30 Hong Kong L.J. 91 (2000)
Law and Values in Governance: The Singapore Way

handle is hein.journals/honkon30 and id is 121 raw text is: LAW AND VALUES IN GOVERNANCE:
Eugene Kheng-Boon Tan*
The article examines the role of law and the legal system in catalysing Singapore's
development success. It argues that there is a dichotomy in the approach with regard
to commercial law and law relating to individual freedom and rights and civil society.
Universalism characterises the treatment of commercial laws while cultural relativism
and a communitarian-based understanding of rights and obligations are features of the
law relating to the rights of the individual. Instrumentalism, driven by a particularistic
'communitarian' political philosophy underpinned by strong Confucianist values, is
very much motivated by the need for good governance as a prerequisite for economic
growth and to nourish the nascent nation-building process. This helps to explain the
universalism-relativism dichotomy in the approach to different laws. While it is argued
that there is a strong element of instrumentality in its treatment of the legal system and
the law, the government has always been careful to ensure that the laws and the legal
system enjoy widespread public support and legitimacy. Such a trend is also anticipated
for the Hong Kong SAR, another ethnic Chinese-majority political entity, provided
that political expediency and a neo-colonial attitude are not the motivating concerns
of the Beijing government.
The 'East Asian Miracle' had been forlornly described as a myth during the
economic tailspin that swept across the region in the last years of the twentieth-
century. Singapore has, however, weathered the turmoil relatively well. This
can be attributed to the premium placed on good governance, engendering an
abiding commitment to a stable and efficient legal system coupled with respect
for laws and authority ever since sudden statehood was thrusted upon Singapore.
Yet one can discern a norm of instrumentality in the treatment of law vis-A-vis
the government's development agenda and a dichotomy in the approach
towards law in the commercial and non-commercial spheres.
Singapore has acceded to many international treaties in the economic and
commercial arena. Characterised by universal applicability and conformity to
international norms 'universalism' distinguishes the legal regime governing
economic activity in Singapore. On the other hand, cultural relativism and a
communitarian-based understanding of rights and obligations are features of
* Senior Tutor, Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore, Singapore. The
views expressed in this paper are the author's alone and do not represent the views of the National
University of Singapore.

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