Contested Landscapes - Singapore Integrated Resort Question: Contested landscapes provide a lens to study society. By analyzing a case study of a “contested landscape” in Singapore, discuss the insights you gained on Singapore society.

Essay by danielthongUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, April 2010

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11. Introduction �

11.1 Overview of Integrated Resorts, Singapore �

11.2 Purpose of Paper �

11.3 Research Methodology, Scope and Approach �

22. Case Study of Contested Landscape in Singapore: Integrated Resorts (IRs) �

22.1 Voices for Objection towards Casino Operations in Singapore �

23. Discussion - Insights on Singapore Society Derived from Case Study �

23.1 Citizens' Participation in Decision-Making �

23.1.1 Singaporeans' Apathy towards State Affairs �

33.1.2 Evolution - From Apathy to Participation �

43.2 The Amount of Influence the State has on Society �

53.2.1 Control Measures on Press and Media �

53.2.2 Education System to Shape Population to Adopt State's Ideology �

63.3 Singapore and its Pragmatic Ideologies �

83.4 A Highly Interventionist Approach to Governing �

83.5 Religion: Important Contributor in Singapore Society �

94. Conclusion �

105. References �



1. Introduction

1.1 Overview of Integrated Resorts, Singapore

During a parliament session on 18 April 2005, Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, announced the decision to develop two casinos and associated hotels/malls in Marina South and Sentosa. Las Vegas Sands had been chosen to develop Marina Bay Sands, at Marina Bayfront, and Genting International to develop Sentosa Casino and Resort, at Sentosa,. Operational around 2009, each will operate a casino, taking up less than 5% of total floor area. The former will focus on business and convention facilities, while the latter will be established as a family-friendly resort. Total investments for the entire IR project amount to around S$5 billion.

1.2 Purpose of Paper

This paper aims to demonstrate the theory "Contested Landscapes provide a lens to study society", through the use of a real case in the local context.

1.3 Research Methodology, Scope and Approach

This paper uses a brief case study on a contested landscape in Singapore which provides an overview and analysis of some contestations faced when the idea for the IR development was announced by the government, so as to provide insights on the society. This paper will only focus on taking the perspective on the debate as to whether the IR development in Singapore should come with the casino operations . Thereafter, discussions will focus on citizens' participation in decision-making in the country, the state's role and the impact it has on the society, as well as the ideology adopted by the country in areas like economic decisions and etc.

The research will be based solely on secondary sources, which include and are not limited to; academic journals, government websites, forum discussions, weblogs, newspaper articles, reference books, etc.

2. Case Study of Contested Landscape in Singapore: Integrated Resorts (IRs)

The plan to build the casinos was subjected to considerable debate amongst Singaporeans. Several groups, such as the Muslim and Christian communities as well as social workers and activist groups openly expressed their disapproval. Concerns were raised about the negative social impact of casino gambling, citing that it could encourage more gambling, increase the risk of compulsive gambling and lead to undesirable activities associated with gambling, including money laundering, loan sharks or even organised crime.

The IRs became a contested landscape in Singapore as many debates were initiated from the time the public was informed to announcement of the government's decision on IRs' development. There were 2 main debate groups - one for the IR with casino, another for IR without the casino.

2.1 Voices for Objection towards Casino Operations in Singapore

Different religious and activist groups in the society were against the idea of the casinos operating at the resorts, as they were worried that "problem gambling" would become a social issue. One of the many activists group, Families Against the Casino Threat in Singapore (FACTS), had even created a site for people to petition against the establishment of the casino in Singapore, At their site, they asserted a casino would bring 'negative energy' to Singapore though they did not specifically define what consequence that would bring about.

3. Discussion - Insights on Singapore Society Derived from Case Study

3.1 Citizens' Participation in Decision-Making

3.1.1 Singaporeans' Apathy towards State Affairs

The lack of a credible opposition party to rival the dominant ruling party - People's Action Party (PAP), can be perceived to be one of the many reasons why PAP has succeeded in stopping all who opposed their vision for the state. While it can be argued that PAP has "delivered on its promises" (Cherian George, 2000) and "achieved high economic growth with social equity" (Cherian George, 2000), it has successfully proven itself to be the right choice for the state. It reinforces the idea that it is best not get involved in any movement or group viewed to be out of line with the national vision set by the government.

As a result, the fear of stepping out of line has gradually changed to apathy.

3.1.2 Evolution - From Apathy to Participation

While Singaporeans are often criticised as being apathetic to the state affairs, there are apparent evidence that citizens are now getting more involved and participative in the decision-making of state affairs. From the perspective of the case study mentioned, it is clear that not all Singaporeans are passive towards the decisions made by the government. Instead, a substantial number of Singaporeans had voiced out their views against the idea of operating casinos on the island. They showed their disagreement by initiating petitions to lobby other Singaporeans to appeal to the government to withdraw their decision on the set-up of the casinos in the IRs.

Yet, it was criticised by the Ho Khai Leong, in his paper "Citizen Participation and Policy Making in Singapore", where he mentioned that though citizens may be genuinely involved through direct involvement or representation and feel a real sense of belonging and control, they can be led into believing that they are participating in the political process when actually they are just being manipulated. Realistically, the petitions that activists groups presented to the government were still ineffective to influence the state's decision on an issue.

