Saturday 28 March 2015

Lee Kuan Yew: In His Own Words

The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

When Parliament convened yesterday to pay homage to its longest-serving member, speaker after speaker referred to the major speeches that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had made in the House at key moments in the nation’s history. Perhaps the Parliament’s most electrifying presence ever, he pulled no punches and spoke with clarity and conviction on the challenges facing Singapore at various stages of its evolution.

Here are edited excerpts from 10 significant speeches he delivered in the House over his 60 years as MP for Tanjong Pagar.

Vow to cleanse the system of the evils of the past

The People's Action Party had just swept the 1959 Legislative Assembly General Election, winning 43 out of 51 seats. It was the first time the PAP, which up till then was an opposition party, had come to power. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was 35 years old when he delivered his first speech in the Legislative Assembly as Prime Minister, attacking those who stood against the PAP and even the civil servants opposed to its policy changes. He also assured voters that the PAP stood with the masses and that party leaders remained dedicated to the service of Singapore.

JULY 21, 1959


"MR SPEAKER, Sir, may I say that the PAP Government had put its cards on the table before it assumed office. We did it over three months of campaigning beginning from the famous day of 15th February at Hong Lim.

It was there the Deputy Prime Minister said things and set off a chain reaction which finally ended with the routing of the rogues and scallywags that used to haunt this Chamber.

We have placed before the people the mandate that we sought of them. We did not try to deceive anyone.

We know exactly what is expected of us because we have made these promises. Unlike the previous government, we gave no hostages to fortune.

Plainly and simply, we took the stand which we knew was necessary and in the interest of the survival of the democratic state in order, first, to cleanse the system of the evils of the past, and to retrieve some of the liberalism, the tolerance which were the good things we should carry into the future.

I tell the Opposition this. They provide us, and I hope they will continue to provide us in the next five years, with that vivid contrast which will throw up the virtues of the PAP into magnificence.

But if we fail, let me tell them that this is not a constitutional position of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Democrats and Republicans in America, or Tories and Labour in Britain.

If we fail, and we are unable to make the system work, it is not they who are going to come back.

They will be fleeing for their lives, because behind us there is no other alternative which is prepared to work the democratic system.

And therefore, in the last analysis, if we fail, then brute force returns.

I am sure no one in this House nor anyone in the country would want this to happen. And therefore, I say to all those who wish us ill, that if we fail, woe betide them.

But to those who wish us well, I give this message. This is a Government consisting of people who put their ideas, their ideals and the welfare of their people above themselves.

This is a party which has the courage of its convictions, which is prepared to pursue what it believes to be right in the interest of the people without deviating for opportunist reasons.

This will be an era which will light up the dark pages of the history of Singapore, post 1945.

If we succeed, as we intend to, in building a climate not only of national solidarity but a climate in which the ordinary people begin to believe that institutions of government in the country are run by people who are loved and revered because they are working for the mass of the people, then we will have done a service, not only to ourselves, our party and our movement, but we will also have done a service to the democratic socialist movement.

Until the advent of the PAP, no group proclaiming the democratic socialist cause ever struck roots in the mass of the people.

Let me say, Mr Speaker, Sir, judge us not in the next five years by the standards of the British House of Commons and the British Government in Whitehall.

Judge our performance in the context of our objectives and the realities of our situation, and at the end of five years, you will certainly not find us wanting in courage, in skill, and in sincerity."

Quest for a just and enduring future for everyone

In the first Parliament sitting after Singapore became an independent country, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke to the House, denouncing the opposition Barisan Sosialis and exposing their communist links. He discussed racial politics in Malaysia and how it would impact Singapore. This speech set the tone for the country's multiracial policies in the decades ahead.

DEC 14, 1965


"SIR, we are nearly two million people - 1.9 million - in an island of 224 square miles with a few adjacent islands.

The statistics do not tell the world the factor that really decides performance, the quality of each individual digit, the intensity of the effort that the digits are capable of, and the efficacy of the framework within which they can be marshalled and organised for high performance.

For us, survival has always been hazardous. We sought to make it less so by seeking the larger framework of Malaysia, but it was not to be.

We are on our own... not helpless, but nevertheless in the centre of an extremely tumultuous arena of conflict.

Our survival depends upon our capacity first to discern where the dangers are for us as a distinct and separate community in South-east Asia; and, second, our ability to convince the bigger powers interested in this region that it is in their interests to ensure our separate survival, and in the end, whatever happens, to ensure that we have got enough will and capacity to see that no policies, no solutions, are attempted which will destroy our right to be ourselves in this corner of South-east Asia.

Whilst we are unable to say, having gone through so many changes in a matter of two years, what will happen in the next two years, I think we can safely predict that in two decades, either there is a tolerant, multiracial society comprising us in this region, or this will be an area of constant strife, very much like what the Balkan States were before and after the First World War.

