ED must not spare the rod

President Emmerson Mnangagwa says his administration views non-productive, speculative activities taking place in “dark markets”, and its attendant economic havoc, as a national security threat.

National security threats require robust tools, often of coercion, to dissolve their potency.

We saw the effects of such nefariousness over the past week as the black market in currencies thrived, the bond note was devalued by people operating outside of the real economy, and prices were hiked without rhyme or reason.

Some will argue that the State should not use “force” when dealing with economic matters. They will say “dialogue” or “consensus” is the best foot forward.

But can an aspirational State, one with a clearly-defined vision of creating an upper middle-class economy in a matter of just 12 years, negotiate with criminals who daily sabotage progress? (And remember, this is a vision that the majority voted for less than three months ago.)

The reality is that black market activities have done much to erode currency value, destroy savings and pensions, push up prices and stifle productivity in all economic sectors.

This criminality, as has been anecdotally noted for years, is orchestrated not by the men and women who stand at Road Port and other hives of illegal currency trading, but in plush air-conditioned offices and grotesquely opulent houses built with ill-gotten gains.

The Transitional Stabilisation Programme will not succeed when criminals are allowed to flourish while ordinary people suffer. Vision 2030 cannot become a reality for as long as economic delinquents play god with the financial sector with impunity.

A robust response is indeed merited.

Beyond clamping down on culprits — in both the public and private sectors — the nation waits to see the Prosecutor-General’s Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Unit strip criminals of the proceeds of their crimes.

This should send a strong message to all and sundry that the Second Republic has no room for rent-seeking, fraud, money laundering or any other form of so-called white collar crime.

We do not need shysters.

What we need is a culture of discipline coupled with hard work to pull ourselves out of the economic mess we are in. On the part of Government, the leadership of the administration should impress on all its officers that taxpayers’ money is sacrosanct.

Public officer bearers would do well to heed the words of K Shanmugam, who was Minister of Law and Foreign Affairs in Singapore at the time that country’s founding leader, Lee Kuan Yew, died in 2015.

Shanmugam said, “Every week, we have a Cabinet meeting … We meet first for lunch. Sometimes not, but almost always, we meet for lunch. And this is not a social lunch, we discuss government business. Cabinet meeting is after the lunch.

“Mr Lee does not attend the lunch. But his rules are, because you have to eat lunch anyway, he says you have to pay for the lunch even though you are coming to Cabinet to discuss Cabinet (matters). You have lunch, you pay for the lunch. The Government doesn’t pay for the lunch.

“We must be the only Cabinet in the world that does that, when we meet to discuss government (business). But it is good, because in every way, we are reminded every day that public money should be carefully spent.”

Those who play fast and loose with taxpayers’ money are no different from those who fuel the black market for currencies. Lee taught Singaporeans that discipline and hard work were the proverbial secrets of success.

He once said that the objective of the national leader was to “build up a society in which people will be rewarded not according to the amount of property they own, but according to their active contribution to society in physical or mental labour”.

He also, quite importantly said “the acid test of any legal system is not the greatness or the grandeur of its ideal concepts, but whether, in fact, it is able to produce order and justice”.

It is our hope that President Mnangagwa’s administration shapes legal tools that bring order and justice.

In doing so, it may be good to remember that in raising Singapore from a backwater port to a global centre of commerce and financial services, Lee was a strong believer in corporal punishment, which was often administered via the very persuasive thwack of the rattan cane.

So in much the same way that some of the most successful people around us were raised by parents who believed in the adage “spare the rod and spoil the child”, all players in the economy would do well to fear the rattan cane — or at least its statutory equivalent as administered by regulators and law enforcers.