On Ukraines Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 1)

On Ukraines Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 1)According to many experts, Singapore has the most developed economy among all South-East Asia countries. Singapores market system works successfully and shines out thanks to an open, corruption-free business environment, stable prices, and high GDP per capita. The government has been promoting higher education, investing in innovative technology, stimulating investments and savings. The country has a high reputation of a finance and high technology center.

Career diplomat, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Republic of Singapore (2010-2016) Pavlo Sultansky (pictured) told in an exclusive interview with International News Agency Vector News about the "Singapore economic miracle", fighting corruption, and opportunities for Ukraine in this Asian country.

Ambassador, you represented Ukraine in Singapore for more than five years. What struck you the most in this country? What does Singapore "economic miracle" look like from inside?
On Ukraines Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 1)
My tenure in the Republic of Singapore (RS) lasted almost five and a half years. To certain extent, this does not fall in with routine international practice of the up to four years overseas assignments for diplomats. It began in a special way - by accompanying the founder of modern Singapore Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015) during his stay in Kyiv in September 2010. That event largely determined, to say, personified my consequent perception of the city-state, demystifying Singapore's "miracle" and for the most part placing everything at quite rational position. Singapore is rich in marvellous, if traditional measurements are applied to the island nation. But actually, truly extraordinary, as for me, is that in the crucial for Singaporeans period of 60th of the last century they were led by LKY. By the way, the full name of the first Prime Minister Mr. Lee is usually shortened like that. If anyone else had taken the leadership then, another version of a failed country would have emerged in the world.

During the years in Singapore I formulated a quite definite conclusion on where the economic success of this country derived from. It is based on the fact that throughout the independent (since August 1965) existence of the Republic each obstacle to doing business has been eliminated systematically. From the inside it looks, if you put it in one word, tough. Such toughness had been grown on the very hard soil of zero public tolerance for corruption. All the rest is being derived from it.

Joe Studwell, an American business expert and The Financial Times reporter, in his book "How Asia works" notes that Singapore's economy may not be compared with, for example, Indonesia's one, hence Singapore's economic model can be qualified as a "port offshore financial center". The states of this type are specialized in financial services and do not have strong agriculture and industry. May significant imbalance in the system and, as a consequence, the economic crisis occur under food and labor shortages, as well as other weak points?

Actually, Singapore is not comparable to the absolute majority of modern states. I'd also disagree with the American expert concerning the point that it can be classified as one of the "port offshore financial centers." Any single, even the most robust, port or offshore haven does not possess all the attributes of a genuine statehood, does not spend 4-5% of its budget (and this is officially stated amount only!) for defense purposes. Indeed, on Kyiv comparable space - and today Singapore's territory is beyond 719 square kilometres - which accommodates more than 5.6 million people, it is difficult to imagine the arable land, the beds with onions, etc. However, the multi-storey greenhouses there already provide a variety of fresh herbs to the tables of local consumers. As for industrial production, figures should be observed. The country's GDP confidently stepped over $300 billion. Wherein the share of industrial production annually comprises about 30% of the overall GDP, that is over $ 90 billion. Is it a lot or a little? Judge for yourself. To certain extent, some experts' assertions about specialization of Singapore on providing financial services is relatively well grounded. After all, they account for 1/5 of the annual income of the metropolis. On the other hand, it is 20% of the total revenues only. Moreover, they have one of the world largest seaports there, as well as the international airport, which once again tops the global ranking. All these impressive data, according to Singaporeans, do not guarantee sustainability. Therefore, the nation absorbed at the DNA level the "cycling rule" in the context of the continuity of reforms: the cyclist does not fall while riding. Let's agree, only an experienced stuntman is able not to collapse for some time while balancing on a pair of wheels. Furthermore, Singaporeans don't misuse the word "reform", preferring the exact naming of changes, which are to be implemented, to this vague definition.
On Ukraines Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 1)

Singaporeans rest on the shore always with a view on hundreds of ships in one of the largest seaports in the world

It must be noted that I was questioned numerous times about the "secret weapon" of Singapore, which really do not possess either minerals, fresh water, sufficient manpower, or many other commodities, without which it is hard to imagine the normal functioning of the entire state organism. One term crystallized over time: management. More precisely - effective management. In Singapore context, it can be disputed for hours. Singapore management has some similarity with upscale acupuncture. Try to visualise a complex "body" of the metropolis with many aching spots (some are listed above). Government agencies watch them responsibly and acupressure on the "body" to anticipate problems. Oppression of corruptive "spots" is only a certain, quite limited, part of the set of other objects of the relentless monitoring carried out by the authorised organs.

The advantage of Singapore's establishment over politicians of the most countries rests on the ability to provide long-term planning - a luxury that few states can afford. They didn't spare means for this purpose, even when the bare necessities lacked financing. Because the founders of Singapore were mindful of strategy and responsibility. Because meritocracy principle was laid in the basis of recruitment to the civil service. Because inevitability of punishment for any offense has become the day-to-day life's norm of the Singapore's society.