We are here in South-east Asia for better or for worse, and we are here to stay.

Our policies are designed to ensure that we stay peacefully in South-east Asia in accord and amity with our neighbours, but with a right to decide how we order our own lives in our own home.

Every action, every policy, must be decided by this yardstick.

Any policy which endangers our long-term interests as a separate and distinct community in this region must be eschewed.

Any act, any programme, any decision which will help to secure a more enduring future for ourselves and our progeny in this region must be pursued, whatever the sacrifice.

We have not sought this particular formula of survival, but it is now the basis on which we move forward; and with independence comes an independence of action in policy and planning which can help establish that enduring basis for ourselves in South-east Asia.

It is with confidence - a confidence born out of the past performance of our people - that we feel we can overcome problems of economic development, problems of unemployment.

But in the other wider fields of inter-racial harmony and tolerance, there are so many other factors that even though we are independent, we have not got an exclusive prerogative to decide what is to be that relationship even between our own citizens.

For as I have said, Mr Speaker, Sir, there are other factors, factors outside our dispensation, which can affect our own position.

But whatever the result will be, we would like those who come after us to believe, and to have grounds for believing, that we did not leave a stone unturned in seeking a just and enduring future for all the people who made up the society - those who were here when the British came, those who came when the British were in control, and those who are willy-nilly now rooted in this corner of South-east Asia and whose destinies are interwoven - whatever we would have wished it to be."

Maintaining confidence in Singapore's continued stability

In 1967, the British announced that they would be withdrawing their military presence from bases all over Asia, including Singapore. The British bases in Singapore, built from the 1930s, contributed as much as 20 per cent of Singapore's economy at the time. In his speech to the House, Mr Lee Kuan Yew laid out the difficult options on the table.

SEPT 8, 1967


"IT IS a problem of considerable magnitude and complexity. Put simply, it is this: what to do with this vast military complex, one naval base and a dockyard, three military airfields, and a vast army complex of workshops, supply depots and other supporting services.

For whilst we will inherit all the fixtures which have been built over the years on lands made available by the Singapore Government to the British armed services, we will also inherit more than 40,000 bread-winners and their families who have come to Singapore from India, West Malaysia, and from places as far off as Hong Kong and Weihaiwei.

With their families, they now comprise some half a million persons; three-quarters of them are now our citizens.

Both in their public statements and in discussions and communications between British ministers and ourselves, they have made it plain that they shared our interests in maintaining confidence in the continued stability and prosperity of Singapore and were anxious to assist in meeting economic problems which the run-down of their bases, according to programme, will cause.

They have stated that they would be ready to consider with us the most effective and productive uses of the economic and technical resources they could provide.

Mr Speaker, however significant the aid, the future of Singapore depends upon our capacity to maintain orderly and stable economic and social conditions as we go through the pangs of withdrawal of British base expenditure. The success of this operation depends upon three factors.

First, our ability to maintain that climate of quiet confidence and the establishment of labour attitudes and social conditions which will assure local investors and overseas investors of the certainty of their planning assumptions for the establishment and expansion of their industries.

Second, the capacity of our population to adapt and to adjust, without any whimpering or wringing of hands, as a way of life to which they have been accustomed for over 30 years comes to an end.

The least of the changes contemplated means that dockyard workers, working on naval vessels for naval commanders, who are not concerned with the time a vessel is out of service whilst undergoing repairs, have now to adjust their attitudes to work and adapt their methods of work, and also the manner in which they may be rewarded for work, to meet the needs of shipowners who want their vessels repaired in as little a time as possible, as every hour in repair means vast sums of money in loss of earnings.

At the worst, it means being able, sometimes at a very difficult age of life for the people in their middle 40s and above, to make the painful change of earning a living in a different way - from being a storekeeper or a clerk to a skilled, semi-skilled or even a manual worker.

The third factor is whether the economic aid that we have been promised will be substantial enough and utilised intelligently enough to create the maximum number of jobs."

Make the right decisions, even if they are unpopular

In one of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's longest speeches ever, he held forth for nearly four hours in a wide-ranging parliamentary address. Former prime minister Goh Chok Tong recently singled out this speech as memorable, recalling how, as a young MP listening to it, "my bladder was about to burst". Mr Lee spoke on leadership, succession, fighting the communists and winning elections in his address to 11 young MPs - Mr Goh included - who had just entered the House.

FEB 23, 1977


"PERHAPS I ought to begin by saying that the (new Members of the House) ought to take themselves seriously because we, on this side as Members of the Government, take them seriously. Upon us is the burden of finding a successor government worthy of its responsibilities. It is not an easy job.

First, let me explain the shock for new Members. They have been at the hustings. They made different kinds of speeches. They come here, they are bound by Standing Orders and rules of debate, which we have inherited, copied, modified.

