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May 21, 2008

Singapore urged to ease social controls

Singapore should consider relaxing some of its strict social laws to allow for greater creativity, which will help it stay competitive in the long term, a top World Bank official was quoted by AFP as saying Tuesday.

The city-state, Southeast Asia's richest economy, is seen by many developing countries as a model of economic progress but it also has its critics who point out its restricted press freedom and political expression.

"Singapore has made a monumental contribution to the field of development, Juan Jose Daboub, the Bank's managing director, said at a public lecture.

But he said a question confronting its leaders is "whether it is ready to face the challenges of implementing cutting-edge reforms needed to further improve its position in the competitive global environment."

He added: "One such challenge is the tricky task of balancing a desire for social order and stability -- for many years a defining quality of Singapore's growth -- with a need to allow more innovation and creativity to produce high-value goods and services in a more competitive global economy."

Singapore is often criticised for its strict laws that stunt press freedom and political expression, while engaging in "social engineering" programmes such as state-run dating services limited to university graduates. It has been ruled by the same party for almost 50 years with little opposition.

Government critics have been left bankrupt after being sued for defamation by Singapore's leaders, who maintain that they must protect their reputations from unfounded attacks.

"Innovation and creativity are, by definition, not orderly, and not regulated," Daboub said. "As Singapore looks to a growing and prosperous future, striking the right balance will call for some skilled stewardship and probably some risk-taking."

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