Singapore, Jamaica and the late Lee Kuan Yew

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I have three distinct memories from childhood, interwoven like silk tapestry. The first is playing on the swing set on our front lawn. The second is Mr Wilmot Perkin`s booming voice coming over the radio and my father listening intently as we played outside, (we knew as kids not to make any loud noises during the program). The third is the weekly Friday treats of Tasttee patties my dad would bring home, which my brother and I looked forward to eating. I mentioned the foregoing as it was by listening along with my father to Mr Perkins on the radio, that I was first introduced to the late Lee Kuan Yew. Both by father and Mr Perkins were big supporters of Lee Kuan Yew, and my father talked about him incessantly!

As an adult, I read about Singapore and Mr Lee Kuan Yew out of curiosity. And, I was fascinated by what he was able to do for Singapore and the Singaporeans. He successfully gained self-government for his country and turned its economy around. Today, Singapore has one of the most successful and vibrant economies in the world. This was no easy feat, and highlighted the qualities that made Lee Kuan Yew an outstanding leader. I promised myself to one day visit Singapore and experience this great nation. I was glad when I did. Further, I was not disappointed.

While there are differences between Jamaica and Singapore, there are also some similarities that people may not know of. For example, both started out on the same path towards self-government from Britain around the same time. Fifty plus years later, both countries sit on opposite sides of the economic spectrum, having achieved significantly different outcomes. And, I have often wondered if Jamaica would have turned out differently, if it were led by a leader like the late Lee Kuan Yew.

Highlighted below are some comparisons between Singapore and Jamaica:

An overview of Jamaica and Singapore in the 1960`s

In the early 1960`s Singapore was part of the Federation of Malaya. It was without adequate water supply and any natural resources. Division and hostility existed between the Chinese and the Malays. Massive unemployment, riots and labor unrest riddled the island. It was also surrounded by hostile neighbors. Singaporeans spoke four main languages, Mandarin, English, Malay and Tamil.

Jamaica was known as the pearl of the Caribbean in the 1960`s. It was a period of robust growth and prosperity for the island. Bauxite, alumina and tourism were its main income earners. Jamaica enjoyed good relations with its Caribbean neighbors and its people spoke one language — English.

Quest for Self-Government

Both were developing countries that fell under the commonwealth umbrella and were governed by Britain. Both countries obtained self-government around the same time. Jamaica was the first to obtain independence, which it did on August 6th 1962. Interestingly, Lee Kuan Yew visited Jamaica to observe and learn from Jamaica’s transition to self-rule. Singapore later gained its independence on August 7th 1965.

Climate, Size & Geography

Though geographically dispersed, both countries share a tropical climate, are small in size ( a dot on the world map) and are considered islands (although Singapore is referred to as a city state). Singapore is 193 kilometers and Jamaica is 235 kilometers in size. Singapore, through ongoing land reclamation, was able to extend its size by an additional 23 kilometers.


As at 2016, Singapore`s GDP (PPP) per capita stood at 90,724, fourth in the world behind Qatar, Luxemburg and Macao. Jamaica`s GDP (PPP) is 8,991. In the 1st quarter of 2017, Singapore was rated as one of the least corrupt countries, and ranked 7th in the world. In 2016, Jamaica was ranked 83rd in the world.


Jamaica`s economy is based mainly on forestry, agriculture, tourism and financial services, with tourism being the main income generator for the island. Singapore has a market driven economy that is considered one of the best in the world. It is also a tax haven. Known for its green city, it is regarded as a finance and transport hub. As at the first quarter of 2015, Singapore`s unemployment rate was below 1.8%. In March 2017, Changi International Airport was selected as the best airport in the world. A position it has maintained for five consecutive years.

Jamaica is known as the land of reggae music, Bob Marley, Blue Mountain coffee and Usain Bolt. Our music and athletes bring us great pride and have made significant strides in the international arena. Jamaica`s Blue Mountain Coffee is regarded as the best in the world. The main income earner for the island is tourism. We could consider turning Jamaica into an international training ground for athletes. This could bring further income to our island and help to boost our economy. Jamaica`s unemployment rate as at 2016 was 12.9%.


