It has been sometime since I last visited Singapore, the “tiny red dot” south of Johore and linked to the Malayan hinterland by an overused causeway – a subject of contention by our ruling elite. The other entry point into the island republic is the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link (Tuas Second Link to Singaporeans). This 1920 metre twin-deck bridge connects Kampung Ladang at Tanjung Kupang in Johore to Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim at Tuas in Singapore.
Opened on January 2, 1998, the bridge was built to reduce traffic congestion at the Causeway. But travellers still prefer the Causeway in spite of it being jam-packed almost every moment of the day. Distance and accessibility could be the reasons why the bridge is not too popular with motorists from both sides of the geographical divide.
So much has changed that it is no longer easy to identify places which I frequented in the late 70s and early 80s when attending courses at the Army Training Centre in Ulu Tiram. Back in the old days the ringgit was much stronger than the Singapore dollar. The exchange rate then was 70 Malaysian cents to one Singapore dollar. The disparity in rate today is not worth mentioning. We used to buy fruits, as the ringgit could be stretched and was considered legal tender in areas around Woodlands and Sembawang. One popular spot was Bugis Street. You got to see plenty of action here besides Pantai Lido and the old Istana grounds in Johore Bahru.
While Singapore, through good governance and a world-class education system, has progressed by leaps and bounds, Malaysia is still locked in a time warp with little chance of an escape. Today the island republic boasts a purchasing power parity which is third highest in the world. A nation with little natural resources to optimise, Singapore has become a First World entity with an economy second to none. Its northern neighbour, however, has yet to overcome its Third World mentality and insecurity, preferring to look beyond the republic for solace. It is therefore no surprise that when it comes to comparison the countries so often alluded to are Thailand and Indonesia not Singapore, Taiwan or South Korea. Soon it will be Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ethiopia on the African continent.
It is not difficult to comprehend why Singapore is far ahead in almost every aspect. It has a world class public transport system, a corruption-free government and a judicial system considered the best in Asia. Little wonder it has been rated highly by the world business community; something which is alien in Malaysia. Unfortunately, learning from the Singaporeans is the last thing on our ruling elite’s minds.
You need not go far to find why we have plenty of catching up to do. Just switch on the television. Singapore TV is filled with programmes that provide viewers with information on the world and knowledge on anything one cares to know. They tell Singaporeans that life is to be lived and enjoyed and not to be suffered. You don’t see politicians on the idiot box extolling the virtues of the ruling party, glorifying the rights of the “sons of the soil” and the ideals of a “transformed” Prime Minister.
The programmes, unlike ours, are designed not to insult viewers’ intelligence but to complement. In spite of having been an independent nation for over 55 years we are still being treated like children.
My trip, on the eve of the New Year, came with a provision. I was told to take a break and enjoy a dip in the 150-metre infinity swimming pool on top of Marina Bay Sands, one of Singapore’s two integrated resorts. I wish to thank my son for the opportunity. Located on the world’s largest cantilevered platform almost 200 metres above street level, the pool is a total delight while the view of the city from the periphery is simply ravishing.
Plenty of thoughts and planning have gone into making Singapore what it is today. I am certain that among the planners are bona fide Malaysians who, for want of a better future, have parked themselves permanently in Singapore. We have lost many good talents to our southern neighbour. Need we lose more?
So, having “survived” the Mayan doomsday prediction of December 21, 2012, I have every reason to be optimistic. With the 13th General Election looming in the horizon, my one wish for 2013 is for the country to take the path of recovery. We have been the laughing stock of the world far too long. Enough is enough.
Fathol Zaman Bukhari