Hence, it can be regarded that Singapore is still much under the 'top-down' approach from the government, and that citizen's participation in decision-making is restricted by many obstacles and constraints, especially the fact the Singapore is literally an authoritarian state with limited "guided democracy".

3.2 The Amount of Influence the State has on Society

To explain a society's workings, we cannot ignore its history and a very important role that the state plays in controlling society's behaviour, for it is the body of power that decides what behaviour constitutes deviance and crime. A brief historical outline of Singapore from the 1950s to present times, would reflect what was initially a bleak outlook for the small island state to one of economic prosperity. It is useful to note that we have been and still are ruled by the PAP (Peoples' Action Party) since the independence of Singapore. However, the economic success has come with its costs too, with the government adopting an approach which espoused the belief that then PM Lee Kuan Yew put succinctly into words, "If I were in authority in Singapore indefinitely without having to ask those who are being governed whether they like what is being done, then I have not the slightest doubt that I could govern much more efficiently in their own interest." (T.J.S George, 1973)

As the then multi-racial, largely immigrant society was seen to be lacking in common national interests; full-fledged democracy was seen to be an obstacle, as unpopular-but-beneficial decisions needed to be implemented without facing political instability. As such, it decided that "long-term government stability was a prerequisite to progress and it did not pay to split hairs on subtleties of how to achieve such stability." (T.J.S George, 1973)

The government then took a no-nonsense approach to anybody who was seen to be in breach of the political stability of the state. Besides clamping down on perceived dissidents of the government, policies were created to regulate the mass media and the educational system into forming a common ideology with the government, that "democracy is a dispensable virtue in a society which must put survival above everything else". (T.J.S George, 1973) The national ideology was seen where "success" is defined primarily in economic terms.

3.2.1 Control Measures on Press and Media

The mass media, the press, was controlled by numerous laws such as the Printing Presses Ordinance, the Essential Information (Control of Publications and Safeguarding of Information) Regulations, that left "printers and publishers in a straitjacket" (T.J.S George, 1973). It is stated in the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act Section 10(15) that:

The Minister may in writing grant his approval for the purchase or acquisition or the holding of management shares by any person who is not a citizen of Singapore and for the appointment of any such person as a director of a newspaper company.

The above Laws "empowers the government to determine the composition of a newspaper company's board of directors" (Cherian George, 2000), hence allowing for governmental intervention if necessary, creating a "media with a national vision" (Cherian George, 2000). To complement this vision, heavy censorships are introduced by the Media Development Authority of Singapore. The government made the press "independent, but subordinate to an elected government" (Cherian George, 2000). Thus, the citizens have been inculcated with the desired values of the government from young, forming an obedient and somewhat submissive population/society in Singapore.

3.2.2 Education System to Shape Population to Adopt State's Ideology

The education system has been used as a tool to shape the younger generation into adopting the state's ideology. Students are exposed to the history of Singapore, reflecting the past contributions of the government, and the hardships that Singapore went through to evolve into what it is today. Students were taught the advantages of the approaches adopted by the government in order to main political, economical and social stability it enjoys today. The government introduced subjects that are prominent in the current industry trend/sector to guide the progress of the state's economic development (e.g. Bio-medical research, life sciences, etc.). This is an indicator of how the government has sown the seeds of pragmatism in society, where knowledge is gained in view of economic success. Wong Kon Kit a student in the Singapore education system, was only aged nine when he penned his beliefs that "upon our victory (referring to success in school) brings 5Cs." (Things that make us Singaporean, 2003)

3.3 Singapore and its Pragmatic Ideologies

Its tiny size allows Singapore to be literally "plagued by pragmatism". It cannot afford to experience huge failures. Fed with economic prosperity over the past few decades, Singapore society has slowly adopted the "industrial and secular virtues" (T.J.S George, 1973), with pragmatism being the core value. In 1993, then foreign minister Wong Kan Seng expressed that:

"Only those who have forgotten the pangs of hunger will think of consoling the hungry by telling them that they should be free before they can eat. Our experience is that economic growth is the necessary foundation of any system that claims to advance human dignity, and that order and stability are essential for development".

In shaping the nation with its ideals, the Singaporean society is now "in favour of pragmatic ideas of immediate functional value, and impatient with political ideals such as democracy as human rights" (Cherian George, 2000)

Despite objections, the government nevertheless, decided to incorporate the casinos in the IR developments with a view that this would be another source of economic growth for the country. According to sources, 35,000 new jobs will be created with an S$1.5billion boost for Singapore's GDP annually if the IRs incorporate the casinos and will increase the revenue/reserves, thereby strengthening the economic position of Singapore.

Another government's justification for the development of the IRs, may be its desperate pursuit of a landscape of spectacle in which it can become a focal point for national pride, such as the futuristic and easily identifiable unique architectural design of the Marina Bay Sands As it is build on an ultra-prime location with the highest land values, the profits from the casino operations will be able to recover the "virtual loss" on the lucrative use of this prime land.