Jamaica`s education system is divided into four levels, early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary. Education at the early childhood, primary and secondary levels are compulsory and free. It also has four main universities. None of Jamaica`s universities are represented in the QS ranking of universities.

Singapore`s education system takes place in three stages — primary, secondary and pre-university. Unlike Jamaica, only the primary level is compulsory. Two of Singapore`s universities the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are ranked at 12th and 13th in the QS ranking of world universities. An area of mutuality between the two countries is that both students sit the GCE O` and A` Level examinations.


Singapore has an excellent healthcare system. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Singapore as 6th in the world. It has one of the lowest mortality rates worldwide. In 2010, 32% of healthcare costs were funded by the government. The government healthcare system provided for its citizens has a 3M framework — Medifind, Mediservice and Medishield.

In Jamaica, healthcare is free to all citizens and legal residents at all government hospitals and clinics. Free medication is also provided for its citizens. One drawback to this however is the long lines and waiting time. It is not unusual to spend an entire day waiting and not being able to see a doctor.

Crime & Violence

Singapore enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the world. In 2016, the crime rate fell to 2.6. Crime is generally non-confrontational and non-violent and involves purse snatching and pick pocketing. Guns are strictly controlled and are almost non-existent. Most crimes occur with the use of knives and cutters.

In 1962, Jamaica had one of the lowest crime rates in the world. In 2009, it had one of the highest and a reputation of being one of the murder capitals in the world. Since 2011 however, the number has been reducing. In 2012, the Ministry of National Security reported a 30% decrease in crime and violence.


Singapore`s official language of business is English, but it has four main languages:- English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. Most Singaporeans are bilingual. Jamaica`s official language is English. It is used in government, the legal system, education and media. Jamaica also uses a dialect referred to as Jamaican patois. Jamaicans are also considered bilingual.

In comparing the two countries, the following quote from Dr Martin Luther King came forcibly to mind:

“May I stress the need for courageous, intelligent and dedicated leadership…Leaders of sound integrity. Leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with justice. Leaders not in love with money but in love with honesty. Leaders who subject their particular egos for the greatness of the cause.”

In my opinion, two main variables have impacted the success of Singapore — its leaders, (namely Lee Kuan Yew,) and its people. Lee Kuan Yew, often referred to as the founding father of Singapore was a visionary. He was not only driven. He was a man of high intellect and integrity. He sought the common good for his country and his people. He put Singapore and the Singaporeans above personal gains, ambitions and fame. The Singaporeans while not always in agreement, were many times divided on the way forward. However, they had a unified goal in mind — to make Singapore a safe and prosperous nation. Today, that goal/dream continues to be a reality.

Jamaica today, is battling with crime, high unemployment, a struggling economy and lack of opportunities for its young people. What happened? We have the resources, fame, talent and the advantage of geography. Where is our success story outside of music & sports. Did our leaders and people do enough? Many will vehemently defend our past leaders and their achievements. Some may even say it is unfair to compare both countries. My question to you reader is: Is Jamaica today a safe and prosperous nation?

My wish for my home country is that its leaders and people will move beyond party politics and division, selfish gains and ambitions, and work towards making Jamaica a safe and prosperous nation. Can Jamaica regain its glory days of the 1960`s when it was known as the pearl of the Caribbean? Perhaps not, but we can certainly try!

I saw my land in the morning
And oh, but she was fair,
The hills flamed upwards scorning
Death and failure here.
I saw through the mists of morning
A wave like a sea set free,
Faith to the dawn returning,
Dark tide bright unity.
I saw my friends in the morning,
They called from an equal gate:
Build now while time is burning
Forward before it’s late.

Song written by M.G. Smith

That’s it folks. Thanks for reading.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I welcome your feedback.