Lee Kuan Yew Not The Visionary Leader Who Transformed Singapore

Dear Professor Tan,

I refer to the 5 Jun 2013 Straits Times report of your speech on the occasion of the conference of Doctor of Laws to Mr Lee Kuan Yew by NUS [1].

Mr Lee wasn’t the visionary leader who brought success to the nation. Neither was he the man of imagination who pursued the unconventional. Instead, he pushed for import substitution, the conventional policy of developing nations then that eventually proved inferior to the less conventional policy of export industrialisation proposed by Dr Winsemius [2]. Luckily for us Mr Lee’s plans were scuttled with our expulsion from Malaysia and in the end; it was Dr Winsemius’ export industrialisation plans that ultimately brought success to our nation [2]. The qualities crucial to Singapore’s past success and big picture perspectives can thus be found in Dr Winsemius, not Mr Lee.

Mr Lee did not lead Singapore from Third World to First for Singapore was already Upper Middle Income status according to World Bank’s classification of our 1960 per capita GNP [3]. At most, Singapore went from Next to First World to First World, led not by Mr Lee but by Dr Winsemius who was the leader behind Mr Lee.

Mr Lee is thus not the global visionary you claim he is since the most important achievements associated with him actually belong to others. He may not be the best candidate to inspire the next generation for that might mean inspiring them to lock up opponents without trial, get more credit than they deserve and not fight for Singapore when Singapore is being invaded.

All sense of hope and collective purpose is lost in Mr Lee’s leadership when he makes statements like these:
• If Aljunied decides to go that way, well Aljunied has five years to live and repent.
• If they choose the opposition, then I say, good luck to them. They have five years to ruminate and to regret what they did. And I have no doubts they will regret it.
• If native Singaporeans are falling behind because the spurs are not stuck into the hide, that is their problem.
• [our] women will become maids in other people’s countries, foreign workers

Mr Lee isn’t quite the deep thinker you claim he is as he often cuts through complex issues wrongly or superficially. For example:
• He theorised that high TFR in pre-world war 2 Germany led to war and expansion even though Germany in the mid-1960s had similar TFR levels but did not pursue war [4].
• He claimed to be the long range radar looking for opportunities and threats but yet couldn’t see the impending collapse of the Global Financial markets in 2008 and the subsequent loss of billions by GIC and Temasek Holdings [5].
• He claimed that we either embraced F1 and all the glitz of our globalised world today or we risk going out of business and running out of food [5] when the whole tourism industry constituted only 4% of our GDP (Singapore Tourism Board Annual Report 2011/2012 page 5).
• He said New Zealand is green because it is the last stop on the bus line when similarly last-stop Easter Island and the Anasazi have become ruins over time [5].
• He said English connected us to modern sciences [6] even as Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Germany didn’t need English to be similarly connected to modern sciences.

Lee was never a champion of education. For him, education always served the political purpose, not the other way round. When Singapore was to merge into Malaysia, Lee emphasised both Malay and English in schools but after our ejection from Malaysia, he emphasised English only [7].

Similarly, Lee’s so-called transformation of Singapore education wasn’t for education’s sake but for politics sake. His closure of Chinese stream schools and Nanyang University and the undermining of the economic value of Chinese education were for the purpose of eradicating the political power of the Chinese educated masses [8].

Finally, it was Lee Kong Chian, not Lee Kuan Yew, who first proposed bilingual policy in 1953 [9]. Lee Kong Chian even introduced bilingual education to the Chinese High School as early as 1949 [9] and many vernacular schools were already teaching English before that.


[1] Straits Times, Top NUS accolade for Mr Lee Kuan Yew, 5 Jun 2013

• The Fraser Institute, Case Studies in the Relationship between Political, Economic and Civil Freedoms, page 155

Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP proposed a political union with Malaysia, which would provide a good-sized domestic market for an industrial strategy of import substitution. Expulsion from the union with Malaysia in 1965, on political grounds by the government in Kuala Lumpur, destroyed the import-substitution strategy.

• Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Asia Competitiveness Institute, Remaking Singapore, Michael Porter and Christian Ketels and Neo Boon Siong and Susan Chung, July 2008

During the federation period and immediately afterward, Lee’s government initially pursued an import substitution strategy … but the alienation from Malaysia, with its much larger market, rendered the strategy impractical.

• Helen Hughes, The Dangers of export pessimism: developing countries and industrial markets, page 225

Until 1965, the economic strategy of the country hinged on a merger with Malaya to establish the larger domestic market, deemed necessary for economic viability [5-3].

• Jacques Charmes, In-service training: five Asian experiences, Bernard Salomé, Page 21

Singapore at first adopted the industrialisation policy of import substitution, followed after 1966 by the export of labour intensive manufactured goods.

• Robert Fitzgerald, The Competitive advantages of Far Eastern business, Page 55

Singapore’s industrialisation strategy was originally dependent on policies of import substitution within the Malaysian common market, but the attainment of political independence in 1965 led to export industrialisation.

