Friday 27 March 2015

MPs pay tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew in special sitting of Parliament on 26 March 2015

Members of Parliament hail Mr Lee's 60 years in House
Longest-serving MP had served Tanjong Pagar since 1955, became founding PM, and shaped today's Singapore
By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

AN EMPTY chair with a small spray of white flowers was a poignant reminder of a vast gap in Parliament House yesterday.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's seat in the front row, fourth from the corner, opposite the Front Bench, was empty.

He will never sit there again.

When former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng came in and was confronted with the sight, he took his seat next to it and dabbed his eyes discreetly. He later described the day as one of the saddest of his life.

Mr Goh Chok Tong, whose seat is on the other side of Mr Lee's, kept looking left. "But he was not there," he said later.

Yesterday, the House that Mr Lee served for 60 years gave him a fitting farewell, with a special 110-minute sitting both understated and simple. Most male MPs wore white shirts and dark ties with black ribbons; the women came in dark dresses and jackets, white roses on their chests.

In the public galleries were former MPs, unionists, civil servants, students and members of the Lee family.

The 11 MPs who spoke recorded the nation's thanks for Mr Lee's contributions and highlighted his role in leading Singapore from mudflats to metropolis and in building a multiracial society.

Speaker Halimah Yacob kicked off the proceedings, recounting how Mr Lee entered the colonial Legislative Assembly as the Member for Tanjong Pagar in 1955.

He led the People's Action Party to victory and self-government in 1959. He went on to lead Singapore for 31 years till 1990 as Prime Minister, and remained in Cabinet until 2011. He was still representing Tanjong Pagar when he died on Monday, aged 91, the longest-serving MP.

Madam Halimah highlighted remarks he made in 1999, when MPs moved from the old Parliament House to the current building. Noting that Parliament was an arena for the contest of ideas on policies, he said: "In this Chamber, we are playing for keeps. The future of Singapore and its people… is not a question for light-hearted banter."

Matters of life and death, of policy and politics, were raised by Mr Lee over the decades.

Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen highlighted one milestone - Mr Lee's call to Singaporeans to adapt to the reality of the British military withdrawal in 1968, taking away one-fifth of Singapore's GDP: "Adapt and adjust, without any whimpering or wringing of hands." He added that "the world does not owe us a living and ... we cannot live by the begging bowl".

That hard-headed approach would extend to debates on bilingualism, the judiciary, ministerial salaries and race, among others.

Mr Low Thia Khiang of the Workers' Party credited Mr Lee's "outstanding wisdom and courage" in promoting Singapore to the world, and winning the respect of major powers.

But his remark that "many Singaporeans were sacrificed during the process of nation-building and policymaking" drew a swift rebuttal from Ms Indranee Rajah that the sacrifice required was to "set aside divisions and animosity in the interest of national unity".

Mr Masagos Zulkifli said in Malay that Mr Lee's most precious legacy is "a harmonious, multiracial society". The Malay community in Singapore, he said, was proud that it could compete and excel in education and employment on an equal footing, without special treatment for minorities.

Mr Vikram Nair quoted lines from a poem in Tamil that praised Mr Lee for treating all races equally, and for making Tamil one of the four official languages.

Several MPs also alluded to the way Singaporeans had queued for hours in the sun, or overnight, without complaint, to wait their turn to pay respects to Mr Lee.

His body lies in state in the lobby of Parliament House until Sunday when he will be cremated after a state funeral.

Ms Indranee said Singaporeans responded thus because they knew that all of Mr Lee's actions sprang from his deep care for Singaporeans. She said that was Mr Lee's legacy: "a people united; a people with heart; a nation strong and free".

The most emotional tribute came from someone who never met Mr Lee.

Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong, who uses a wheelchair, said that if she had been born anywhere else in Asia, "as a girl with a disability coming from a poor family with no connections, I would not have been able to go to school, enter a profession and serve the community today".

In words that drew hearty thumps of approval in the House, and will resonate with many more outside it, Ms Chia said: "Son of Singapore. Father of Singapore. Pardon my inability to craft a tribute worthy of you. Words fail me.

"And today, all that I can say to you, my first Prime Minister, is what I never had the opportunity to tell you in person: Thank you, Mr Lee."

