Thursday 26 March 2015

The Lee Kuan Yew I remember

Our chief diplomat to the world
By Tommy Koh, Published The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

MR LEE Kuan Yew was the most famous Singaporean in the world. For nearly half a century, he personified Singapore to the world. During his long tenure as Prime Minister (of independent Singapore), from 1965 to 1990, he was the principal architect of Singapore's foreign policy.

Later, as senior minister and minister mentor, he continued to give his successors valuable advice on our external relations. It would not be wrong to say that he served as our chief diplomat to the world.

Singapore is a very small country. However, it enjoys a role and influence in the world not enjoyed by other countries of similar size. A British newspaper once wrote that Singapore punches above its weight. This is due to three factors: our record of domestic achievements, our skilful diplomacy and the Lee Kuan Yew factor.

Why was Mr Lee so greatly admired by foreign leaders? Because of his intellectual brilliance, his power of analysis and judgment, his eloquence and charisma, and his willingness to share his candid and disinterested views. His longevity also gave him an advantage as he evolved from being the brilliant Prime Minister of Singapore to being a wise elder statesman.

Mr Lee travelled extensively on behalf of Singapore. He befriended and earned the respect of many foreign leaders, in government, business and academia. He had an impressive global network. For example, he was respected by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, German leader Helmut Schmidt, French leader Jacques Chirac and Japanese leader Kiichi Miyazawa. He knew and was respected by every American president, from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama. Two of America's thought leaders, Dr Henry Kissinger and Dr George Shultz, are among his many admirers.

One of the greatest honours the United States can confer on a foreign leader is an invitation to address a joint session of the US Congress. I will never forget Oct 9, 1985. On that beautiful autumn day, Mr Lee addressed a packed joint session of Congress.

At that time, the protectionist tide was running strong in the US body politic. In his speech, which received several standing ovations, he explained why it was in the strategic interest of the US to continue to support free trade and open economies. The senator sitting next to me, Mr Edward Kennedy, confided in me afterwards that he was not previously aware of the linkage between free trade and US strategic interests in the world. The speech did help to stem the tide of protectionism in the US Congress.

Mr Lee's enduring contribution to Singapore's foreign policy can be summed up in the following seven principles.


First, our foreign policy is based on pragmatism and not on any doctrine or ideology. The scholars who have written that Singapore's foreign policy is based on realism are mistaken. If it were based on realism, we would not have attached so much importance to international law or to the United Nations. Our constant lodestar is to promote the security and prosperity of Singapore.


Second, we rely, first and foremost, on ourselves. Believing that the world does not owe us a living, Singapore did not seek foreign aid from the developed countries. We did not want to develop a dependency mentality. Instead, we concentrated our energies on attracting foreign investment and creating jobs for our people. We started building up our armed forces and introduced national service in order to develop a capacity to deter aggression.


Third, we accept the world as it is and not as we would like it to be. We have no illusions about the world. We take a clinical attitude towards facts and realities. This does not mean that we are passive and fatalistic. Not at all. We have been extremely proactive in taking the leadership to form such groupings as the Forum of Small States and the Global Governance Group. We know that we live in an unfair and dangerous world. We know that small countries will always be vulnerable to the pressures of bigger countries.


Fourth, Singapore has a fundamental commitment to Asean and to making South-east Asia a region of peace and prosperity. Singapore is a strong supporter of Asean integration and is working closely with our partners to ensure the success of Asean's transition from an association to a community by this year. We took an active part in drafting the Asean Charter and support Asean's ambition to become a more rules-based institution. Singapore strongly supports the central role which Asean plays in the regional architecture. We will do everything within our power to ensure that Asean remains united, independent and neutral.


Fifth, Singapore is committed to the vision of building an Asia-Pacific community. Singapore wants a balance of power in the region and welcomes the positive roles which the US, China, Japan, India, the European Union and Russia play in the political, economic and cultural lives of the region.

Singapore supports trade liberalisation and regional economic integration through both the Trans-Pacific Partnership, under the aegis of Apec, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Singapore supports dialogue, confidence-building and cooperation via institutions such as the Asean Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit.


Sixth, Singapore should not be afraid to defy conventional wisdom. During the 1960s, Singapore welcomed foreign investment by multinational corporations when the rest of the Third World viewed them as the purveyors of evil. Singapore was not afraid to be criticised by its Asean partners when it decided to negotiate a free trade agreement with the US. Singapore was willing to welcome the US military presence in the region when it was forced to leave the Philippines.


Seventh, Singapore should try to be a good global citizen. Within Asean, Singapore has played a leading role in trying to narrow the gap between the old and new members. Singapore maintains training centres in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam to train the government officials of those countries. Under the Singapore Cooperation Programme, run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore trains 7,000 government officials from other countries annually. To date, Singapore has trained 80,000 government officials from 170 countries.

Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh, 77, is an international lawyer, a diplomat and a former law faculty dean

The world will miss Lee Kuan Yew
By Henry Kissinger, Published The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

LEE Kuan Yew was a great man. And he was a close personal friend, a fact that I consider one of the great blessings of my life. A world needing to distil order from incipient chaos will miss his leadership.

Lee emerged onto the international stage as the founding father of the state of Singapore, then a city of about one million. He developed into a world statesman who acted as a kind of conscience to leaders around the globe.

Fate initially seemed not to have provided him a canvas on which to achieve more than modest local success.

In the first phase of decolonisation, Singapore emerged as a part of Malaysia. It was cut loose because of tensions between Singapore's largely Chinese population and the Malay majority and, above all, to teach the fractious city a lesson of dependency. Malaysia undoubtedly expected that reality would cure Singapore of its independent spirit.

But great men become such through visions beyond material calculations. Lee defied conventional wisdom by opting for statehood. The choice reflected a deep faith in the virtues of his people.

He asserted that a city located on a sandbar with nary an economic resource to draw upon, and whose major industry as a colonial naval base had disappeared, could nevertheless thrive and achieve international stature by building on its principal asset: the intelligence, industry and dedication of its people.

A great leader takes his or her society from where it is to where it has never been - indeed, where it as yet cannot imagine being. By insisting on quality education, by suppressing corruption and by basing governance on merit, Lee and his colleagues raised the annual per capita income of their population from US$500 at the time of independence in 1965 to roughly US$55,000 today.

In a generation, Singapore became an international financial centre, the leading intellectual metropolis of South-east Asia, the location of the region's major hospitals and a favoured site for conferences on international affairs.

It did so by adhering to an extraordinary pragmatism: by opening careers to the best talents and encouraging them to adopt the best practices from all over the world.

Superior performance was one component of that achievement. Superior leadership was even more important. As the decades went by, it was moving - and inspirational - to see Lee, in material terms the mayor of a medium-sized city, bestride the international scene as a mentor of global strategic order.

A visit by Lee to Washington was a kind of national event. A presidential conversation was nearly automatic; eminent members of the Cabinet and Congress would seek meetings. They did so not to hear of Singapore's national problems; Lee rarely, if ever, lobbied policymakers for assistance. His theme was the indispensable US contribution to the defence and growth of a peaceful world. His interlocutors attended not to be petitioned but to learn from one of the truly profound global thinkers of our time.

This process started for me when Lee visited Harvard in 1967 shortly after becoming Prime Minister of an independent Singapore. Lee began a meeting with the senior faculty of the School of Public Administration (now the Kennedy School) by inviting comments on the Vietnam War.

The faculty, of which I was one dissenting member, was divided primarily on the question of whether President Lyndon Johnson was a war criminal or a psychopath.

Lee responded: "You make me sick" - not because he embraced war in a personal sense but because the independence and prosperity of his country depended on the fortitude, unity and resolve of the United States.

Singapore was not asking the United States to do something that Singapore would not undertake to the maximum of its ability. But US leadership was needed to supplement and create a framework for order in the world.

Lee elaborated on these themes in the hundreds of encounters I had with him during international conferences, study groups, board meetings, face-to-face discussions and visits at each other's homes over 45 years.

He did not exhort; he was never emotional; he was not a Cold Warrior; he was a pilgrim in quest of world order and responsible leadership. He understood the relevance of China and its looming potential and often contributed to the enlightenment of the world on this subject. But in the end, he insisted that without the United States, there could be no stability.

Lee's domestic methods fell short of the prescriptions of current US constitutional theory. But so, in fairness, did the democracy of Thomas Jefferson's time, with its limited franchise, property qualifications for voting and slavery.

This is not the occasion to debate what other options were available. Had Singapore chosen the road of its critics, it might well have collapsed among its ethnic groups, as the example of Syria teaches today. Whether the structures essential for the early decades of Singapore's independent existence were unnecessarily prolonged can be the subject of another discussion.

I began this eulogy by mentioning my friendship with Lee. He was not a man of many sentimental words. And he nearly always spoke of substantive matters. But one could sense his attachment.

A conversation with Lee, whose life was devoted to service and who spent so much of his time on joint explorations, was a vote of confidence that sustained one's sense of purpose.

The great tragedy of Lee's life was that his beloved wife was felled by a stroke that left her a prisoner in her body, unable to communicate or receive communication. Through all that time, Lee sat by her bedside in the evening reading to her. He had faith that she understood despite the evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps this was Lee Kuan Yew's role in his era. He had the same hope for our world. He fought for its better instincts even when the evidence was ambiguous. But many of us heard him and will never forget him.


Dr Henry Kissinger is a former American politician who has served as national security adviser and secretary of state under several US administrations.

A man of exceptional intellect and perception
Mr Lee had strong views but could be persuaded to change his mind 
Richard Hu, 88, served as Finance Minister from 1985 to 2001
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

IN THE lead-up to the 1984 General Election, after I finally agreed to enter politics, Kuan Yew invited me to his office at the Istana.

It was a spartan room, which reflected the character of the man. He did not believe in spending money unless it was absolutely necessary. The room was just plain, except for some books.

In the Cabinet room, one floor below his office, the table has been there for as long as I remember. The cloth covers of the armchairs were finally changed three or four years before he retired. He had previously refused to.

It got to a point where his colleagues were embarrassed that visitors might think the Singapore Government had no money. But to him, these things mattered little.

His primary interest was in making sure the economy grew and the people benefited.

Kuan Yew was relaxed in that first meeting. He wanted to allay any lingering concerns I had about entering politics and to make me feel comfortable about taking the leap. That meeting marked the beginning of a friendship that lasted three decades, including 17 years as Cabinet colleagues.

I had heard a lot about Kuan Yew before that, of course, but from actually interacting with him, I found him to be a man of exceptional intellect and perception.

He had what I would call helicopter qualities - the ability to rise above the masses and look at things from a higher perspective, to not get confused by the forest.

As a lawyer, he had not received formal training in economic and financial matters. But he more than made up for it with an acute mind with the ability to calculate implications, as well as by reading widely.

He also had a strong intuitive sense on the principles of macroeconomics and how nations moved up. He agreed with Dr Goh Keng Swee early on that it was important to have an open economy that attracted the investments of multinational corporations. Later on, he could see that low-cost countries were moving up, and I consequently worked with him to grow our services sector in order to stay competitive - financial, legal, business services and so on.

He had a vision of how Singapore was going to create jobs and stay one step ahead of other developing countries and he was not afraid to try different strategies. They turned out to be extremely successful.

After I entered politics, Kuan Yew and I would meet regularly for one-on-one lunches. He had simple eating habits. There would be soup - usually vegetable soup - followed by fish or steak. He loved a good steak - about 120g, lean with all the fat cut out. Finally, there would be fruit. He was convinced about the benefits of antioxidants in fruit.

His favourite fruit was pomelo and he would say to me: "You eat it too. It's good for you."

He was a health nut. He would swim or cycle daily and kept telling me during our lunches that I should be exercising to keep fit, so I would last longer.

In this environment, he was quite friendly. We would discuss the issues of the day: policy matters, primarily financial ones, as well as international developments. One thing he did not discuss with me, though, was domestic or electoral politics.

He discussed this with other ministers because he knew this is not my area. I was never much interested in politics in the partisan or electoral sense. He understood that and kept me out of it.

Other than these one-on-one lunch meetings, our discussions mainly took place during Cabinet meetings and during the annual Budget meeting between the Finance Minister (after I took up this portfolio in 1985) and the Prime Minister.

I would prepare a paper laying out the important tax changes in the Budget. Because tax issues were very sensitive, we did not want to discuss them openly, even at the Cabinet level. For example, if we were going to increase petrol or tobacco taxes, any leak would be very problematic.

The role of Finance Minister in Singapore is relatively straightforward, unlike in other countries where finance ministers have to fight with central bankers because one side wants to spend and the other side wants to control.

Because the issues were less complicated, Kuan Yew and I rarely found ourselves in disagreement or having to debate an issue very vigorously, except on one issue: whether we should internationalise the Singapore dollar.

This debate happened in the 1980s. The big international banks at the time wanted greater access to the Singapore dollar, which they saw as a strong and stable currency - almost as strong as the US dollar and more familiar to people in this region. They proposed to Kuan Yew to allow the Singapore dollar to be borrowed for use in large amounts outside Singapore - say, to fund Indonesian development projects.

A few years before this, these banks proposed that a US-dollar offshore market be established in Singapore. We allowed this and it worked very well. It was the first step in our move towards developing Singapore as a financial centre. Those banks saw the internationalisation of the Singapore dollar as the logical next step.

As chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, I, together with the MAS leadership, was totally opposed to this proposal. We felt that once borrowing outside Singapore was allowed, there would be pressure on the mint to print more money, in excess to the GDP requirements in Singapore. Over time, if more and more foreign entities held large quantities of Singapore dollars offshore, a mischievous speculator with enough resources would, in theory, be able to undermine your currency by selling down and then buying back.

This was in fact what happened to the British pound at one point and, later, to the Thai baht during the 1997 financial crisis.

Keng Swee, who had retired, supported my view on this issue. But it took a lot to bring Kuan Yew round. He asked if we could allow some internationalisation to happen initially, and then to gradually build up. I maintained that once you opened the door, it was difficult to stop it.

There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the two of us. He was a night burner who worked into the wee hours of the morning. Often, he would think nothing of calling me up at midnight to ask me about a particular detail or to get me to elaborate on a certain point.

In the end, we were able to convince him that Singapore could become a financial centre without internationalising our currency - by developing other financial services in parallel that could provide just as good benefits, if not better.

What I learnt from this exchange about Kuan Yew was that he could be persuaded. On many issues, he had strong views and would try to dominate. Often, I saw him challenge proposals put forward by ministers at Cabinet meetings. But he was never so locked in to a particular view that he could not change his mind.

Multiracial Singapore on the world stage
S. Jayakumar, 75, consultant, Drew & Napier, was an MP from 1980 to 2011, a Cabinet minister from 1984 to 2011, including Deputy PM from 2004 to 2009 and Senior Minister from 2009 to 2011
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

MR LEE Kuan Yew had a strong view on how we should conduct ourselves on the international stage and how we wanted others to perceive Singapore.

He had many views in this regard, but let me single out one aspect which made a great impression on me - that we should always get others to view us as a multiracial country.

Once, after he came back from an overseas visit, he asked at a Cabinet meeting who was the Transport Minister. Turning to him, he said he had just come back after a long flight on Singapore Airlines (SIA), and among the in-flight service crew, there were no Malays, Indians or Eurasians.

He asked the minister to convey feedback to SIA that foreigners travelling on the national carrier would form an impression of Singapore. It was not good that the in-flight crew were all ethnic Chinese. He said SIA should do its best to have Malays, Indians and Eurasians.

In a similar vein, he would from time to time comment on Cabinet memoranda from ministers seeking approval to send delegations to represent Singapore at important international conferences. He would turn to the minister who put up the Cabinet paper and ask about the list of officials proposed for the delegation. He would say: "Look, they are going to represent Singapore, right? Surely your ministry can find a good Malay or Indian officer to be included?"

Often, the minister would withdraw the memorandum and resubmit later an amended delegation list. His determination to portray abroad Singapore's multiracial aspect had a profound impact on me.

He was a complex man who evoked many emotions
The following is a tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew by the former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is reprinted with the author's permission.
By Bilahari Kausikan, Published The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

THOSE of us who were privileged to work with Mr Lee Kuan Yew in whatever capacity, cannot but feel a profound personal sense of grief. Mr Lee was not only a great leader - that is obvious - he was a man, human, and thus inevitably complex. He evoked the entire range of human emotions, and evoked them strongly. His legacy will be many-faceted and debated for many years.

As a young MFA officer, I was fortunate to have attended many meetings with Mr Lee and to have travelled with him. Later in my career, I sat in on policy discussions, several at times of crisis. I never intended to be a civil servant. I had prepared myself for an academic career. But I soon realised that most of what I thought I knew was at least superficial, if not downright irrelevant. My real education in international relations began only when my life intersected, however tangentially, with Mr Lee.

First of all, I learnt not to be ashamed to be a patriot. To the young, as I then was, the term carries a vague, undefinable whiff of unfashionable mustiness. But to serve the Republic of Singapore in any capacity is no mean profession because if Singapore does not survive, no other value can be realised in this vale of tears we call the world.

You may think that all diplomats or all statesmen must obviously serve their own countries' interests. Well, they certainly ought to. But as I grew more experienced in the craft of diplomacy, I observed that this was all too often the exception rather than the rule; that too many leaders and diplomats, from too many countries, too often confuse personal interests with national interests, or convince themselves that these are synonymous. There is no creature more susceptible to self-deception than certain types of diplomats or erstwhile statesmen. The worst types believe that whatever they do is necessarily important simply because they do it - they and no one else, because, of course, they are the centre of the universe. Mr Lee was never like that. He is often described as a global statesman, and so he was. But I doubt Mr Lee ever set much store by that appellation or any of the many formal honours he was given by foreign countries. These were means, not ends. His laser-like focus - his "universe" if you like - was always Singapore. He operated on a global stage, but only for Singapore. He won many friends and was personally greatly admired around the world. But this was always deployed for Singapore. He spoke his mind and never hesitated to do what necessity dictated for Singapore's interests, even if it put his personal friendships at risk.

Second, I learnt that the pursuit and defence of Singapore's interests must be grounded in a clinical and clear-eyed, indeed cold-blooded and intellectually ruthless, understanding of the environment in which a small country operates. Small countries cannot afford illusions. Mr Lee never mistook the necessary politesse and hypocrisies of statecraft and diplomacy for reality. He took as the starting point the world as it is; a world as full of promise and opportunity but a world also inevitably flawed and, so, often perilous. Mr Lee invariably cut through all the fluff that usually conceals the hard realities of international relations. He zeroed in on the very core of any issue or situation. His analysis was always holistic, enriched and given depth and breadth by his realistic understanding of history, of different cultures and, ultimately, of human nature in all its rich variety. He pursued what was possible in practice, not what was desirable on principle. He wanted to get things done. He always dared to try - Singapore would not exist otherwise - but was not given to chasing chimeras. This is again rarer than one might expect. Mr Lee never stopped learning and was never too proud to seek information even from the most junior, and certainly never too proud to change his mind whenever the situation warranted.