• Eddie C. Y. Kuo / Chee Meng Loh / K. S. Raman, Information technology and Singapore society, Page 87

Import substitution was adopted in the early 1960s in anticipation of the Malayan common market. However, Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965 dashing the hopes of the common market, hence an export strategy was promoted instead.

• Sikko Visscher, The business of politics and ethnicity: a history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, page 171

Lee Kuan Yew, appearing in tears on television when announcing separation, was devastated. His feelings strongly contrasted with scenes in Chinatown where firecrackers were set off to celebrate liberation from rule by Malays from Kuala Lumpur. Most Singaporeans did not share the government’s dismay. Winsemius also did not share Lee’s dismay. He said in a 1981 interview: To my amazement, a discussion had started: can Singapore survive? That is the only time I got angry in Singapore. I said: ‘now you have your hands free – use them!’ It was the best thing that happened during the whole period from 1960 till today.

• Tong Dow Ngiam, A Mandarin and the Making of Public Policy: Reflections, page 66

Dr Winsemius and I.F. Tang in their heart of hearts never believed in a Malaysian Common Market.

Dr Winsemius and I.F. Tang made extraordinary contributions to the economic development of Singapore as leader and secretary of the first UN Industrialisation Survey Team in 1961.

• Philip Nalliah Pillai, State enterprise in Singapore: legal importation and development, Page 30

With Singapore’s secession in 1965, the United Nations Proposed Industrialization Programme for the State of Singapore became the basis for Singapore’s industrialisation strategy.

• Danny M Leipziger, Lessons from East Asia, Page 240

The 1960-61 United Nations mission led by Albert Winsemius helped develop a blueprint for Singapore’s industrialisation and development plan and recommended the establishment of EDB.


World Bank classifies nations as follows:

Category Criteria (based on 2011 per capita GNI)
High Income US$12,476 or higher
Upper Middle Income From US$4,036 to US$12,475
Lower Middle Income From US$1,026 to US$4,035
Low Income US$1,025 or below
World Bank GNI figures only stretch back to 1980. So have to rely on Penn World Tables instead. Although Penn World Tables doesn’t have GNI figures, it has GNP to GDP ratios which can be used to obtain GNP figures from GDP figures. GNP figures are similar to GNI figures and they stretch all the way back to 1960 for Singapore. The figures, in 2005 PPP USD, are then converted to 2010 PPP USD to obtain US$4,794 which puts Singapore in the Upper Middle Income bracket. 2010 is the last year available in Penn World Tables and is as close to 2011 as one can get.

This is further supported by Carl A. Trocki who wrote on page 166 of his book “Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control”: Singapore had already attained a middle income status in 1960 with a per capita GDP of $1,330.

[4] Straits Times, Declining populations make peaceful neighbours, 1 Mar 2013, Lee Kuan Yew

[5] Straits Times, 6 Jan 2010, excerpts interview with Mark Jacobson of the National Geographic

[6] Straits Times, Mr Lee on…. 6 Sept 2011

[7] Christopher Tremewan, The political economy of social control in Singapore, page 80

PAP emphasised both Malay and English to establish credentials for merger with Malaya but when ejected from Malaya subsequently, emphasized English only.

• Carl A. Trocki, Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control”, page 150

– PAP systematically undercut Chinese education as it saw the Chinese educated as both political and cultural threats
– PAP set about neutralising Chinese schools, which were powerful auxiliaries to labour unions and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce which is the major funding and controlling body for Chinese education in a bid to control education
– PAP, through government policies, strengthened social and economic forces that reduced the number of Chinese schools
– PAP quite often levelled the charge of “chauvinism” on prominent businessmen of the SCCC to destroy them

• Christopher Tremewan, The political economy of social control in Singapore

– Page 81 – PAP sought to destroy Chinese education
– Page 84 – Racial integration policy was a cover for an all-out attack on Chinese education
– Page 85 – PAP undermined Chinese education autonomy while attempting to win Malay support by appearing to be multiracial
– Page 89 – the 1969 bilingual policy, while appeasing Chinese public opinion, completed the demolition of the Chinese education system
– Page 79 – The government being the largest employer in Singapore could have given better job opportunities to the Chinese educated but refused to.

• Tong Chee Kiong, Identity and ethnic relations in Southeast Asia: racializing Chineseness, page 62
– PAP promised equal treatment for all language streams but not equal employment opportunities for people from non-English streams

• Stephan M. Haggard, Behind East Asian Growth – Political foundations of prosperity, business, politics and policy, page 89
– The questionable political loyalty of local Chinese businesses was a possible reason why the PAP government favoured GLCs and MNCs over local entreprises then.

[9] Singapore Infopedia: http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_978_2006-06-16.html

• In 1949, he convinced the principal to introduce bilingual education.
• 1953: Proposed introducing bilingual and trilingual education, and equal treatment for schools of all language streams. His proposals were accepted by the colonial government and included in the White Paper on Education Policy that introduced a unified education system for Singapore.


Source: www.therealsingapore.com

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