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Dr Goh’s HK counterpart had similar views on MRT and other major issues

In Hong Kong, Political economy, Public Administration on 10/11/2018 at 3:35 pm

Remember Khaw saying this?

It was a very different era. Finance was tight, so we really had to scrutinise every dollar of spending.

The government of the day thought very hard if we could really afford an MRT line. It took months to think through and debate through this major strategic decision.

It was not easy. Some of you who are younger might not remember.

But I remember, as a civil servant, the big debate which was televised on the options – an all-bus system or an MRT system.

There were proponents for the MRT, as a city without MRT is almost impossible. But there were others who were extremely worried whether we can really afford it.

So sometimes today we spend money as if money comes easily. We forget that it was not too long ago. So when there are people who criticise the North-South and East-West Lines on why we did not do this and that, we were simply short of cash.

http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/comparing-singapores-newest-and-oldest-mrt-lines

He left out the elephant in the room: Dr Goh Keng Swee. He wasn’t convinced that an MRT would be cost effective. Hence the scrutiny the project underwent, even after the cabinet (sans Goh) had agreed to build it.

A contemporary of his, Sir John Cowperthwaite, HK’s financial secretary (17 April 1961 – 30 June 1971) had earlier opposed the building of the MRT system in HK, citing the cost: despite the traffic jams in the streets. Construction only began after he retired.

Here’s more on Sir John Cowperthwaite, who came to HK as a British civil servant in 1945. He should be interesting to S’poreans because he had views, some like that of Dr Goh, some unlike, on how to have a prosperous, thriving economy in a small state.

Like Dr Goh, he was for

Low taxes, lax employment laws, absence of government debt, and free trade are all pillars of the Hong Kong experience of economic development.

And

No deficit government financing, which could merely push costs to a future generation and make the territory vulnerable to financial upheaval.

[…]

Public housing would be funded, but only for tiny flats; reservoirs would be built, but users would be charged.

[…]

Requests by industry for subsidies were routinely rejected.

Architect of Prosperity: Sir John Cowperthwaite and the Making of Hong Kong

https://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21729983-sir-john-cowperthwaite-most-unlikely-things-bureaucrat-hero

Sounds like a PAPpy?

But throughout the 1960s, Cowperthwaite refused to implement free universal primary education, contributing to the relatively high illiteracy rate among today’s older generation in HK.

And he really believed in the importance of the private sector, unlike the PAP (not excluding Dr Goh) who talked the talk of the importance but the private sector,  but who made sure GLCs dominate the local economy.

“I myself tend to mistrust the judgment of anyone not involved in the actual process of risk-taking.” This faith was rewarded. As industries such as cotton spinning, enamelware and wigs declined and Cowperthwaite declined to offer assistance, businesses shifted their attention to promising areas such as toy and electronics production, and then finance. Migrants found work in the expanding industries, becoming a cog in a productive engine rather than merely a cost.

(Economist review)

But he allowed private sector cartels to continue to dominate the HK economy. In his time, it was the Hongs (Jardines, Swire and other ang moh Hongs) and the big banks (HSBC and StanChart).  A tradition continued today with local property cos controlling the property mkt (no massive affordable public housing), and Cheung Kong, Jardines and Swire having a big share of the retail mkt, and HSBC and Bank of China dominating the finance sector.

 

 

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  1. One similarity – Sir John did not worry about losing his job in an election so he could indulged in his laissez faire policies.

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