Third, I learnt no leader, however talented, can achieve much alone. Mr Lee was undoubtedly a great leader, but he was the great leader of a great team and of a great people. Leadership is not a matter of intellect alone. His sense of mission, his dedication to and passion for Singapore inspired an entire generation of Singaporeans from all walks of life to defy the odds and to serve some cause larger than themselves.

My generation of MFA officers have tried to pass on what we felt and learnt to a younger generation of Foreign Service officers. But this is possibly the hardest lesson to impart.

The Singapore that you see around us today and which many young Singaporeans take for granted is a totally unnatural place. We exist only by dint of human endeavour, not by any God-given right. What was created by human endeavour must be maintained by human endeavour. My generation of Foreign Service officers and the generation before us are proud to have contributed in some small measure to Singapore's unlikely success.

Singapore will be preserved only if the next generation shares that passion from which flows the determination to overcome challenges that cannot now be foreseen. Mr Lee is gone.

A poignant absence on Aug 9, says Chiam
Opposition veteran says Mr Lee will stay a symbol of Singapore's success
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

VETERAN opposition politician Chiam See Tong yesterday said Mr Lee Kuan Yew had been for Singapore what British prime minister Winston Churchill was for his country.

In a heartfelt condolence letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on his father's death, the leader of the Singapore People's Party said: "He was there at the time when Singapore was swarmed with numerous problems, ranging from domestic to international issues. He was there, just as Britain needed Winston Churchill during World War II - always taking a strategic and long-term view of Singapore."

Mr Lee, Singapore's first Prime Minister, died on Monday at Singapore General Hospital, where he had been in intensive care since Feb 5, when he had severe pneumonia. He was 91.

Like several other political players this week, Mr Chiam listed Mr Lee's achievements. "He was a great statesman, parliamentarian and a master of public policy.

"No one else had shaped modern Singapore more than Lee Kuan Yew, since he became Prime Minister in 1959. He was a man for all seasons. He will live on in history, remaining for future generations the symbol of Singapore's success," he said of his fiercest rival.

Mr Chiam, the longest-serving opposition MP until 2011, said he and his wife, Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, were saddened by Mr Lee's death.

"His absence from our 50th National Day Parade later this year will be particularly poignant to us," he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Ravi Philemon, who was with the National Solidarity Party until recently, said: "With the passing away of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a part of us is also gone."

Amid the tributes, the Think Centre, a political non-governmental organisation, was critical of Mr Lee, saying he suppressed the media, unions and civil society, as well as his political opponents.

"He even developed the process of bankrupting his political opponents through defamation suits into a fine art, sending a chilling effect across society," it said.

'The greatest Chinese outside mainland China'
Robert Kuok, 91, is chairman of the Kerry Group, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate with varied interests ranging from property to palm oil 
By Li Xueying, Hong Kong Correspondent, In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

ON HIS regular visits to Hong Kong, Mr Lee Kuan Yew observed that when people there failed in business, they blamed themselves or bad luck, picked themselves up and tried again.

He wondered how to encourage that entrepreneurial spirit among Singaporeans, and would put the question to powerful businessmen he met there. South-east Asia's richest man, Mr Robert Kuok, remembers how he responded to Mr Lee: "I told him, you have governed Singapore too strictly, you have put a straitjacket on Singapore. Now, you need to take a pair of scissors and cut it."

The Malaysian tycoon would sometimes invite other Hong Kong businessmen to meet Mr Lee, who was always ready to talk politics.

But on his last trip, in May 2012, Mr Lee was more subdued. His wife had died, and he visited another old friend, media mogul Run Run Shaw, who was ill. Mr Lee sat quietly by Sir Run Run's wheelchair, saying little but patting the centenarian's knee from time to time.

"He had grown far more mellow," recalled Mr Kuok in an interview at his Deep Water Bay home in March 2013. It was a different side of a man he had known for seven decades.

They were born 20 days apart - Mr Lee on Sept 16 and Mr Kuok on Oct 6, 1923 - and met in 1941 as students at Raffles College in pre-war Singapore. "We're both pigs, born in the Year of the Pig," Mr Kuok said with a laugh, referring to the Chinese zodiac sign.

Did that make them stubborn? No, he said. "Greedy. See food, eat. See power, grab." From Hong Kong, Mr Kuok presides over an US$11.4 billion (S$15.4 billion) family business empire that spans the Shangri-La hotel chain to logistics to being the world's biggest processor of palm oil.

He said they were not especially close in school. Harry, as the young Mr Lee was known then, already had a reputation for pugnacity. "He was combative, wanting to win every argument. Not someone you would take an immediate great warmth and liking to," said Mr Kuok. And because Harry was "intellectually a cut above the average", there was "a slight feeling of superiority" about him. He did not mix much, though he did attend the college's annual fancy dress ball in 1941 in Malay garb complete with a songkok. Mr Kuok went as a Mandarin.

On Dec 8 that year, their lives were disrupted when the first Japanese bomb landed, bringing World War II to Singapore.

Mr Kuok returned to Johor Baru, where his parents ran a shop selling rice, sugar and flour. By the time he returned to Singapore in 1955, he had established a sugar refining business that would be the foundation of his fortune and earned him the title of Malaysia's Sugar King.

Mr Lee was a lawyer and rising politician, and a founder of the People's Action Party.

They would meet occasionally and Mr Kuok found Mr Lee "still pretty curt", but now he was obsessed with Singapore. In 1970, Mr Kuok received a call from the Istana inviting him to the Prime Minister's Office. Mr Lee wanted his views on Malaysia, saying his analyses were more down-to-earth than the official briefings he received. These meetings occurred regularly till 1973 when Mr Kuok moved to Hong Kong. After that, they met mostly when Mr Lee visited Hong Kong.

"Over the years, he shed a lot of his stiffness," he said, though they did not agree on everything.

"Politically, I did not share all his views," revealed Mr Kuok, citing as an example the benchmarking of ministerial pay to the private sector.

He thought Mr Lee was too obsessed about Singapore. "He wanted to talk about politics all the time. There is more to life than politics. To me, there is more to life than business."

Yet it was Mr Lee's single-mindedness that made Singapore thrive, Mr Kuok acknowledged, and it helped that he possessed "all these strong leadership traits - an intimidating attitude, presence of face and body".

"He was very sure of himself, resolute, even ruthless. But he turned Singapore into a model nation, put in place a government that cared for its people, and made sure that others would not bully Singapore," he said. "The greatest Chinese outside the mainland is Lee Kuan Yew."

To his Chinese tutor, he was a 'gentle lion'
Koh Hock Kiat, 54, is the former director of the Confucius Institute at the Nanyang Technological University
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

I STILL remember clearly the first Chinese lesson I conducted for Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

It was a rainy day in 2006. Even though I was well-prepared, I was slightly nervous as I stepped into the Istana to make my way to his office, where the lesson was to be held.

Mr Lee, after all, was Singapore's founding father. Many viewed him as a stern man, not to be crossed, a "shi zi" (lion), as some would say in Chinese.

My nervousness was very quickly dispelled. As a student, he was humble and easy-going. He never hesitated to ask questions, and these were not just about Chinese language and culture.

He wanted to know too what I thought about issues like China and its rapid rise.

He also never stood on ceremony. Once, we did a lesson at the Singapore General Hospital because he was hospitalised there. He was in good spirits and appeared in a shirt and shorts.

I always began lessons by asking him how he was. This lightened the mood and was a good way for him to warm up before we moved on to converse about other topics.

Often, the topics were related to current affairs. We would read news articles or commentaries in Lianhe Zaobao or in newspapers from China and Taiwan, and then discuss them.

We stopped from time to time if he needed to clarify the meaning of a word or a term, or if there was a pronunciation that he had to go over a few more times.

But otherwise, we let the conversation flow freely to mimic as far as possible a natural conversation he might hold with his Chinese-speaking guests.

I enjoyed these conversations immensely as they often provided a glimpse of a side to Mr Lee that I would come to admire very much.

His sentimentality was quite evident, for example, when he recalled, with much nostalgia, his friendship with Chiang Ching-kuo. He would talk about the two stone lions he had received as a gift from the late Taiwanese leader and remind us of how Chiang had generously acceded to a request to allow the Singapore Armed Forces to train in Taiwan.

He also treasured memories of his days in Britain. When I e-mailed him one year to wish him well on his birthday, he replied in a long e-mail that he was dining in a restaurant in London.

It was a restaurant he had been to as a student and which he liked a lot. It had not changed at all, he wrote with much delight.

With age, Mr Lee spoke more slowly and softly than he used to.

But whenever he began talking about an issue related to Singapore's survival or well-being, he would become excited, his tone moving up a notch.

Discussing Singapore transformed him into a young man, I remember thinking to myself.

Mr Lee's interest in the Chinese language is well-documented. It dates back to the 1950s, shortly after he entered politics.

In his later years, however, he showed a desire to learn more, not just of the language - for conversational and speech-making purposes - but of Chinese culture as well.

He wanted to talk about Chinese geography and the cultural significance of various sayings and art forms.

I have always believed in an approach to learning Chinese that balances linguistic skills with cultural knowledge.

For me, this shift he made in his later years was evidence that he had matured in his journey as a student of Chinese.

When Mrs Lee passed away in 2010, our Chinese lessons were put on hold. It would have been understandable if Mr Lee had decided then to permanently set aside the classes. But remarkably, within a month, he chose to resume lessons, and at a normal frequency, no less.

Even in the later years, when his health did not permit for lessons to be held as frequently, he never completely gave them up. Sometimes, when he got tired, he would ask to rest for 30 minutes before resuming the lesson.

There was a determination and a fighting spirit in him that I saw, not just in the learning of Chinese, but in other areas of his life - such as in his refusal to allow his security officers to aid him in walking.

But above all, I remember Mr Lee most fondly for the kindness he never failed to show to the people around him.

Twice a year, he would host dinners for his Chinese teachers, security officers, doctors and nurses to show his gratitude. When his books were published, he would autograph a copy for each of his Chinese teachers.

Often, he would also return from his overseas trips with gifts for us. When the Chinese leader Hu Jintao gave him some pu'er tea, he gave it all to us - after asking us to explain the significance of the tea - along with a teapot, which was a gift from another official.

And so, even though for many Singaporeans the thought of Mr Lee will continue to bring to mind images of a forbidding lion, for those who had the privilege of interacting with him at close quarters, he was a gentle and compassionate lion.

Journey with a master teacher
Alan Chan Heng Loon, 62, is the chief executive of Singapore Press Holdings. He worked in the Government for 25 years, holding posts such as permanent secretary and principal private secretary to then Senior Minister Lee.
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

IN 1994, I was called up for an interview with Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who was looking for a new principal private secretary.

He looked at my CV and said: "Chan Heng Loon, you don't qualify. That's the end of the interview."

I was shocked and said: "Mr Lee, may I know why I am not qualified?"

He said: "Your Chinese is no good. You only got a C6 for your Chinese. Therefore, you are not good enough to be my principal private secretary."

I told him that I had always been very proud of my command of the Chinese language and that this O-Level result had been a huge disappointment. I had, after all, been among the 10 per cent who passed the preliminary exam at Raffles Institution.

He said: "Ten per cent?"

I said: "Ya, O-Levels, I don't know what happened."

Then he started quizzing me on what I read. He was surprised that I had started reading Nanyang Siang Pau at the age of seven and that I read every copy of the Yazhou Zhoukan, Asia Weekly.

After about 30 minutes, he said: "Okay, you go and take the written exam." And I was selected.

Just one week after I became his PPS, I followed him to Taiwan where he met its leaders.

The discussion lasted from 10am to 10pm. I was taking notes. Mr Lee told me to give him the minutes the following morning - verbatim. I stayed up that night to write the minutes, and when he read them the next morning, he said: "Alan, you passed."

In 1994, Mr Lee tasked me to help him monitor the progress of the Suzhou Industrial Park project.

I also had to carry his messages to Chinese officials and convey their responses back to him. The Chinese used to laugh and call me "yu chai da ren" (the royal messenger).

During my stint as Mr Lee's PPS, the liberalisation of the financial and banking sector was also in the works. Almost every other evening, he would meet 10 bankers and quiz them on a specific topic. If he liked a banker's proposal, he would tell the man: "Write me a paper on this. Elaborate on the points."

I had to send the paper to the other nine bankers for comments. So for every paper that came in, there would be nine others as well. I had to sift through this information and organise it for myself - and sometimes I found myself lost in it. But he could read all 10 papers, distil the ideas and tell me which ones were worth pursuing.

He wanted the maximum possible opinions on a particular subject.

I was by Mr Lee's side when he met Fang Chuang Pi, the former underground leader of the Malayan Communist Party in Singapore, better known as "The Plen". The meeting took place in 1995 in Diaoyutai, China. Mr Fang had a bag with him that, out of courtesy, we didn't search. There could have been anything inside that bag, though I believe it was probably just a tape recorder. Still, throughout the conversation, while I was taking minutes, I was actually watching that bag very, very closely. The two men knew and respected each other. But there was something Mr Fang asked for that Mr Lee could not grant. So it's a bit of a regret.

Mr Lee kept his ears close to the ground. At about 11 or 12 o'clock on a Saturday, he would say: "I'd like to visit a three-room flat in XYZ precinct at 4 o'clock."

Only the manager of the town council in question and one ministry official would join him on the visit. The notice was so short that there was no time for anyone to gloss over the blemishes.

At the appointed hour, Mr Lee would walk around, inspecting the cleanliness and maintenance. Then he would go about gathering feedback from the ground. He would speak to families and people he met along corridors and ask pointed questions like: "What exactly do you do? How much do you earn?"

And wherever we went, whether it was India or Vietnam, he would always ask to visit a market. He told me: "When I walk around the market and I look at the availability of goods there, then I know whether that place is prosperous or poor."

He felt that while you can get everything in a five-star hotel, the local market was more of a dipstick of the economy.

In 1994, we were in Shenyang in Liaoning province when he asked a vendor where their pineapples were from. The answer was Taiwan. Mr Lee was taken by surprise: "Taiwan, not Hainan? You mean there is trade between China and Taiwan?"

The vendor said yes. So there were already pineapples from Taiwan in China in 1994. And Mr Lee, who always wanted to know what was going on, was able to ferret that out.

Press freedom was a fine balancing act with Mr Lee
Cheong Yip Seng, 71, former editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English and Malay Newspapers Division, recalls the many run-ins
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

ONE November evening in 1999, Mr Lee Kuan Yew telephoned: He was troubled by a new information phenomenon, which was threatening to overwhelm the traditional media industry.

In America, the markets were rapidly coming to the conclusion that there was no future in print newspapers, whose eyeballs were migrating to cyberspace.

How would this information revolution impact the Singapore media? He was anxious to find a response that would enable the mainstream media to keep its eyeballs. He wanted us at Singapore Press Holdings to think about the way forward.

For him, the media was one of three institutions in Singapore he told an aide he needed to control in order to govern effectively. The other two were the Treasury and the armed forces.

His relations with the media had been rocky at the start of his political career. While he was in the opposition, not everyone in the press had sympathy for his political goals. The Malaysian Malay media, which could then circulate in Singapore, was hostile.

My first editor-in-chief, Mr Leslie Hoffman, had a furious row with him over freedom of the press that blazed across the front pages of The Straits Times, and went all the way to the International Press Institute (IPI) annual assembly in 1959 in Berlin, where Mr Hoffman appealed for IPI support.

Once in office, Mr Lee set out to change the rules of the game: He and his government, not the press, would set the agenda for the country. They wanted command of the national narrative.

What did he want of the press in Singapore? He put it best in 1971 when he went to another IPI conference following another bitter confrontation with the Singapore media: "The mass media can help to present Singapore's problems simply and clearly, and then explain how if they support certain programmes and policies, these problems can be solved.

"More important, we want the mass media to reinforce, not undermine, the cultural values and social attitudes being inculcated in our schools and universities... The freedom of the press must be subordinated to the integrity of Singapore and the primacy of purpose of an elected government."

He wanted the press to help him if it thought his policies deserved support. The operative word was "if". He did not want blind support. A sycophantic, obsequious press would be worthless to him, he would tell us on more than one occasion. It would have no credibility.

In truth, most of his policies made sense. The list is long: Robust multinational corporation-led growth wiped out double-digit unemployment, widespread in the early years following independence.

Affordable public housing was easily available, made possible by large-scale land acquisition at below-market rates and use of the Central Provident Fund. An overhaul of the education system reduced once unacceptably high drop-out rates in schools so everyone could realise his full potential. Tough laws were introduced to ensure safety in the streets. Good housekeeping by never living beyond our means meant a debt-free state, crucial for a sound economy.

These and many more. That might well be, but the pitfalls for us were many even though he and our editors shared broadly similar goals: We both wanted what was best for a young nation and we believed in a credible press at the same time.

For example, land acquisition unsettled many thousands of people who refused initially to resettle and had to be forcibly moved. How do we report this massive exercise without reflecting the angst as well? Or, in the case of education, we could not avoid reporting the very adverse reactions to streaming and bilingualism. But in the process, we opened ourselves up to strong suspicions that we were undermining those initiatives.

Or spending policies. How much should people be taxed, for incomes, car ownership, employing maids, and goods and services tax? And how much financial support to give to the poor and "sandwiched class"?

Moreover, not every policy was reasonable. For instance, The Straits Times could not embrace his controversial attempt to get more graduate women to marry and have children. We felt, like most of the people, that it was too divisive to further advantage graduate women by giving them generous perks.

Mr Lee did not believe a Western-style media was in Singapore's best interest. He wanted a media like the BBC, whose objectivity he valued. He was impressed with the Japanese press. He had read about them from books by Western scholars and believed that its agenda was driven by what would best serve Japanese interests.

We went to Japan to find out more. But they are a different society in so many different ways - culturally, geographically, historically. They operated press clubs in every ministry and journalists at the clubs work at the ministry every day in a largely symbiotic relationship. It would not be workable here.

How did he translate into practice his vision of the kind of journalism he wanted?

I can only answer for the time I was at The Straits Times, from 1963 to 2006.

Put simply, in the early years, he used the hard line, with what he called knuckledusters to press his point of view, whenever he was dissatisfied with the way we covered the challenges Singapore faced.

He believed that Singaporeans had deeply embedded Asian values they should not dilute without serious consequences. Hence, he went all out to protect the strength of the family unit.

So, coverage of lifestyles that could weaken the family was a constant bone of contention. It proved tricky for the newsroom, so exposed were we to Western cultural influences and fads.

We could not ignore trends like premarital sex, but to him, it was a serious threat to the family unit. He disapproved of promiscuous conduct and would react strongly whenever we ran a piece that appeared to promote such behaviour.

He did not press his strongly held beliefs just once, but kept it up all through his years in office.

He always reminded us how the world worked. He would send us articles he had read or shared with editors his experiences over the occasional lunch or dinner. They were mostly about developments elsewhere that had an impact on Singapore.

He was always looking over the horizon, studying what trends would affect us and what new strategies were needed to either take advantage of them or minimise their adverse effects.

