Friday, July 02, 2010

Singapore - Origins of the "Fine" City

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One of the most popular souvenirs from Singapore are the t-shirts that proclaim, "Singapore is a Fine City". It is, of course, meant to be punny, but the irrefutable fact is that swift and strict enforcement of penalties is a very effective detterent. For such a densely populated country,  with so many migrants and tourists, the streets are not only litter-free but also free from muggers, drug-peddlers and other assorted criminals.

How did such a "fine" system originate?

I always thought it was a legacy of the British colonial administration. Not so. It is, if fact, a legacy of  the Japanese occupation of Singapore, during WW2 (1942-1945).

In his book, "The Singapore Story", Lee Kuan Yew, says -

The three and a half years of Japanese occupation were the most important of my life. They gave me vivid insights into the behavior of human beings and human societies, their motivation s and impulses. My appreciation of governments, my understanding of power as the vehicle of revolutionary change, would not have been gained without this experience.


...The Japanese Military Administration governed by spreading fear. It put up no pretence of civilized behavior. Punishment was so severe that crime was very rare. In the midst of deprivation after the second half of 1944, when people were half starved, it was amazing to see how low th crime rate remained. People could leave their front doors open at night...people..patrolled their own localities. But it was a mere formality. They carried only sticks and there were no crimes to report - the penalties were too heavy. As a result I have never believed those who advocate a soft approach to crime and punishment, claiming that punishment does not reduce crime. It was not my experience in Singapore before the was, during Japanese occupation, or subsequently.

So the lesson learnt by LKY was that in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society, "fear is the key". The Japanese themseves, on the other hand, seem to rely on far more subtle - and proactive - methods to keep their own streets safe & clean...

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RELATED LINKS -

Lee Kuan Yew - Interview with Fareed Zakaria (CNN)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLyPpUsNkAE&feature=related

LKY - 3 Part series compiled by Daniel Tay
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVDE0KPMaeY&feature=related

Machiavelli's Tiger: Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore's Authoritarian Regime (Uri Gordon)
http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/apcity/unpan002548.pdf

NYT - Excerpts from Interview with LKY (29 Aug 2007)
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/29/world/asia/29iht-lee-excerpts.html

Lee Kuan Yew Watch
http://leewatch.info/

Lee-Kuan-Yew.com - http://www.lee-kuan-yew.com/

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RELATED WORD -
Dirigiste (Fr. noun) - Economic planning and control by the state, "...euro zone needs a core of dirigiste powers to run Europe on a more political and less technocratic way..."
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