Let me explain the problems that we face, by first reading an excerpt from a book written by a British left-wing minister who started the free health service scheme in Britain, Aneurin Bevan. He described his experience and the dangers of a Britisher or Welshman in his case, going into Parliament.

His (the MP's) first impression is that he is in a church - the stained glass windows, the rows of statues of great statesmen of the past, the echoing halls, the soft-footed attendants and the whispered conversations, contrast depressingly with the crowded meetings and the clang and clash of hot opinions he has just left behind in his election campaign.

Here he is, a tribune of the people, coming to make his voice heard in the seats of power. Instead, it seems, he is expected to worship; and the most conservative of all religions - ancestor worship. The first thing he should bear in mind is that these were not his ancestors... His forefathers were tending sheep or ploughing the land, or serving the statesmen whose names he sees written on the walls around him.

So we have not, fortunately, inherited the British Empire. We have inherited a very small fragment of it. We have not the deep class antagonism but if we do not bring out these differences of opinion, and if we had not done so successfully since 1965, when the Barisan Sosialis MPs walked out of this Chamber, I do not believe that in February 1968, in September 1972 and again in December 1976, we could have been returned unanimously and completely.

This is a marathon, not a hundred-yard spurt. With (an MP's) every passing speech, with every passing act, the character, the style, the strength, the weaknesses are etched in the minds of the public. You can do a PR job, as has been written in American books after the making of presidents, where you have a vast electorate of 200 million people, with over 120 million potential voters, with the help of radio and TV, and you suddenly find, with a whole host of ghost writers and advisers, that the man becomes scholarly, learned, solicitous in his speech. Catch him at a press conference and a question-and-answer session, where the ghosts cannot whisper to him, and the man is betrayed.

What I wish to remind Members is this: that we take them seriously, and over a period of time, we begin to take some MPs more seriously than others because they have done their homework. It is a question of getting to know them, familiarity over a long stretch of time.

The problem is really so simple, yet it has been solved only a few times in a few countries and only over certain periods of time - one man, one vote, to produce a group of men who can provide a continuity in good government, change of policies, flexibility, to reflect the changing moods of an electorate.

In other words, you need a wide spread, a wide variety representing all types, reflective and representative of the population. And that is why we are here.

But from amongst us, most of us, or perhaps I can say, all of us, speak more than one language or you would not be here. You may not speak the second language well but you understand what is being said. You know what your constituents want. You know what it is all about. Therefore, I am a little disappointed to find people who have gone through this process questioning the wisdom of demanding minimum pass standards in the second language. This is Singapore... And, you know, when you want to win votes, the Queen's English is not going to help you...

If you want to be popular, do not try to be popular all the time. Popular government does not mean that you do popular things all the time... Popular, representative government means that within each five-year period, your policies have demonstrably worked and won popular support. That is what it means. And if we flinch from the unpopular, we are in deep trouble.

Of course, the Area Licensing Scheme was unpopular. Of course, car taxes were unpopular. But gentlemen, which would you have? A jammed-up Singapore with car owners exasperated, bus passengers exasperated, or 20,000 to 30,000 car owners having to lay up their cars and hundreds of thousands going through in buses or in shared cars?

We made that decision, and it was right. Of course.

If we had an election period, like the New Zealanders and the Australians have, for three years instead of five years, that is more difficult. But (former Australian prime minister) Sir Robert Menzies, in spite of three-year periods, won and stayed in office for 12 years.

He knew that popular representative government means that, sometimes, even when 55 per cent... are against you, if it is right, proceed.

When it works out all right, they will swing back. But if you flinch, then that 55 per cent becomes 65 per cent, and you are out."

Absurd to suggest judges fall in line with Govt's wishes

As Prime Minister in the 1980s, two of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's fiercest opponents were veteran opposition politicians Chiam See Tong and the late J. B. Jeyaretnam, the MPs for Potong Pasir and Anson respectively. In this speech, Mr Lee rebuts allegations of government interference in the Subordinate Courts by Mr Jeyaretnam - the subject of a Commission of Inquiry which found no evidence of it - as well as Mr Chiam's remarks that the PM "dominates the universities, the civil service, statutory boards, I think, even Members of Parliament"

JULY 30, 1986


"THE Subordinate Court judges are controlled by the High Court judges who can only be removed by an impeachment here in this House, by a two-thirds majority.

But in Singapore, we have an extra supervision on them. When they write their judgments, they know that it could go up to the Privy Council and judges, nothing to do with Singapore, will scrutinise whether their findings are in accordance with the law.

I cannot explain why some judgments take so long. I do not understand it. But I can only assume that the judges are extremely careful when they write their judgments, that it will stand scrutiny. And if it does not, they get sparks knocked off them. It is an eminently reasonable arrangement, has worked and will work.