His goal was to educate his people and one way was through the mass media. The purpose was simple: Unless Singaporeans understood the realities of having to live off a small resource-poor tropical island one degree north of the Equator in an ever-changing world, they would not understand, and hopefully support, his tough policies.

Over time, one reality he had to accept was this: As Singapore developed, he had to abandon his knuckleduster ways; they were ill-suited to a more educated electorate wanting more political space.

Closing down newspapers and detaining journalists, actions that traumatised us in our newsrooms in the early 1970s, were no longer options.

In his closing years as Prime Minister, he took a more sophisticated and persuasive approach, stepping up his contact with the media - editors and younger, promising reporters alike - to explain the issues in person, to convince and to cajole.

On our part, we continued to press the need for more space and diversity of opinions in our pages, or lose credibility. We had to respond to the changing needs of the public who wanted out-of-bounds, or OB, markers for national discourse moved.

It was always a fine balancing act, how to professionally serve our readers without appearing to undermine policy. Regular run-ins with the Government were thus par for the course.

Exceptional speakers of different styles
Jean Marshall, 88, is the widow of Mr David Marshall, Singapore's first elected Chief Minister from April 1955 to June 1956
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

BEFORE I knew either Mr Lee Kuan Yew or David Marshall, I remember being at a political meeting at the university in 1957 or 1958. I can't remember the circumstances, but both David and Mr Lee spoke on the future of Singapore.

After my years at the London School of Economics, I was not unfamiliar with political speeches. But it struck me that here were two exceptional speakers of great difference in their styles.

Mr Lee was a master of silence and the pause. He could pause and everybody would be absolutely on edge as to what he was going to say next. David had a different, sometimes more oratorical, style. He could inspire people and take them out of themselves to be something bigger than themselves.

Both of them were of course lawyers of some eminence, and I think they both respected each other as lawyers. But David had a very different personality from Mr Lee and it was at times difficult for them to appreciate each other because they really looked at life in very different ways.

David's emotional reactions were a very important component of his personality. Mr Lee appeared to have ironed out or not used emotional reactions, or possibly covered them up.

David believed that every human being has value, and that the individual has a value that can't be ironed out because every individual is worthy of respect and is important.

Of course this is difficult when it comes to working out public policy. But it did permeate his views about Singapore's post-colonial status, the need for independence, and the need for public participation in the political process.

It also permeated his professional life and the way he fought in court - not necessarily for high fees either - but for people he thought would otherwise be denied justice.

This outlook could place him at odds with the systematic planning and thinking that Mr Lee and his team had, from the very beginning, planned, worked on and maintained for years and years.

For instance, one policy to which David took great exception was the "stop at two" policy. He was very against that and said so. He felt it was taking away a very fundamental right for people to choose to have or not to have children.

Mrs Lee was very friendly. We talked about knitting patterns, education policies, children - all kinds of things. I was very relaxed with Mrs Lee and I think she was relaxed with me. I was not relaxed with Mr Lee. He could be very, very acerbic.

We would host them for dinner when David was ambassador to France from 1978 to 1993 but I was never relaxed. I think Mr Lee was probably just as awkward with David as David was with him. They were painfully correct with each other and Mr Lee then probably still regarded David as a bit of a maverick - though he did later express appreciation for David's work in France.

David had immense admiration for what the PAP team had achieved in Singapore.

Let nobody say that David held back in paying tribute to the achievements of Mr Lee and his government!

Mr Lee's way of doing things was different from David's, but David said, and not only to me, that he could never have achieved what the PAP had achieved through its organisation, cohesiveness and sheer abilities.

David saw the PAP as a juggernaut which did iron out legitimate opposition at various times in its history. I think it would be very difficult for David ever to forget that.

But he would be very capable of openly showing admiration for many of the ministers and PAP people who concern themselves with some of the issues that David was concerned with.

For instance, all the conversations that have been taking place about the people who feel left out, the people who are being left out. There is a real concern, for whatever reason, among the ministers and PAP of today about that group. That's a group that David certainly would have been concerned about.

Preoccupied with our survival
S R Nathan, 90, was Singapore's sixth president from 1999 to 2011. He was a social worker, trade union research official and diplomat before that
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

AFTER I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1965, one of my roles as a junior civil servant was to take notes at meetings.

It was a great privilege to observe at close quarters the way in which Mr Lee Kuan Yew, together with other pioneer leaders including Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr S. Rajaratnam, set about the task of establishing the newly independent city state of Singapore on a firm footing. Mr Lee displayed extraordinary energy, resilience and an unfailing commitment, despite the odds stacked against him.

Statehood meant confronting not only the ongoing communist threat, but also other problems such as language issues, racial tensions and riots. Even after Separation, the relationship with Malaysia continued to be tense and required careful handling, as did relations with Indonesia.

Singapore's economy was in a fragile state, and jobs were in short supply. Much of the population had to be rehoused in decent conditions. These were huge challenges at the time. The Prime Minister's mind never stopped working as he mulled over the issues, big and small, that confronted Singapore. If he travelled anywhere, he was always asking if something he saw could be applied in Singapore.

He would grill anyone he met for ideas that could be useful - many a time I saw foreign dignitaries and other experts emerge from a meeting with him in a state of exhaustion, after he had pumped them for ideas and information. He was totally preoccupied with our survival and prosperity.

He could be extraordinarily tough in negotiations when our national interests were at stake. He was a pragmatist at such times, a practitioner of realpolitik, even if that meant ignoring high-minded critics, both at home and overseas. His single-mindedness fired my enthusiasm.

During these years of nation-building, working for Mr Lee Kuan Yew was pressured, stressful, exciting and challenging. That experience was an education that no university or printed book could have given me.

As I re-read some of his speeches of the 1950s and 1960s, I was reminded that "socialism" was a recurrent theme. Was it a substantial element in his political philosophy? Was it a tactical sop to left-wing challengers? It is a term one rarely hears in speeches today, but I hope that concern for the common good remains, as we work to produce "socialist benefits through capitalist methods".

My first working contacts with Mr Lee Kuan Yew more than 50 years ago marked the beginning of a long and eventful journey. My formal credentials are modest. Yet, on many occasions he has been willing to trust me with important tasks in a number of fields, including the diplomatic service.

When I was well into my 70s, when I thought my career in public life was probably over, he asked me to put my name forward as a candidate for the presidency of this great land.

I was honoured to be given that opportunity.

I hope that my performance in the great variety of positions I have held over the years has measured up to the confidence Mr Lee Kuan Yew placed in me.

During my career in the public service, I never had any reason to change my high opinion of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the man who, more than any other individual, created modern Singapore.

As a boss, he was exacting and yet capable of great warmth.

My first assignment with him was in 1966 when I was assigned to take notes at his meeting with the Thai foreign minister at Sri Temasek.

I hurriedly put on a tie and coat, and went to the meeting room. When he saw me, he came close to me, adjusted my tie, and told me: "You must remember you are no longer in the labour movement."

That touched me immensely. I had no father, no elder brother. No one had ever done that for me, with such affection.

I am privileged to have worked with him.

He was a master teacher
Lim Siong Guan, 68, group president of GIC, was Mr Lee Kuan Yew's principal private secretary (1978-1981) and head of the Singapore Civil Service (1999 to 2005)
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

"MY MOST direct contact with Mr Lee Kuan Yew was as his first-ever principal private secretary.

He was a master teacher to me. He had me sit in on all his meetings other than the political ones, just to listen and learn from the exposure, even though the conversations often had nothing to do with any particular topic he wanted me to work on.

From Mr Lee, I learnt the principles of governance which undergirded the transformation of Singapore, from the early days of self-government in 1959 and subsequent independence in 1965 to a modern metropolis.

I learnt that building a nation is not the same as building a city. A city may be plans and concrete structures, but a nation is people with hopes and aspirations who somehow have to be persuaded to function together for a worthy future for all.

And I learnt from Mr Lee that a leader not only needs to have clarity of views and single-mindedness of purpose, but also a tremendous capacity for communication, where complex problems are brought down to what the man-in-the- street can identify with.

From him and Dr Goh Keng Swee, I learnt always to look out for talent and to do whatever I could to bring people up to their potential. And I learnt a relentless drive for excellence, to be the best we can be in everything we do.

For Singapore, unlike for so many other countries, survival and success are two sides of the same coin. Singapore must seek to have as many friends as possible but, as Mr Lee would often emphasise, never forget that no one owes us a living and we must ourselves defend Singapore: no one else is responsible for our security.

These are deep lessons on leadership and governance which have been infused in my soul. The drive to be exceptional in the way we think is not an option; it is destiny for Singapore."

A man of simple tastes, says tailor
Fong Loo Fern, 61, is managing director of family-run tailoring business CYC The Custom Shop, where Lee Kuan Yew had his shirts made.
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

"MR LEE ordered shirts from us, and we also had pyjamas made for him. His name was usually embroidered on them in full.

In the past, he was served by my father who was in charge of sales at the time in the 1960s.

I remember my dad was very impressed with him, saying that Lee Kuan Yew was his hero.

My father probably met him only a couple of times in the 1960s. After that, it was always Mrs Lee who took care of his needs, until she passed away. She came to the shop once or twice a year and would order shirts for him.

I first met him in 2010. It was a very ordinary meeting in his Istana office, just a spacious room rather simply furnished.

The meeting lasted maybe about 20 minutes, and sales manager Roland Tan took his measurements. The order was for a batik shirt. The fabric was a gift from someone.

We had a short conversation with him. He asked me about my family and my business. He was warm and approachable and put us at ease.

I noticed that the shirt he was wearing was kind of old already. He kept his shirts for a long time.

He had very simple tastes. His favourite colour was pink and patterns were very unlikely. He usually ordered work shirts, and didn't really choose the expensive materials.

He wasn't very concerned about what he wore, Mrs Lee always took care of all that."

New Year card every year for shoemaker
Lee Kean Siong, 62, of Lee Hoi Wah Shoes and his sister Christine Lee, 64, had been Mr Lee Kuan Yew's personal shoemakers since 1991, when their father Lee Hoi Wah died at age 74. It was Mrs Lee who first patronised the shop in 1987.
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

"HE WAS our customer for more than 20 years, since 1990. We made shoes for Mrs Lee too, so when her husband needed shoes, she recommended us to him.

It was our father who first made shoes for Mr Lee. The first mould he made of Mr Lee's feet is still in the store. After our father died in 1991, my sister and I continued to make shoes for him.

Mr Lee would make a pair once every two years. They were always a simple pair of formal shoes made of soft black leather. It was very important that they were comfortable.

Whenever he needed to have his shoes made or adjusted, he would contact me. I usually went to his house in Oxley Road. Sometimes, he would send a car to pick me up from my shop in Jalan Kukoh.

He visited my shop twice in 2011 when he was less busy. I apologised that my shop was very dirty. He said it was not a problem, he just wanted to come and see. We took a photo together on his second visit.

We're both Hakka and addressed each other as Mr Lee in Mandarin. When we talked, it was about shoes and what he needed. As long as you made good shoes for him, he'd be happy and smile. Then I'd be happy too. His bodyguard told me he praised my shoes to his foreign visitors.

The shoes usually cost $300 to make. Adjustment cost may be $30, depending on what needed to be done. We gave him a 5 per cent discount.

I made the shoes using moulds of his feet I already had. They changed only slightly. He always needed metatarsal pads put in. As he aged, his foot bone slowly protruded over the years.

He sent us quite a few things over the years. Every year since the 1990s, we received signed New Year cards with photographs of his family. Sometimes, he sent us fruit hampers.

The older he got, the less he wrote. He used to write my name on the cards but not in the more recent years. His signature also got shorter and it looked like his handwriting was getting weaker.

In 2004, he sent us a copy of his Mandarin book, Lee Kuan Yew: A Pictorial Biography.

Once, he sent us a beautiful crystal ornament that looked like it cost about $200 to $300. With it, he wrote a note that said: "With my appreciation and friendship. May your business and your shop Lee Hoi Wah prosper and flourish."

He never took 'no' for an answer
James Fu, 91, was Mr Lee's press secretary from 1972 to 1993
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

I FIRST met Mr Lee around 1954 or 1955, in his office in Malacca Street. I was a reporter with Sin Pao then and I was trying to get some news. He had formed the PAP and was the legal adviser to some of the Chinese school students.

He struck me as a serious politician with strong political convictions, but I was not sure if he was a determined politician.

I made up my mind after observing him for some time, during which I was doing political reporting with Nanyang Siang Pau.

I remember one occasion when he was campaigning during the 1963 General Election and he was pushed by opposition supporters into a drain. But he remained there and continued the argument with the opposition union leaders.

That made me think that he was quite a determined person. He was quite prepared to fight with the very fierce communist cadres and he stood his ground. I began to believe that not only was he a serious politician, but he also had the determination and dedication to achieve his political goal.

I was detained in Operation Cold Store for a few months later that year as I was one of the founders of the Singapore National Union of Journalists and we were inclined to left-wing views.

After my release from detention, I joined Radio and Television Singapore as a Chinese sub-editor. I was assigned to do reporting a few years later and gradually I was asked to report on Lee Kuan Yew.

I found it difficult because my English was still not up to standard and it was not easy covering his speeches. In 1972, I was asked to become Mr Lee's press secretary. I was reluctant because my English was still quite poor.

So I made a helluva effort to improve my English. For one or two years, I read English magazines and journals. I read all of Mr Lee's past speeches. I conversed in English whenever possible and studied quite hard.

He was a very good instructor too. He corrected my English and adjusted my writing structure. That helped me to avoid repeating the same mistakes and improved my written English.

His writing is quite super and his speeches were all written by him, you know. We only supplied whatever material he needed. He could take a few days to a week - or even more - on important speeches because he needed to consult others.

As a boss, he did not accept any reasons for you not being able to achieve what he had in mind.

And he didn't have a time limit - from six o'clock in the morning to midnight, there may be something from him.

During the wedding of one of my daughters, he called and said he wanted me to discuss something with the press. I said, well, actually I'm at this function. He said, no, no, you can still do it.

Fortunately I had invited a few senior journalists from all the newspapers, so I discussed the matter with them then and there.

That is the thing you were expected to do. You couldn't say, "I can't". He didn't believe in that.

He would think that everything could be done, you just had to think about how to do it. That was his attitude.

It was not easy to work for Mr Lee. You had to have some tolerance and endurance and you had to work very, very hard.

When I was his press secretary, I went to play golf in Jurong one May Day. Suddenly a police car came to the course and I had to cancel my game.

At the time there were no mobile phones, so they'd contacted my house and were told: "James went to play golf." So they went to the golf course to get me. After that, I said, no more golf.

Generally, his assignments were quite difficult.

For example, the merger of the two Chinese newspapers in 1983. That was his idea as he thought their circulation was going down and they might not survive.

That was a very difficult task for me as a former Chinese newspaper journalist, having to face the old directors of the Chinese newspapers. But that was his idea and I had to take time to implement it. I had to talk to the directors repeatedly and get their agreement. That was very difficult.

But Mr Lee has been quite kind to me and helped me a lot. Even after I retired, when I had a kidney operation, he wrote to me to express his concern.

An open man who embodied the word 'statesman'
Sidek Saniff was a PAP MP from 1976 to 2001, and a Minister of State and Senior Minister of State from 1991 to 2001.
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

"THERE is another side to Lee Kuan Yew. I had the opportunity of having lunch with him several times, sometimes one on one. You had to be on your toes constantly.

We would not only discuss my portfolio at the time, whether it was the Ministry of Social Affairs, Communication, Trade and Industry. We would also talk about important things, sensitive matters about the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians.

He was an open man and the embodiment of the word "statesman". I appreciated it very much because the discussions were no-holds-barred and you were free to raise sensitive matters like the Singapore Armed Forces, mosques and the azan (the Islamic call to prayer five times a day). I was told that we had to lower the volume of the azan.

Mr Lee suggested broadcasting it over the radio. Up to now, you can hear the azan on the radio five times a day.

Another discussion I learned from was about the donations to the Mosque Building Fund. At the time the donation was 50 cents. Then, Mr Lee agreed to increase the donation to $1. But after we got $1, we thought, let's make it $2, $3. But Mr Lee said: "Sidek, when you collect money from your citizens, make it the barest minimum. Those who want to give more, can give."

I gave Mr Lee a copy of my book, Paradigma Melayu Singapura, The Paradigm of Singapore Malays, which outlined my thoughts on the development of our Malay community over the years, in 2011.

He wrote back to say thank you and signed it himself. He found time to say thank you. That was a classic example of what leadership and statesmanship is about. So when people say he was very garang and fierce, yeah, he was. But you must know that against the background of communism, he had to deal with it and do what was necessary. But he had a soft side.

He inducted new blood, like-minded Singaporeans that put the well-being of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart, especially the second generation leadership headed by Mr Goh Chok Tong.

I remember one occasion when my family and I were on vacation in Malaysia. I got a note: "Sidek, please do not extend your vacation, PM would like to see you." So a few days later, I met Mr Lee and he told me: "I want you to follow Hon Sui Sen to China." We then sat down for a chat. He told me three things I can never forget.

Number one: "Can you tahan (tolerate)? The weather will be minus 18 deg C." I just told myself that if Hon Sui Sen who was above 60 at the time could do it, so could I - I was only 40 then. So I nodded.

Second question: "You have an overcoat?" I think he knew that people may not use overcoats frequently. I said: "I'll buy one."

He said: "No need, Don't waste money." He paused for a while and said: "Ahmad Mattar has a good overcoat. Borrow from him."

Third question: "Do you have the boots to cover your shoes?" This time, I tried to convince him that I could buy the boots myself because they would cost me at most $100.

But he said: "Oh, don't waste money, don't waste money."

He was very thrifty. That was how he handled our money, our kitty. That thrift must start from you. That was his clear message.

So in the end, I went to China with borrowed overcoat and borrowed shoes."

The three Lee Kuan Yews that I know: Tough prime minister; Perfectionist writer; Elder statesman
Chan Heng Chee, ambassador-at-large and chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, was ambassador to the United States from 1996 to 2012 and is a former political science lecturer
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

OVER the years, I came to know three Lee Kuan Yews: the tough prime minister, the perfectionist writer, and the elder statesman.

The first time I met Mr Lee was in May 1969. I was a young assistant lecturer newly returned from Cornell. The Prime Minister had come to speak to the staff of the University of Singapore.

A week earlier he had been deeply disturbed by the reactions of students who did not seem to understand the gravity and implications of the May 13 racial riots in Malaysia, judging by their questions and mood at his public lecture.

The PM was seized by the potential contagious impact on Singapore, then a fledgling nation. How could he make them understand the stakes and our vulnerabilities?

I stood up to say something in defence of the students. Mr Lee dismissed what I said. I came back with another response. Someone who was present mumbled: "She is very young."

Mr Lee was seen as a stern, no-nonsense, authoritarian figure. He was respected and feared. He brooked no opposition. He felt the weight of the immense tasks ahead of him. He probably disagreed with and did not like most, if not all, of my writings as a political scientist for the next two decades.