MPs then stood to observe a minute of silence, before filing out in groups to pay homage to the man who started it all.

My father’s seat in Parliament is now empty. But his resolve to build Singapore and his concern for people’s lives will...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday, March 26, 2015

Emotional session as MPs laud the man who cared
Some choke back tears as they speak of Mr Lee's legacy
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

KEEPING promises is a strong Lee Kuan Yew trait that forged the bond he had with Singaporeans, who trusted him through painful and disruptive policies.

In chaotic times and through tough measures that would pay off only later, his steel, clarity and confidence became theirs, said Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen in a stirring address yesterday at a special Parliament sitting to pay tribute to Mr Lee.

Trade unions were crushed, work hours extended and conscription entrenched in a "fundamental overhaul of what Singaporeans were accustomed to", Dr Ng, who is Defence Minister, recalled of the country's nascent years.

Mr Lee and his Government chose to persuade Singaporeans to do, again and again, what was necessary but painful because, as the man himself declared in 1968, "we are not an easy-going people". A soft people would leave things be and hope for the best, he said then.

But, he added, because "we have restless minds, forever probing and testing, seeking new and better solutions to old and new problems, we shall never be tried and found wanting".

And Mr Lee and his Government delivered, said Dr Ng, who throughout his speech quoted from several parliamentary addresses of Mr Lee's to, he said, "capture the essence" of the most electrifying presence the House has ever seen.

Mr Lee always reminded his younger colleagues to "under-promise and over-deliver", added Dr Ng. "Say less and do more. What you promise, you must deliver and more. Mr Lee walked his talk."

In her opening remarks of tribute, Speaker of the House Halimah Yacob said Mr Lee was a "conviction politician".

People could see he did not make decisions for his own self-aggrandisement or personal benefit, but for the benefit of Singapore, she said.

"People respected and followed him because of one very important element: trust," she said.

Both Madam Halimah and Dr Ng spoke of Mr Lee's distaste for "froth over substance", for "silver tongues and sweet, empty promises" and for vanity structures.

In 1999, Mr Lee had said of the new Parliament House's modestness that "behind the understatement lies great strengths of character, integrity and determination".

"That is what will see Singapore through, not the grand statements and monuments in brick and mortar or steel and concrete, with which so many other new nations try to impress themselves and their followers." Mr Lee could very well have been describing himself and his own life with that statement, said Madam Halimah.

Former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng, voice choking with emotion, recalled a Mr Lee who, unlike what some think, would listen, could be persuaded and respected his successors' decisions even when they differed from his. "When many leaders of his time hung on to power, Mr Lee was a firm believer and practitioner in self-renewal of leadership," said Mr Wong.

Dr Ng said Mr Lee never had the time for the question of how history would judge him. Once, he replied: "I'll be dead by then."

"Mr Lee, we would like to tell you that Singaporeans have decided," said Dr Ng. "Thousands upon thousands have lined the streets. They queued for hours under the hot sun to pay their respects here. They did so spontaneously (in) an outpouring of gratitude and admiration for what you have done for their lives."

He added: "They have pronounced the final judgment on your life's work. It is a great work that has surpassed all expectations. It is called Singapore, and filled with Singaporeans who love and revere you."

<< Keeping your promises >> Mr Lee believed that we must keep our promises – whether to individuals or a nation.Mr...
Posted by Ng Eng Hen on Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bilingual policy 'our cultural ballast'
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

AS CHILDREN, Senior Minister of State Masagos Zulkifli and his siblings were described as "Lee Kuan Yew's children" by an uncle in Malaysia. The uncle felt his younger relatives, who had remained in Singapore after separation from Malaysia in 1965, may be unfairly treated in a country with a Chinese majority, and had coined the phrase to tease them.

Recalling this in Parliament yesterday, Mr Masagos said in Malay: "Before he passed uncle still teased us as Lee Kuan Yew's children. However, this time he added that he was proud and full of admiration because we were able to become professionals and could compete in the Lion City with the other races."

His story was among several recounted by Members of Parliament representing different ethnic groups, as they lauded Mr Lee Kuan Yew for delivering on his vision of a united society regardless of race, language or religion.

Mr Masagos said at a special Parliament sitting to pay tribute to Singapore's first Prime Minister that such a society has allowed the Malay-Muslim community to practise its religion peacefully.

