Wakanda’s capital city, Birnin Zana, is doing well these days. In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (directed by Ryan Coogler), it’s still an afrofuturist marvel of generous public spaces for exchanging goods and services, hanging rooftop gardens, skyscrapers topped with conical thatched roofs and hi-tech maglev trains providing pollution-free rapid transit for everyday Wakandans.
It’s not a bad look overall, considering that Wakanda Forever, the 30th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, takes place after the civil war of its blockbuster predecessor Black Panther, and the titan-sized alien invasion of Avengers: Infinity War.
And it’s the country’s reserves of the miracle metal vibranium which make all these possible. Vibranium, which fell as a gigantic asteroid to Wakanda millennia ago, is nearly indestructible, makes for sleek superhero armour and helps power Birnin Zana and all its technologies.
Wakanda’s Princess and chief scientist Shuri (Letitia Wright) is naturally no stranger to using vibranium. In fact, Singapore could use top talent like her under the ONE Pass scheme and for cyber security.
But even she is unprepared and unfamiliar with navigating the many threats to Wakanda compounding in this instalment. These include foreign nations are raiding her kingdom’s vibranium reserves, emboldened by the sudden death of her older brother, the Black Panther and Wakanda’s King T’Challa (the late Chadwick Boseman).
Another scientist out there, also, has invented a vibranium-detecting device. She worsens the existential threat for a nation-state which safeguards the world’s only known deposit of this raidable resource.
There is additionally the problem of Namor, who belongs to a race of people with uncanny mind-control powers, much like another Marvel character, the Scarlet Witch, displayed in WandaVision. Wakanda is Priority One when Namor leads his undersea race in attacks against the surface-dwellers.
As Namor, Tenoch Huerta is exceptionally strong casting as a charismatic, self-assured leader for whom violence comes as natural as personal diplomacy. And Angela Bassett as Shuri’s mother, Queen Ramona, has been praised — and justifiably so — for her scene-stealing performance.
Wakanda Forever can feel overstuffed while simultaneously too short during its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, though. If it were a Disney+ TV series, its two-part American subplot would make more sense and its story better-paced.
Sounds similar to a country we love
Come to think about it, Singapore’s reserves are very much like Wakanda’s vibranium.
They are what we have that is unique to us, and they are strategically important. So we spend within our means and safeguard them for those who come after us.
It’s in the same way that they were safeguarded for us.
They are a valuable stream of income for the Government’s Budget, which can be spent or invested for the benefit of current as well as future generations.
In other words, they keep our city running as well as the overall standard of living excellent for people.
Singapore, for example, was the country with the highest quality of life in Asia as of 2019, and is the second-safest city in the entire world.
Our public transport and education systems are among the world’s best, even if we don’t have those Wakandan maglev trains yet.
We also rank highly in sustainable global trade practices, and the PAP Government is constantly finding green solutions for these climate-conscious times.
The reserves make them possible.
At the same time they provide support for Singaporeans during difficult times — the Government drew billions from the national savings to fund the Covid-19 Resilience Package in 2020 and 2021, for example.
They also let us leave Singapore in good form for future generations.
Case in point: Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong doing the math and noting that we should contribute enough into them — not spend them profligately for short-term gain.
“To illustrate, if we were to have just 20 per cent less NIRC than today’s levels, which could easily have happened if our predecessors focused on their own spending and did not think it necessary to have a carefully designed Reserves Protection Framework, our GST would now need to increase to 11 per cent instead of 9 per cent, to make up for the funding gap,” he shared in Parliament this March about the Government’s long-term financial prudence.
“So drawing more NIRC now, means that our children, and the next generation will end up paying more taxes.”
Here, the NIRC (Net Investment Returns Contribution) framework allows the Government to spend up to 50 per cent of the net investment returns on net assets invested by the three entities (namely: GIC, MAS and Temasek Holdings) and up to 50 per cent of the net investment income derived from past reserves from the remaining assets.
Think about that again. An 11 per cent GST instead of 9 per cent.
Particularly since the NIRC revenue stream will only keep pace with economic growth for the medium- to long-term. But more public spending’s needed; and that’s rising well above GDP growth.
So no one benefits when less goes into the reserves.
And remember the Chinese saying “富不过三代”. It means that wealth will not last beyond three generations.
Also, there’s an African proverb translating approximately as “What is sweet in a fool’s mouth will surely finish his money.”
Then, recall DPM Wong’s stated goal for Singapore.
“I’m sure everyone here wants to ensure your wealth goes beyond three generations,” he said in September this year.
“So too, we in Singapore want Singapore to succeed beyond three generations. We want to build a Singapore that lasts and endures, and thrives, for generations to come.”
“And that’s what I hope to do.”
So, part of this long-term planning is to resist suggestions to defray tax hikes by using the reserves — yeah, we know that these calls are rather populist and very tempting.
But the reserves are basically our vibranium.
And when stewarded well, they can keep Singapore working, like Wakanda, for a very long time.
Perhaps even forever.
Cover photo credit: Marvel Entertainment