture always chose asymmetrical massing over symmetry, the use of the horizontal expression as a symbol of humility to the “Earth as the Nurturer”, and the celebration of local materials as economic products of weathered quality.

Palace-like architectural characteristics of strong hierarchical symmetry and expensive materials and ornamentation amidst deep setbacks of lavishly landscaped gardens is truly in stark contrast to, say, Parliament House in London.

I feel a sense of a sure and strong nation when I look at this building in London because of its easy accessibility to the public. The building is a stone’s throw from where people walk every day and that speaks volumes about the idea of a democratic nation.

To those who expound the virtues of security in the palatial French format, I wish to say that, in a democracy, the best security is not walls, setbacks and electronic surveillance but simply the idea that if one leader dies, there are many others who can easily take over – unlike in a monarchy, whose very survival depends entirely on the survival of offspring.

Democratic architecture should not hide behind thick walls and setbacks. It should be on the street where the people walk. This would be a true testament to the fact that this is a government of the people for the people and by those very same people. Though the location of Malaysia’s Parliament building is somewhat elitist, set as it is in the midst of much landscaping, the building clearly does not pretend to be a palace behind high walls.

The designers of state architecture would do well to keep this in mind and create buildings that “meet” the people rather than hide behind grand landscaping or walls.

The National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur is a fine example of energy-saving modernist architecture.

The spirit has been lost

There are so many more issues surrounding the idea of democratic architecture in Malaysia.

In our book, Konsep Perbandaran Islam: Suatu Gagasan Alternatif, Rosdan Abdul Manan and I toy with the idea of a public square in the middle of the country’s capital that is completely accessible to the public – the medan, or public square, is a powerful symbol of a true democracy.

State and federal buildings and mosques are relegated to the perimeter in an asymmetrical layout. We also suggest placing a cemetery adjacent to the square within view of the executive structures. This is to remind the leaders of their mortality and, hence, that the power vested in their persons is but fleeting.

Malaysia’s Parliament was built during the heyday of modernism when metaphorical references were frowned upon. It could not help but be what it is. So, in the absence of a serious study on what influenced its design, I would attribute its democratic architecture to an accident.

Putrajaya, however, was a deliberate act. In one sense, the imperial message it broadcasts does indeed exemplify the nature of “democracy” in Malaysia where many citizens are completely apathetic about the idea of “power to the people”. Yet, as a Malay, a Muslim and as a Malaysian, I cannot bring myself to accept this language as the ideal embodiment of the original spirit of the Malaysian Constitution.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia lecturer Prof Dr Mohamad Tajuddin passionately believes that architectural design that respects cultural values, religious sensitivities and the ideals of democracy is vital to nation-building and harmony. Share your thoughts about his monthly column at

‘Konsep Perbandaran Islam: Suatu Gagasan Alternatif’ (2001, ISBN: 9-835-20235-4) is available from the publisher’s website,