There were also past prominent instances where the pragmatism of Singapore was being displayed. In an article "Size matters - for Singapore's foreign policy" from the 27th July 2006 edition of the Today newspaper, it sums up the pragmatism in Singapore foreign policies:

"SINGAPORE does not have the luxury of pursuing a foreign policy of abstract ideals because of a simple reason: The world can do without Singapore. … Transport Minister and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Raymond Lim drove home the truth about the republic's vulnerability and called on youth to understand the country's pragmatic approach behind its foreign policy ."

Mr Lim also mentioned that, "As someone once said, consistency is the virtue for trains. But what is consistent in our foreign policy is a dogged and clear-eyed protection of our core interests, nothing more or less".

Another example, Mr. Bilahari Kausikan, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, once responded to a student's question regarding Singapore's support of the US War on Iraq by saying:

"The Americans were deluded; it doesn't mean we supported them because we thought it would work. I believe the question you are too polite to ask is, did we suck up to the US? Well, yes, our basic interest was to show support for the USA, you are right."

In the various governmental decisions, 'pragmatism' can be clearly portrayed to be deeply inculcated into the state's policies and structure. The pragmatism of the government is contributed by the pragmatism valued by her citizens, as the government is merely doing what the people want and expect, as if they are doing something contrary to what the people want, they would have been voted out.

3.4 A Highly Interventionist Approach to Governing

A "highly interventionist approach" (Cherian George, 2000) has been adopted by the state which deems necessary for the benefit of the nation. Such include "promoting everything from toilet-flushing to procreation and even smiling". (Cherian George, 2000) It is observed that the state plays a large role in shaping its society's ideals. It is a common complain that Singapore is a "fine" country and according building technician Len Yue Lan, "fines make us fine Singaporeans" (Things that make us Singaporean, 2003). Notably, citizens realise achievement of economic survival is of primary importance followed secondary by nuances of values and rights, and hence the eventual acceptance of the establishment of the IRs by the majority. Another reason for society accepting the highly interventionist approach adopted by the government is because of the continual reassurances from top officials such as Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng that the "government will always consider the interests of Singaporeans first".

3.5 Religion: Important Contributor in Singapore Society

Besides economic prosperity, it is valuable to note that the religious groups hold the traditional views of hard work in esteem and denounces gambling which dictates that success can be achieved through short-cuts. As Singapore is an Asian city, much of its governing policies and ideals were evolved from ancient Asian ruling empires which embraced traditional Asian values, morals and religious beliefs.

Studies have shown that the state has played a role in desisting secularisation as "the Singapore government also believes people who are religious are morally good people. "Religious studies were even made mandatory in secondary education in the 1980s" stated Assistant Professor Alexius A Pereira, from the department of sociology in NUS, as it was believed that "religion is very much a part of people's identity and is central in their life", justifying the objections raised by the religious groups.

4. Conclusion

In short, the Singaporean society has been thoroughly indoctrinated into accepting that the government always acts in its best interests. In many other countries around the world, it would be difficult to implement an unpopular decision, but Singapore government manage it with minimal fuss. After all, it is for the survival of the nation, and the citizens accepted this rationale.

Indeed it was not surprisingNIn that the government eventually went ahead with its decision to build the IR, despite protests as "public participation is subject to political realities that are as binding as the laws of physics." (Cherian George, 2000) As many concerns were supposedly addressed, the religious leaders who were main opponents were told to accept the decision for the "greater good of Singapore" by PM Lee Hsien Loong. Interestingly, one of the four main downsides of the decision to build the IRs, was the brand name of Singapore, which is linked to its economic prosperity, reflecting how much emphasis we place on our financial well being.


5. References

Ho Khai Leong. "Citizen Participation and Policy Making in Singapore: Conditions and Predicaments". Asian Survey, Vol. 40, No. 3 (May - Jun., 2000), pp. 436-455. University of California Press. 16 Spetember 2008.


Singapore Statutes Online. 22 October 2008


Han. "Casino Debate: Freedom, Values or a Secret Sin?" Weblog Entry. WordPress - The Legal Janitor. 20 January 2005. 30 September 2008.


"Parliamentary debate chokes on values." Weblog Entry. BlogSpot - The Singapore Commentator. 18 January 2005. 16 October 2008.


Huichieh. "Web Symposium: Blogosphere reactions to the Casino/Integrated Resort decision 2005." Weblog Entry. BlogSpot - From a Singapore Angle. 23 April 2005. 1 October 2008.


Singapore, a modern but religious country. 25 October 2008


T.J.S. George. "Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore" Publisher Andre Deutsch. Published 1973. ISBN 0233964568 / 9780233964560 / 0-233-96456-8. 18 October 2008.

Cherian George. Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation; Essays on the Politics of Comfort and Control 1999-2000. Published: 2000, Singapore, 1st Edition. ISBN 981306546X. 18 October 2008.

Straits Times dated 21 October 2008. Anxiety and Assurance. Excerpt of speech by Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng. 25 October 2008

Things that make us Singaporean. Published by NDP 2003 executive committee. 25 October 2008.