Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bitter truths from Lee Kuan Yew

Mar 30, 2011  

This is a translation of an article in Malay by blogger Shirzad Lifeboat. [Excerpted]

THE bitter truth is more often than not hard to swallow. Once the truth is out, we deny we had foul intentions and play to hide our embarrassment.

In the recently published Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, the Singapore Minister Mentor describes how he and his people suffered to maintain their high living standards and their country's developed status.

Much of the book is about the politics and future of the Republic. Mr Lee gave answers to questions on economic, social and political issues that the interviewers raised.

The issue that they raised most frequently was about the difficulties that the People's Action Party (PAP) faced in preparing second-echelon leaders who could maintain the Republic's status as a dynamic and developed country for the sake of current and future generations.

A reading of the book shows that Singapore not only practises meritocracy, but also chooses its political leaders at all levels most carefully. The situation in Singapore is not like those in some of the developing countries in South-east Asia. There, Cabinet appointments are arbitrarily made to reward long-serving party members and friends of the party president, to fulfil the quotas for component parties of a coalition and to fulfil the prime minister's desires, regardless of whether the appointees are qualified and of high calibre.

Not surprisingly, those countries have Cabinet members who are immature, cannot work, are all talk and no action and cause chaos in the ministries they head. While Singapore practises accountability for every unit of public dollar spent, leaders of the said countries throw public money, sometimes as much as RM1 billion (S$417 million), down the drain.

In his answer to a question on the challenges faced by the Republic's leaders, Mr Lee said: 'We have a population of slightly more than three million. Every year, we obtain 100 people of high quality and political leadership potential. From that number, we end up with just 20 to 30 people. 'We source them from every profession, every business field, but to be successful in politics, you have to join it when you are in your 30s and 40s, when you are not tied down by your ways and are able to feel how others feel when you make your rounds, making appeals, shaking hands, kissing babies and so forth. We were so short of good people in 2001 that we took in three doctors, each of whom had reached the highest level of their professions: Ng Eng Hen, Vivian Balakrishnan and Balaji Sadasivan. 'Balaji, a brain surgeon, was the best in his field but failed as a political leader.'

Looking at Mr Lee's answer and knowing the internal politics of the PAP, the question of leaders aiming to become a vice-president, deputy president and ultimately the president of the party, despite not having the requisite qualifications and capabilities, does not arise in the ruling party in Singapore.

It is not surprising that Singapore has succeeded in becoming a developed country in less than three decades without any slogans, visions and accompanying songs composed for government media broadcasting, and professors and intellectuals holding dialogues and writing articles on the visions. As with all discourse on Singapore's political future, the book comments on the Republic's ties with Malaysia.

The book began with many questions asked on the history between the two countries. On Singapore's economic success in the context of cooperation and competition with Malaysia, Mr Lee said that when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the Malaysian Prime Minister, he tried to surpass Singapore's performance by building the Port of Tanjung Pelepas. 'Now they go to Tanjung Pelepas. His win-win is: 'I win, you lose'.'

What Mr Lee is trying to say is that despite 20 years of attempts by leaders of neighbouring countries to sabotage Singapore's economy, it remains strong. This is the bitter truth about Singapore that leaders of neighbouring countries must swallow.

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