It has also "safeguarded" the community's self-esteem by proving its members could attain success through their own merit, instead of through favouritism, he added, choking with emotion.

Religious and world leaders he had met have expressed admiration for it, he said, adding: "This is the identity of Singapore Muslims that was built by Mr Lee."

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said Mr Lee's conviction about multi-racialism had been an "immense assurance" to minority groups.

The Eurasian community, despite being one of the smallest here, had "made their way in our nation, taking opportunities presented to them, on merit".

This was also the case for Singaporean Indians, who make up only 10 per cent of the population, said Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) in Tamil.

He pointed out the Tamil language is one of Singapore's official languages, and that this was provided for in the Constitution because of Mr Lee's multiracial and multilingual policies.

Minister of State Sim Ann also spoke about how Mr Lee had made sure each ethnic group studied its mother tongue language, on top of Singapore's working language: English. This policy of bilingualism had ensured Singapore could preserve its "cultural ballast" while still creating a "common space" to "unite all races".

Adjusting to this had been painful for some, Ms Sim conceded, but bilingualism had laid the foundation for harmonious communication between all races, she said.

"He has led us on the road to bilingualism, in pursuit of unity as one people, the preservation of our cultural ballast, and ease of interaction with the world."

'He respected women'

"MR LEE never described himself as a feminist, yet his policies made an immense difference to women.

Mr Lee had always valued education, ensuring that a good part of the national Budget went towards education even when our country's resources were meagre.

This helped many women get educated and get jobs. We now see successful women in many fields. Women can walk on our streets without fearing for our personal safety, enjoying a degree of freedom yet to be fully realised in many other societies.

Mr Lee's loving and lasting union with Mrs Lee has set an excellent example for many families.

Mr Lee's basic attitude towards women was one of respect, and set the tone for gender equality in society. He believed that traditional notions of male dominance and men refusing to marry their equals were outdated, and must change with the times.

Without Mr Lee, the women of Singapore would not have enjoyed so many gains in so short a time."

- Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information Sim Ann

'Always cared for workers'

"IN 2003, when Sars broke out, he knew that I was associated with the taxi associations, and was the first one to send me an e-mail. He wanted to know what the association was doing to help the taxi drivers, and he said if we need his help, he would try his best to help. He said: "I can help you to send a message to all the taxi drivers." So, we got a message signed by him, and we passed on this message to all the taxi drivers, telling them what they must pay attention to.

So, we can see that he was very concerned about workers' welfare. He often met the union leaders.

He saw a greater purpose, which is to bring better jobs for Singapore workers, and better lives for Singaporeans. The Industrial Relations Bill and the Employment Bill in 1968, he was the main driver behind them."

- Mr Seng Han Thong (Ang Mo Kio GRC) on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's concern for workers

'Build on his legacy'

"SOME say that he was ruthless, unforgiving, unrelenting. But the children of his political foes had rights and opportunities like any other children. They were able to enter professions, able to become lawyers, doctors, public servants - because, this is Singapore.

Did he do well for Singapore? Look around us. We can say what we will, history shall be the judge.

History will judge those who act, and history will judge those who only speak. As for me, I am convinced that if I were born in Singapore in an earlier era, or if I were born in a similar era but in another Asian country, I would not, being a girl with a disability coming from a poor family with no connections, I would not have been able to go to school, enter a profession and serve the community today.

Shortly after he took office, he said he had the lives of a few million people to account for. He said Singapore would survive.

By any measure, Singapore has more than survived. Today, we are a reckoned player in the international scene.

Today, our lives have improved, and Singaporeans have a strong foundation upon which to work hard, to make life better for ourselves and our children.

He has completed his sojourn with us. But his journey, and the journey that he and our forefathers began, has not ended. That journey will continue. This is our Singapore. And we will build it, and we will protect it."

- Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong, a wheelchair-user, on how people here can do well, regardless of their background

Low: Singapore's progress has come at a price
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

THE late Mr Lee Kuan Yew was an extraordinary leader who guided Singapore's progress from its tumultuous beginnings, said opposition leader Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC).

He praised Mr Lee's contributions to Singapore's economic progress and his success in uniting and building a multicultural Singapore.