Until the Member for Anson came along, nobody had any doubts as to the integrity of the Courts. But first he attacked the Subordinate Courts judiciary, exempting the High Court judges from his strictures.

Now he has condemned Mr (T. S.) Sinnathuray, the Attorney-General, the Chief Justice, and he has also ruled out all High Court Judges from hearing the Commission on the allegations he made. So he has broadened out over a wide field.

The Member for Potong Pasir has carried the logic of the extension one step further. Since there is no proof... that any member of the Executive interfered in the workings of the Courts... it has nothing to do with the Government.

(Mr Chiam) now says, because I have been here for 25 years, I have become so dominant, so dominating, such a big banyan tree with such widespreading roots, that they all do my bidding...

I have two hands, two eyes, two feet, less teeth than I started off life with. And I do my job to maintain the system so that it will last, what we have built can survive the creator generation. This is a very serious problem.

And if (younger leaders) do not know how to deal with roughnecks, like the Member for Anson, then this whole thing will go upside down. I would never allow any challenge to the integrity of the system to go past and it should never be allowed.

Therefore, we shall have this opportunity to hear the Member for Anson add the essential ingredients that will transform this picture and show that there were reasons why judges as they wrote their judgments were looking over their shoulders, fearful, transferred out, demoted, humiliated, and therefore all judgments went in accordance with the wishes of the Government or the Prime Minister. It is an absurd, ludicrous proposition.

For 23 years, from 1963 to 1986, (Wee Chong Jin) has been the Chief Justice. I have been the Prime Minister from 1959. I have never discussed any case with him. It is a way of life. We meet socially. There are certain conventions. I do not ring up the Chief Justice and say, 'Send me your judgment.' Are we out of our minds? And say, 'By the way, Mr Chiam ought to be fixed, you know. He is a strange man.'

It is not the way a government is run. If you run a government that way, you end up like the Philippines. Because at some stage, it will all come out. It will all come out, what President (Ferdinand) Marcos said to the judges and to the prosecutor, and so on and so forth."

Teh Cheang Wan case: No way a minister can avoid investigations

This jaw-dropping speech revealed then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's zero tolerance of corruption. He kicks off the parliamentary session by reading out a suicide note addressed to him, written by the Minister for National Development Teh Cheang Wan, who had died suddenly a month before. Mr Lee goes on to reveal for the first time that Teh was being investigated for accepting bribes.

JAN 26, 1987


"It is with sadness that I make this statement on the suicide of Mr Teh Cheang Wan.

On Sunday Dec 14 last year, at about 9.10am at my home, my security officer, Inspector Ho Wah Hui, told me that Mr Teh's security officer, Sergeant Richard Kua, had come, carrying a letter given to him by Mrs Teh for me. Mrs Teh had told him that Teh Cheang Wan's body was found cold in bed at about 8am.

I opened the envelope and read the undated note. It read:

"Prime Minister

I have been feeling very sad and depressed for the last two weeks.

I feel responsible for the occurrence of this unfortunate incident and I feel I should accept full responsibility. As an honourable oriental gentleman, I feel it is only right that I should pay the highest penalty for my mistake.

Yours faithfully,

(Signed) Teh Cheang Wan"

I noted "9.15" as the time I read it, on the corner of the envelope. Then I rang up Mrs Teh at her home. She gave me her account of how she discovered that Teh Cheang Wan had not awakened from his sleep. I asked if a doctor had been called to certify his death. She handed the telephone to her daughter, Dr Teh Kwan Geok, who said that they were paging for Dr Charles Toh, the physician who had been treating Teh Cheang Wan for his high blood pressure.

The daughter said her mother hoped the cremation would not be delayed by an autopsy. I said that depended on whether the doctor would certify that the death was natural. I said I would visit them later.

I immediately rang up the Cabinet secretary, Mr Wong Chooi Sen, and then my colleague, Goh Chok Tong. I asked them both to go over to Mrs Teh to render what help was needed.

At about 11.10am, Wong Chooi Sen informed me that Dr Toh had examined the body but could not certify that death was by natural causes. My wife and I went over to visit Mrs Teh at Jalan Bukit Tunggal. She was not happy at an autopsy but agreed that an autopsy had to be held. I showed her the handwritten letter by Teh Cheang Wan.

That Sunday evening, Dec 14, Dr Kwa Soon Bee, permanent secretary, Ministry of Health, told me over the telephone that the death was caused by an overdose of Amytal Barbiturate.

On Tuesday, Dec 16, I wrote a letter of condolence to Mrs Teh and to acknowledge the significant contributions Teh Cheang Wan has made in the HDB. I knew then that there would have to be a Coroner's inquest which would disclose his suicide and the reasons for it.

