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Singapore Number One, Again

Panorama of Singapore's skyline at dusk
Panorama of Singapore’s skyline at dusk

BY LEE HIANG SEAH 22/03/2015

A recent survey conducted by the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) found Singapore to be the world’s most expensive city.[1] After comparing the prices of 180 services and products across 133 countries, the city-state topped the charts for the second year in a row.[2] With grocery prices 11% higher than those of New York and high transports costs, mainly attributed to the astonishingly high price of the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) – a license that must be purchased prior to owning a vehicle[3] – it is no surprise that the nation state is ranked number one. Also, having limited resources of its own, it is heavily reliant on imports for energy and water, adding to the high utility costs.

Singapore has come a long way since it gained independence in 1965

Yet despite being named the priciest city in the world, it is The Lonely Planet’s top travel destination for 2015, based on factors such as topicality, excitement and value.[4] In fact, its economy has done “relatively well” following the global financial crisis, according to the Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr. Lim Hng Kiang. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown 4.7% per annum since 2007 and the median household income has been on the rise. Mr. Lim also added that amid the financial crisis in 2008, the unemployment levels did not exceed 3% and approximately 112,000 jobs have been created every year since then.[5]

Moreover, recent plans for its Budget 2015 seem to have put more emphasis on domestic issues. Schemes like SkillsFuture – the SGD$500 that each Singaporean aged 25 and older will receive to take approved courses to upgrade themselves – aim to benefit workers and employers to embrace a culture of change and learning. This ties in with the government’s overall aim of maintaining ‘social mobility’ in Singapore, which is to diminish the natural workings of society in accentuating inequalities. So in spite of sporting a SGD$6.7 billion deficit in 2015, it should be noted that this is due to heavy investment in infrastructure[6] – including plans to expand the island’s airport with a grand, new Terminal 5 in the coming decade[7] – and is mostly supported from surpluses from previous years, with every intention of maintaining economic stability.

Lee Kuan Yew founding father of Singapore
Lee Kuan Yew founding father of Singapore

Singapore has come a long way since it gained independence in 1965 and should take some pride in having topped the EIU’s charts again this year, for this is testament of its phenomenal growth and emergence as a financial hub. However, such a title should also be seen as a caveat for the future of this island nation. Something it ought to keep in mind, as it prepares to celebrate its National Day this August. With an array of colourful performances, roaring fireworks and a grand parade expected, it will surely be an event fit to mark the Lion City’s fiftieth year of independence.

Sadly, it is not one the founding father of modern Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, will have the chance to witness. Succumbing to pneumonia on 23 March 2015, Mr. Lee leaves behind a profoundly different Singapore from the one he inherited in 1959. His determination and hard-line policies are arguably what transformed the third world country into the financial powerhouse it is today. Amid slower economic growth and increasing social tensions, only time can tell if the reigning People’s Action Party is able to uphold his legacy.[1]


First year International Relations student at King’s College London. An epicurean and coffee addict.

[1] Grant, Jeremy. Financial Times. “Singapore patriarch Lee Kuan Yew dies.” Last modified 23 March 2015. Accessed 23 March 2015. <http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/494e02f8-b7fc-11e4-b6a5-00144feab7de.html#slide0>

[1] The Economist. “Sing on a shoestring.” Last modified 7 March 2014. Accessed 10 March 2015. <http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2014/03/world-s-most-expensive-city>

[2] Wadham, Miranda. The Independent. “Singapore named the most expensive city in the world for second year running.” Last modified 3 March 2015. Accessed 10 March 2015. <http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/singapore-named-the-most-expensive-city-in-the-world-for-second-year-running-10082202.html>

[3] Ibid.

[4] YourSingapore. “Lonely Planet’s 2015 Top Travel Destination.” Accessed 10 March 2015. <http://www.yoursingapore.com/editorials/lonely-planets-top-country-to-visit-for-2015.html >

[5] Wong, Siew Ying. Channel News Asia. “Singapore has performed ‘relatively well’ 7 years after financial crisis: Lim Hng Kiang.” Last modified 6 March 2015. Accessed 10 March 2015. <http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/business/singapore/singapore-has-performed/1699844.html>

[6] Chang, Rachel. Asia One. “Budget for ‘fair, progressive system that is sustainable’.” Last modified 6 March 2015. Accessed 10 March 2015. <http://business.asiaone.com/news/budget-fair-progressive-system-sustainable>

[7] Channel News Asia. “Terminal 5 will handle as many passengers as all existing terminals combined: Lui.” Last modified 11 March 2015. Accessed 11 March 2015. <http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/terminal-5-will-handle-as/1708534.html>

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