I saw him again after I returned from my posting as the Permanent Representative to the UN. I was invited to the Istana with Tommy Koh and Kishore Mahbubani to lunch with him.

It was 1993. We ate simply in a small room. There I met a different Lee Kuan Yew. He was putting forth his views on the world. The Cold War was over, the Soviet Union had collapsed, the US and Europe were triumphalist. He was thinking through his assessment of the new power configuration and what this meant for Singapore.

In hindsight, he was positioning Singapore in the new world order to ensure maximum prospects for its survival. We were his sounding board. He wanted us to challenge his conclusions.

I realised then that he was open to argument, but you had to have strong arguments. He was rigorous and robust in arguing back, like an advocate in court. After several lunches, I learnt gradually that his brusque and strong response was his debating style. If the argument was good, he would accept it.

This was demonstrated again in 1995 when he started writing his memoirs. He sent each draft chapter around to a few people to critique. I was one of them.

He would ask what we thought of what he had written, and how he could improve it. Was it tedious? Factual errors, statistics, misremembered dates, he took in at once. He accepted comments telling him it was tedious and he would lose the reader's interest.

There were occasions when one or a couple of us would disagree with his reading of an event or conclusion in his analysis of domestic or international developments. Again if the arguments were good he deleted or amended the paragraphs.

But it did not end there. He would revise his chapter and send it back to us to ask again: Is this better? Could he improve it further? Only when we had no further comments did he leave the draft.

I was posted to Washington by mid-1996. I received his faxed chapters in the morning. My comments were sent to him by noon. My astonished secretary would come to my office at 2.30pm to say he had sent back the revised version. It was 2.30am in Singapore.

This rhythm of exchange was repeated again and again. He was a perfectionist.

As ambassador in Washington, I accompanied him and Mrs Lee when he visited the US as Senior Minister and later Minister Mentor.

Whatever his title, Americans at the highest levels - presidents, secretaries of state, defence or treasury, elected representatives - made time for him. They wanted to hear his assessments of Asia and the world.

Ex-presidents and prime ministers of other countries do not normally get a White House meeting with American presidents. Mr Lee was the rare exception. The captains of industry and business, the chairmen and CEOs too were eager to get a share of his time and insights.

Mr Lee knew how to put a point across that landed the punch and left a strong impression with his American hosts. He never told anyone what they wanted to hear. He told them what he thought. In these meetings he infused American officials and industry with confidence and trust in Singapore and Singaporeans. He created our brand name, and investments flowed into our country.

Mr Lee was strong and energetic when he came to the US in the mid-1990s. His visit was the best thing for an ambassador, for his name opened doors. I noticed then that sometimes when asked a question, he would admit frankly that he did not know the answer. He was a mellower and more philosophical Lee Kuan Yew.

I came to know how close and devoted he was to Mrs Lee. He was touchingly solicitous of her and more so as she became frail after her first stroke. But her presence calmed him. Later, after her death, he himself turned frail.

In 2010 when he went to Washington to receive the Lincoln Medal, his last trip to the US as it turned out, he was widely acclaimed as "one of the great statesmen of Asia".

Everyone spoke of how he built a remarkable success of Singapore out of so little. The admiration and respect for him and for Singapore were genuine and universal. They saw him as the last of the era of great post-war leaders.

It is hard to sum up Lee Kuan Yew. He was truly a patriot. He worked indefatigably for Singapore. He had the interest of his country at heart.

My wish is that younger Singaporeans should read about him, know him and understand his role in the making of our nation.

People's Association staff recall high expectations
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

AS A young Lieutenant-Colonel, Mr Timothy James de Souza was given the honour of reading out a roll call of 350 names at the National Day Awards ceremony in the late 1970s.

Anxious to pronounce them correctly, he sought the help of a Mandarin tutor.

Despite this, the day after the ceremony, Mr de Souza, then aged 32, was summoned to the Istana and told: "The Prime Minister says you made nine mistakes."

Mr Lee's staff even took down the name and number of the young army officer's Mandarin tutor - and they then contacted her to check Mr de Souza had put in some proper preparation. They were satisfied that he had, and he was given another chance the following year to get the task right.

This time, he nailed it.

Mr de Souza, now 67 and a board member of the People's Association (PA), said yesterday: "I learnt that you have to really prepare. But you can only do your best, not more than that. He would give you another chance, and then once you've delivered the goods the way he wants it, he would give you the praise."

Mr de Souza and about 2,000 other PA employees visited a tribute site at the PA headquarters yesterday to pay their respects to Mr Lee, who died on Monday.

Mr Lee, 91, was the founding chairman of the PA, the statutory board created in 1960 to group together all key voluntary social organisations.

Its role was to promote closer ties among Singapore's ethnic groups, for which it received government resources.

Mr Lee's exacting nature was also remembered by one of PA's staff members in his Tanjong Pagar GRC.

Mr Long Khin Suan, 66, a former regional officer, recalled that "his demands were very high. You had to do your best".

There were three community events that Mr Lee never missed each year, despite his national duties and foreign travel.

They were the National Day dinner, Chinese New Year dinner and Tree-Planting Day.

"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sure nothing went wrong at these events," said Mr Long. "If there were problems, he would let you know. He didn't put blame, but we would feel very bad."

PA's current deputy chairman, Mr Lim Swee Say, said in a condolence letter issued on behalf of the grassroots movement that Mr Lee put in place "the building blocks of a socially connected Singapore".

Community centres and residents' committees, present in every Housing Board neighbourhood, were meant to break down the linguistic and cultural barriers that divided Singaporeans in the country's fledgling years, he said.

The PA also had the task of promoting the Government's agenda in the heartlands.

"In setting up the PA, Mr Lee laid the foundation for the Government to be closer to the people and the people closer to the Government," wrote Mr Lim.

"Mr Lee's vision of a united and harmonious multiracial nation is a work-in-progress that will never end. He will always be the inspiration to us all in the grassroots movement."

PA's chief executive director Ang Hak Seng said Singaporeans of all races and religions coming together to mourn Mr Lee was one sign of the success of his and PA's efforts to promote multi-racialism.

"We had a difficult beginning, and we cannot take racial harmony for granted," he noted. "Seeing different races and religions coming together to honour him, this in itself is racial harmony."

Without tripartism, we won't be here, says labour chief
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent and Samantha BohThe Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

THE labour movement, in a symbolic move, will hold a memorial service on Friday for Mr Lee Kuan Yew at its first permanent home, the Singapore Conference Hall.

The building, long associated with trade unionism in Singapore, was officially opened in 1965 by Mr Lee, who had played a major role in nurturing tripartism to avoid the confrontation style of labour relations in other countries.

This role was underlined yesterday when the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) held a ceremony at its current home in One Marina Boulevard, with about 500 union members and workers observing a one-minute silence for Singapore's first Prime Minister.

Labour chief Lim Swee Say later told reporters: "Mr Lee created tripartism. Without tripartism, without his vision for Singapore, we will not be here."

This model of unions, employers and the Government working together will also be highlighted at Friday's memorial service by one of the speakers, NTUC's first chairman Mahmud Awang.

The 87-year-old told The Straits Times he will talk about the early struggles of workers and how Mr Lee improved workers' lives by his non-confrontational approach towards trade unionism.

Other speakers will include former Singapore president S.R. Nathan, who had headed NTUC's Labour Research Unit, as well as younger and older workers.

About 800 past and present union leaders and People's Action Party (PAP) members, as well as representatives from employer groups and government officials, will be invited to the service.

It will allow the labour movement to pay its respects to Mr Lee, said Mr Lim yesterday.

Earlier, during the ceremony, he read aloud NTUC's condolence letter to unionists and workers.

"Mr Lee dedicated his whole life to the workers and people of Singapore. He has left an indelible mark on the lives of all of us."

He also said that while Mr Lee pushed for economic development, "he has always believed that the purpose of economic progress and development must be to serve the interest of the people and workers".

Among those who turned up to sign the condolence book was office attendant Wan Cheong, who works at Allen & Gledhill, a law firm with offices at One Marina Boulevard.

The 80-year-old has been living for more than 30 years in Bukit Merah, which is part of Tanjong Pagar GRC where Mr Lee was an MP.

"I attended his rallies, he spoke with so much passion," said Madam Wan. "I have never met him personally, but I wanted to thank him for making life better for Singaporeans, especially older ones like me."

NTUC has also published a 40-page newsletter compiling Mr Lee's quotes and photographs from the 1950s.

"(The newsletter) captures all that he had said, all that he has done for workers and with the unions," said Mr Lim. "We hope it will help the public and Singaporeans understand better how great a leader he was."

The free newsletter is available at selected NTUC FairPrice supermarkets.

At the NUS site of his old college, he still touches lives
Mr Lee remembered for deep interest in, and contributions to, education
By Pearl LeeThe Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

MEDICAL student Koh Shi Min, 23, has never met Mr Lee Kuan Yew personally, but it is one of his charitable initiatives that has allowed her to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.

The daughter of a taxi-driver father and a supermarket sales-promoter mother had applied for medical school at the National University of Singapore (NUS) after completing her diploma at Singapore Polytechnic in 2012.

"I was accepted into medical school, but the course fees were much higher than other courses and I was worried about it," she said.

But with her excellent grades, she managed to get the Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship to Encourage Upgrading Award, which is given to polytechnic students pursuing a full-time degree in universities here.

"Without the scholarship, I might have given up my dream of becoming a doctor and chosen other courses instead," Ms Koh said.

The scholarship was made possible as the late Mr Lee had donated sale proceeds from the autographed version of the second volume of his memoirs.

Ms Koh was one of the more than 1,000 students, staff and faculty members of NUS who went to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy yesterday afternoon to give their condolences to the family of Singapore's first Prime Minister.

Mr Lee died early Monday morning at the age of 91, after being hospitalised for more than a month for pneumonia.

The memorial ceremony at NUS' Bukit Timah campus started with a video screening of the man and his achievements.

At the event, NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan said it was fitting for the university to pay tribute to Mr Lee at the very place where he had studied and met his wife in the 1940s.

The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy now stands where Singapore's first tertiary education institution, Raffles College, used to be. Mr Lee and his wife were both former students of Raffles College. NUS had named its public policy school after Mr Lee in 2004 to honour his contributions to education in Singapore.

Prof Tan remembers a meeting he had with Mr Lee about 15 years ago. Then, Prof Tan was in charge of coordinating a presentation on biomedical sciences research at NUS to Mr Lee. "When the presentation started, Mr Lee did not ask very much about the science or the projects. Instead, he asked the professors and presenters, 'Where did you come from?', 'Where did you study?', 'Why are you doing your research here and not somewhere else?'"

The reason for Mr Lee doing this became clear to Prof Tan later on. "Biomedical sciences is an area that relies on having the right type of talent. And the question really is, would you be able to attract quality... individuals that you need," he said.

'The day Mr Lee freed me from jail'
By Lim Yan LiangThe Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

IT WAS six decades ago, but Mr Wan Daud Embong remembers clearly the day Mr Lee Kuan Yew won him his freedom from jail.

Then a member of the Singapore Factory and Shop Workers' Union, Mr Wan Daud had been detained by the Lim Yew Hock government many months earlier in 1956, accused of being a communist.

Mr Lee, who was the union's legal adviser, represented him in court and argued for him to be freed.

Mr Wan Daud said: "I was released without condition. By then I had been under detention for nine months. I was 17 years old."

Yesterday, the 77-year-old was among more than 8,000 people who made the trip to Tanjong Pagar Community Club (TPCC) to pay their respects to Mr Lee, who had represented Tanjong Pagar for 60 years, since 1955. TPCC is one of 18 community sites where the public can pay their respects.

Release from jail was a defining moment for Mr Wan Daud - it was then that he decided to follow Mr Lee, he said yesterday.

He later became the chairman of Malay affairs at the PAP Siglap branch committee and remains a party member.

He said: "I decided that I would follow Mr Lee, and as long as the (People's Action Party) keeps its promises, I will serve the PAP to the best that I can. And it has kept its promises: to educate the people, to house the people, and to unite them, not divided across racial lines."

Another person at the community club whose life was changed by Mr Lee was Mr Tan Hai Yan.

The 61-year-old was just 11 years old when he first heard Mr Lee shout "Merdeka" (Malay for independence) at a rally his parents took him to.

In a fitting tribute yesterday, Mr Tan pumped his fist and shouted "Merdeka" at the top of his lungs, in front of a portrait of Mr Lee.

He told The Straits Times in Mandarin: "Till today, seeing him shout the word on television makes me emotional."

Ex-national hurdler motivated by letter
By Jonathan Wong and May ChenThe Straits Times, 26 Mar 2015

FORMER national hurdler Osman Merican won three medals at the South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1965 but his most treasured memento is not the silverware but a piece of paper.

It is a typewritten, single-page letter signed by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, given to Singapore's medallists, praising their effort in lifting the country, particularly as it came just months after Singapore had separated from Malaysia.

He wrote: "I would like you to know that your performance brought into focus the qualities of discipline, stamina and talent which will enable the people of Singapore to overcome so many of their present difficulties and secure our future as a nation."

Those words from Mr Lee drove him to succeed both on the sporting front - he set the national record in the 110m hurdles (14.76sec) at the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok - and in his career. He secured a scholarship from the police and rose to become an acting assistant superintendent. Said the 75-year-old retiree yesterday: "Reading that letter motivated me to believe I could be more than what I felt I was capable of achieving."

Singapore National Olympic Council's secretary-general from 1972 to 1996, Mr S.S. Dhillon, noted that Mr Lee's interest in local sports never wavered. When Singapore won the Malaysia Cup in 1977, Mr Lee met the players at the Istana and "encouraged them and the coaches".

In 2008 and just hours after the Republic won the bid to host the inaugural Youth Olympic Games two years later, Mr Lee, who was then Minister Mentor, was already planning ahead.

Recalled Mr Ng Ser Miang, who was chairman of the organising committee: "I remember receiving a 2am e-mail from him. He gave me advice on how we should organise the Games and how we can project the nation to the world."

He had Malaysia's interest at heart too
Despite having a reputation for being intimidating and intellectually arrogant, Singapore's late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was a man who had the intertwined interests of both his country and Malaysia close at heart.
By Wong Chun Wai, The Star, Published The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2015

IT WAS August 2000 and Mr Lee Kuan Yew's first visit to Malaysia in 10 years. A series of small meetings had been arranged for him. I was chosen to meet the legendary founding father of Singapore with five other young newspaper editors.

We were well aware of his reputation for being intimidating and intellectually arrogant. We had all heard enough stories of him expecting members of the media to be well prepared for any interview he granted.

But he was pleasantly relaxed. It was his three aides who looked tense as they took notes.

"Young man, speak your mind. Tell me what you think. I am not a mind reader," he said, looking at me to start the discussions.

And the off-the-record conversation flowed from there.

The issues dividing Malaysia and Singapore included Malaysia's supply of water to Singapore, the relocation of Customs and Immigration facilities for Malaysian rail passengers in Singapore and the withdrawal of Malaysian funds from the island republic's pension scheme.

It was clear that he was very much in the picture even if he was no longer in the driving seat.

After all, Mr Lee remained the only Singapore leader who had personally known all our Malaysian prime ministers - from Tunku Abdul Rahman to Datuk Seri Najib Razak. He was clear on how his peers built up Malaysia, even as he had his own vision for Singapore and the historical linkages between the two neighbours.

But there were two issues that nagged him during our meeting - Anwar Ibrahim and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

He made no secret of his concern that young Malays were drawn to PAS. It disturbed him that the Islamist party was becoming a serious player in the political landscape, with only moderate Muslims and non-Muslims keeping it from becoming more influential.

The growing influence of PAS and the controversial issues with regard to race and religion may have been a Malaysian problem, but it was also a cause for concern to the predominantly Chinese population of Singapore.

The current push by PAS for the implementation of hudud laws would have disturbed him greatly. He would have been shocked to learn that Umno representatives in the Kelantan State Assembly actually voted for the hudud enactment.

"I would sleep more comfortably with Umno in power as it is a party I have known since the 1940s," he told a press conference at the end of his visit.

Anwar's jail sentence and whether he still had a future in politics dominated the discussions.

It was clear that the street demonstrations by Anwar and his supporters troubled him.

Mr Lee said he felt sorry for former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad for paying a "very heavy price" in the sacking of Anwar and the subsequent events.

One fellow journalist recalled that Mr Lee "almost fell out of his chair" when told that many Malaysians were unhappy with the outcome of the trial and the jail sentence. "He questioned why young Malaysians should be unhappy when the entire procedure of the law had been properly carried out," said this journalist.

The world has changed. Singapore has changed and so has Malaysia. The days of a strong government in most democracies, governing with a sizeable majority, were also over.

Both Prime Minister Najib Razak and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have to deal with a different generation of demanding citizens with little sense of their respective country's traumatic history.

Nor do they care about the early struggling years of nationhood. Instead, they expect their leaders to allow them greater democratic space, be more accountable and, at the same time, maintain a decent economic growth rate.

In the case of Malaysia, where the issues are more complex, material development alone may not be enough.

Malaysia and Singapore may be different entities, but we are mirror images of each other in many aspects, as Mr Lee repeatedly mentioned. And the man who looked into that mirror the most, has now passed on.

Wong Chun Wai is chief executive officer of Star Publications

Not close friends, but I still feel sad at his passing, says Mahathir
By Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2015

MALAYSIA'S combative former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad expressed sadness over the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew even as he admitted that they were not close friends.

"No matter how friendly or unfriendly we are, the passing away of a man you know well saddens you. I cannot say I was a close friend of Kuan Yew. But still I feel sad at his demise," Dr Mahathir wrote on his personal blog.

Dr Mahathir became his country's fourth prime minister in 1981. He and Mr Lee were counterparts until Mr Lee stepped down in 1990, while Dr Mahathir continued in office until 2003.

The Malaysian leader, who is still influential in his country, said Mr Lee's death marked the end of an era of strong leaders. "Now Kuan Yew is no more. His passage marks the end of the period when those who fought for independence led their countries and knew the value of independence. Asean lost strong leadership after President Suharto and Lee Kuan Yew."

He said he "crossed swords" many times with Mr Lee after Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963, but "there was no enmity".

"I first met Kuan Yew when I was a member of Parliament in 1964 after Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963. We crossed swords many times during the debates. But there was no enmity, only differences in our views of what was good for the newborn nation," Dr Mahathir said.

"He included me among the ultra Malays who were responsible for the racial riots in Singapore. Actually, I never went to Singapore to stir up trouble. Somebody else whom I would not name did."

Dr Mahathir paid a courtesy call on Mr Lee when he became prime minister in 1981 and both agreed their countries should advance their clocks by half an hour.

"I am afraid on most other issues, we could not agree."

Strong personalities both, they often did not see eye to eye on bilateral issues. The water agreement, for instance, led to numerous verbal clashes.