Members have read the evidence placed before the Coroner at the inquest on Jan 20. The director of the CPIB (Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau), Mr Evan Yeo, had seen me on Nov 21 on a complaint of corruption against Teh Cheang Wan. I asked that investigations be discreet because once people come to know that the CPIB was investigating so prominent a Minister as that for National Development, the news would spread like wildfire.

The Ministry of National Development has more opportunities for corrupt practices than any other. A Minister's reputation would be put to severe test by an investigation. Such an investigation could not be kept secret. Therefore, once open investigations had started, they would have to go on until all the evidence is uncovered to show either that the complaints are baseless, or that there is enough evidence to submit to the Attorney-General for him to place before a Court of Law for trial and judgment.

On Nov 27, the director of the CPIB wrote to me giving a summary of the evidence he had gathered and asked for my permission for an open investigation. I was satisfied that there were sufficient grounds to do so. On Nov 28, I approved open investigations.

On Dec 2, the director and his senior assistant director, Mr Tan Ah Leak, for the first time interrogated Teh Cheang Wan at the Istana Villa. They confronted him with Liaw Teck Kee, the contractor, who said that he, as the intermediary, had handed two sums of $500,000 each to Teh Cheang Wan. The director was satisfied that Liaw was a truthful witness.

He reported this to me. I asked the Cabinet secretary, Wong Chooi Sen, to ask Teh Cheang Wan to take leave of absence until Dec 31. By then the investigations would have been completed and the Attorney-General would have decided whether or not to prosecute. The investigation paper was sent to the Attorney-General on Dec 11. Teh Cheang Wan died on Dec 14.

We all know Teh Cheang Wan. He was a man of considerable ability. Behind his diffident manner and demeanour and his Hokkien-accented ungrammatical English was a sharp clear mind. After open investigations started, we did not meet. I received a letter from him dated Saturday, Dec 13, 1986, that morning. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of National Development, Mr Koh Cher Siang, was on overseas leave and was recalled by Teh Cheang Wan to vet his draft and correct his grammar. Mr Teh's personal assistant typed the letter before he signed it.

It was identical in terms to a letter he sent to the director of the CPIB on the same date. In his letter he denied the charge that he had on two occasions been given half a million dollars of which he kept $400,000 and gave Mr Liaw, the contractor, $100,000. He went on to write:

"If I am brought to trial, the very process of it, which will be painful and long, will certainly be the end of me even if I am found innocent."

Sir, there is no way a Minister can avoid investigations, and a trial if there is evidence to support one. Teh Cheang Wan chose death rather than face a trial on the charges of corruption which the Attorney-General had yet to settle. The effectiveness of our system to check and to punish corruption rests, first, on the law against corruption contained in the Prevention of Corruption Act; second, on a vigilant public ready to give information on all suspected corruption; and third, on a CPIB which is scrupulous, thorough, and fearless in its investigations.

For this to be so, the CPIB has to receive the full backing of the Prime Minister under whose portfolio it comes. But the strongest deterrent is in a public opinion which censures and condemns corrupt persons, in other words, in attitudes which make corruption so unacceptable that the stigma of corruption cannot be washed away by serving a prison sentence."

Higher pay will attract most talented team, so country can prosper

In debating the motion to change the formula to calculate ministerial pay, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then Senior Minister, put up a robust argument for paying ministers good salaries. He said that the private sector had taken away many good men and women from the Government, and without good people, the country would suffer.

NOV 1, 1994


"SIR, my generation of political leaders have become dinosaurs, an extinct breed of men who went into politics because of the passion of their convictions.

The problem now is a simple one: How to select younger leaders when the conditions that had motivated the Old Guards to sacrifice promising prospects of a good life for a political cause are no longer obtainable in a completely different social climate? This change in climate is inevitable with economic progress and a change in social values.

Let me explain very simply, Mr Speaker, that MPs are real men and women, just like you and me, with real families who have real aspirations in life. So when we talk of all these high-falutin, noble, lofty causes, remember at the end of the day, very few people become priests.

The corporate world in Singapore knows that PAP MPs have been carefully selected. A PAP MPship is like a Good Housekeeping seal, a hallmark of character and integrity that adds value to a person. I instituted the practice.

If you look through the MP list, from 1955 onwards, you will find that in 1955 we had two barbers, two postmen, clerks, but they were unionists.

They are not ordinary people. But with rising standards, every election term, I had to move with the higher educational level of the voters, something Mr Chiam (See Tong) learnt rather late. So he discovered that he had to get graduates. I knew that. By 1968, I started moving in that direction.

I am pitting my judgment, after 40 years in politics, and I have been in this Chamber since 1955, against all the arguments on the other side. I said this is necessary for Singapore. I say face up to the facts, get a good generation in, get the best of this generation.

