20 Aug 2006

Singapore's Man with a Plan

I am sure Philip Yeo much prefers the title given to him by Economist,


Singapore's man with a plan, compared with the one given to him by Today

The bio-mad man http://www.todayonline.com/articles/137300.asp

I myself prefer to call him "the crash programmes man", crash programmes because they are a few years late.

In the early 80s Singapore went into a crash programme on IT, with the new National Computer Board (now part of Infocomm Development Authority) spearheading a Civil Service Computerization Programme, and rapid expansion of the NUS Computer Science Department from less than 100 grduates in 1983 to 500 10 year later. Curiously, the University of Singapore never had a CS Department: a small one was set up in 1975 in Nanyang University through the initiative of some staff from Mathematics and Physics; it then become part of NUS when the two universities merged. At the time it only had 10 academics and had to scramble madly to cope with growth.

Whereas in the 70s people from Hong Kong and Taiwan were going to USA to study computer science in substantial numbers, and some from Malaysia too, virtually no Singaporeans were doing this. Why? the economic planners thought computers were for rocket science, nuclear research, etc, which Singapore was not interested in. It was nearly 1980 when message began to come through that computers are important for the industry, making it necessary to start a crash programme.

In the 80s molecular biology was making big progress, but in NUS the Biology Department was busy growing better varieties of orchids and fish, things seen to be relevant to Singapore's economy. When Life Sciences got started in a big way, it too was an "a few years late" kind of crash programme. Despite the best intentions, economic planners are some distance away from actual scientific developments, and ideas take time to filter up to them.

Crash programmes allow efforts and resources to be focused. However, there are certain things that are better done through organic growth, and such things are disturbed when competing crash programmes pumped full of money, often more than people know what to do with, are going full blown. It is not the way I myself would prefer to get things done.

To what extent do the problems in Neuroscience Institute and Johns Hopkins Institute relate to the speed at which things get implemented? About these I cannot say, but about IT, I can say that the crash programme was a successful one. In the level of penetration of technology in daily life and economic sphere, there is no doubt Singapore is ahead of Hong Kong and Taiwan, and comparable to the most advanced countries, though with little technology creation as compared to utilization.


Anonymous said...

Calling the crash IT programme a success is arguable. No doubt there is high penetration and utilization of technology, but without actual creation, of what use is that to us. What does that say about us being high consumer rather than being high creator of technology.

Anyone with a fat wallet can be a high consumer, but rather than create wealth, it expends wealth.

Anonymous said...

I wont be so negative; using technology effectively is not something to be sneezed at; e.g., paying bills at post offices, using nets/cashcard/ezlink, etc does provide convenience to large nos of people;

Anonymous said...

While we're very good at implementation of technology, that is only half the equation.

Think of it this way- anyone with some training will have no problem using an OS, be it MS or Linux, but to write an OS is another story altogether. And thus far, with regards to innovation, we are lagging far behind taiwan. Which is why I do not consider the crash IT programme a success.

Infact, this has always been Phallic's modus operandi- start everything with a bang, throws tons of money at it and then disappear when the shit hits the fan and everything turns out to be a dismal failure.

Anonymous said...

that's pretty cynical; I think his management of Sembawang was a bad experience; some of the Singapore Technology initiatives turned out poorly too; within IT, the research insitutes delivered little for their expenses; Suzhou was not really his baby though it was during his EDB chairmanship

the "system" obviously found him useful, considering how long he lasted

Engineer said...

Do not forget the losses in Chartered Semiconductors Mfg (CSM)and its dismal ranking in the IC foundry business, far behind TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Mfg Corp) and UMC, etc...

The technology was not even home grown. We had to depend on HP and IBM for technology to go to smaller micron technology.
(so-called technology transfer).

Remember, there was an article in the Straits Time years ago where it was reported that the Finance Ministry was against his idea for the CSM.

I know, as I am in the Semiconductor industry.
You can check this out about CSM from yr friends.

Remember someone in CSM was paid more than a million per year and was defended profusely. He is no longer there, now. Why? The truth and end results speak for themselves, I suppose.

