The ‘MPH Formula of Singapore – The Island

By Praying Mantis

It is often said that in the 1940s and 50s, Singapore was way behind Sri Lanka in all respects. Lawlessness and crime were rife in Singapore and corruption were at the highest level. There were ghettos everywhere in that country. Sri Lanka on the other hand, was a real paradise with a populace that was surging forward in many aspects of life.

Several decades later, today, Singapore is a proud member of the First World whereas Sri Lanka has sunk into a spiral of descent into the mire of the lowest third-world status. There must be something that Singapore did right, compared to us, for this striking difference in the progress of the two countries. With hardly any natural resources worthy of note, Singapore has relentlessly forged ahead, leaving us languishing in the doldrums of despair; very definitely, a paradise lost.

Professor Kishore Mahbubani is a born and bred Singaporean, of Indian ancestry, a civil servant, a career diplomat and an academic. During his stint at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Singapore, from 1971 to 2004, he served as Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and held the position of President of the United Nations Security Council, as well. From 2004 to 2017, he served as Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. In an exclusive interview, he outlined Singapore’s formula for success in the world. What he called the ‘secret formula’ adopted by Singapore, was known by the English acronym MPH. He clearly stated that any country that adopts and implements this strategy will succeed.

He said that the ‘M’ in MPH stands for Meritocracy, the ‘P’ is for Pragmatism and the ‘H’ is for Honesty. He then went on to explain how this principle works. He said that meritocracy means that you select the best people to run the country. He added that what brings many countries down, especially in the Third World, is that when it comes to selecting their finance minister, or the economics minister, or any other ministerial guardian of the legislature, they will give those jobs to their brothers, their cousins, their uncles, their relatives and NOT to the best people. These are his words; not mine.

Singapore did the exact opposite. In Singapore, their top jobs, not only of the Cabinet of Ministers but in every walk of life, were, and still are, given to the very best people, the most qualified and those with a proven track record. The current Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, is Lee Kuan Yew’s eldest son. When Loong went to study at the Cambridge University, he was a top student in the class and the university. The Professors were so impressed that they said that he should become a mathematician because he will become a world-class mathematician. Then he went to study at another great university, Harvard Kennedy School. There, he was one of the very few students to get an article published in a tier-one economics journal. Hardly any students get articles published in tier-one economics journals. He is incredibly brilliant. Then, if the best man for the job is Lee Kuan Yew’s son, he would be selected; not on the basis that he is the Prime Minister’s son, but because he is the best person for the job. So, meritocracy is the first pillar of Singapore’s Successful Formula.

The second pillar is ‘P’. It stands for pragmatism. Pragmatism is an English concept but the best definition of pragmatism was given by China’s leader, Deng Xiaping. He said, “it does not matter whether a cat is black or a cat is white. If the cat catches mice, it is a good cat”. So, in the same way, it does not matter what your ideology is; if it works, others could use it. So, Singapore was very pragmatic. It would take some capitalist policies, and some policies that are socialist, and even mix them up. That is what pragmatism is all about. You are not down by any political ideology.

Then the good Professor said that the third pillar, the ‘H’, is the hardest to achieve. It stands for honesty. He emphasized that what has brought most Third World countries down, and what has led to their failure in development, is corruption. So, Lee Kuan Yew after he became Prime Minister, made it a point to punish not the junior people but the very senior people. A Deputy Minister went on holiday with his friend, a businessman. When he came back to Singapore, he was arrested. He asked why he was being arrested and he was told, “you went on holiday with a businessman and the latter paid all your expenses and that is corruption. You will go to jail”. So, when a Deputy Minister is sent to jail then everybody says ‘oops., I got to be careful. I can also go to jail’. That honesty factor is one critical feature why Singapore has been exceptionally successful.

Now then…, here is the crux of this article of mine and for quoting the above interview. How does this scenario compare with what you get in our Pearl of the Indian Ocean? My considered opinion is that if you need to have the exact opposite of the secret formula for success in Singapore, you have it right here on our beautiful little island.

Singapore was way behind Ceylon in the 1940s. Even their enigmatic, compelling and famous Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, looked up to us. Even at that time, the MPH formula, or a similar recipe was not there as a total commitment in Ceylon but some things were done that fitted the bill, even just a little bit; a partial MPH. That was enough to keep us above most other Asian countries, given the natural resources of our splendid Motherland and the quality of its people.