And if we can keep (an) honest, competent government, never mind about its being brilliant, that is a tremendous achievement.

So it is crucial when you have tranquil Singapore that you recognise that politics demands that extra of a person, a commitment to people and to ideals. You are not just doing a job. This is a vocation. Not unlike the priesthood, you must feel for people, you must want to change society and make lives better.

If I had not done that and got no satisfaction out of it, then I would have been a fool doing it because I could have gone back to Lee and Lee umpteen years ago and ridden the boom and sat back, probably at least as rich as my brother, or my two brothers - one is a doctor, another a lawyer.

But why not?

But somebody has to do this in order that they can prosper.

And I am saying those who do this deserve not to be penalised or you will get nobody doing this.

One journalist told me that there was some public concern that these higher salaries would change, and I quote him, 'the name of the game and attract a different type of person with different motivations'.

It is possible that politically and socially uncommitted people from the higher management and professional brackets will be attracted to the idea of public office for this higher pay. I doubt it.

But if it is so, and they can do better than the present Ministers, they should come out and offer themselves as the alternative. That would be good for Singapore.

If this salary formula can draw out higher quality men into politics, whatever their motivations, I say, let us have them. It is better than the Opposition we now have...

I make no apologies for collecting the most talented team I could find. Without them, none of you would be enjoying life today in Singapore, including the reporters up there. I say this without any compunction.

Who pays for all this? A Singapore economy which has been so finely tuned that it is able to take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way.

What on earth are we arguing about? Except people get envious and they say, 'They should really be sacrificing.'

If it were possible to carry on with the system, I will be in favour of carrying on with what I have been familiar with. But I know it is not possible."

English for trade; mother tongue to preserve identity

This speech in its entirety, made in support of a revised, more flexible Chinese-language curriculum while he was Minister Mentor, is one of the most complete statements of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's views on bilingualism and language policy.

NOV 24, 2004


"Start off from where we were, let us say after the war, 1945, or even 1965. We were in different communal groups - Malay kampungs, Chinese villages. You would see Hainanese at Lorong Tai Seng, Malays in Kampong Ubi, and so on.

(My Old Guard colleague) Mr (S.) Rajaratnam was the exponent of "we can create a race of Singaporeans". Idealistically, I would go along with him. But, realistically, I knew it was going to be one long, hard slog; maybe we'll never get there, but we should try.

Ask yourself this question. If your child brings back a boyfriend or a girlfriend of a different race, will you be delighted? I will answer you frankly. I do not think I will. I may eventually accept it. So it is deep in the psyche of a human being.

Before we entered Malaysia when we negotiated the terms of entry, education, language and culture were such important subjects... Right from the start, education was already a red-hot issue.

What did we do as a Government? From 1959 to 1965, we had a laissez-faire policy. We inherited from the British, English schools, Malay schools, Tamil schools and other schools.

When we became independent in 1965, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce committee came to see me in my office, then at City Hall. They urged me to have Chinese as our national and official language. I looked them in the eye and said, "You must be mad, and I don't want to hear any more of that from you. If you do, you are entering the political arena. I have to fight you. Because Singapore will come apart."

Supposing I had been otherwise inclined, which my colleagues would not have allowed, and had said, "Yes, okay." What would have happened to Singapore? Where would the Malays be, and the Indians, what future would they have? The English-educated Chinese would also be against us. The country would fall apart.

Let us assume that we were all Chinese, no Malays, no Indians. Could we make a living with Chinese as our language of government and our national language? Who is going to trade with us? What do we do? How do we get access to knowledge? There was no choice.

Having made English the working language of government and administration, what do we do about the mother tongues? If we had no set policy and allowed free market practices, free choice, all mother tongues would have eventually vanished. Because the first business of any parent is to make sure that his or her child can make a living.

Therefore, we decided that, however unpleasant, however contrary to the concept of a homogeneous society, each racial group would learn his mother tongue as a second language. Most unhappy for English-speaking Chinese homes and, I am sure, also for Indian homes. For Malays, nearly all of them spoke Malay at home; so they were happy.

Was that policy right or wrong? If you bring me back to 1965, I would say that is the policy I would still adopt... Did I legislate it; (tell Chinese-medium school students) you go to English school, and (learn) Chinese as a second language?

I think we would have lost the next election. Because after Independence, the enrolment for Chinese schools increased; 1966, over 55 per cent. Many parents thought, "Yes. Let's do Chinese now. We are out of Malaysia."

I left it alone. By the 1970s, the job market decided what parents chose, and the rush began to English schools... It became so rapid that I had no choice but to urge parents to go slow, because we could not produce enough English teachers.

So I faced the problem of (the Chinese-medium) Nanyang University. By 1978, Nanyang University was in dire straits... It was so bad that when a Nanyang graduate applied for a job, he would produce his school certificate. Because employers knew that the Nanyang graduates of the 1950s and 60s were not the same as the Nanyang graduates of the late 70s. The (good) students had moved across to English schools.