Dr Mahathir once slammed Mr Lee as a "Chinese emperor" and "big frog in a small pond" who harboured ambitions of becoming the first Chinese Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Former Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia, Mr K. Kesavapany, said Dr Mahathir's tribute was not surprising.

"Leaders have to maintain a public persona, but at the same time their private position would be different. They both in a sense admired each other, but the national position of both countries turned them into adversaries."

Mr Kesavapany described the relationship between the two leaders as like "iron is turned into steel when there is fire".

Despite the public hostility, Dr Mahathir seemed to suggest they did care for each other.

"When I had a heart attack in 1989 and required open heart surgery, he cared enough to ring up my wife to ask her to delay the operation as he had arranged for the best heart surgeon, a Singaporean living in Australia, to do the operation," he wrote.

"But by then, I had been given pre-med and was asleep prior to the operation the next day."

When Mr Lee was ill, Dr Mahathir said he asked to see him.

"He agreed, but the night before the visit, the Singapore High Commissioner received a message that he was very sick and could not see me."

What Mahathir wrote on his blog
The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2015

NO MATTER how friendly or unfriendly we are, the passing away of a man you know well saddens you.

I cannot say I was a close friend of Kuan Yew. But still, I feel sad at his demise.

Kuan Yew became well known at a young age. I was a student in Singapore when I read about his defence of labour unions.

I first met Kuan Yew when I was a member of Parliament in 1964 after Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963. We crossed swords many times during the debates. But there was no enmity, only differences in our views of what was good for the newborn nation. He included me among the ultra Malays who were responsible for the racial riots in Singapore. Actually, I never went to Singapore to stir up trouble. Somebody else whom I would not name did.

The Tunku attended the inaugural meeting of the PAP and was quite friendly with Kuan Yew. He believed Kuan Yew was a bastion against communism. But when the PAP contested in the Malaysian elections in 1964 with Malaysian Malaysia as its slogan, Tunku felt that the PAP's presence in Malaysia was going to be disruptive for the country.

When I became PM in 1981, I paid a courtesy call on Kuan Yew. It was a friendly call and he immediately agreed to my proposal that the Malaysia and Singapore times, which had always been the same, should be advanced by half an hour. I explained that it would be easier adjusting our time when travelling as we would fall within the time zones fixed for the whole world at one-hour intervals.

I am afraid on most other issues, we could not agree.

When I had a heart attack in 1989 and required open heart surgery, he cared enough to ring up my wife to ask her to delay the operation as he had arranged for the best heart surgeon, a Singaporean living in Australia, to do the operation. But by then, I had been given pre-med and was asleep prior to the operation the next day.

My wife thanked him but apologised. She promised to ring him up after the operation. She did the next evening.

When he was ill, I requested to see him. He agreed but the night before the visit, the Singapore High Commissioner received a message that he was very sick and could not see me.

Still, when he attended the Nihon Keizai Shimbun annual conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo, which I never failed to attend, I went up to him at dinner to ask how he was. We sat down together to chat and the Japanese photographers took our pictures, promising not to put them in the press. I wouldn't mind even if they did. But I suppose people will make all kinds of stories about it.

Now, Kuan Yew is no more. His passage marks the end of the period when those who fought for independence led their countries and knew the value of independence.

Asean lost strong leadership after President Suharto and Lee Kuan Yew.

Malaysians yearn for a Malay version of Mr Lee
By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Correspondent Kuala Lumpur and Asrul Hadi Abdullah SaniThe Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

Now that he's gone, Malaysians are having another look at Mr Lee Kuan Yew's legacy, and some say they want a similar version - in their own country.

Struggling with perceptions of rising corruption, and worried about rising sectarianism - such as Malay Muslim parties pushing for Islamic criminal law this month, despite protests from minorities - Malaysians are yearning for strong leadership that can take some of the tough decisions they think will solve the woes of the country.

"We need a Malay version," former law minister Zaid Ibrahim told The Sunday Times, referring to Mr Lee. "He made unpopular decisions but stuck to his principles of good governance and integrity."

The contrasting economic and social paths taken by the two neighbours since 1965 is often the subject of comparison in salons in Kuala Lumpur and around the country. There is also talk about Mr Lee's famous spats with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

In their nine overlapping years as prime ministers, they bickered over numerous issues such as the purchase of water from Malaysia, rekindling their fierce debates from when both were Malaysian MPs in 1964.

"We crossed swords many times during the debates. He included me among the ultra Malays who were responsible for the racial riots in Singapore.

"Actually, I never went to Singapore to stir up trouble," Dr Mahathir said in his blog after Mr Lee's passing. "Somebody else whom I would not name did,'' he added.

Yet, some believe that Mr Lee retained an attachment to Malaysia.

"People underestimate the attachment to Malaysia which Mr Lee had," according to Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, whose father Tun Hussein Onn was Malaysia's third prime minister and has known the Lee family for six decades.

"Not many people know his fondness and experience with Malaysia. He vividly remembered those experiences and had fond memories of villages. I hope he managed to rekindle them in his last few years and to do what he hoped to do, which is to relive his experiences."

To be sure, not all share these rosy memories of Mr Lee, who was often portrayed in Malaysia as a bogeyman whose continued presence in the country would have caused instability.

Still, even critics have a grudging respect for the man. During a week-long whirlwind tour in 2009, he saw Tun Abdullah Badawi - who had just resigned as prime minister two months before - party presidents, chief ministers and even Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, son of long-time nemesis Dr Mahathir, clamour for his time.

Dr Mahathir - Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister - noted in his blog that beyond matching time zones, the two rarely agreed. Except, perhaps, on their shared disgust for smoking. Dr Mahathir banned smoking at Cabinet meetings and gave his children hell if he caught them smoking.

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin related: "He (Lee) had this hatred for people who smoke, and he had this uncanny ability to detect people who had just had a cigarette. I was a smoker at one time, and I was really worried when I met him.

"I would get all my refresher for my mouth and perfume ready because he made it very clear when he smelled smoke in the air."

'White trash' warning spurred Australia to be better: Abbott
By Jonathan Pearlman, For The Straits Times, In Sydney, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2015

IN AUSTRALIA, Mr Lee Kuan Yew is widely remembered for a rebuke he famously delivered more than 30 years ago.

During a visit in 1980, Mr Lee warned that Australia needed to open its economy and try to reduce inflation and unemployment, or risk becoming the "poor white trash of Asia".

Today, Mr Lee's warning is widely regarded as typically stern, but both prescient and fair.

Delivering a condolence motion speech in the Australian Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott noted Mr Lee's warning and praised him for "spur(ring) this country at a critical time in our history to be better than we might have been".

Praising Mr Lee for helping to achieve "one of the most remarkable economic success stories in history", Mr Abbott said the "great nation-builder" had been a trailblazer for other countries such as South Korea and China.

"Lee Kuan Yew did not just lead his country; he made his country," he added.

"Singapore and Australia are natural partners, and I hope that over time, our relationship with Singapore will be as easy, as close and as familial as it has long been with New Zealand. And, if so, that too will be part of Lee Kuan Yew's legacy."

The death of a man many called a "political giant" has this week generated a vast amount of coverage in Australia, where he was both praised for his transformation of Singapore and condemned for his harsh approach to the political opposition. But almost every article and news broadcast referred to that 1980 comment - and it is now largely seen in Australia as sage advice.

Indeed, the comment appears to have had a lasting influence, perhaps more than Mr Lee could have foreseen.

When he returned to Australia in the 1990s and was reminded by reporters of his remarks, Mr Lee would acknowledge that Australia had avoided its potentially bleak fate. His remark, he often added, was not meant to "diminish" Australians, but to spur them on.

Most observers believe that this was in large part because Australia had changed course and headed in the direction that Mr Lee had been advocating, towards a more open economy and a more open approach to the nation's place in the region. In the process, Australia and Singapore have become increasingly close trading and diplomatic partners.

This influence over Australia's development was noted this week by Mr Bob Hawke, who was prime minister from 1983 to 1991 and steered the country through a period of liberal economic reforms.

Saying Mr Lee's words were "right", Mr Hawke described his old friend and golfing buddy as an outspoken leader who had a "great influence on this country and on my own approach to my task here as prime minister".

"His harsh but fair comment helped galvanise my determination to undertake the reforms that would save us from that fate and set us on a better path," he wrote in The Australian Financial Review on Monday.

"I doubt that I ever enjoyed more intellectually stimulating conversations with a fellow leader... A great bloke and, by any standards, a great man."

Mr Hawke's successors continued to regard Mr Lee as a source of wisdom on the region and its leaders.

As Australia began to prosper, bilateral ties blossomed and Singapore became one of its biggest foreign investors. Singaporean students have long flocked to Australian universities, while Australia's major banks, mining companies and engineering firms all have offices in Singapore.

According to Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Singapore is now the country's largest trade and investment partner in Asean and its fifth-largest trading partner overall. Fittingly, in 2003, Australia signed a free trade agreement with Singapore - its first such open trading deal in 20 years.

Little surprise then that Mr Lee received warm praise this week from Australian leaders, including Prime Minister Abbott.

"Here in Australia and beyond, leaders sought and learnt from his wise counsel… At every stage, Australia and Singapore have stood shoulder to shoulder. We continue to do so today, as we salute one of the significant leaders of our time."

Analysts said the roots of Mr Lee's early reservations about Australia could be traced back to the mutual distrust between Canberra and the ascending local leadership in pre-independence Singapore. Australian intelligence officials reportedly feared that Mr Lee would support the communists in the region and wanted Singapore to be part of Malaysia.

Dr Alison Broinowski, a researcher at the Australian National University College of Asia and the Pacific, said Mr Lee received "condescension from Australian leaders" during his early years as leader. As Singapore's economy boomed, Dr Broinowski said, Mr Lee "relished" the opportunity to point out to Australia that it was falling behind.

In Australia, most analysts this week gave high praise to Mr Lee's nation-building legacy but criticised his stifling of the political opposition and of press freedoms.

"Lee Kuan Yew built Singapore into a fully developed economy, but he left it a half-developed democracy," columnist Peter Hartcher wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday.

Said Dr Broinowski: "There have been some shudders at the way opposition leaders have been treated and at some of its social policies, but there has been no doubt about Singapore's success."

Forgiving bitter past for interests of the present
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

"ONE lesson that Lee Kuan Yew left us has been widely overlooked, and it has particular relevance for the rise of China. When it came to the sins of the past, he put reason ahead of emotion. A consummate pragmatist, Lee did not allow the many wrongs of history to rankle and fester, which allowed his country to benefit immensely...

"Just as Lee forgave British colonial arrogance, so did he forgive Japanese World War II military brutality. Unlike China and Korea, Singapore nurtures no sense of grievance towards its former occupiers, despite the hardship and exceptional cruelty of the wartime Japanese presence.

"Arbitrary face-slapping and public urination were the least of it. The Japanese chose Chinese Singaporeans, three-quarters of the population, for the worst treatment due to their suspected loyalties to China. The occupiers singled out those who had soft hands and wore glasses - marks of the leadership class - for execution. Many thousands died.

"Yet Singaporeans after the war, under Lee's governance, set aside these bitter memories of the past for the better interests of the present. Recognising and admiring the extraordinary rise of modern Japan and its rapid recovery from war and defeat, in his scramble to create jobs for Singaporeans, Lee turned to the Japanese for advice on shipbuilding and electronics, successfully luring Japanese investment to help Singapore create a job-rich manufacturing economy.

"Americans eventually joined in and now have invested twice as much in tiny Singapore as in all of China."

- MR JOHN CURTIS PERRY, who teaches maritime history at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, writing in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. He is finishing a book about the implausibility of Singapore's success.

His influence extended far beyond Singapore
By Steve Forbes, Published The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

LEE Kuan Yew was one of the great statesmen of the post-WWII era. He made Singapore an economic powerhouse, creating an environment in which human ingenuity can thrive. He didn't tolerate corruption. He kept a tight grip on spending and pushed down taxes. He knew the folly of weak money; the Singapore dollar looks like the Rock of Gibraltar compared with most currencies - including the US dollar, most of the time.

Lee simultaneously demonstrated that sound finance can coexist with soundly thought-out social programmes. He pursued a vigorous housing programme that enabled people who didn't earn high incomes to buy their homes; his was a model for how subsidies need not lead to the housing-related disasters that have plagued the United States. Singapore's healthcare system has provided comprehensive coverage to its people without the rationing, high costs and dicey care that characterise so many others. Singapore's pension system avoided the pay-as-you- go trap that's hurtling those in other countries towards insolvency.

Under Lee's guidance, Singapore developed a real-life playbook for how an impoverished country can flourish. When Lee became Prime Minister in 1959, Singapore's per capita income was little more than US$400. Today it is over US$56,000.

Critics will tell you that Lee was no Jeffersonian democrat, and he wasn't. But he allowed elections, even if he didn't give the opposition a lot of breathing room (though if he had, he would have won handily). More important, under his leadership Singapore developed a thriving middle class, along with the civic institutions and habits that are crucial to a sustainable democracy. Too many times we've seen that merely holding an election does not a lasting democracy make. Singapore's political system is evolving in a way that bodes well for long-term stability.

Early in his political career, Lee shed his socialist sympathies and became a hardheaded pragmatist. In the 1950s and 1960s, Lee demonstrated superb political skill in maintaining Singapore's independence in the face of real hostility from two immensely larger neighbours, Indonesia and Malaysia.

But Lee's influence extended far beyond his small country. One wishes he could have been the leader of a country like Indonesia or China. (He would have conducted US foreign policy better than almost all of our Secretaries of State.) He supported US efforts in trying to save South Vietnam from communist takeover by the North. Although the US lost that war, Lee argued that our long effort gave the rest of Asia the time needed to develop the strength to resist communist takeovers. He strongly supported a robust US role in the region as a counter to the old Soviet Union and China.

To listen to Lee talk about the world situation was an enlightening delight. During one of our most memorable visits, he recounted the story of his meeting with Deng Xiaoping soon after Deng had won the reins of power and was mulling over how to go about rebuilding China in the aftermath of Mao's horrific Cultural Revolution. Deng's trip to Singapore in 1978 was his first and only trip there. He was stunned by what he saw in Singapore: a booming area populated by Chinese that was independent and politically stable. "How did you do it?" Deng asked Lee. Deng threw aside his itinerary and spent hour after hour in intense conversation with Lee.

When Deng returned to China, he began putting Lee's precepts to work, creating special Singapore-like economic development zones along China's coast. Thus was China's historic and rapid modernisation set in motion.

One of our journalistic coups occurred in 2001, when Lee Kuan Yew kindly accepted our offer to become a Forbes columnist. It's so unfortunate that the civilised world has lost such a wise voice at this troubled time.

Steve Forbes is chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media

His purpose? To secure the future of Singapore
This is an excerpt from a speech delivered at the Singapore Press Holdings memorial for Mr Lee Kuan Yew yesterday
By Han Fook Kwang, Editor At LargeThe Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

IT IS somewhat ironic that when I was serving the Government as a civil servant, I hardly saw him but, outside of it, as a journalist, I had the privilege to do so on many occasions.

In fact I met him in my first year in The Straits Times in 1989. This was at a lunch at the Istana Annexe in a small dining room... There would usually be two or three journalists invited for these lunches.

I have often wondered why he took the trouble to meet young journalists. Obviously he wanted to influence us, to make us understand his point of view, and he was willing to invest the time to do this. But I also think he wanted to understand our business, the media business, and he did so through these interactions.

Of all the ministers, he invested the most time on journalists, even though you might think that, of all the ministers, he would have many more important issues to deal with. It shows how he operated. If a thing was important to him, it was worth the time to invest in it, to understand it well so he could deal with it.

Even though he did most of the talking, these lunches were occasions for us to ask him any question, on the big geopolitical issues of the day or on the latest policy announcement in Singapore.

For a young journalist like me, it was like winning one of those million-dollar auctions to have lunch with (investment guru) Warren Buffett.

Later on, my interaction with him was mainly over several books we did together. It started with Lee Kuan Yew: The Man And His Ideas in 1995 - the first book in which he was involved.

To do this book, I had to read all of his speeches spanning, at that time, almost 50 years. Those were the days before the Internet became what it is today and, at the click of a mouse, you can pretty much find almost all his speeches. At that time, I read them in hard copy form - more than 2,000 speeches - over many days. The book sold very well, close to 100,000 copies, which was unheard of then for a local book.

But the book also did one other thing that might not be so well known. Before the book, he told me he did not believe in writing memoirs. He said only Western leaders did memoirs, to embellish their reputation and legacy - Chinese leaders, for example, never wrote memoirs.

I think the success of The Man And His Ideas changed his mind, and a year later, he decided to write his two-volume memoirs. After that, we could not stop him.

There was the bilingual book, My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore's Bilingual Journey; there were also Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going; and One Man's View Of The World.

And there possibly would have been some more if his health had not taken a turn for the worse.

In fact, soon after the launch of One Man's View Of The World in 2013, he asked for a further edition of the book to be done. We agreed to add two chapters to it.

Several additional interviews were done last year and the drafts are now with his special assistant.

What is my lasting impression of him from doing these books? There are several. First, we all know how meticulous he was and how much attention to detail he gave to those issues he considered important. In the case of his books, it meant writing and rewriting the drafts many, many times.

His secretary had to number each draft to keep track of the changes and it was not unusual to see draft number 20 of the same page being circulated. He would send these drafts to many people for comments and suggestions.

And he was very open to making changes. We often think of Mr Lee as that strong-willed person impervious to other views. Of course on many issues, he was. But in the writing of his books, he was very open to suggestions.

My second impression is over how intense he was as a person, and how in his every waking moment, he was consumed with the lifelong project which is Singapore.

He had no time for any other business. This was most evident when we were doing the book Hard Truths, where we interviewed him for more than 30 hours. Several of these sessions were to discuss some of his most controversial positions on politics, democracy, race and religion and the vulnerability of Singapore. Not unexpectedly he was combative, and we found ourselves at the receiving end of many of his robust rebuttals.

Now, four years later when I look back at these sessions, it is not his combativeness or the actual arguments I remember. It is the intensity of the man, the complete focus on wanting to secure Singapore's future as much as he could possibly do.

Even at an age when many others would be happy to go quietly into the sunset and enjoy their retirement, he was still at it, trying to persuade younger Singaporeans to his point of view. He was 86 when we interviewed him for the book Hard Truths in 2010. He was 88 when we worked with him for the next book, One Man's View Of The World.

By that time, he was already quite frail and weakening by the day. On some days, he hiccuped non-stop during the interview. He was having gastric problems. Halfway through several interviews, he had to stop to take his medicine. On other days, his voice was weak, his stamina waning. Yet he persisted.

Why was he still so concerned about Singapore to want to spend so many hours with journalists probing and questioning him?

Let me quote one answer he gave: "My purpose is to secure Singapore's future, and anything that consolidates or increases the stability and security for Singapore, I am in favour of. I've finished my job. I don't need any more achievements. I mean it's as simple as that. What is it I can do? Consolidate from my experience what I think would help it continue in a safe condition. Can it be forever? No, I cannot say that. I mean you look at all the city-states..."