Then over 70 odd years, even this partial MPH formula in Ceylon, and later in Sri Lanka, was eroded, knocked down, taken apart, emasculated and generally destroyed by all the regimes that came to power. We gradually drifted into an abyss of the ultimate denunciation of this wonderful formula. Henchmen as well as henchwomen and sparsely educated misfits were given top positions, year in and year out. They worked on personal agendas and not for the benefit of the country. Far from being patriots, they were scoundrels of the highest order.

The best people were repeatedly side-lined. Even some of the top-class people, who had made a name for themselves internationally while being here, were rudely ignored. As a result, some of our decent products and some really good brains left the country for good, only to do superbly well in their adopted countries.

Now we are content to sing hosannas and try to bask in the glory of those Sri Lankans, who have made a name for themselves in their adopted foreign countries. This is so, while the powers-that-be over here continue to suppress even some of the most brilliant ones who are still here. Those Sri Lankans, who are now citizens of other countries, were only born here. Now they are “foreigners”. Their so-called achievements are not as Sri Lankans. It annoys and discourages this writer to see these Sri Lanka-born foreigners being featured in the media as God’s own gift to mankind. It is also ironic that some of our top leaders have the ludicrous audacity to invite them to come back to serve our resplendent island. To say the least, that is sheer wishful thinking. They are not real Sri Lankans anymore. They will never come back for good.

The second pillar, pragmatism is quite prominent by its very absence in this paradise isle. Politicians of successive regimes could not see something that worked. They would try their best to put a spanner in the works. If something that worked was the brainchild of the previous regime, it simply had to be scuttled by their successors. Their ideologies are fixed and they are totally against any kind of compromise or being even a little bit flexible. rationality, practicality, logicality and uncomplicatedness; the synonyms of the word pragmatism, are not there in their foolish philosophies and their vocabulary.

The last one of MPH, but certainly the most important; honesty, is completely non-existent in Sri Lanka. Ministers and top officials lie through their back teeth, enrich themselves with loads of filthy lucre and be dishonest to the core. The lower ranks follow the so-called leaders. If the featured Singaporean Deputy Minister went on a holiday paid for by a businessman, the indiscretions or forays of our comparable worthies defy even our imagination.

Commissions are paid, money exchanged under the table or in car parks, and all kinds of shady dealings are the order of the day. If Lee Kuan Yew was alive and was asked to sort out the current situation over here, he would probably have filled up our jails in no time. Knowing the cowards over here, it would need only just a few miscreants to be jailed for the others to fall in line; rather nicely as well.

As exemplified by Singapore, the MPH Formula works. Singapore and its charismatic leader Lee Kuan Yew, conscientiously and steadfastly, stuck to it, as if that was the gift from providence that would make a difference. it did make a supremely effective difference; Singapore has become a First World Country and soared way above us in this magnificent isle, while we are quite content to remain in the pits of the world, shamelessly boasting of our over 2500-year-old heritage. Given the resources that we have in plenty, the educational opportunities available to us and the natural aptitudes of our people, we should be flying way higher than Singapore. But sadly, our downfall has been orchestrated by some of our very own people.

Yet for all this, what rankles most is that for us, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We do not see a benevolent but strict and honest statesman or stateswoman on the horizon. Only a real patriot, who would be willing to put the entire house in order, could use this wonderful MPH Formula to good use to pull us up from the hole that we have been forced to creep into. We desperately need such a person who could take this country by the scruff of its neck, shake some sense into it and take us to an entirely different landscape of a promised land.

We should be most grateful to Professor Kishore Mahbubani for revealing the secret formula for Singapore’s success! The humble and modest man that he is, he did not boast about how brilliant he was. Being a top rung flyer, he was indeed the very best man for all the positions he held. Lee Kuan Yew probably hand-picked that man. In addition, what Professor Mahbubani did not say is that the acronym MPH also stands for miles per hour; a metric of speed. The Singapore MPH Formula has also shown that by using it, results would be obtained with considerable speed.

The need of the hour for Sri Lanka is this tried and tested Singapore formula for success–the MPH.

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