entered the land of the Merlion, Singapore, via a drive-up
immigration facility on the Malaysia border. Complete with
smart card machines and X-ray scanner booths, the officers
were a lesson in expert customer serviceyou simply
drove up to the booth on a green light and presented your
documents while sitting in your car.
The Merlion stands tall over its country, with its lions
head and fish body. It was commissioned for tourism in the
60s campaign that began to promote Singapore as a destination.
Sentosa is the premium destination of the rich. It is wholly
resort: five-star hotels, fancy food and a free island shuttle
bus. A cable car can take you back to mainland Singapore,
and some two million tourists take that ride every year.
Our tour guide spoke to us of a population density of some
6,400 persons per square kilometre, and a total land area
of 683 square kilometres. Ninety per cent of Singaporeans
live in public housing. The Tampines (pronounced Tam pe
nees) in east Singapore is a classic suburban housing development
that was acclaimed by the UN in its World Habitat Award
for excellent housing design.
Known as one of the Commonwealths Tiger economies,
this tiny east Asian country has emerged as a regional services
hub for Asia, on the cutting-edge of transport, banking,
communications and information technology. GDP growth rate
ranged from 8.7 per cent in 2004 to 6.9 per cent in 2006,
with inflation in check at 1.8 per cent in 2006.
Its manufacturing sector recorded output growth of 14 per
cent in 2006. In transport engineering, it grew 46 per cent,
and the marine and offshore engineering sector grew 60 per
cent in the same year. Their biomedical industry also grew
by 21 per cent. On top of that, our tour guide was more
than pleased to emphasise that Singapore commands 25 per
cent of the world market as an exporter of ornamental fish.
In addition, they command a major share of the worlds
market in oil refining and distribution, apart from boasting
to be the busiest port in the world with over 600 shipping
On the other side of the coin, there are harsh critics of
the Central Provident Fund (CPF), the national pension fund
for all citizens, especially since there are no private
pension plans. Employees contribute 20 per cent of income
to the CPF, and employers contribute 12.5 per cent. However,
retirees still do not get enough to live on, and are forced
to sell off their homes and purchase smaller housing units.
At the same time, the average working citizen is happy for
the government built housing flats, and the opportunity
to own and occupy such units, as well as the health care
facilities. But the problem of an ageing populations, and
low returns on pension savings is a forcing a rethink of
the whole system.