That was an 86-year-old man still egging Singapore on to do better.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew has finally retired. He does not need to worry about Singapore any more. He has done all he possibly could to put Singapore in a position to better secure its future.

Now, it is our turn to worry whether his worry will come true.

A shared Singapore moment
By Wong Wei Kong, Executive Editor And News Editor, The Business Times, 26 Mar 2015

I HADN'T thought I would be moved as much, but I am.

As a student of history, I have always viewed great men with a certain wariness, conscious that how history would come to judge such men could be very different from the time when they were alive, or at their passing. History can be fickle - as fickle as the shifting mood of each generation. But I would dare venture that Mr Lee Kuan Yew's greatness in history is assured - if not to the world at large, then certainly to Singapore and Singaporeans.

I belong to what I call the "straddle" generation. I grew up in the years Mr Lee was Prime Minister; in my young adulthood, I witnessed the transition of leadership to the second generation.

My family went through the Lee Kuan Yew transformation. My father was Straits Chinese, and my mother, an immigrant from China. One grandfather drove a cab, the other had a farm. Still, my parents received an English education and became teachers. I am old enough to remember moving from a wooden house in rural Bukit Timah to a brand-new HDB flat. In school, I struggled with learning Chinese under Mr Lee's bilingual policy, and protested when I had to spell my name in hanyu pinyin. I was interested enough in politics as a schoolboy to go listen to Mr Lee's fiery election speeches in Fullerton Square.

I served national service - the bedrock of his defence policy - dreading the experience while it lasted, but cherishing it at its close. In the reserves, when family and work commitments beckoned, the thought of seeking a deferment arose before each annual in-camp exercise; yet, almost every time, I put on my greens and went - just as he would have expected me to do.

As a journalist, the last major news event in which I covered Mr Lee was the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis of 2003. The younger ministers were handling the crisis, but Mr Lee, then Senior Minister, called a press conference to make this point: Singapore was threatened, so he had to speak. He had fought many battles, but Sars could prove a deadlier foe than any Singapore had faced. Every Singaporean had a part in the fight, and one careless slip could cost everyone dearly. The Government would not hesitate to take tough action against anyone breaking quarantine laws and endangering others, "so let's get a grip on ourselves", he said.

It was vintage Lee Kuan Yew.

The youth of the 1980s and early 1990s chafed at the restrictions on civil liberties, real and perceived, imposed by the Singapore system. Years later, we all saw things with a clearer eye. Like pre-sent-day critics, history will judge Mr Lee on the changes he had wrought, but they must do so in the context of what he had achieved for Singapore. And what he had achieved is well documented: an economic miracle, a nation forged from nothing - accomplished in apparent defiance of history.

The tributes that have poured in from around the world from global leaders and those in the Asia-Pacific are extraordinary. Defying Singapore's small size - just a little red dot, as some would remind us - Mr Lee stamped Singapore in the global consciousness.

Singapore has no right to be here, but we are, and I am reminded of that each time I travel with my red passport. In his defiance of the odds history threw at Singapore, Mr Lee made being Singaporean mean so much.

So I stood, with thousands of other Singaporeans, along the street outside the Istana to watch the flag-draped coffin bearing his body make its way to Parliament House, where he would lie in state. Where I was, the crowd clapped and cheered, then maintained an impeccable silence; in other places, they called out his name. Each generation has its own defining memories, but in the soft morning sunshine on Wednesday, all Singaporeans shared a moment in history. They will again do so on Sunday, when the nation comes together to bid Mr Lee a final farewell.

And history will be judging, too, how Singapore and Singaporeans move forth from here.

Visionary behind Garden City even decided what trees to plant
By Samantha BohThe Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

MR LEE Kuan Yew did not just have a broad vision of transforming Singapore into a Garden City, but played a key role when it came to the detailed planning.

It was he, for instance, who ensured that flyovers had gaps to let light and rain through, allowing plants to grow underneath.

Singapore's first Prime Minister also gave the instruction to plant raintrees and Angsana trees as their huge crowns provide plenty of shade.

From the dozen occasions when he met Mr Lee over his eight years in office from 1974 to 1982, Mr Wong Yew Kwan, Singapore's first Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, said it was evident that Mr Lee knew precisely what he wanted.

And saying "no" was never an option.

"He said, 'If from the start, you say it cannot be done, I'll chop off your head. But if you try it three times and fail, I'll still give you a gold medal,'" recalled Mr Wong, who is now 82 years old.

"He wanted things to be tried out."

Mr Lee believed that turning Singapore into a Garden City would give it a competitive advantage over other cities.

He wrote in his 2000 memoir, From Third World To First: "After independence, I searched for some dramatic way to distinguish ourselves from other Third World countries. I settled for a clean and green Singapore.

"Greening is the most cost-effective project I have launched."

Mr Wong, who spoke to The Straits Times on Wednesday at the Botany Centre in the Botanic Gardens, said: "He had a vision that if you wanted people to come and stay in Singapore, you must have a place nice for them to live in."

A forceful role model, even for dissenters
By Nirmala Ganapathy, India Bureau Chief, In New DelhiThe Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

AT A South Asian diaspora convention in Singapore in 2011, when Mr Lee Kuan Yew was asked if he could replicate Singapore's success in India, he laughed out loud, but his answer was clear: No.

"No single person can change India," he responded. "If you compare with China, 90 per cent speak one language. It is a much easier country to lead than India. India consists of many different nation groups and dialects."

He had many observations about India, some flattering and several not so flattering.

He called India a "nation of unfulfilled greatness" with its potential "lain fallow, under-used".

India's complex caste system was an "enemy of meritocracy", he said. The potential of the country was bogged down by a bureaucracy "wrapped in a colonial mindset".

In one interview, he said India was "not a real country" but "32 separate nations".

Yet, even for Indians who did not agree with many of his views on India, he represented how a strong leader could make a difference to a nation.

Said Dr Sanjaya Baru, who served as media adviser to former Indian premier Manmohan Singh and later taught at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy: "I think most middle-class Indians who visited Singapore would envy Singapore's success and would wish India had a leader like him.

"The fact is that, in the past, Lee Kuan Yew did have a high regard for India and did reach out to India. I think, towards the end, he had become quite critical.

"I think all of us admired the kind of energy that he sustained in leadership and created something unique. But you can't do it anywhere else except Singapore. In that sense, it is unique."

Strategic affairs analyst C. Uday Bhaskar, who as a young naval officer visited Singapore often in the 1970s, said he was struck by the transformation he saw in the nation under Mr Lee.

"He will be remembered as the great architect of Singapore. It is very impressive what he has done, though he has been accused of ruling with an iron fist. But he was able to infuse an identity of Singapore in spite of a very complex ethnic diversity," said Mr Bhaskar.

He feels that the way Mr Lee navigated through complex relationships with neighbours such as Malaysia and other countries in Asean also holds a lesson for India.

India operates in a difficult neighbourhood, and it has gone to war thrice with Pakistan and once with China.

"There is a certain amount of pragmatism and how to maximise fairly difficult geopolitical and geostrategic circumstances," said Mr Bhaskar.

Mr Lee knew India quite well. He first visited the country in 1959 for a conference of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). As Prime Minister of independent Singapore, he visited six times. He returned in 2005 to deliver the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture in New Delhi and for later visits.

As early as in 1966, he suggested during a visit that India should take a leadership role in South-east Asia. He even proposed that India and Japan should start a regional economic cooperation accord. He knew many Indian leaders personally and most of its prime ministers, from India's first Premier Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh.

In later years, Mr Lee also became somewhat of a mentor to various Indian leaders.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Nehru's great-grandson, spent a week in Singapore at Mr Lee's invitation and had meetings with him.

Dr Baru revealed that, at one meeting between Mr Lee and Dr Singh, the latter sought advice on how to handle the Chinese leadership.

Many saw Mr Lee's contribution in recognising early that India could play a role in South-east Asia and as a counterweight to China.

Some even liked his plain speaking about India, seeing that as a desire for India to do better.

"Lee Kuan Yew was candid about India in his own characteristic way, and hoped we would rise to our real potential. Some of his views regarding our nationhood might be disagreed with but, overall, his heart was in India, and he genuinely wanted us to achieve our real potential," said Mr Tarun Vijay, an MP of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

India's current Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, who will attend Mr Lee's funeral on Sunday, is known to be an admirer of Mr Lee and Singapore's model of development.

In the past year, Mr Modi has focused on areas such as cleanliness, promoting manufacturing and reducing red tape - issues that Mr Lee had highlighted over the years.

First foreign leader to see terracotta warriors
Accolades pour in recognising Mr Lee's role in China reforms
By Kor Kian Beng, China Bureau Chief, In Beijing and Esther Teo, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

ON HIS first trip to China in May 1976, former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew learnt about the discovery of terracotta warriors two years earlier in northern Shaanxi province.

Keen to see them, he made a last-minute request to then Vice-Premier Li Xiannian, who facilitated a detour to Shaanxi's provincial capital Xi'an, making Mr Lee the first foreign leader to view one of the world's major wonders.

Former Chinese journalists who reported on his Xi'an visit described the Singapore leader as an affable person who did not mind trodding on the muddy paths at the discovery site, then still not open to the public.

Amid the tributes in China after Mr Lee's death on Monday, this little-known piece of trivia emerged in Chinese media to show the country's regard for Singapore's founding Prime Minister and the favourable impressions he left on its people from early on.

In a rare move, four out of the seven members in the apex Politburo Standing Committee sent condolences over Mr Lee's death, which was reported prominently on the front pages of major dailies, including the mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army.

President Xi Jinping lamented Mr Lee's death "as a loss to the international community", while Premier Li Keqiang said that the Singapore statesman's "contributions towards China's reform and opening up will be recorded in history". Both accolades are hardly used for foreign leaders, say analysts.

The plethora of accolades heaped on Mr Lee by officials and the media included descriptions such as "China's old friend", "world-class strategist" and "China's pure friend".

China's respect for Mr Lee, stemming from a sense of pride in him as an ethnic Chinese who managed to steady Singapore through a bleak situation after its 1965 split from Malaysia, has grown since then due to various reasons, say analysts.

One was Mr Lee's prescient view on the country's re-emergence as a force - a stand he took publicly from as early as 1967 in a televised interview by NBC News in the United States.

Asked if China, which was then in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, could become a strongly unified country again, Mr Lee said: "I would say they are determined, as a people, to unify and build a modern, powerful, wealthy Chinese nation and I say good luck to them."

China is also thankful for the pivotal role that Mr Lee played in its reform and opening-up policy since the late 1970s.

When Deng Xiaoping saw the governance model of a dominant one-party rule and free economy in a Chinese-majority society during a visit to Singapore in 1978, it reinforced the late Chinese strongman's resolve to open up China.

In 1992, Deng's favourable impressions of Singapore led him to hail the Republic as a model of development for China to emulate, during his famous "southern tour" of the coastal provinces to push economic reforms further.

His call led to Chinese officials being dispatched to Singapore to study its public policies, and later prompted Mr Lee and Deng to agree on the first government-to-government project in the Suzhou Industrial Park in 1994 to help China with its industrial upgrading efforts.

Mr Eagle Lyu, 31, a civil servant from coastal Zhejiang province who signed the condolence book for Mr Lee at the Singapore Embassy in Beijing, said he was grateful that Mr Lee was generous in sharing Singapore's expertise with China.

"Looking at places like Suzhou, you can tell that they are governed better the minute you are there. I think that can be attributed to how many of the Chinese officials there have also been trained in Singapore," he said.

Another who signed the condolence book was Mr Chen Kailin, 34, a PhD student at Tsinghua University studying Singapore's political party system.

"While having elections in China might not be possible, China can learn from Singapore in areas such as corruption control and its practical, non-ideological approach to problems," he said.

Sino-Asean expert Deng Shichao of Jinan University in Guangzhou said China is also grateful that Mr Lee, who made 33 visits in 37 years from 1976, acted as its bridge with the outside world, especially with the Western countries.

Mr Lee was the only Singapore leader to have met five generations of Chinese leaders from Mao Zedong to Mr Xi.

But there are also detractors here against Mr Lee, as seen in some commentaries and editorials this week, particularly over his often-repeated stand that the United States should maintain or increase its influence in the region as a balance against a rising China.

"I believe most respect Mr Lee for being open and consistent with his views, and that whatever he did, he did for Singapore's interests," Sino-Singapore expert Lyu Yuanli of Shenzhen University said.

Singapore Business Federation president Teo Siong Seng said most of his Chinese associates appreciated Mr Lee's frankness, knowing that he had also spoken up for them when needed.

"They knew that he would speak for China at the crucial time but also speak up when it was not doing things right. They regarded him as a 'true friend'."

Indonesians mourn loss of a close friend
Mr Lee understood political culture of its big neighbour, they say
By Zubaidah Nazeer, Indonesia Bureau Chief And Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2015

TO MANY Indonesians, Mr Lee Kuan Yew's sincere interest in understanding them as well as his humility stand out from the long list of attributes they admire about him.

"Mr Lee understood how to build relations with big neighbours like Indonesia," said Mr Agus Widjojo, former Indonesia Armed Forces chief of territorial affairs.

"He understood the culture of Indonesia's political system and this is very important because the political situation often depends on the personalities of the leaders," he added, crediting the close ties between Indonesia and Singapore to the foundation that Mr Lee had laid as a result of his close friendship with Indonesia's second president Suharto.

That friendship was so deep that when Mr Lee flew to Jakarta in 2008 to see the ailing Suharto before he died, the Singapore leader was allowed to scrub in and sit by his bedside, a privilege usually accorded only to close members of the family.

Ms Siti Hediati Hariyadi "Titiek" Suharto, who with her two sisters had just returned from Singapore after paying their respects, remembered how Mr Lee had encouraged her father, who resigned from office in 1998.

"When Pak Harto stepped down, a lot of politicians were allergic to meeting him. Pak Lee made an effort to come to Jakarta to meet Pak Harto. He didn't care what other people said. Pak Harto was just recovering from a stroke. They hugged each other when they met," she told The Straits Times.

"Pak Lee said, 'You shouldn't be sad and disappointed because you have done a great job. There are still millions and millions of other people who love you and think about you. They will always remember you'," she added.

Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu recalled that Mr Lee put him at ease. Then an army chief, he had asked Mr Lee if he could speak Bahasa Indonesia to him.

"My English isn't good, not fluent. May I speak Bahasa with you?

"Lee Kuan Yew said 'go ahead. I have no problem with that'," Mr Ryamizard told reporters after he signed the condolence book at the Singapore Embassy on Wednesday.

Mr Lee then told him: "Just so you know, Pak Ryamizard, I speak Bahasa with only two people - Pak Harto and now you."

The Defence Minister described Mr Lee as a humble leader who, he said, reminded him of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

"(Mr Lee) talked humbly, down to earth. He always thought about his people. If Lee Kuan Yew didn't exist, Singapore would not exist. Even China managed to advance itself because they learnt from Singapore," he said.

Indonesia watchers pointed out that Mr Lee made a significant move to improve ties - one that also showed his magnanimity - in 1973 during a state visit.

He visited the graves of two Indonesian marines who were hanged in Singapore for the bombing of MacDonald House in 1965. That attack, which killed three people and injured 33, took place during the Konfrontasi from 1963 to 1966.

To signal that Singapore was moving on in its relationship with its largest neighbour, Mr Lee scattered flowers over the graves.

Said Mr Hayono Isman, who was youth and sports minister in the Suharto government: "He was a leader who respected his own country's laws, as well as respected Indonesia, a neighbour which mourned the two soldiers sentenced to death in Singapore."

He added: "That shows extraordinary character."

Leaders such as Vice-President Jusuf Kalla recalled how Mr Lee's candidness caught them off-guard. "As we emerged from our two-hour discussion, he told the media it is a pity Pak Kalla is only a V-P because he understands the problems in Indonesia and what needs to be done," Mr Kalla told The Straits Times. He was also Vice-President from 2004 to 2009 when Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was President.

"That caused a political storm but I understand that it was just his spontaneous comment," Mr Kalla said with a chuckle.

Mr Lee's straight-talking nature gave him credibility, said analysts. "People appreciated his thoughts on Indonesia and on its relations with Singapore," Mr Jusuf Wanandi, vice-chairman of the board of trustees at Jakarta's Centre for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in a tribute in The Jakarta Post.

"Sometimes he could comment on what Indonesians could not even say during the Suharto years about themselves," he added, describing Mr Lee as a "sage" and "giant" for advancing the region.

Many Indonesians who had studied in Singapore, including its political elite, felt they had directly benefited from Mr Lee.

In her tribute, "RIP the Founding Father of Singapore", published in Kompas daily on Thursday, former trade minister and respected economist Mari Elka Pangestu said: "I experienced first- hand the education system in Singapore that was filled with discipline, toughness and fierce competition that taught me not only to be good academically, but also in sports and community service, among other activities."

Dr Pangestu studied at St Margaret's Secondary School in the 1970s and won an award for being the best all-rounder.

And so, since Mr Lee's death on Monday at age 91, many Indonesian leaders, dignitaries and analysts have been writing commentaries or posting on social media their reflections of the Singapore leader, remembering him as a close friend of Indonesia.

"Despite the ups and downs in bilateral relations, Indonesia has always remained comfortable with the leadership of Mr Lee Kuan Yew... in a large part, a result of Mr Lee's personality," said Mr Agus. "I am not sure there will be another leader like him."

Mr Lee Kuan Yew was ‘a good friend of Indonesia’: Prabowo Subianto
By Tan Weizhen, TODAY, 28 Mar 2015

Former Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto today (March 28) paid respects to former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew at Parliament House.

“I admire Mr Lee Kuan Yew and I think he was a great leader of South-east Asia,” said Mr Prabowo, who was also paying respects on behalf of his Gerindra Party.

“He (Mr Lee) was a good friend of Indonesia. He was a tough leader and I think that we have a lot to learn from his leadership style and from his thinking,” said Mr Prabowo, adding that Mr Lee “has already achieved a great legacy”.

“His greatest legacy I think is creating a system that has succeeded in creating a meritocracy and in grooming two or three generations of good leaders. ... Singapore will thrive with what he has achieved. He will be remembered long after he’s gone.”

Mr Lee died in the early morning at Singapore General Hospital on Monday (March 23). The lying in state of Mr Lee ends today, and the State Funeral Procession for Mr Lee will be held tomorrow.

Singapore will transcend Mr Lee and his era
By Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Published The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2015

IN DEATH, as in life, Lee Kuan Yew elicits reactions and responses near and far that few global leaders can match.

After the initial period of universal accolades, the written annals on Mr Lee's legacy will likely become more mixed. He did many good things for Singapore but not without flaws and shortcomings. Yet from Singapore's immediate neighbourhood, Mr Lee's legacy is instructive on three fronts.

First, he was the most successful leader in contemporary South- east Asia in the task of nation- building. Singapore had to go it alone after being expelled from what was then a federation of Malay states during the time of Konfrontasi when Indonesia and Malaysia were at odds by the force of arms. In the end, it was the desperate fight for survival that became the bedrock of Singapore's success story under Mr Lee.

