Photo by Fabio Achilli ->

General facts:

Population5.7 million
Average income 54,408 SGD ($40,753 USD) -
median annual income
InequalityGini coefficient: 0.452
Difference in average monthly
income between top and
bottom decile: 13,140 SGD
($9,842 USD)
Diversity74.4% Chinese,
13.4% Malay,
9.0% Indian,
3.2% Other
Current government Parliamentary republic
Current president: Halimah Yacob

Singapore is generally considered one of the safest cities in the world, with consistently high rankings in global surveys. The Gallup 2020 Global Law and Order Report found that 97% of residents in Singapore felt safe walking home at night, well above the global average of 69%. In the Economist Intelligence Unit 2019 Safe Cities Index, Singapore ranked #1 for both personal security and infrastructure security.

The Economist considers Singapore a “flawed democracy,” where basic civil liberties are respected but there are insufficient checks and balances on the government, as well as troubling infringements on media freedom. The nation consistently ranks low Press Freedom Index. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which has been in power since the nation’s founding, has often actively stifled the maturation of a political culture in Singaporean society.

Social Inclusion

Singapore has a great degree of ethnic and religious diversity. There are four officially recognized languages--English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. Recognition of these different histories and cultures are an important part of Singapore’s self-narrative, but widening socioeconomic inequality and an aging population present continuous challenges. Ethnic gaps in educational opportunities remain, and migrant workers often face discriminatory treatment or even abuse. The poor living conditions in migrant workers’ dormitories put these residents at higher risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, where outbreaks prompted strict lockdowns. These policies were seen as highly unequal and further exacerbated the workers’ sense of social exclusion. The Singapore government has pledged to improve conditions for migrant workers, and officials have repeatedly set goals for building a more inclusive society. However, research has shown that while a majority of Singaporeans claim to embrace diversity, few are willing to uphold those values through concrete action. While media reports and organizing efforts by NGOs have led to changing attitudes, tensions between Singapore-born residents and immigrants persist. Laavanya Kathiravelu, a professor at Nanyang Technological University, points out that Singapore’s existing structure of tolerance tacitly acknowledges prescribed racial differences, which means that “difference rather than commonality as co-citizens is what is foremost in this politics of recognition.”

Security and Digitization

Digitalization has been at the heart of Singapore’s vision for government, and a central focus of its public service transformation efforts. Singapore has a “Digital Government Blueprint” that is continually updated, and as of December 2020, all 20 ministries in the government of Singapore have submitted plans to use artificial intelligence. The Home Team, which includes the Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore Police Force, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, and Singapore Civil Defense Force. Both the police and civil defenses employ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), which help monitor public spaces, detect fires, and facilitate dispatches to crime scenes. Singapore already has almost 90,000 surveillance cameras across the city, and the government has pledged to install “many more” in the coming years, calling them “game-changers” in detecting and investigating crimes. Police and fire stations are also continually being updated: automated self-service kiosks have been installed at neighborhood police posts to provide convenient 24/7 access, while fire stations are using automation to streamline response, management, and decision-making. In 2020, the police also began testing police beacons, which are equipped with cameras, sirens, floodlights, and speakers, all operated remotely.

An emerging area of concern are security issues related to technology. Singapore has seen a sharp rise in cyber attacks and online scams, and its reputation as a digitally well-connected city has made it particularly susceptible to such crimes. Interestingly, however, Singaporean officials are also taking a wider look at how technological advancements may pose new security threats. In 2019, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan spoke of how the digital revolution “is leading to another cycle of social and political disruption, and it will have profound implications for national and global security.” He unveiled a three-pronged approach to the security challenges of the 21st century: addressing social disruption and polarization, promoting dialogue and drafting regulations to fight disinformation, and fostering multi-sector collaboration to tackle cyber threats through research and policymaking.

Issue Spotting

  • How do we weigh outside-in vs. inside-out (or top-down vs. bottom-up) approaches to diversity and inclusion initiatives? While Singapore is nominally very inclusive, many minority groups report facing discrimination and microaggressions in their everyday lives. Are governmental policies capable of addressing internal biases?

  • What can Singapore tell us about how digital governance is redrawing the new social contract? Singaporean citizens have a lot of trust in their government, with the prevailing attitude that it is worth giving up some of one’s private data for the public good, as long as the government is transparent about the use of such data. How do we create better accountability systems for state-sponsored big data programs?