Do we allow this to go on? What was the solution? We tried to convert Nantah from within, get the teachers to lecture in English because they all had American PhDs. They could not. They had lost their English fluency. So we moved the whole campus into University of Singapore... We decided to merge the two universities and made it the National University of Singapore.

I have been berated all these years by the Chinese-educated in Malaysia for having killed Chinese education. I am a convenient excuse for letting off their frustrations. They are not really hating me. They are saying, "Look. Please don't go that way in Malaysia."

If you have a unified system based on the national language, that will be a big problem for the Chinese community. It is not a problem here because I never forced anybody into the English stream. They could have chosen Chinese as their primary language and English as a secondary language. But career prospects determined what they chose.

Will we ever become completely homogeneous, a melange of languages and cultures? No. Why did we take this route? Because we have no other choice. If we have only English and we allowed the other languages to atrophy and vanish, we face a very serious problem of identity and culture.

How do I know this? Because I learnt Chinese late in life, and I rediscovered snatches of what I heard when my parents, my grandparents spoke: "Ah! yes, that was what they meant." It resonates, pulled at my heartstrings. Would I want to see it lost? Absolutely not!...

I tell all parents, "Look at your child carefully. Consider how much he can take - one or the other - and decide what you want." I will give you a series of options. You want Chinese as your master language, go ahead. You want English, how much. And how much Chinese. A series of options. But remember the choice is yours. If you make the wrong decision over your child's capability, do not blame the Government.

IRs needed for S'pore to keep abreast of the top cities

In the debate over whether to bring in the integrated resorts and casinos to Singapore, Mr Lee stood up to state that he was against gambling. He had initially resisted the move to bring casinos into Singapore but he eventually changed his mind because he saw the benefits that it could bring to the country.

APRIL 19, 2005


"Mr Speaker, Sir, I am anti-gambling. As a child in primary school, I saw my father become a problem gambler for several years. I watched many quarrels between my father and mother.

He wanted her jewellery to pawn and gamble on "21" or blackjack to win back his losses. Fortunately for us, he gave up gambling. I have never gambled...

On several occasions, my business friends in Hong Kong suggested that Stanley Ho, who ran casinos in Macau, would be happy to start one in Singapore. I ruled it out. I did not want to undermine Singapore's work ethic and breed the belief that people can get rich by gambling, something that is impossible because the odds are against you. I have not changed my mind nor my basic values.

But I have had to change my attitude to casinos in Singapore when it is part of an integrated resort...

What is important is: Will it be a total plus for the economy and is it worth the price we have to pay in social cost...

Each and every minister has strong personal beliefs and convictions of what is good for his family, for Singapore, for the kind of society they want. At the same time, you ask yourself, if you say 'no', and this is but one of many steps Singapore must take to keep abreast of the rest of the world, how do you keep ahead of the rest of the region to be a vibrant, exciting, interesting city to visit. We have to decide in this present world whether Singapore should still reject an integrated resort because it has a casino...

I am convinced that (the two) integrated resorts in Singapore must depend on tourists because they cannot survive if they were to depend on Singaporeans. The projects show that potential investors expect, on the average, to earn more than two-thirds of their revenue from foreign tourists.

As people in Asia, especially in China and India, become wealthier, they will travel and visit integrated resorts. Several said that their Singapore integrated resort would be their flagship project in this part of the world.

The reasons are obvious. This is a clean, attractive, well-policed, safe city, a financial centre; no money laundering, no muggings, no thieves, no drugs. And we have to keep it that way.

If we turn down their proposals, surely they will go elsewhere in the region.

The old model on which I worked was to create a First World city in a Third World region - clean, green, efficient, pleasant, healthy and wholesome; safe and secure for everyone. These virtues are valuable but no longer sufficient.

Now we also have to be not just economically vibrant, but also an exciting, fascinating city to visit, with top-class symphony orchestras, concerts, dramas, plays, artists, singers and popular entertainment.

These are lifestyles of international professionals and executives who locate in Singapore, working in multinational banks, finance houses and other MNCs. And we want those companies who manage these entertainment troupes to include Singapore in their tour of cities around the world.

My question is: Can we make it? I believe, yes, if we are open to change and willing to accept new ideas. This integrated resort is only a small part in the remaking of Singapore.

Mr Speaker, Sir, we live in a different and an ever-changing world. Singapore must become more lively, more exciting, more of a fun place and, at the same time, retain its virtues - clean, green, safe and wholesome.

We can learn to limit the social fallout. In any case, we cannot prevent the outside world from affecting us. Our people travel. If we do not allow an integrated resort with a casino in Singapore, Singaporeans will still become victims frequenting casinos elsewhere...

