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An insult to Third World nations

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Professor Tommy Koh's remark that Singapore is a First World country with Third World people is extremely insensitive and insulting to citizens of Third World countries (Singaporeans can be more civic-minded, considerate, says Prof Koh, Oct 2).

The examples (not caring for the environment, inconsiderate driving, and so on) of poor civic-mindedness cited by Prof Koh are not typical of citizens of Third World countries.

I lived in several First World countries many years ago and I can testify that such poor civic-mindedness was often displayed by the people there as well. No country can be completely without citizens who behave less than perfectly.

Let me cite an instance of a low-income Singaporean who displayed a "First World" spirit of civic-mindedness.

I once suffered a tyre puncture on a busy main road in Singapore. I moved my car to the roadside and struggled to change the tyre myself. A couple of minutes later, a young lorry driver stopped his vehicle next to mine and changed the tyre for me with his equipment. I thanked him profusely and offered him $10 for "coffee". He politely refused. We shook hands and he drove away smiling. Do you think I could have received such assistance in London, Paris or New York? 안전놀이터

Criticise Singaporeans' bad behaviour by all means. Show us how we can improve. But don't display arrogance by labelling poor civic-mindedness as Third World behaviour, especially when most Asean members are technically Third World countries.

I found the report, "Tommy Koh laments that Singapore is a First World country with Third World citizens", troubling (ST Online, Oct 1).

We often fail to make a distinction between Singaporeans and the people living in Singapore.

I do agree that too many Singaporeans are not civic-minded. However, even if all Singaporeans in Singapore are uncivilised louts, there are only 3.5 million out of a population of 5.7 million, of which 22,550 were made citizens only last year.

Another 530,000 are permanent residents (PRs), of which 32,710 became PRs last year (Singapore population grows at a slower pace to reach 5.7m, Sept 26).

I make this distinction not to absolve long-term Singaporeans and blame bad behaviour on new or non-Singaporeans.

The distinction is necessary, though, as any programme that seeks to improve standards in a country takes many decades before there is any effect, if at all.


Take the example of the Singapore Kindness Movement.


It was launched in 1997 to execute public education programmes aimed at cultivating kindness and graciousness in Singapore society in response to then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's call to Singaporeans to develop into a more caring and gracious society.

After 22 years, any change in the behaviour of Singaporeans who have lived here throughout is modest.

We cannot then realistically expect the benefits of whatever programmes we put in place to "upgrade" Singaporeans to filter through to those who have newly arrived in Singapore instantaneously.

Furthermore, there are another 1.7 million people in Singapore who are non-residents.

We cannot reasonably expect too many of them to be committed to, or even consider making Singapore a more gracious society. Their focus is eking out a living to feed their families back home.

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