When I saw the news about the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, I did feel quite upset but not that affected. But it was after I stumbled upon the video above that left me heavy-hearted; the fact that Mr Lee is no longer around is slowly sinking in.
This video made me realised how much Singapore meant to him. He dedicated his entire life to build Singapore to what she is today. Ask anybody who lived through early Singapore; your parents, your grandparents, and you’ll understand why Mr Lee is highly respected and regarded as the founding father of Singapore.
I believe many in my generation don’t fully understand or know what Mr Lee has done for Singapore. Hence, it’s time we educate ourselves on his lifework.
Instilling the Importance of Racial Harmony & Multiculturalism
The traumatic memories of the 1964 racial riots between Singaporean Malays and Chinese made Mr Lee and other pioneer leaders more determined to build a society that is equal to all its citizens; regardless of race, language or religion. In our plural society with diverse cultures, it is important to have tolerance and understanding amongst the races for the nation to progress.
Some may criticise PAP’s measures to be extreme back then, introducing restraints on freedom of press to suppress any content that exploits racial, linguistic and religious issues. But it was necessary. Had these policies not be implemented, different organizations would take advantage and create unrest amongst the races. Can you imagine living in a Singapore today where you are discriminated and treated with hostility for your skin color?
Yes racism still exists in our society today. But if you were to compare the racial and ethnic inequality in Singapore to other countries, ours is considered very mild. With this, I like to remind our readers that racial harmony is important in Singapore. So let’s remember to be more tolerant and “love thy neighbour” alright!
From the day he ran office, Mr Lee had heavily emphasized on bilingual education. Quoting the man himself,
Language is a key to the acquisition of knowledge. If a student is unable to understand a language, then he is unable to receive information or knowledge in that language. It is therefore crucial that a breakthrough must be made in the English language as early in life as possible (Straits Times, May 29, 1982, as cited in Platt 1982, p. 31)
The official language was not chosen based on national pride, but for pragmatic reasons. Mr Lee believed that English was a language essential to the survival of Singapore’s economy, and Mother Tongues was adopted to maintain ethnic identity and traditional values. On top of that, English serves as a common language amongst races.
Think about it, if we had to learn 3 official languages respectively, would you be able to converse with your non-ethnic friends? And aren’t you proud that when you go to a foreign western country and everybody is readily impressed that you speak fluent English? I would also like to believe that having being educated in 2 languages, our citizens are more open to different ethnic cultures and it seems easier for us to pick up new languages such as Japanese, Korean, French etc.
Our Garden City
In light of the Independence of our Nation, people may have been more concerned about the social and economic status of Singapore. But Mr Lee had concerns for the environmental sustainability of Singapore too.
He made policies to clean up the Singapore River and other parts of Singapore. With no budget to appoint an environment minister, he became personally involved to transform Singapore into a Garden City, blooming with flora and fauna. And why did he put such emphasis on the environmental outlook of Singapore?
In the end it was about keeping Singapore ahead of the competition. A well kept garden, he would say, is a daily effort, and would demonstrate to outsiders the people’s ability to organised and to be systematic.
“The grass has got to be mown every other day, the trees have to be tended, the flowers in the gardens have to be looked after so they know this place gives attention to detail.” (source)
See, he is not just planting trees and bushes for the sake of beauty; he is thinking way beyond that.
Safe, Potable Water Supply
Water is a key issue in national security, not only to provide the minimum amount of drinking water vital to a country’s population, but also to maintain its industries and other economic activities. Mr Lee knew that we cannot solely depend on Malaysia for water, that there is an urgent need to minimize the vulnerability to a potential supply cut-off and to find alternatives to meet future demands.
Hence, a lot was spent on research and development for alternative water supply. Mr Lee even envisioned in 1987 to dam up the mouth of the Marina channel as a freshwater reservoir, and to protect the low-lying costal areas. Today, we are one of the countries that have a steady supply of clean, potable water. And that dam? Well, look at Marina Barrage.
The MRT System
The original idea of the MRT was derived from a forecast by the government in 1967, where Mr Lee concluded that an all-bus system will not be adequate to support the growing population as it will compete for road space in a small country. That being said, it was also the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong, former president of Singapore, who pushed hard for the idea of MRT despite several objections from other members of the cabinet.
Had it not been the vision of Mr Lee and resilience of Mr Ong, we probably are grumbling about hours of traffic jams, instead of a mere 5-min delay on the MRT.
Low Corruption Rate
Many of you would probably have read about how Mr Lee rejected a USD$3.3M bribe from the CIA in 1960. Mr Lee has always tackled corruption relentlessly and believed eradicating corruption would help Singapore achieve greater heights.
If you are unaware of what this means, look at some of our neighbouring countries that are plagued with political corruption. Or if you need a more extreme case study, South Africa lost SGD100 Billion to corruption in 20 years.
Low Crime Rates
With iron-fisted ruling, come stringent laws to maintain law and order. While other countries may mock us for being a “fine” city; but look, who has the last laugh when Singapore is #2 on being the “Safest City in the World”, ranking #1 in overall personal safety.
Seriously, Singapore is probably the only country in this region (or the world) where you can use your bags to “chope” tables, leave your laptops around and when you come back they are still there. And you can go home late in the night and not worry about getting mugged and robbed.
Flexible Visa for Singaporeans
How do you think we have one of the most flexible passports in the world where we can travel to 170 countries without a visa?
Over the years, Mr Lee had maintained powerful international friendships with leaders of different countries; establishing trade agreements, helping to resolve differences amongst countries. Not only has this helped Singapore achieve a good reputation, Mr Lee’s stellar personal relationships helped Singapore in many ways, be it security or economy.
A Roof over Our Heads
Of course, how can we forget that Mr Lee Kuan Yew initiated the program to provide proper and affordable housing units for Singaporeans? When he was appointed PM in 1959, he made rehousing the priority of the country. Even up to 1966, 250,000 people were still living in squatters. Today, 90% of Singaporeans own their own homes, with more than 80% living in government-built residential units.
There is still so much Mr Lee has done for our country. He had a vision, he acted on it and made sure it is implemented well. Some will argue that it was not his sole efforts that led to modern Singapore. If you had done your research, Mr Lee Kuan Yew constantly acknowledges the efforts of his colleagues that helped realize his vision for this young and vulnerable country in its early days. And you would also read that these people have nothing but respect for his ability as a leader.
One more thing. Haters gonna hate; but for once put aside your hate and think. Without HIS vision, HIS tireless dedication, HIS iron-fist rule, would Singapore move from an under-developed island with minimal resources to first-world with one of the finest infrastructures and strongest economic power in the world? Do you think without his efforts, you’ll be able to hide behind your computer using your hi-speed broadband and be a keyboard warrior as you do now?
Now, I hope from reading this, more young Singaporeans will have a clearer perspective of the challenges Singapore faced in her early years and be more appreciative of what we have today, not taking things for granted.
And above all, be more respectful to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Rest in peace Mr Lee.