Continuing the economy topic, what could you say on Ukraine's interests in Singapore? Can we establish strong economic partnership between our countries? What may lay basis for mutually beneficial cooperation and whether it is possible to use the experience of Singapore in our country? Are there real opportunities to transform the political dialogue into economic and investment cooperation?

Just days before returning to Ukraine in January 2016, one of friendly to our country and influential Singapore politician shared with me literally the following: you underestimate us. It was clear that LKY's trip to Kyiv, supportive approach to Ukraine of Singapore representatives in international financial institutions, their willingness on the expert level to underpin specific, albeit small projects - all this had not met, in his view, the expected response from our side. Moreover, Singaporeans perceived, at best with a restrained smile, the Soviet practices of setting up intergovernmental institutions, inking of formal framework papers, promulgation of pompous joint declarations, etc.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations (by the way, March 31, 2017, marked quarter of a century of this event) two heads of the Ukrainian state visited Singapore and six times leaders of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. On its part, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the RS visited Ukraine only once (2015) and, in fact, on his way to another European country. For pragmatic Singaporeans stable and functional state institutions, genuinely independent courts, continuity of commitments, rather than promises to "take personal control over", are important. They are potentially ready for the exchanges between the representatives of the authorities at all levels, however in their opinion, high visits must be preceded by painstaking experts' work.

Singapore's "economic miracle", as I see it, is applicable outside the city-state only in cases of transfer of management practices into other urban areas. In all other respects the experiences of this mostly artificially emerging nation cannot be replicated mechanically. Any attempt to transplant successfully Singapore achievements into our realities is a senseless undertaking. Nonetheless, experiences of others are a priori helpful. I'd rather give the following example: trying to forge a twig of Singapore mango tree into Ukrainian pear is at least a meaningless enterprise. Alternatively, what delicious fruits our pear trees may deliver if they are appropriately maintained! Singaporeans would gladly appreciate such fruits in their supermarkets.

Let us get back to earth, and examine data from the State Statistics Service of Ukraine. Ukraine-Singapore trade turnover appears to be more than modest. Not to mention investment cooperation. While overall foreign trade of the RS exceeds one trillion dollar a year, our share balances, as they grimly joke, on the verge of statistical error. What does an amount of $100 or 200 million testify when it comes to trade with the country recognized as one of the world's leading commercial intermediaries? Actually, it proves the fact that this page of our cooperation is pristine only. In other words, there is a huge untapped potential in our relations. Statesmen usually put it in this way trying to leave the window of opportunity slightly open.

Assessing what was achieved over my tenure in Singapore, I'd mention three points: firstly, the truly strong statement of the Singapore Government regarding the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea; secondly, the signing of Memorandum on Consultations between the Foreign Ministries of the two countries. This document creates excellent platform for all-round contacts at the working level and professional dialogue between representatives of the public agencies and business communities. Thirdly, the creation under the Embassy's auspices of Ukrainian Club in Singapore. Patriotic Ukrainians from over five hundred-strong-community in Singapore became an integral part of the globally organized Ukrainians.
On Ukraines Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 1)

In October 2016, the Ukrainian club in Singapore officially joined the World Ukrainian Congress

It is my conviction that political dialogue with Singapore and with the most countries should proceed from successful economic and investment cooperation, and not vice versa. In spite of well-functioning international practices, we expertly omit the point that political goals are unattainable without substantial economic component. Especially when it does not refer to the neighboring countries.

Singapore could become our great trade and economic partner, if you manage to exploit its own tools rather than push your clichés. We ought to acknowledge that countries that follow such approaches have been interacted long and successfully with the RS to their benefit and not detrimentally to the city-state. I do believe that Singaporean businessmen are potentially ready to cooperate with Ukrainian counterparts in all fields: from processing raw materials to space exploration. Their requirements are incredibly simple: keep your commitments.

Singapore is a founding and active member of the ASEAN. May Ukraine interact with Singapore at the platform of this alliance of the Southeast Asia (SEA) states? What should be carried on for such purpose?

Those are ill-advised who regard the ASEAN much the same as the European Union. There are no strict uniform regulations and standards in the Association, the member states are too disproportionate in terms of levels of their development and socio-political systems. Seemingly, the desire and the ability to develop rapidly are more peculiar to the most of the population of the Southeast Asia than Europe.

The idea of searching for opportunities in the ASEAN looks attractive. Ten member states of the Association with a population of over 650 million people and a high overall rate of economic growth represent promising and fairly prospective market. Singapore's role in this organization is truly significant. The RS leadership is committed to the basic principles of the ASEAN community and particularly consistent concerning all initiatives promoting and strengthening the Association.
On Ukraines Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 1)

The Ukrainian Embassy in Singapore is located approximately where the British flag was raised for the first time almost 200 years ago

Representative of Ukraine at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta was designated in 2013. It is a standard practice for countries outside the ASEAN. Yet such representation refers to public policy and does not extend opportunities directly to the business community. Business does not have privileges to receive a new market as a gift from the government. One must move forward to the region, participate in exhibitions, promote and advertise itself, literally chase potential consumers. The platform of Singapore may be considered the most suitable for entering the SEA region and I can convincingly explain why so.