Singapore has to reposition itself in this world.

If we reject these integrated resort projects, the world's investors and players will mentally scratch us off from the list of countries that will be good for them, for their business, for their leisure and entertainment.

Ask ourselves, every one of us, after all the heart-wrenching stories, and anecdotes, if you are in charge, if you are responsible for Singapore's future, for its well-being, for its vibrancy, for the kind of life Singapore can provide its people in 10, 20 years, can you say 'no'?

That is the question you have to answer.

If I were the Prime Minister, and I was challenged - I was challenged on many issues when I was a younger man and had a lot of energy - I would take every challenger on and set out to convince Singapore that this is right, that the price is high, but the price of not having the integrated resorts is even higher.

This is your choice. Surely we must move forward and keep abreast of the top cities in Asia and the world."

'Equality is an aspiration, it is not reality, it is not practical'

In a motion to continue to affirm the tenets in the National Pledge when debating government policies, Nominated MP Viswa Sadasivan questioned if it was time for Singapore to move beyond race and treat everyone as an equal. The next day, Mr Lee Kuan Yew delivered one of his last major speeches in Parliament and took it upon himself to "bring the House back to earth". He argued that equality of men is an aspiration rather than the reality.

AUG 19, 2009


"Sir, I had not intended to intervene in any debate. But I was doing physiotherapy just now and reading the newspapers and I thought I should bring the House back to earth.

Mr Rajaratnam had great virtues in the midst of despondency after a series of race riots when we were thrown out during Independence.

And our Malays in Singapore were apprehensive that now that we were the majority, we would in turn treat them the way a Malay majority treated us.

He drafted these words and rose above the present. He was a great idealist.

It came to me; I trimmed out the unachievable and the Pledge, as it stands, is his work after I have trimmed it.

Was it an ideology? No, it is an aspiration. Will we achieve it? I do not know. We will have to keep on trying. Are we a nation? In transition.

I want to move an amendment to this amendment that "acknowledges the progress that Singapore has made in the 50 years since it attained self-government in 1959, in nation building and achieving the aspirations and tenets...". These were aspirations. This was not an ideology.

Sir, reference was made to the Constitution. The Constitution of Singapore enjoins us to specially look after the position of the Malays and other minorities. It comes under Articles 152 and 153...

We explicitly state in our Constitution a duty on behalf of the Government not to treat everybody as equal.

It is not reality, it is not practical, it will lead to grave and irreparable damage if we work on that principle. So this was an aspiration.

As Malays have progressed and a number have joined the middle class with university degrees and professional qualifications, we have asked Mendaki to agree not to have their special rights of free education at university but to take what they were entitled to; put those fees to help more disadvantaged Malays.

So, we are trying to reach a position where there is a level playing field for everybody which is going to take decades, if not centuries, and we may never get there.

Now let me read the American Constitution. In its Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776, adopted in Congress, the Declaration read, in the second paragraph:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."...

Nowhere does it say that the blacks would be differently treated.

But the blacks did not get the vote until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s with Martin Luther King and his famous speech "We Dare to Dream". An enormous riot took place and eventually President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act, and it took many more decades before the southern states, which kept the blacks in their position, allowed the registration of black voters and subsequently even after that, to allow black students to go into white schools.

It was 200 years before an exceptional half-black American became president.

So, my colleague has put it: trying to put square pegs into round holes. Will we ever make the pegs the same? No.

You suggest to the Malays that we should abolish these provisions in the Constitution and you will have grave disquiet.

So we start on the basis that this is reality. We will not be able to get a Chinese minister or an Indian minister to persuade Malay parents to look after their daughters more carefully and not have teenage pregnancies which lead to failed marriages; subsequent marriages also fail, and delinquents.

Can a Chinese MP or an Indian MP do that? They will say: "You are interfering in my private life." But we have funded Mendaki and Muis, and they have a committee to try and reduce the number of such unhappy outcomes.

The way that Singapore has made progress is by a realistic step-by-step forward approach.

It may take us centuries before we get to a similar position as the Americans. They go to wars - the blacks and the whites.

In the First World War, they did not carry arms, they carried the ammo, they were not given the honour to fight.

In the Second World War, they went back, they were ex-GIs - those who could make it to university were given the GI grants - but they went back to their black ghettos (in 1945) and they stayed there. And today there are still black ghettos.

These are realities. The American Constitution does not say that it will treat blacks differently but our Constitution spells out the duty of the Government to treat Malays and other minorities with extra care.

So the basis on which the Nominated Member has placed his arguments is false and flawed. It is completely untrue. It has got no basis whatsoever.

And I thought to myself, perhaps I should bring this House back to earth and remind everybody what is our starting point, what is our base, and if we do not recognise where we started from, and that these are our foundations, we will fail.

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