Introduction: that it is famously recognized as ‘economic





After the second world war, with the collapse of
imperialism and colonialism, the world witnessed emergence of new nation states
in colonized Asia, Latin America and Africa. These new countries had certain
common structural features such as centuries of colonial exploitation, lack of
economic infrastructure, absence of stable political leadership, unequal social
structure and above all extreme poverty and under developed market system. Thus,
the main objectives of these new countries after independence were to engage in
an immense nation building process through effective socio economic policy
framework. Although there were similarities in persuade of economic and
ideological path, achieving socio-economic progress was different. In most
countries, absence of stable and effective administrative structure joined with
social and political unrest seriously affected the prospects of growth, which in
due course resulted in low GDP growth, under developed status, regional and to
many extent racial imbalance and prevalence of semi feudal social structure. Albeit
public expenditure was amplified to build up development oriented, pro active
administrative structure, in most of the countries these efforts ended up in
mismanagement and massive corruption. Therefore, the main concern of these
aforementioned post- colonial countries was to build up administrative competence
and leadership without erode the basic values of transparency, veracity and
efficiency. Among those countries, Singapore is an unique example of
effectively utilizing leadership and public management to achieve economic
growth with sustainability, equity and altruistic justice.

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In the contemporary global context, dominated by
capitalistic market-driven ideology, most countries all over the world have
adopted innumerable types of public administration reforms. Different countries
had different approaches and different variations in the scope and concentration
of those reforms. In late 1970s, advanced capitalist countries started to imply
neoliberal approaches like stretching the market forces and reducing the state
power of intervention to overcome economic stagnation, unemployment and
inefficiency.1 Newly
liberated developing countries and transitional economies started to follow these
reforms implied by the developed countries and world economies and some
prescriptions of various international agencies. Singapore also was one of
those emerging developing countries that has very enthusiastically embraced and
started to apply those reforms in there spheres of polity, in governance, in
public administration, which can be observed in its state initiatives (public
service21, Singapore21 and son on). 2

Unlike many other developing countries, which also
implied customer-oriented, business-oriented reforms on governance and
bureaucracy, Singapore reflects some unique features. Like all other
commonwealth countries, Singapore also inherited its bureaucratic legacy from British
model of governance. Its governance has come to know and widely praised for its
efficiency. It constantly manages to generate economic growth in such a pace
that it is famously recognized as ‘economic miracle’. Singapore’s economic
growth has remained consistently high-at an average annual rate of 9.8 percent
in the 1970s and 8.2 percent in the 1980s. Between 1988 and 1997, its Gross
Domestic Product or GDP increased more than 2.5 times; between 1993 and 1997,
it continued to rank very high in terms of its business-friendly environment;
and by 1994, its per capita GDP (us$20,000) surpassed that of Australia,
Canada, and the UK. 3 One
very important thing should be noted here that, many developing countries were many
a times somewhat forced to adopt privatization, liberalization of market,
deregulation and had to reorganize their bureaucracy rendering to the values of
the “New Public Management (NPM)” due to their heavy external debt, and those
values were very often imposed by international aid agencies.4 Singapore was not the
case, because it doesn’t have practically any external debt, hence, was free
from such direct intervention and pressure from those organization to impose reforms.

This essay is aimed to examine and explore the
evolution of the governance of Singapore, very trends and reforms in
bureaucracy and governance. This essay also argues that, carefully sequencing
the administrative reforms rather than promoting all kinds of administrative
reforms at once, is one of the main reason and significant feature behind legendary
efficiency of Singapore’s bureaucracy. It is focused on the trends of change in
the governance and public administration, welfare provision, policy orientation
and the key features that make Singapore such a success story and whether or to
what extent it can be applied universally, mostly in post colonial developing


Bureaucratic change and reforms in Singapore:

Most southeast Asian countries inherited their
bureaucratic system and values from the colonial powers. The region was not colonized
by the same imperial power, hence, the characteristics of the bureaucracy was
not identical. Right after independence, these developing countries began to follow
state-led socioeconomic development, and endeavored to restructure their
inherited colonial bureaucracy. For the sake of nation building and to attain development
goals, these newly independent countries stated to deviate from their rigid
colonial legacy and bureaucratic model by adopting development-oriented public

Singapore is a small city state with an area of 719.9
square kilometers and has a population of 5.61 million. It has a very
ethnically diverse population with Chinese(74.3%), Malay (13.3%), Indian (9.1%)
and other minorities (3.3%). 4  After getting autonomy from the British
colonial rule(1819-1959) Singapore implemented parliamentary form of government
under the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP). This political party is ruling the
country since 1959 with a brute majority in the unicameral legislature. Despite
the fact that, it had a steady economic growth, the PAP government did not abstain
itself to pursue significant reforms in the role, scope, structure and
orientation of numerous bureaucratic institution over the time.