For all that, we should not overestimate importance of an individual ASEAN Member State as a universal key to the doors of the rest of the countries. Due to a number of favorable preconditions, many multinational, regional and national companies established their headquarters in Singapore. This, of course, is an extra advantage of the city-state, but it does not make working with each entity of the Association needless. Our national construction companies of various profiles, exporters of agricultural products, means of transport, goods of military and dual-use may find application for their potential in Southeast Asia. Our producers of software, space industry devices and many others can find their customers in the SEA either. By the way, our Embassy not once forwarded an initiative to establish representative offices of Ukrainian exporters on the island. However, the practical feedback, as I know, has not yet been received.

Corruption and tolerance towards it in society are problematic issues in our country. What can we learn from Singapore's founder Lee Kuan Yew who was the most successful warrior against this phenomenon? Can we make use of his experience?

I would allow myself a prelude to the answer. Our habit of self-scoffing sometimes looks like a ploy for justification of giving up and doing nothing. They say, there is no one sinless, but you are unable to take everybody to jail. There is another extreme, when the scandals, including corruption-related, are attempted to be concealed.

Obviously, you need to stop beating yourself up whether appropriate or not, often just casually, replacing routine educational and preventive activity by fashionable slogans calling for a fight against everything. We contrive fighting even neediness and poverty, rather than overcoming these problems.

Now, get back to the core. The phrase "Start with putting three of your friends to jail" is not from an anecdote about LKY, but a sobering truth about his methods of familiarizing compatriots with law obedience. According to his own notions of fairness and justice, he always impersonated the indomitable corruption antipode. Over the years, the Singapore society got used to the idea that a bureaucrat is not necessarily the one who impunitively pump out public money into his private pocket, that a civil servant may not reside in a penthouse, and that a corrupter is much more dangerous than a grafter is. The Singapore Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) has long been shifted its attention from civil servants towards potential bribe-givers from private sector. The clue to this - perhaps unexpected for our comprehension - phenomenon is unpretentious: while overwhelming majority of really highly-paid civil servants are ready to comply with their decent salary, it is the private business which exert efforts to get extra profit by looking for opportunities to bribe those who by virtue of their position could facilitate that for certain benefits. That's why officials have for a long time made up only a tiny percentage of the total number of "clients" of Singapore corruption combatants.
On Ukraines Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 1)

Singaporeans honor the memory of the founding father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March 2015

Like us, among Singaporeans one can encounter sybarites and workaholics, sincere and open hearted, as well as quite hypocritical individuals. In the end, most of them are consolidated by the conviction that commitments should be followed by deeds, rules have to be abided by, and each and everyone is equal before the law. At his meetings with Yanukovych and Azarov in Kyiv LKY insisted on curbing bribery and convincingly recommended as follows: "Get on the path of struggle against corruption, show respective progress to make people trust you". I do not think that there was something extraordinary or difficult to understand in Mr.Lee's recipe. Now the phrase sounds even somewhat funny: the impersonification of victory over corruption and embezzlement of public funds appealed to the chieftains of theft of Ukraine's national wealth to fire at their own feet. The problem laid in the completely opposite aspirations of then Ukrainian statesmen. Far from naivety, LKY apparently could not guess how inappropriate was his appeal to carnivores to limit themselves to salads.

The realities of modern Singapore are such that bottlenecks, where participants of corruption offenses could potentially cheat with impunity, are getting narrower crime by crime. It should be noted that in this country every tool is affordable when it comes to eradication of corruption, including provocations.

In Singapore, it goes like that: if high-ranking official's mother-in-law (long-living grandfather, cousin with modest income, young and promising but not apparently prosperous niece, etc.) makes an unusually expensive purchase, anti-corruptioners immediately switch on the scanning mode of his activity. Naturally, his personal expenses become subject to uninterrupted and comprehensive scanning. Even the Prime Minister, who is actually the head of the city-state, is always present on CPIB's radars. Although the Bureau's staff are quite non-public people, as objectively it should be, the results of their specific activities regularly pop up on the front pages of local newspapers and are discussed in prime time. Perhaps this manner of work (results - to the media!) would fit us well.
On Ukraines Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 1)

The streets of Singapore are so safe that the Salvador Dali's sculptures stand just in the open air

After years in Singapore, I can definitely assert that the sunspots (corruption in Singapore) really exist. Regarding this phenomenon, the fundamental difference between over there and here lies in the inevitability of punishment there and throwing bribers-pikes into river here. Unfortunately, for a while it is still mostly so.

To be continued
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