Newspaper article China Post

Openness, National Destiny and the Passing of Lee

Newspaper article China Post

Openness, National Destiny and the Passing of Lee

Article excerpt

As today the people of Singapore mourn their nation's most important leader, Lee Kuan Yew, at a national funeral, the amount of praise lavished on the man is awe-inspiring in itself. Perhaps one can look at the record - Singapore is a country whose GDP per capita, in current prices, soared from US$7,991.12 in 1980 to US$55,107.07 in 2010, by International Monetary Fund numbers, to become one of the richest societies in the world. That is more than two times Taiwan's per capita GDP.

With steely foresight to carve a path through the times and secure a destiny for his people that he felt was his life's mission, Lee also forged an authoritarian society whose success coexists with the price paid in the form of repression of civil freedoms.

Along the way, he made critical decisions that turned out to have ensconced the nation's competitive advantage. He selected English as a primary language, and had to overcome objections and place Chinese, Malay and Tamil as secondary languages in schools.

Undoubtedly, a lifetime of work from Lee was a vital input in that success.

Singapore ranks at the very top of global ratings on ease of doing business and in its government cleanness index. In order to build such a government, Lee led at the front in setting the example for a bureaucracy that served the public good and ran services. Honesty was a quality that he successfully instilled into government - he exposed former National Development Minister Teh Cheang Wan for corruption, and prohibited ministers of Parliament from calling bureaucrats to ask for favors, according to The Straits Times.

When it came to more intimate aspects of citizens' lives, Lee also did not back off. Several major policy decisions were made by him, such as asking people to relocate to high-rise buildings, and to cut down on dialects, according to a former minister, Suppiah Dhanabalan.

Perhaps the biggest point of debate is whether any one man can dictate his vision for the country and claim that it is the "correct" course. And on this point, Lee was unapologetic. One of his famous quotes in 1987 ran thus:

"I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. …

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