Aspire towards Lee Kuan Yew's total dedication to S'pore: Heng Swee Keat
- POSTED: 16 Sep 2013 17:25
- UPDATED: 17 Sep 2013 10:55
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Future generations of citizens should aspire towards former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's unwavering and total dedication to Singapore, says Education Minister Heng Swee Keat at a conference to mark the 90th birthday of Singapore's founding father.
SINGAPORE: Education Minister Heng Swee Keat has said that former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's unwavering and total dedication to Singapore is something future generations of citizens should aspire to.
He was speaking at a conference marking the 90th birthday celebration of Singapore's founding father.
Mr Heng was one of several who spoke at the conference to discuss the thinking - some novel and controversial - behind Mr Lee's strategies in bringing Singapore from Third World to First.
Monday's event, organized by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, also coincided with the 9th anniversary of the school.
The conference was attended by some 600 thought leaders who included former politicians, academics and diplomats.
The views exchanged were candid and frank, perhaps testament to Mr Lee Kuan Yew's personality.
He has attracted his fair share of critics, and forum participants didn't shy away from hard questions.
For example, Ambassordor-At-Large Tommy Koh asked: "When he was Prime Minister, he had a practice of launching defamation suits against opposition leaders after each general election...was this practice by Mr Lee to sue opposition leaders for defamation a wise thing to do?
"When you look at other advanced democracies, I know of no other country in the world where after a general election, the victor will sue the opponent for defamation.
"In an advanced democracy, when an election is over, the vanquished will have the grace to congratulate the victor and the victor will have the magnanimity to forgive his opponent for all the unkind things the opponent has said.
"My question...is not that Mr Lee was not within the law, in suing opponents for defamation, he bankrupted some of them, but was it a wise thing for him to do?"
Singapore's former Cabinet minister, Professor S Jayakumar, said: "There were defamation suits against politicians but it would be wrong to think he sued only politicians and it's wrong to think he sued politicians after every general election to drive home a point that he (the opposition politician) should have not stood for the elections...
"Whether it was an opposition politician, whether it was the Far Eastern Economic Review or even a publication, say in Malaysia - he issued a defamation action against The Star publication and was prepared to have it tested in the courts in Kuala Lumpur.
"What is the point he wanted to make? He is prepared for a robust criticism of his policies. He can be criticised for foolishness, maybe even for incompetence, for arrogance, but his red line was - not on reputation and integrity.
"So, whether it's opposition politician or any other source, if you allege his integrity, say, corruption, for example, he would want to demonstrate that that is a red line, you justify it. He's prepared to justify his record.
"I know in other jurisdictions, in the cut and thrust of politics, all sorts of accusations are hurled but the threshold is different. But he wanted to establish a threshold here that you have people of integrity, including himself, in government, in Cabinet and they are prepared to defend the integrity."
There were other so-called myths about Mr Lee that were rebutted by the speakers, among them, that the former prime minister always insisted on getting his way in Cabinet.
Professor Jayakumar, who served in the Cabinet for 27 years, said Mr Lee can be persistent, if not stubborn but he was always "intellectually honest".
"If you can come up with a contrary view and argue your case, he will listen and prepare to change," said Professor Jayakumar.
He cited the institution of the Elected Presidency and said that the final shape of that reflected the views of Cabinet ministers.
Participants also asked if Singapore can succeed without Mr Lee.
Several forum speakers pointed to one of Mr Lee's fundamental beliefs - that for Singapore to prosper, it must be relevant and exceptional.
And there is much to learn from the way Mr Lee has navigated some of the country's challenges, for example, in turning adversity like the 1997/98 financial crisis into opportunity, by revamping Singapore's financial system.
Or, in Mr Lee's single-minded focus in achieving results, as seen in how he handled early problems related to the Singapore-China Suzhou Industrial Park partnership.
Minister Heng said: "We live today in a different world that demands of us new ideas and approaches. But there is one quality of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's that we can, and need to, aspire towards: Mr Lee's unwavering and total dedication to Singapore, to keeping Singapore successful so that Singaporeans may determine our own destiny, and lead meaningful, fulfilling lives.
"Mr Lee and his team analysed the issues from first principles and had the courage and conviction to do what was right and what would work for Singapore. Mr Lee is an activist. He and his team would try, adapt and experiment, to get on with the job of making Singapore a better home for all."
In the same way, Mr Heng said Singaporeans too should take inspiration from the courage and determination of Mr Lee and his colleagues.
At one point, things took an emotional turn when former President S R Nathan recalled Mr Lee's gesture during the days when he was just a junior officer, having left the labour movement.
Mr Nathan said: "In 1967, I was sent as a junior officer to take notes of his meeting with the visiting Thai Foreign Minister. I hurriedly put on a tie and jacket and rushed to the assignment.
"On my arrival at the door, the prime minister came close to me, adjusted my necktie and said, with almost paternal touch, these words, 'Nathan, you must remember, you are no longer in the labour movement'.
"I was moved beyond words. I had grown up without a father or an elder brother. Here was the prime minister himself coming down to my level, to do what they would have done for me.
"That instance of his caring nature, I experienced many times in life, something most people do not attribute to him."
Though the conference discussed Mr Lee's contributions, participants said the event is not about Singapore's past but about the country's future.
It is about capturing and analysing Mr Lee's ideas to better understand them for the benefit of future generations of Singaporeans.