I struggled to find an appropriate image to attach to my "Happy birthday Singapore!" post but settled on the Marina Barrage, not because it represents every relevant thing but because it is a stand-out example of a handful of things that Singapore has demonstrated the capacity to do particularly well:
- to tolerate perceiving and addressing an extraordinarily challenging situation for what it is, without sugar-coating, dissembling or seeking to distract,
- to envisage a viable - if apparently preposterous - solution that would transform the nation's strategic situation, and
- to develop and deliver that solution, on specification and on time.
In a broader sense, Singapore's founding leaders and the Pioneer Generation that chose to follow them did exactly this, both at a whole-of-Singapore scale and repeatedly at the level of specific initiatives. I suspect that most of the opportunity to make large progress at a whole-of-Singapore scale has been fully realised, but there remain - and I believe will continue to appear - numerous opportunities to do so at a smaller scale. Finding and developing these, and helping others to do so, is something that I look forward to doing so for as long as I'm able.
The Barrage has had another personal importance for me during the last few years: I run across it a couple of times a week. Frequently when I turn for home and come into view of the skyline featured in almost every other image that people choose to represent Singapore, I feel a wave of joy. No doubt this is facilitated by an exercise-induced elevation of endorphin levels, but it's also about gratitude for my good fortune in having found a place that's a better fit for me, and I for it, than the land of my birth. I aspire to be worthy of this place.
Happy birthday Singapore, here's to another 50 extraordinary years!
- For the benefit of friends not born or resident in Singapore: from independence until a few years ago, Singapore was critically dependent upon Malaysia for its water supply. The Marina Barrage is one major element of Singapore's establishing independence of water supply. Singapore continues to purchase water from Malaysia because it is economical to do so, but is no longer critically dependent upon being able to.
- I watch with sadness the inability of politicians and the public in the land of my birth to deal with anything even remotely resembling reality, let alone doing so as unflinchingly as Singapore has done for decades.
- The use of a barrage of gates opened and closed in sync with the tides to sustain a freshwater reservoir in direct contact with seawater was novel. Reclaiming enough land to turn an area of sea into that reservoir must have seemed at least quite ambitious at the time, if not actually preposterous.
- It felt odd to leave out "on budget" after "on specification and on time". I don't know whether it was completed on budget, but given the transformation in strategic situation that was achieved this does not seem like a terribly important concern; that it was supplying potable water prior to the expiry of a key treaty with Malaysia was the rather more important achievement that I wished to draw attention to.