At home, through the People's Action Party's (PAP's) monopolisation of the electoral space, Mr Lee was given repeated mandates to rule and run the place. His administration produced jobs and found accommodation for people, turning an isolated island into a thriving magnet for business and finance. Above all, Mr Lee saw to it that Singapore spawned an education system that can produce a top-rate workforce as the gem of its national assets. Many stories will be told about Mr Lee's legacy, some good and some less so, but what he did with Singapore's education and research institutions cannot speak enough to its continuing success.

Mr Lee did it through tough political instincts and tactics. He was notorious for suing key political opponents and detractors, sometimes pushing them into financial ruin. His authoritarian style masked Singapore's electoral democracy. The PAP won all elections from the social contract it created out of delivering growth and economic development in return for an invasive, interventionist and centralised government. And Mr Lee made no qualms about what he did and why he had to do it. His fortitude and foresight were necessary for Singapore to rise. After all, during the nation-building phase in the 1960s-1980s, just about all governments in South-east Asia and many others in the then-Third World were authoritarian in one way or another.

Whether Mr Lee's 25 years of electoral authoritarianism were worth all of the restrictions on freedom and civil liberties will be debated for years on end. Certainly, his style of governing cannot be replicated today, 25 years after he stepped down from the premiership to assume a patriarchal backseat role. It was a good fit for Singapore at a time when alternatives could have been much worse in view of the dictatorship, poverty and under-development all around the island state.

Mr Lee's latent effects are self-evident. Singapore is now a highly competent and technocratic society, bent on making ever more money collectively and individually, and based on a meritocracy that is enabled by great schools and universities. After Mr Lee, the country's strong institutions will see it through but Singapore will become an increasingly normal country with more fractious politics, social divides, growth constraints, and a decreasing centralised, authoritarian control.

The second lesson from Mr Lee's time is his regional leadership. With his power base secured at home, he leveraged it to lead the neighbourhood. It was a boon for Asean to include Singapore as a founding member. Tiny, with no real natural resources, the Singapore bureaucracy helped steer and provide thrust and capacity for Asean's organisation-building in its formative years.

Mr Lee even went further and stood up to the West in the early 1990s during the so-called "Asian values" debate. In the face of exuberant growth trajectories in East Asia, certain Western countries criticised the lack of democracy and human rights. South-east Asia's leading intellectuals at the time, who happened to be mostly Singaporean from Mr Lee's educational breeding grounds, went toe to toe against their Western counterparts. Mr Lee and his crew were not anti-Western but pragmatists. They stood up against the West when it suited them and cooperated with Western governments when they needed to. Singapore has always been ultimately omni-directional, projecting in all directions and degrees that serve its national interest.

But in the early 1990s, when Asean was coming into its own, Singaporeans who grew up under Mr Lee's watch gave confidence to many South-east Asians that they could be as smart, eloquent and erudite as those in the West.

Third, Mr Lee turned his regional leadership into global statesmanship that rendered South-east Asia as a region to be reckoned with. After Indochina was lost to communism in the 1970s, the West turned away from a divided South-east Asia. It was in the 1980s and 1990s, when ideological barriers gave way to a full-bodied, 10-member Asean, that international attention turned to the region again due to its soaring growth and burgeoning regional organisation. Mr Lee was instrumental in leading South-east Asia to be registered on the map and minds of the world. As a leader of a small island, he was greeted and treated in awe on a par with those from major powers.

The lesson for nearby countries like Thailand is not what Mr Lee did then but how Singapore works now with its multi-ethnic base and well-embedded electoral system that allows the opposition to gain ground and democratic processes to run their course.

Overall, the country Mr Lee left behind will be more and more like the country he did not want it to be during his prime. Yet Singapore as a more grown-up nation with normal problems and less as a nanny state where all things are smooth but antiseptic may well be Mr Lee's most admirable legacy. As Singapore will transcend him and his era, Mr Lee may well be a happy victim of his exceptional success.

The writer teaches International Political Economy and directs the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. An earlier version of this article appeared in The Bangkok Post.

An exacting boss who drove his people to do their very best
The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2015

AFTER Mr Lee retired as Prime Minister, he would invite officers to the Istana for lunch.

Those lunches were brain-picking sessions. During one session, he asked me: "How is architecture? How is urban development?"

So I said: "Everything is fine, except we have an archaic ruling that requires all HDB bathrooms and kitchens to have windows on external walls for natural light and ventilation."

But our flats were so small that the important external walls that should belong to living rooms were being taken up by kitchen bathrooms.

In hotels and other countries without this rule, artificial lighting worked very well.

He said: "I'll have a word with (then Minister for National Development S.) Dhanabalan."

I said: "Mr Lee, Dhanabalan is doing an excellent job, I don't want him to feel I am squealing on him behind him." Mr Lee smiled. He didn't reply.

But within a week of that day, a circular went out by Building Control Division (of the former Public Works Department) that the rule had changed. We can now have bathrooms with artificial lighting.

That was the kind of man he was. He listened to you, noted your view and acted immediately.

He drove into those of us who worked under him the spirit of perfection, to do the best we can.

Before you meet him, you go sleepless, because of what you hear of his exacting standards for civil servants.

Many of us would try to read up on everything to anticipate what he was likely to ask. And quite often, we missed it!

I used to write him reports that were three to four pages long. His personal assistant was very kind and one day told me: "PM seldom reads more than 1.5 pages of a report. Try and keep it within that."

Because of that, I would rewrite and rewrite my reports until I found the concise way to interpret a longer sentence and still keep the exact meaning. I stopped trying to beat about the bush.

I'm now better at writing reports than before I had the chance to work with Mr Lee.

- The Housing Board's first architect-planner, founder of the Urban Redevelopment Authority and former Sentosa Development Corporation chairman, Mr Alan Choe, 84, recounting what it was like working for Mr Lee Kuan Yew

He played role in bringing in unleaded petrol

MR LEE Kuan Yew played a role in the introduction of unleaded fuel into Singapore and the simplification of the type approval process for motor vehicles sold here.

At the 1990 Singapore Motor Show, he thought that a model on display would be a cost-effective future replacement for his official car, and made inquiries.

The distributor replied that the model concerned could not be registered in Singapore because it ran only on unleaded fuel, unavailable here then, and was merely being displayed to enhance the manufacturer's image.

Mr Lee demanded a briefing on the pros and cons of leaded versus unleaded petrol, and decided that the introduction of the latter would bring health and environmental benefits.

The Ministry of the Environment quickly formed a committee to implement the introduction of unleaded petrol. It met frequently with representatives from the motor industry, of which I was a part.

While such projects took three to six years in other countries, Singapore managed to get everything in place in a year.

Mr Lee ordered the car. It had to undergo type approval. The motor industry felt that Singapore's processes at that time were inflexible and outdated.

For example, there was still a requirement then for wheels to be fully locked when the brakes were applied.

This created controversy and delays in approval when cars with anti-lock braking systems were submitted for approval.

Mr Lee monitored the progress of the car through the type approval process.

We heard anecdotal accounts that Land Transport Authority staff had to justify not only why they were following procedures just because those were in the rulebooks, but they also had to explain what those procedures were supposed to achieve.

The car was duly approved and delivered. Shortly afterwards, the type approval process was totally revised and simplified.

Until the most recent revisions last year, the type approval process for a vehicle for sale in Singapore was a straightforward one that even private importers could use to their advantage.

Lee Chiu San
ST Forum, 27 Mar 2015

He planted the trees so we may enjoy the shade

MY MOTHER is 100, and blessed with good health and a very clear mind.

She follows local and world news closely, and was saddened by the death of her greatest idol, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Elections were an exciting time for her, as she rooted for Mr Lee and his party.

Whenever she hears criticism of Mr Lee and the PAP government, she will always say Singaporeans should be grateful for the kind of government Mr Lee established, as she has lived under various types of government from the time she was born in 1914 in China: the turbulent end of the Qing dynasty, nationalist and communist regimes, the Japanese Occupation, British rule and as part of Malaysia. When MP Vivian Balakrishnan met my mother during his campaign in the last election, my mother wrote a note and asked Dr Balakrishnan to give it to Mr Lee.

In her self-taught Chinese writing (she was never schooled), she had written the Chinese proverb, qian ren zhong shu, hou ren cheng liang, which means, "the forefathers plant the trees, the future generations enjoy the coolness of the shade".

Not long after, she received a thank-you note signed personally by Mr Lee himself. Her admiration for him doubled.

After watching the tributes to him these past few days, my mother said: "He planted the trees so we may enjoy the shade."

David Sim Cheok Leng
ST Forum, 28 Mar 2015

Foresight brought water projects to fruition
WWII, Malaysia’s threat drove late leader to build up Singapore’s resource resilience
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY 28 Mar 2015

Decked in his usual white short-sleeved shirt, tailored cotton pants and track shoes, Mr Lee Kuan Yew would take in the sights and sounds of the Marina Barrage surroundings every Sunday evening, getting off his buggy occasionally to stare quietly at the skyscraper-dotted Singapore skyline or the deep blue waters stretching beyond the Marina Channel.

“He (Mr Lee) was just like (someone) looking at a baby grow — a baby born out of a vision that he had made 20 years ago and (he) saw that come to fruition,” recalled Mr Yap Kheng Guan, former director in charge of the Marina Barrage project, of Mr Lee’s Sunday visits that occurred between 2008 and 2009.

In 1987, after the big clean-up of the then polluted Singapore River, Mr Lee famously challenged the Government to build a dam across the Marina Channel to create a freshwater lake.

Today, that “baby” is not only a lake, but also part of a scheme to alleviate flooding in low-lying areas and has become a popular recreational spot for Singaporeans.

Showing the foresight that has led many to call Mr Lee the “architect of Singapore’s water story”, the then Prime Minister proclaimed in 1987 that technology would be ready in two decades for a dam to be built across the Marina Channel.

Mr Lee said: “In 20 years, it is possible that there could be breakthroughs in technology, both anti-pollution and filtration. Then, we can dam up or put a barrage at the mouth of the marina, the neck that joins the sea, and we will have a huge freshwater lake.”

Mr Yap, 63, recalled that, at that time, while engineers like him knew such breakthroughs were possible, they would never have thought of setting a time frame.

“For him (Mr Lee) to pin down a time frame, it really requires courage and vision,” said Mr Yap, who retired from national water agency PUB in 2011.

“He showed us engineers the way — that we need to look beyond the conventional ... to be bold in our designs, aspirations ... He taught me that difficulties might appear to be insurmountable but, if we apply our hearts and minds to it, we can overcome.”

True to Mr Lee’s prediction, advancements in membrane technology enabled feats such as reverse osmosis to be achieved in the 1990s, paving the way for the launch of Singapore’s high-grade reclaimed water, NEWater, in 2003.

In 2005, Mr Lee, who was by then Minister Mentor, kicked off construction work for the S$226 million Marina Barrage. Three years later, the barrage — Singapore’s 15th reservoir — was opened in the heart of the city.

Mr Yap told TODAY the two-decade-long period to realise Mr Lee’s Marina Barrage vision was a “reasonable” timeline, with plenty of behind-the-scenes action taking place during that time. These included keeping track of technological advancements and running laboratory tests and pilot projects, with Mr Lee receiving updates on the various water projects coming through, Mr Yap added.

He attributed the efforts to realise Mr Lee’s Marina Barrage vision over 20 years to the late leader’s emphasis on the need to build up Singapore’s water resilience.

Mr Lee had never forgotten the threat made by former Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, relayed to Mr Lee by the British, that “if Singapore doesn’t do what I want, I’ll switch off the water supply”.

Also, because of his experience in World War II, during which Japanese soldiers bombed pipes carrying water from Johor in 1942, Mr Lee was determined from the start to ensure Singapore would be self-sufficient in its water supply.

The late leader has also been credited for being the inspiration behind Singapore’s “four big national taps”: Water from local catchment, supply from Malaysia, desalinated seawater as well as reclaimed/recycled water from local waste water (NEWater).

His preoccupation with water resilience continued even in 2008, long after Singapore had made the transition from Third World to First.

At a dialogue session with an international audience, Mr Lee said: “This (the water issue) dominated every other policy. Every other policy had to bend at the knees for water survival.”

Foreign experts were also impressed by Mr Lee’s deep knowledge of water technology and policies, said Mr Yap, who related how the late leader had compared Marina Barrage’s set-up to the Dutch dam systems.

While Marina Barrage has often been cited as a fine example of integrating engineering with nature, its popularity as a favourite weekend spot for many families must have brought much cheer to Mr Lee.

Mr Yap recalled that during Mr Lee’s half-hour Sunday visits to the area in the late 2000s, there was a scene that would often bring a smile to the former Prime Minister’s face.

“There was a seafood restaurant ... At around 6 o’clock, we had almost wrapped up the visit and saw many families having steamboat. You could see his proud smile upon seeing people coming to enjoy themselves,” said Mr Yap, who drove the buggy for Mr Lee during his weekly visits.

“What really pleased him was seeing happy faces, families and kids having a good time and flying kites,” he added.

Mr Lee’s visit to the area was an almost regular Sunday affair, especially during the initial years of the Marina Barrage’s opening in 2008. He would arrive at between 4pm and 5pm, when the relentless heat had given way to cooler winds.

The former Prime Minister had a deep sense of curiosity, Mr Yap said. Like an inquisitive child, Mr Lee would ask questions, ranging from the type of grass used at the Marina Barrage’s rooftop to the different shades of blue between the waters in the open sea, compared with those in the catchment area.

But he would also offer nuggets of wisdom on the most unexpected topic. “He was sharing his knowledge about how grass grew, how you should maintain it, the type of soil to use ... it was almost as if this was a man from NParks (National Parks Board),” quipped Mr Yap. “This is a man who knew all the big things around the world. Yet, he (also) knew the minute details of how grass should be grown.”

For Mr Yap, the memory of hosting Mr Lee for the first time is also deeply etched in his mind. Feeling nervous, Mr Yap had driven the buggy at what he thought was an acceptable speed and did not notice Mr Lee’s security officers half-running to catch up with them. “Mr Lee told me, ‘Slow down, slow down, they have to run after you,’” he said.

In his later years, as his health declined and his steps grew slower, Mr Lee’s visits to Marina Barrage became less frequent. But the questions never stopped when he visited. “We were looking at the sea ... He asked me why there are so many ships out there,” said Mr Yap. “I said, ‘Sir, I don’t know.’ And he laughed.”

Mr Lee paid heed to input from people on the ground
By Kor Kian Beng China Bureau Chief In Beijing, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2015

MR LEE Kuan Yew's willingness to listen to people on the ground helped break a political impasse with China and made a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Asian giant a reality, said Singapore's longest-serving envoy to China.

Mr Chin Siat Yoon, who served from 1998 to 2012, recalled how Beijing "decided to punish us by suspending all interactions, political and even commercial" over then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's visit to Taiwan in July 2004, a month before he became PM. China considers Taiwan a renegade province, to be reunited by force if needed.

Even after the fracas blew over, as signalled by a meeting between PM Lee and then President Hu Jintao in Santiago in November 2004, Chinese officials still did not move on some important matters, Mr Chin told The Straits Times, citing a mutual agreement to start negotiations on the proposed Singapore-China FTA.

"Mr Lee Kuan Yew asked me how to get it revived. I took pains to explain how the Chinese system worked and suggested a way to navigate the labyrinthine bureaucracy. He listened attentively, asked some questions, agreed," said Mr Chin, currently Singapore's ambassador to Japan.

"Shortly thereafter, the initiative somehow burst into life. In due course, both sides entered into an FTA. I was lucky!"

The FTA was signed in 2008.

Mr Chin said Mr Lee always "gave due emphasis to input from people on the ground".

"Yes, he did not suffer fools. But if one could advance an idea or an argument which he found useful, he never hesitated to take them in," he added.

Mr Chin, who accompanied Mr Lee on his China trips and joined his meetings with its leaders, said they would seek advice on various issues from Mr Lee, who first visited in 1976 and would make 33 trips over a 37-year period.

"Mr Lee never minced his words. Occasionally, they would query the positions taken by Singapore which were not to China's liking. On this, Mr Lee would stand absolutely firm," added Mr Chin, citing Singapore's "One China" policy and position on cross-strait issues. Under this policy, Singapore recognises Taiwan as one of the territories of sovereign China, among other things, though it also maintains economic and military links with Taipei.

Still, Chinese officials told Mr Chin they took serious heed of Mr Lee's remarks, which were noted and sent to members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex decision-making body.

"For Singapore's voice to be taken seriously by China is indeed 'punching above our weight'," said Mr Chin, who turns 66 this year. "Mr Lee had positioned Singapore as an important spot on the radar screens of major powers, including China."

A true son of the soil, says Tan Cheng Bock
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was "a true son of the soil" who was driven by his love for Singapore, former MP and presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock wrote in a Facebook post yesterday, after paying his last respects to Mr Lee at Tanjong Pagar Community Club.

In his post, Dr Tan recalled his encounters with Mr Lee, who had interviewed him to be a candidate for the 1980 General Election.

"I was only a village doctor with a rebellious streak," he said. "But one striking thing he said was, 'We are not looking for yes men.'"

In his Facebook post, he also disclosed how Mr Lee "wasn't happy" that people misunderstood his intentions in creating the post of an elected president, who would have custodial powers over the nation's reserves and key appointments, in 1991.

It was one of the issues that Mr Lee raised during his lunch meetings with MPs, said Dr Tan, who narrowly lost during his own bid to become president in 2011.

"At that time, many thought that he was doing this for himself. He was visibly disturbed (and said) 'I am doing this for Singapore, I don't want to be president,'" Dr Tan said.

Another controversial issue raised by Mr Lee during the lunch meetings was the hubbub over property bought by the Lee family at a discounted price in 1995.

"The first question he shot at me was, 'Cheng Bock, am I a crook?' I told him if he was a crook, I would not have served him in the first place. Mr Lee embodied the virtues of integrity and incorruptibility, without which Singapore could never have succeeded."

Three vital lessons in leadership
By Jeremy Schwarz, Published The Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

They expected him to fail. But 50 years later, while we remember the man Harry Lee Kuan Yew, who transformed Singapore from a British colonial outpost into a prosperous, global city-state, we must not overlook some of his key lessons in leadership.

After separation from Malaysia, the future of Singapore looked bleak. Mr Lee inherited a toxic mix of racial unrest, an unemployment rate of 30 per cent, domestic instability and economic uncertainty. Singapore could have followed the path of some of its neighbours: increasing nationalist rhetoric, racial division, economic instability, communist insurgency and continued unrest. Mr Lee could have followed the path of Mr Sukarno, Mr Ferdinand Marcos or even Mr Ngo Dinh Diem.

Mr Lee concluded otherwise.

He fundamentally understood that people are everything. Long before the era of corporate strategists, new-age gurus, or smooth-talking politicos, he saw that the development of the people of Singapore - its core natural resource - was the key to long-term economic growth, social development and national prosperity.

