THE PEOPLE ACTION PARTY(PAP) created Singapore out of its image, the work of its long-term leader, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. It dismantled the British superstructure in the island colony and put in its place the sinews of a modern administrative state. But in doing so, it created a whole colony of beavers, who worked hard, kept their thoughts to themselves, and did what they were asked to do. Those who did not follow the general trend were severely dealt with, and that included recalcitrant journalists and overseas magazines, The officials assumed a persona of their own, believed they could do no wrong, and looked down upon the people they negotiated with, if they were Malaysians, and got the edge over them by slick public relations.
The general feeling in Singapore is that the country across the causeway is their's for the kicking. The one time they clashed over water, in which Singapore assumed it was theirs and did Malaysia a favour by giving it treated water, it took Mr Lee Kuan Yew to see his counterpart, Tun Mahathir Mohamed, in 1986, and gave the Malaysians the upper hand in relations with the island republic.
Singapore thinks it is a Chinese island surrounded by a hostile Islamic sea, and first patterned itself to Israel in the Middle East, and then a United States outpost in the region. It remained afraid of Malaysia, and became globalisation's South-East Asian centre. It ignored its traditional entrepot trade with its neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia, and thought it had a march on its neighbours by being as Western as possible. Mr Lee had a plan, and has faithfully followed it, but he has created a capitalist soceity with a communist heart. The people who carried this out kept their mouths shut and made themselves rich and western.
The second generation of civil servants knew the value of keeping their mouths shut, and doing what they are told. It brought in the US armed forces into the island republic so that it assumed a Malaysian attack on the island republic would be an attack on the United States. But it could also be the other way. In any case, if the past is any guide, it would harm Singapore more than Malaysia. The US leaning towards Pakistan has not prevented India from attacking it.
When Malaysian teachers and people in the education ministry had their retreat in Teluk Kemang (Port Dickson), they invited their Singapore counterparts, who kept mum throughout the retreat. A spokesman for the Singaporeans had to explain why they kept quiet. They keep their thoughts to themselves for even the walls have ears. They did what they were told. Nothing more nothing less. And they envied their Malaysian colleagues who criticised what needs to, even the most junior! A Malaysian working for a multinational company is posted to its Singapore office. He suggested a course of action against Malaysia, which he later found was much lower than the Malaysians were prepared to pay. But the Singapore head of the office did not want to do anything that will make him a sore thumb. So he took safe decisions, he and his officers did not think, so the current phrase goes, out of the box.
It will grow worse with time. But the comforting fact for them is that Mr Lee, 83, is around now. He is the only person left who was elected to the legislative assembly in 1959 and the PAP, with him as prime minister, came to power. He is now minister mentor, two steps higher than the prime minister. He promises to stay on in the legislative assembly for five more years. But time is a great leveller, and he would possibly not be around in his nineties. That is when Singapore will falll apart.
The new leaders, in the modern Singapore mould, and its thinkers will fall apart. Singapore knows this, and has cranked its public relations machine to show the world it does not need Johore's water. It has expensive desalination plants planned. It converts sewage into drinkingable water, calling it Newater. It hopes to get water from the outer islands, including Indonesia's Batam. It gives the impression that it sells Johore its own water, after treatment, though that is in the contract, which expires in 2061, is not mentioned. Malaysia insisted that the agreement calls for giving the Singaporean drinking water, but not to make money of it by selling water at higher prices to commercial organisations.
Rightly, Malaysia insisted on a share of that profits. Another public relations barrage attacked Malaysia for asking a share of the profits. But Singapore is on the defensive. It knows it cannot look Malaysia in the eye. There is talk of invading Malaysia. The crooked bridge is not as fanciful or odd as it seems. This would prevent a Singapore army from ever invading Malaysia. They do not have the ingenuity of the Japanese army, who finding the Australian sappers had bombed the causeway, crossed into the island from Johore Bahru by cross the channel on bicycles with propellers. The British were sure the Japanese would attack the island in conventional ways, had all its heavy guns trained outside, when the Japanese army caught them unawares from behind.
The second link is away from Johore Bahru, between Jurong and Gelang Patah, and its army would have to fight on touching Malaysian territory. But the Singapore army cannot fight, like the Americans, and depend on modern warfare, which has no relevance in Malaysia. In the year 2061, the water agreements expire, and would have to be renegotiated. But Johore, and Malaysia, may not want to extend the agreement. If it wants the water agreement extended, Malaysia would probably ask Singapore to be part of Johore, a much smaller entity than Singapore was when it was in Malaysia. Sixty years is a long time in politics. But for Malaysia, intensely political, it is a short time indeed. It may not happen as predicted, but then it may!