"This is an achievement that is not possible without Mr Lee. My deepest respect goes to founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew," said Mr Low, who went on to add that, in the process of nation-building, "many Singaporeans were sacrificed".

At a special Parliament sitting in memory of Singapore's first Prime Minister, Mr Low commended the late Mr Lee's fighting spirit, tenacity and sincerity, which took Singapore from Third World to First.

But the People's Action Party's one-party rule was not key to this transformation, he said.

Many Singaporeans were sacrificed in the process of development, he added. "Society has paid the price for it."

Mr Lee was thus a controversial figure in some people's eyes, said Mr Low, who is Workers' Party secretary-general and the longest-serving opposition member in Parliament today.

Mr Lee crafted policies based on the situation at the time, making rational choices in the interests of the country.

Yet policymaking should not just be rational, but also humane and compassionate, said Mr Low.

"Only in this way can policymaking avoid harming people and creating resentment."

If resentment builds over time, it could hurt national unity and cause citizens to feel estranged, he added.

But Mr Low also gave credit to Mr Lee for being reasonable and open-minded, saying: "From my dealings with Mr Lee in Parliament, I don't think he was an autocrat who didn't listen.

"If you had strong reasons and a tight argument and could win him over through debate, I think he would consider your views."

But the sitting's final speaker, Ms Indranee Rajah (Tanjong Pagar GRC), seemed to object to Mr Low's mention of sacrifice.

Without referring directly to Mr Low, she said: "It was not people who were sacrificed but the things which would have made us a lesser people, a lesser country than we are today."

"(Mr Lee) called upon us to make sacrifices in accordance with some very basic principles: humanity, integrity, thrift, welfare of the people."

Singapore gave up "laziness, corruption, division, hatred of other races".

"The other kind of sacrifice we were asked to make, was to set aside divisions and animosity in the interest of national unity," she said, adding that it was the late Mr Lee who made the biggest sacrifice of all.

She quoted Mr Lee's own words about his sacrifice: "At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life."

'He cared deeply'

"IN THE last week, we have seen a tremendous outpouring of love for Mr Lee. Thousands - young, old, rich, poor, from all races, religions and all walks of life - came. First, to wish him well and, then, to say goodbye.

I have been at Tanjong Pagar Community Club every day, the last five days. You have also seen the queues that have snaked around this Parliament. You have to be there among the people to understand.

What is the essence of the man that inspires such an overwhelming reaction?

Some might say it's his vision, his drive, his intellect.

But these alone would not have been enough to generate this wellspring of emotion.

The real secret of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's enduring bond with Singaporeans is that we all fundamentally understood that (this) vision, drive and intellect were all powered by one thing - he cared.

He cared deeply for Singaporeans and Singapore, and all his actions were driven by a desire to make things better for them. Singapore was his life's work.

And people know this.

So just as he was there for us on that amazing journey from Third World to First, Singaporeans have been here for him in the last days of his life and now for his final journey."

- Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah (Tanjong Pagar GRC)

'Mr Lee was a mentor'

"MR LEE knew that I was the youngest MP in the 2006 batch. Although many do not know this, he would encourage me whenever the opportunity arose and remind (us) that what we do as MPs is worthwhile and lasting even though it is tough.

I had the opportunity to travel with Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mrs Lee to Indonesia and then to India, on official visits there. In between the official meetings and calls, when it was just the Singapore delegation, he would ask over dinner or in the corridor or in his hotel room: Are you learning? How have you learnt?

What have you learnt? He was a mentor, and he encouraged.

Thank you, Mr Lee, for your personal encouragement. Thank you, Sir, for laying the foundations of the Singapore we have today."

- Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), 39, on how Mr Lee played a mentoring role to younger MPs

'He boosted ties with China'

"FOR many years he was the main driver for closer relations between China and Singapore. He encouraged our enterprises to go to China and the region to invest, to widen the space for our businesses.

In order to seize the business opportunities in China, Mr Lee established Business China and integrated the strengths from the various circles in politics, in business and academia and promoted the economic and cultural bi-directional cooperation between the two countries... We remember him best by developing further the country that he established, to continue his lifelong enterprise so that it will reach greater heights... Singapore under the guidance of his spirit will continue to develop."

- Nominated MP Thomas Chua, president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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