What Kenya can learn from Singapore's rise and housing

Singapore skyline. [AP photo]

Singapore, a small island country that was once a British colony became prosperous under Lee Kuan Yew after gaining independence in 1965.

Under Lee’s guidance, the government was efficient, fought graft and prioritised long-term social and economic planning over populist policies.

Lee promoted civic nationalism through meritocracy and multiracialism and made English the lingua franca to facilitate trade and integration with the world.

Lee took up the challenge of developing policies that contributed to Singapore’s prosperity.

He recognised the significance of law, stability, and maintaining positive relationships with major international corporations. 

To address the housing issue, he established the Housing Development Board (HDB) which was mandated to build homes for Singapore’s population, especially for the less privileged.

In addition to renting these homes, the HDB later began selling them too. The government made it mandatory for its citizens to save part of their pay in a State-managed plan - the Central Provident Fund, which achieved an attractive return of almost five per cent.

With a strong employment base and well-paying jobs, the government had a large pool of people to impose mandatory savings on, unlike in Kenya, where the employment base is small, poorly paid, and overtaxed.

The fund was initially provided only for retirement, but later included housing, enabling more people to own homes. Public housing prices were 20-30 per cent cheaper than those in the private market.

The board has built over one million apartments, and the percentage of people living in public housing has risen from nine per cent in 1960 to 82 per cent by 2017.

Kenya has a significant gap to cover before achieving Singapore’s level of public housing success. Singapore’s success can be attributed to various factors, with good governance being the most significant. Lee implemented policies that prioritised housing and respect for the law.

Unfortunately, such leadership is not shared in Africa. The Executive arm of government, particularly the presidency, is often the source of poverty and other problems on the continent. African presidencies tend to spend extravagantly, demonise their critics, and compromise the Judiciary and Legislature, undermining oversight of the Executive.

It is time for African presidencies to acknowledge their role in causing the problems their citizens face due to poor planning, greed, and an excessive desire to remain in power. 

Kenya must create a favourable business environment and address the high cost of land and living in urban centres to attract foreign direct investment.

- The writer works in project management and international relations. 

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