LKY did not give Singapore our independence

I refer to the 25 Mar 2015 “The Globe and Mail” article “Lee Kuan Yew gave Singapore independence, and the world a bad idea” by Mr Marcus Gee.

Mr Gee wrote:

Praise for Lee Kuan Yew … Just about everyone agrees he did marvels for his country, transforming Singapore from a swampy colonial port to an economic dynamo in the course of a generation.

LKY-democracy-rebel-300x225Just because everyone agrees Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore from a swampy colonial port in one generation doesn’t mean it is therefore fact or truth. When Lee Kuan Yew inherited Singapore in 1959, Singapore was far from a swampy port. We were already a prosperous, modern city bustling with commercial activities. Lee Kuan Yew himself boasted to US businessmen in Chicago in 1967 that we were already a metropolis. Singapore certainly did not transform from swamp to metropolis in just 8 years.

Mr Gee quoted Lee saying:

The exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development

The best proof that Lee was wrong lies with the examples of Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. Hong Kong was never authoritarian while Taiwan and South Korea blossomed more after they abandoned authoritarian rule and embraced democracy.

Mr Gee wrote:

If he (Lee Kuan Yew) could raise his country to riches …

Lee Kuan Yew did not raise Singapore to riches. When Lee took charge in 1959, Singapore already had the third highest per capita GDP in Asia (PPP adjusted, Penn World Tables, 1960) and the highest per capita ownership of cars in Asia. Singapore’s post independence industrialization plan was written by our economic advisor from the United Nations – Dr Albert Winsemius. It is Dr Winsemius, not Lee Kuan Yew, whom we should thank for our rapid industrialization.

Mr Gee wrote:

The kind of leader that Mr. Lee personified – … fatherly, morally upright, far-seeing, a good shepherd to his flock … If such a leader can deliver the goods, many would say, well, then, who cares about a free press or a critical opposition?

Whether or not Mr Lee had been morally upright is a matter of opinion, not fact. Mr Lee detained Dr Chia Thye Poh for 32 years, longer than Nelson Mandela had been. At least Nelson Mandela had been convicted in court whereas Dr Chia Thye Poh was never even given a trial.

The far sight everyone credits Mr Lee for actually came from those around him. Export industrialization was documented in Dr Albert Winsemius’ economic plan. A good episode that illustrated Mr Lee’s lack of ‘far sight’ was the 2008/2009 Global Financial Crisis during which Singapore’s GIC, under Lee Kuan Yew’s chairmanship, lost billions right under his nose.

Mr Gee wrote:

… Mr. Lee was all but unique, an incorruptible strongman who really did put country above personal gain. The “Singapore model” is a direct product of his personality …

Whether or not Mr Lee put country above personal gain is again a matter of perspective, not fact. Mr Lee penalized opposition wards for not voting his party by refusing to grant them housing estate upgrading funds. How can that be anything but for the good of Mr Lee’s party? Even Mr Lee himself admitted so.

The success bits of the Singapore model is not the direct product of Mr Lee’s personality but the product of Dr Winsemius’ plan and according to Mr Lee’s most trusted deputy Dr Goh Keng Swee, the product of our priceless British colonial inheritances.

Mr Gee wrote:

… Mr. Lee led Singapore to independence

That is far from the truth. Mr Lee hardly fought for our independence let alone led us to independence. Singapore’s independence in 1965 was the result of us being booted out of Malaysia, not the result of us fighting for independence from Malaysia. Mr Lee didn’t even want independence and cried bitterly in front of national television on the occasion of our separation from Malaysia.

Some claim that Singapore gained independence from Britain when Mr Lee merged us into Malaysia in 1963. But how can the exchange of British sovereignty for Malaysian sovereignty ever be considered independence?

The truth was that the British had no choice but to gradually grant us more and more independence as a result of constant agitations from the people led by the Leftists. This culminated in the birth of the State of Singapore in 1959 with full internal self-government and the birth of Singapore’s flag and national anthem that are still in use today. It was the Leftists who fought for the people and who led us to domestic independence. When Mr Lee merged us into Malaysia four years later, it was not with improved but worsened conditions to our domestic independence instead.

Mr Gee wrote:

Mr. Lee opened the country to foreign trade …

Not true. Singapore was founded as a free port by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. Singapore had already experienced close to 140 years of prosperity through foreign trade before Mr Lee took power.

Mr Gee wrote:

There is no denying it: the formula worked. Singapore averaged 7 per cent annual growth for decades, eventually surpassing its old overlord, Britain, in per capita income. Its transit system is extensive, its roads immaculate (and tolled), its schools top-notch, its parks gorgeous.

Let us not deny that the investment formula was from Dr Winsemius, not from Mr Lee.

Singapore’s per capita GDP when stripped of those accruing to foreigners is much less impressive and not too different from Britain’s.

Singapore’s transit system came almost a decade after Hong Kong’s, a gentle reminder of how life in Singapore need not have been worse under the British or any other government other than Mr Lee’s.

Singapore’s main arterial roads were laid out during colonial times.

Singapore’s top school – Raffles Institution was the school that Mr Lee attended. Other top schools were similarly set up during colonial times. Top-notch schools were already there even before Mr Lee was born, they didn’t sprout out only after Mr Lee became prime minister.

Our number one park, the Botanical Gardens was also established during colonial times.

Mr Gee wrote:

But the formula wouldn’t have worked without an essential ingredient: Mr. Lee himself.

That is opinion, not fact. There is no reason why Singapore under a different government could not have performed just as well. Hong Kong is the best reflection of what Singapore could have become had we remained a British colony or had the Leftists won power – different but just as prosperous.

Mr Gee wrote:

Just look around Singapore’s neighbourhood. Indonesia’s Suharto just next door advertised himself as a benign father of the nation. His regime collapsed under the weight of its corruption in 1998 …

The collapse of Suharto gave birth to a more prosperous and democratic Indonesia. The Suharto example shows that Singapore would have worked just as well with or without Mr Lee because what had worked for us wasn’t Mr Lee’s formula but the formulae of Sir Stamford Raffles and Dr Winsemius. It was Mr Lee’s deputy, Dr Goh Keng Swee who credited our colonial formula as being our priceless advantage. Indeed, Singapore’s winning formula begun way back in 1819.

Mr Gee wrote:

Without the check of opposition, the scrutiny of a free media and the threat of being tossed out by the voters, most leaders descend along the familiar path to corruption and brutality. That Mr. Lee did not was a function of his character, not of the virtues of the Singapore model.

Singapore’s politicians are paid obscenely high salaries in this world. So what hasn’t been obtained through corruption has been obtained through legal means, courtesy of our lack of opposition check and a free media.

Singapore boasts the longest detention without trial in the world – 32 years, longer than Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned. Brutality has been substituted by something equally ruthless.

Mr Gee wrote:

So praise Lee Kuan Yew, by all means. He deserves the accolades he is getting for making his country such a an unlikely success story.

Too much of the praise heaped onto Lee Kuan Yew are praises due for others. The accolades he is getting is undeserved because Singapore’s success story is largely the result of others not him.

Thank you

Ng Kok Lim, on TRE


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