Singapore, as we see it today, is Lee Kuan Yew’s baby. Lee led Singapore from 1959 until 1990, an era in which it rose “from Third World to First,” as he titled his 2000 book on the former British colony’s modern history.
It was Lee’s dream that Singapore becomes a vibrant, thriving and corruption-free state. Lee made his dream come true through his vision, determination, insightful statesmanship and pragmatism.
The father of modern Singapore passed away on March 23. He was 91.
I was fortunate enough to stroll down the roads of Istana near Lee’s house numerous times.
Everywhere you travel across Singapore, in every small detail, you see the working of a brilliant mind –the mind of a visionary capable of looking into the future, capable of anticipating the problems of modern life and offering inspiring solutions.
Lee presided over Singapore’s rise from a British tropical outpost to one of the globe’s leading financial centers and busiest ports, with GDP per capita ranking third in the world.
Lee was a perfectionist. New York Times columnist has rightly pointed out that “nothing can go wrong in Singapore”.
Even after he relinquished power, he was the mentor of the powers that be counseling on matters ranging from how to achieve political stability and economic growth to ways of dealing with China.
“He is my idol, and not a day passes without my saying it: Security, law and order, truth, honesty — all of this requires vision and leadership. That’s what Lee was,” said one of my Singaporean friends over phone. “We’re deeply indebted to him… my life, my housing, my family, the good environment, the good transportation and medical care.”
“You don’t have to like Singapore to admire it. Once you begin to admire it, of course, you may discover in yourself a sneaking affection. The achievement of Lee Kuan Yew is immense. The 20th century produced few greater statesmen and perhaps no greater pragmatist,” Cohen said.
Education has always been his top priority. Ministry Of Education (MoE) recruits teachers from abroad.
I was amazed by the way MoE functions. Every foreign teacher recruited by the MoE gets an Induction Mentor (usually a principal or a retired senior teacher), who helps the teacher to settle down and serves as his friend, philosopher and guide throughout his stay in the country and through the peaks and troughs of his tenure.
What a grand concept!
And look at the nation’s principle of governance. The present Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong was helped by Lee Kuan Yew and the former Prime Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong
In an interesting revelation, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday said that Lee throughout his life had kept a red box close by. About 14cm wide, it contained all of the things he was working on at any one time.
Heng, who served as Lee’s principal personal secretary from 1997 to 2000, said: “The diverse contents it held tell us much about the breadth of Lee’s concerns – from the very big to the very small; the daily routine of the red box tells us how Lee’s life revolved around making Singapore better, in ways big and small.”
Recalling Lee’s style of functioning, the Education Minister said Lee had a Red Box. Before Lee came in to work each day, the locked red box would arrive first, at about 9 am. Inside the Red Box was always something about how we could create a better life for all, Keat reminisced.
Lee identified some elements that made Singapore what it is today: Meritocracy, absence of corruption, integrity and a young population, “English as a neutral platform” among the different linguistic groups…
What struck me was his assessment of India: “India is a nation of unfulfilled greatness. Its potential has lain fallow, underused. Whatever the political leadership may want to do, it must go through a complex system at the Centre, and then even a more complex system in the various states.”
Lee always dreamt BIG and showed Singaporeans how to dream.
Prime Minister Lee Shien Loong pays tribute to his father.