A marriage between capitalism and authoritarianism:

From the time of its independence in 1959, the ruling
party PAP has headed over the formation of a so-called “developmental
state” which characteristically places irresistible importance on national
economic development based on state ownership and economic control.5 Despite the
provision for multiparty elections, the political system under the PAP has
taken the form of a one-party-dominant system (rather than the western model of
liberal democracy with occasional changes in the ruling party), which allegedly
provided a steady political framework to pursue pragmatic economic concerns rather
than engendering ideological contestation. 6
 “In the unique context of
Singapore, where the domestic private sector was relatively week, the state and
its bureaucracy became the leading actor to enhance economic growth, generate
employment, foster industrialization, finance private investment, build
infrastructure, deliver various services, and so on”. 7  So as to accomplish
these various developmental targets, the government established a series of
development-related institutions or enterprises owned, managed, or supervised
by the state. “Examples of such state enterprises include the creation of the
Housing and Development Board (HDB) in 1960, the Economic Development Board
(EDB) in 1961, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) in 1963, the Port of Singapore
Authority (PSA) in 1964, the Jurong Town Corporation (JRC) and Development Bank
of Singapore (DBS) in 1968, and the Telecommunication Authority of Singapore
(TAs) in 1974 (Low and Haggard, 2000). In addition, the Singapore government
created Temasek Holdings Ltd in 1974. This major institution has control over
many government-linked companies (GLCS) that dominate the nation’s corporate
sector. It accounts for about 10 percent of Singapore’s total output and 25
percent of local stock-market capitalization, and represents expansive
government involvement in the national economy”. 8  In operating
this development outline, the government safeguarded the emergence of an
efficient, technocratic, and managerialist bureaucracy authorized to govern the
market system, that represents another key feature of Singapore’s development-oriented

Albeit, in the context of present day world, we are
observing that in the economic sphere, states control is deteriorating. Which poses
a challenge to the legitimacy and credibility of developmental states in East
and Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore. But despite some managerial
changes in the state in Singapore, its dominant role remains mostly intact,
especially since it was called upon to deal with the recent financial and
economic crisis. Unlike the traditional public institutions formed to implement
state-centered policies and programs, the recent bureaucratic modernization in Singapore
has created a new genre of government institutions that are supposed to realize
market-oriented policies with a strong government intervention and entwined
with an authoritarian grip on the polity of the state.


Reconstructing public service: step towards economic
and social growth:

In 1959, the government of Singapore started an
effective administrative reform procedure that streamlined the structure and
the procedures of the public bureaucracy and aimed to promote organizational
effectiveness and achieve national development goals. By
this reform, Singapore Civil Service (SCS) was reshaped and reorganized, and
established new statutory boards to get rid of the colonial mindset of the
civil servants and their inconsiderateness towards the population’s needs.10 
 “In general terms the
reform embraced the structural organization of the SCS, the closure of the
ineffective statutory boards (and their replacement with more efficient and
effective agencies) and the establishment of the Political Study Centre to
change civil servants’ attitudes. During time the activities of the Centre
comprised of setting up principles and consequential practices which constituted
the core of Singapore’s public sector reform: 1) strong political will and
example of political leaders and public servants in terms of integrity and
honesty (through strict adherence to a code of conduct); 2) constant
re-­??inventing of the way the Government does its business in response to
external challenges; 3) meritocracy and equal opportunities for all in terms of
open and fair recruitment and selection based on educational qualifications and
relevant experience; 4) effective performance appraisal; 5) market rates for
civil servants; 6) continual learning by doing and through constant review and
improvement; 7) determination to make and implement difficult decisions.”11

In the mid 1980s the government introduced substantial
reforms whose objectives were to expand public sector’s competence that can
deliver high quality services and more devolved financial management. They
initiated budget reform which is categorized by close inter-ministerial cooperation,
the use of constitutional fiscal rules, spending ceilings for ministries
(through the so-called block budget system) across the board budget extractions
(spending cuts), endowment funds, central manpower controls, and constant
under-spending. Hence, under the direction of the Ministry of Finance (MOF),
which must guarantee that the public sector is efficient and pragmatic in using
public funds (creating limits in terms of how the departments of the public
sectors should use these funds through caps funding to the ministries at a
fixed percentage of GDP).

Balanced privatization:

A mixture of privatization, corporatization, formation
of statutory boards and other managerial initiatives has been used as apparatuses
to increase and preserve efficiency of the government organizations. The
statutory boards, through partial or full privatization, enjoyed more
flexibility in the financial and personnel management (i.e. they are exempted
from various central management controls which apply to the departments). This
increased the operational independence and is cited as the key motivating
factor for the transformation of the departments into statutory boards. 12 The alteration to the
client-oriented public administration (attitudinal reform) has been an significant
step on the way to a public administration which posits nearer to the needs of
the citizens by providing more efficient customer?based services. Another great
initiative is the introduction of the Public Service for the 21st century
(PS21), a program that intends to generate a culture and values within the
Civil Service that welcomes constant change for better efficiency and


The public sector of Singapore within all the
departments implements an assessment system based on merit which looks at the
employees’ current performance and their potentials to reach higher positions,
not considering their seniority or how much time they have been to the office. Subsequently,
Public officers who rank highly in both performance and potential acquire a fast-tracked
promotion schedule and a higher bonus provision. Meritocratic reform initiated
in the mid 1960s. The PAP government realized that, in order to attain the development
efforts, an extensive changes should be taken place in the inherited colonial
civil service. Firstly, the government introduced a strategy of selective
retention and retirement. Those who have proven incompetent, were annihilated. Showing
performance and competency were the only criteria to the consideration of whom
to retain. As a result of this process a huge number of non-performing civil
servants got exit. Another significant reason behind this meritocratic reform
was government’s realization that, an employee-centered personnel management
philosophy was essential for the civil service to attract, motivate and retain
the best and the brightest in Singapore.


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