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What Singapore (and the rest of us) can learn from Myanmar

Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi spent the past four days in Singapore, meeting leaders, visiting schools, and putting some distance between herself and the city-state’s model of economic success.

Although Singapore has prospered greatly, she said, its policies and institutions won’t all work for Myanmar.

And her thoughts during her first-ever visit to Singapore went deeper.

After touring a technical college, she said ‘education in Singapore, as in many other countries, seems to be workforce oriented.’

She said,

That made me think … what is the purpose of a workforce … of work … of material wealth? Is that the ultimate aim of human beings, is that what we all want? In a sense, I want to probe more into successes of Singapore and to find out what we can achieve beyond that.

Material achievement can free the Myanmar people from want, she said.

But they had survived years of oppression only because of values such as love for each other, loyalty, and spirituality, she said.

‘So there were many things that helped us to survive that had little to do with material achievement,’ she said.

                                                         *      *      *

Myanmar and Singapore share colonial histories, and both struggled for independence. Despite that shared history, the countries couldn’t be more different concerning graft. Myanmar ranks 172 out of 174 on the corruption perceptions index; Singapore ranks 5th.

Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said Tuesday people in Myanmar have accepted graft as a way of life but they also believe it is ‘reprehensible.’

‘We must assume that we will always have corruption of some kind to some extent,’ she said. ‘But I do want to root it out to the extent that people are able to lead secure lives, confident that they will be protected by the law. If they behave correctly, if they live within the law, they will not be subject to extortions by unscrupulous officials or organisations.’

                                                           *     *     *

When Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a majority in Myanmar’s parliament in 1990, the ruling generals put her under house arrest. She wasn’t allowed to leave the country until a year ago.

Despite that, she has always been an advocate for human dignity. Now 67, she’s running for president in 2015.

She said Singapore has achieved great material success and a record of clean government. But Myanmar has its own strengths.

‘Singapore could learn from us a more relaxed way of life,’ she said. ‘Perhaps warmer and closer family relationships.’

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Richard L. Cassin is the Publisher and Editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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