You are right. After the big bang, it all fizzles out quietly.

(of course with the disproportinate amount of money spent, there is some gains, but these are far outweighed by the high costs, which did not make economic sense. Otherwise, why did the Finance Ministry objected to his idea then ?).

Remember Pacific Net and the big bang those days and the hype!

Anonymous said...

compared with the US dotcom bust, pac net actually was not too bad an experience; it does raise some issue about allowing organic growth to run its course in Singapore - you might like to take a look at some pac net history


ted waite and CSM was highly praised by Fortune Magazine in 2000, a couple of years before he was kicked out (as was the NOL CEO to make way for David Lim)

Anonymous said...

if you have an unlimited budget from the govt. to spend, anything can be a "success". It just need to run on steroids for a few years until the money runs out...and then die a death it deserves.

Anonymous said...

The reason Phallic was able to survive as long as he did is not because of his usefulness or talent, but because of his uncanny ability to kiss the right ass. As in any government department or position, the ability to kiss the right ass and to sabotage your rivals politically ranks far ahead of intelligence or ability. Its all about political patronage. Phallic and Marlboro Tan are living examples of this.

Anonymous said...

I dont think it is as easy as that; there are plenty of ass kissers around

Anonymous said...

I think Phyllis Yeo is a more apt name for this eunuch-bitch.

Anonymous said...

instead of expressing personal hostility to just one person, it would be more useful to see the flaws in the system

Anonymous said...

"Mr Yeo's own career is a tale of moving...His interest in electronic warfare led him to the business of semiconductors, which drove Singapore's economy for much of the 1980s...Currently, most young Singaporeans aspire to be engineers rather than biomedical researchers. The government is trying to change that, with glitzy advertising campaigns and scholarship programmes. The whole curriculum—from early education to university—is being revamped to promote study of the life sciences. By 2010, Mr Yeo hopes to create 1,000 PhD-qualified researchers from Singapore." From Economists. Sounds like singaporeans are being blamed for being an engineers. Sounds like Singaporeans like to be an engineer

Anonymous said...

I haven seen a HAPPY Singaporean Engineer yet.. =(

Matilah_Singapura said...

Civil servants (GLC managers are still civil servants despite GLCs being called "private") have one fundamental problem: they don't understand markets.

Civil servants have another problem: they like to control things. i.e. civil servants hate chaos

They think, that they — the Deified Civil Servant — can control market, to the point where customers will come flocking to the Civil Servant's GLC's door.

And when civil servants die, the all go to heaven, where they help the Supreme Being organise the universe — to rid the whole damn universe of CHAOS, and centrally plan the whole universe, for ever and ever...


Anonymous said...

does this sterotype fit Philip Yeo? I doubt it; whether or not your characterization of civil servants fit, it does not throw light on his case

Matilah_Singapura said...

Singapore is a nation of stereotypes. There are very few individuals in that Orwellian Society.

Almost every blogger writes on what is "good for society". No one, except yours truly, writes on what is good for "his life" — even if that "good" breaks the laws in Singapore.

Fuck the state. And Fuck the government!

Anonymous said...

o my that's insightful discussion

Anonymous said...

matilah is correct, the poor singaporeans are jnothing more than traianed automatons. Brainwashed from their first day at school to the day they pick up their little degree and suddenly discover the jobs market is poor and they will be employed at a pittance.

now they face extinction with lack of babies. I read today singaporeans are not happy to produce because it takes at least twenty five years before their poor half blind kids are unable to pay them back. So baby making has now become a question of money, and not love, my god this is a bloody sick society.
poor old mini Lee is doing his level best, but with such a money biased attitude, he is flogging a dead horse. And I am sure the man put his heart and soul into the latest speech day.

lee hsien tau said...

I didn't detect his heart and soul. He was on all channels. So the TV went off-line for a while.

If he really wants babies, I suggest he go and make them himself.

For me, I'd rather plant a durian tree. It doesn't take 25 years to bear fruit.