It helped that Singapore was located in one of the key global maritime choke points, but its long-term ability to seize such opportunities rested on the skills of its labour force and ambition of its nascent middle class. Mr Lee and his ministers carried it out by following three general principles.

See people, not racial groups

Mr Lee respected racial identity but would not be intimidated by it. He acknowledged race as a dimension of one's identity but sought to secure Singapore's national identity as a multiracial society. He combated racism by addressing access to education, employment and social integration as key planks in building a cohesive nation composed of multiple races, ethnicities and religions. The commitment to meritocracy and a commitment to addressing the underlying economic and social challenges remain as consistent parts of Singapore's approach towards maintaining a cohesive society.

Invest in people, not axioms

Mr Lee based his entire economic development plan on a simple question: Does it work? If something worked, it was continued or improved upon. If something failed, it was scrapped and a new idea was employed. As such, he invested in infrastructure and national institutions, ranging from building Changi International Airport and the world's largest container port to establishing the Biopolis and Fusionopolis parks, and the research hubs at the National University of Singapore.

In turn, Singapore maintained itself as a free port city while running one of the most highly successful publicly owned airlines in the world. Home ownership soared and led to the stability of Singapore's middle class through the sale of public housing to new families. Corruption was met head-on through a combination of tough penalties and highly competitive salaries for the civil service.

Government and corporate scholarships cemented a growing, well-educated middle class. Mr Lee was neither a neo-liberal nor a socialist; he was a pragmatist. He embraced ideas to the extent that such ideas yielded positive results.

Lead people from the front, don't follow them from behind

Mr Lee was fundamentally shaped by the brutality of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. For Mr Lee, politics was about ensuring the survival of his country - his home and family - in an uncertain world. Simply put: You adapt or become irrelevant.

He chose his battles wisely, but once chosen, he broke his opponents before they could break him. He ordered mass arrests to combat a nascent communist insurgency. He established universal military training for all males after independence. And he pursued tough and invasive policies in transforming the personal habits of his own people in order to transform Singapore into a "First World nation in a Third World region".

Even in his final years, he tackled controversial subjects such as family planning, immigration and population growth.

The final chapter on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's legacy will remain unwritten for some time. It is complex and controversial.

But whatever it may be, the fact remains that his leadership has significantly and substantially improved the lives of the people of Singapore and, along the way, inspired other national leaders to do the same for their own people. And that is a legacy worth remembering.

Jeremy Schwarz is an Ernest May Fellow in history and policy with the International Security Programme at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs. He was a visiting fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in 2008-2009. This article was originally published by The National Interest.

An astute observer who could make things happen
By Jeremy Au Yong, Us Bureau Chief, Washington, The Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

One of the abiding memories former US diplomat Jeffrey Bader has of Mr Lee Kuan Yew is a 1997 meeting in Singapore where the then Senior Minister captivated the Americans, including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

"I remember on the way out, she was dazzled," said Dr Bader. "She was dazzled by the strategic narrative, the adroitness and deftness of what she heard about China."

To top it off, Mr Lee had the answer to a question the US officials had been grappling with.

"At the time, nobody knew who the next premier of China was going to be. There was just a lot of rumours and a lot of speculation," said Dr Bader, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"But he just said flat out during the meeting that the next premier was going to be Mr Zhu Rongji, just said it, like a matter of fact."

Talk to any American leader or senior official who had met Mr Lee, and he or she will have similar anecdotes to tell.

Mr Lee is known in this part of the world as an unparalleled observer of China, and every US president since Richard Nixon (1969-1974) has sought his counsel at some point during their tenure.

Little surprise then that after a while, many of the tributes for Mr Lee emerging from the US started to strike very similar notes.

President Barack Obama hailed Mr Lee for "his insights on Asia, geopolitics, and economics, which have shaped the thinking of many around the world".

Vice-President Joe Biden spoke about the "breadth and depth" of Mr Lee's understanding of the world; Secretary of State John Kerry said he was a "uniquely astute analyst and observer of Asia"; former president Bill Clinton brought up Mr Lee's "brilliant analysis and wise advice"; Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel described him as a "lucid voice of reason America always counted on".

Still, their tributes capture but a small fraction of Mr Lee's real American legacy.

After all, as astute as his analysis of Asia was, Mr Lee's intention was not to be simply wise counsel for the US or a voice of reason for the country to turn to.

Being a source of wisdom is of little value when one is no longer around to dispense it - and Mr Lee is not known as one for ephemeral pursuits. Rather, he seemed to parlay the trust he earned into a platform for Singapore and Asia. In gaining the ear of the US, he gave Singapore a voice much louder than it would otherwise have had and continually pushed the US to engage in the region.

Long before Mr Obama's so-called "pivot to Asia" - a policy Mr Lee is also given credit for - the Singaporean leader urged the US not to turn its back on the region despite its trauma in the Vietnam War.

Mr Ernie Bower, the Sumitro Chair for South-east Asia Studies at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says: "Mr Lee and Singapore helped deepen US engagement in Asean and get over the geopolitical hangover of the Vietnam War. The fact that relations will be strong and normal now, not as illuminated by the bright star of Mr Lee's towering genius, may be just what is needed for both countries.

"An enduring legacy of Lee Kuan Yew will always be having helped reattach the United States - strategically, economically and intellectually - to the vital centre of the world's most dynamic and important region in the 21st century... South-east Asia."

Mr Lee keenly understood that the fact the US was willing to listen to a country like Singapore was an artificial construct borne out of human effort, and one that would require human effort to maintain.

In October 1985, the Singapore Prime Minister opened his address to a joint session of the US Congress by saying: "It cannot be often that someone representing 21/2 million people from a small country in the Third World is offered the opportunity to address the representatives of 240 million people who form the world's most wealthy and most advanced nation."

Before failing health curtailed his travels, Mr Lee would visit the US frequently to meet presidents and lawmakers. On those visits, he was unlike any diplomat. For one thing, he had seemingly little patience for the niceties and small talk of diplomacy.

In a 2009 meeting with President Obama, he launched into a scathing critique of the US fiscal and trade deficits seconds after the two leaders sat down.

And as US statesman Henry Kissinger notes, Mr Lee did not go to Washington to lobby for assistance for Singapore.

"His theme was the indispensable US contribution to the defence and growth of a peaceful world. His interlocutors attended not to be petitioned but to learn from one of the truly profound global thinkers of our time," said Dr Kissinger.

Any discussion about Mr Lee's legacy in the US would not be complete, however, without considering his hardline policies.

Mention Singapore and the image that comes to mind for the ordinary American is the caning of US teenager Michael Fay for vandalism in Singapore, and the ban on chewing gum. The US media has also spent some of the days since Mr Lee's death going over the instances when political opponents or newspapers were sued.

Indeed, those in policy circles who interacted with Mr Lee primarily through the lens of governance and policy would mainly see a great statesman who built a country where one should not exist. Those who encountered Mr Lee primarily in the human rights sphere would invariably focus on the cost of that nation-building.

Dr Bader puts it this way: "I don't think Mr Lee would have been surprised by some of the reaction, nor would he have cared."

And perhaps former secretary of state Colin Powell best sums it up in his tribute to Mr Lee. For all of Mr Lee's vision and intellect, Mr Powell said, the defining feature that made him great was the fact that he was a do-er.

"Vision and determination are not as important as execution, making something happen... Some will say, maybe he was too tough, well maybe so, but the results show."

My father and our founding father
Over time, both distant, disapproving figures turned into real beings I could relate to
By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor, The Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

When I was growing up, God, my father and Lee Kuan Yew all merged into one.

I was the youngest child in a Teochew-speaking, working-class Chinese household. My parents were immigrants from China, who ran a hawker stall for much of my formative years.

My father was a stern patriarch who was not averse to using the cane. My mother was a traditional Chinese wife and self-sacrificing mother, with a twinkling sense of humour with those close to her. She tended to our household altar, placing platters of food there on religious or festive days. She prayed to the deity who I found out years later is supposed to be the Kitchen God, assigned by the Emperor of Heaven to report on a family's doings. The offerings were meant to placate the deity and sweeten his tongue when he delivered reports.

As for Lee Kuan Yew, he was just the man who founded the nation that I heard and read about. Like God, he was everywhere in the ether. Like God, he was all-powerful and all-knowing. Lee Kuan Yew didn't affect my family's life much in a direct way, although his policies formed the arc within which ordinary lives like ours were lived.

My parents were street hawkers who were fined repeatedly for peddling their wares. Unlike many hawkers grateful to be relocated, they resisted being put into a centre for years. When the frequency of fines grew too overwhelming, they gave up. By then, choice sites like Newton were taken up; they were sent to Timbuktu - a small hawker centre off Alexandra Road, where they struggled to make enough to raise three children.

Apart from the way big policies of the day intersected with our lives, mine was not a political family. The closest I came to Lee Kuan Yew was hearing my father tell the story of how he was standing close by and witnessed the (to him) historic moment when Mr Lee was pushed into a big monsoon drain at Towner Road, while touring Kallang constituency in 1963.

Lee Kuan Yew close up

I first watched Lee Kuan Yew close up in 1983, when I was 15. By then, my parents could afford a second-hand black-and-white TV set. Sitting in the living room, I watched his National Day Rally speech live.

I didn't know it then, but this was his famous speech on graduate mothers. It went on into the night, and I remember I was riveted, moving from the sofa to toilet reluctantly for pee breaks.

In junior college, we would discuss Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore politics incessantly. At 18, I won a Public Service Commission Overseas Merit Scholarship to study English literature at Cambridge University in England.

Like hundreds of exam-smart Singaporeans from poor families, who got government scholarships that opened doors to good careers, I am a beneficiary of the meritocratic scholarship system Mr Lee created.

In my case, though I was contracted to work in the civil service for eight years after my studies, I broke my bond. I approached Singapore Press Holdings, which agreed to hire me and buy out my bond. I remember walking to the Public Service Commission with the SPH cheque for $140,000 that bought my freedom from the civil service. I have remained grateful to SPH ever since. After 24 years, I still love my job as a journalist.

When I joined The Straits Times Political Desk in 1991, Lee Kuan Yew became less of a myth, and much more real.

Over the years, I would cover Mr Lee on many more occasions, including in Singapore, at Tanjong Pagar and in Parliament, and overseas, in China and Malaysia.

Videos of him in the 1970s show a gruff, thuggish figure with an aggressive chin thrust, given to raised arms, finger-pointing and trouser-hiking. By the time I met him, from the mid-1990s, he was already in his 70s and 80s, and had mellowed considerably.

Fiery rhetoric

But when required, his oratory was just as fiery as ever.

Two parliamentary speeches in the last 20 years stood out for me. One was in November 1994. After hours of debate on the proposal to peg ministers' pay to top private-sector professionals', including a suggestion to put the proposal to a referendum, Mr Lee rose and put an end to it, saying: "I am pitting my judgment after 40 years in politics, and I've been in this chamber since 1955, against all the arguments on the other side... against all the arguments the doubters can muster."

Enough said. Done deal.

In 1996, there were complaints about property purchases by Mr Lee and his son Hsien Loong, then the Deputy Prime Minister. Amid the unhappiness about ministers having an "inside track" to VIP priority bookings for condominiums, it took Mr Lee to call a spade a spade.

Businesses want to get the best customers to help sell and add value to their products, he said, adding: "Let us be realistic... I ask all of you to be honest, including Mr Chiam (See Tong). All ministers who carry weight, all MPs who are popular, you go to a hawker centre. If they gave the other customer one egg, they'll give you two. Count on it."

In words that entered the lexicon of Mr Lee's hard truths, he thundered in the House, telling MPs to be realistic that some people would be given better treatment by businesses than others: "Let's grow up!"

Over the years, I came to know of his reputation for imprisoning political opponents. I read critical biographies of him. I had even covered and written news articles on some of the defamation suits he brought against his critics.

But when I covered him at a press conference, or sat across a table from him in an interview, I would put aside those thoughts and focus on the issue at hand.

In any case, I usually had my colleagues around me. I wasn't a political opponent. I was a journalist, and I knew Mr Lee respected the role of journalists. Much as he might berate us or our editors when he disagreed with something we wrote, he knew our job was to ask honest, if difficult, and to him annoying, questions. And while the Singapore Government can be authoritarian, it respects the rule of law.

I once asked if he was satisfied with the level of political contest, or if he should have done more to create the conditions for an alternative in Singapore.

His answer: "We'll be quite happy if we get a small group of equal calibre contesting against us. I mean you look at the NMPs, they talk more sense, right? Would they fight an election? No. So? But they've got the brain power, they've got the knowledge, but they're not prepared to jump into the sea."

My counter: "That's because many people are intimidated by the PAP, the climate of fear, crackdown on dissent and so on."

Mr Lee: "No, no. Are you intimidated?"

Me: "Well, asking you this question, obviously I'm not. I just feel that there's a perception."

Mr Lee went on to add that if a person joined an opposition party, "he takes us on, we'll take him on. But you can't join the Workers' Party and we just let him lambast us away. We'll demolish him as hard as he tries to demolish us. That's part of the game, right? I mean you say that's intimidation?"

Growing fond

I don't remember when exactly I started to get fond of him. It was certainly after my conversion to Christianity, when my concept of God changed from a punitive deity chalking up wrongdoings, to one who loved and sacrificed for humanity.

It was also after my own stern father became an unlikely doting grandfather who chased after his crawling grandson, trying to feed him durian. God and my father were no longer distant, disapproving figures. They had become real beings I could relate to.

And so had Lee Kuan Yew.

A few incidents come to mind.

In March 2003, I wrote a long, personal account of my battle with breast cancer. I wanted to destigmatise it, and to encourage people going through terminal illness, and their caregivers, to talk about it, and not to impose on those with serious illness the additional burden of secrecy.

Mr Lee wrote to me a few days later, wishing me good luck and good health, and saying he looked forward to reading my articles.

He also shared about the time his son went through chemotherapy, 11 years earlier, and how one lived with the uncertainty, even in remission, of whether the cancer would return. "The searing experience tempered his character and made him more philosophical about his life. I think it has similarly tempered you."

I was touched by his good wishes for my health.

He also sent me a note in June 2010 to say he enjoyed reading my book Pioneers Once More, a history of the Singapore public service. He offered some vignettes of senior civil servants that he said I could include in future editions. Again, I was touched by his generous words, and that he bothered.

I began to see a lot more of Mr Lee from December 2008 to October 2009, when my colleagues and I conducted 16 interviews with him for Hard Truths. He was vigorous, engaging, sometimes a little testy, but never rude or nasty.

I heard him speak of his wife and his daily ritual of reading to her when she lay bedridden after a stroke. Devoid of her company, he would converse with the nurses during lunch. I heard the stoic loneliness in his voice after she died. I saw the indulgent grandfather reluctant to forbid his grandchildren to touch his things when they sniffled, but who would discreetly wipe down his computer with disinfecting wipes after they left so as not to catch their bug. Although he was reputed for having no small talk, he sometimes told us about his ailments or his day.

I covered Mrs Lee's funeral in October 2010 at Mandai Crematorium. He walked up to her coffin with a single red rose. His hand touched his lips, then her forehead, planting a kiss there once, and then, as though he could not bear to part, again.

Somewhere along the line amid those incidents, I grew fond of the old man.

In 2012, I was involved in another round of interviews for the book One Man's View Of The World. Last year, we interviewed him a few more times to update the book.

He grew visibly more frail over the years. From open-buttoned jackets, he moved on to buttoned up ones, sometimes with a scarf round the neck. From walking in his trainers, he had to be supported.

We once had to wait 30 minutes for him to rest and he apologised, saying he had not been able to keep his food down. He had an injury once, and conducted the interview with a heat pad around his thigh. He was on meal supplement Ensure and various medications his security officers would give him. His speech got slurred towards the end. From over two hours, the interviews went down to 45 minutes or less.

It pained me to sit across the table over several years and watch Mr Lee weaken. He was the founding father of Singapore. I liked to remember him as the vigorous Prime Minister in television footage, or at least as the still active Minister Mentor in 2009, who told us no question was off limits, and hurried us to complete our book, chiding us not to let the grass grow under our feet.

But somewhere along the line, I came to see him less as Lee Kuan Yew the mythic figure, the great statesman, the fearsome political leader. I came to see him as a man, a flawed but still great mortal, a man who did his best for his country, for his time, the best he knew how.

Luckily for all of us, his best was enough.

The unique blessing for Singapore that is Mr Lee
Country may yet attain the new golden era that he wished for young Singaporeans
By Patrick Daniel, Editor-in-chief English/Malay/Tamil Media Group, The Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

As the daily throngs of Singaporeans of all races and ages paid their last respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew last week, I found myself counting the ways we've been blessed in Mr Lee's Singapore.

The most profound is a blessing I share with so many Singaporeans: In our personal lives, and not just as a country, we each went from Third World to First in a single generation.

In my case, I went from a rented, wooden shophouse with communal toilets in Kampong Kembangan to a three-room HDB flat in Chai Chee, then a five-room flat in Bedok South, a Pine Grove HUDC flat and now a landed property in Upper Thomson.

When we moved to Bedok South in 1977, my sister recalls my mum saying: "This new flat is thanks to Lee Kuan Yew."

My mum, who is 90 this year, brought up six children on her own, with help from some uncles, when my dad was taken ill and later died at age 51 when I was 14.

My dad came to Singapore in 1937 from Kerala, India, when he was 20 - he couldn't find a job there, he said - and never left, even when Singapore was about to fall to the Japanese. He went back only after the war to marry and bring my mum out in 1947.

What is it that made my Indian Singaporean family's success possible? I would cite the powerful combination of two of Mr Lee's core values: multiracialism and meritocracy.

I managed to win government scholarships because I was never discriminated against in getting access to opportunities, and I could compete purely on merit. I was incredibly fortunate to go to two overseas universities that I could otherwise only have dreamt of.

These same factors also explain how I got to be editor-in-chief, and why I've stayed in the profession for close to 30 years.

My Chinese Singaporean wife and our two happily bi-cultural "Chindian" kids are similarly blessed. So I give thanks daily and can say, with only a little exaggeration, I owe it all to Mr Lee.

But my personal blessings are just the start of what I really want to say: the biggest blessing is Mr Lee himself.

Had the stars not been aligned for us, a man so unique would not have been born in a small island one degree north of the Equator, and at precisely the right moment in our history.

Thus we've been blessed with a leader with the guile and guts to take on colonialists, communists and communalists. Along with his like-minded team, he also had the sheer brass to build a conscript army, navy and air force from scratch - imagine that - to make sure this city-state never gets seized as a glittering prize by any captor.

Of course there were some mis-steps along the way, but that can't take away his record of exceptional governance.

All of this most people know, especially after the crash course in Singapore history we've been given last week. The only value I can add is to recount some media-related episodes to illustrate Mr Lee's unique skill in coming up with unique solutions.

For six months from October 1993, I spent many days on a hard bench in a Singapore court fighting charges of breaching the Official Secrets Act (OSA). I was then editor of The Business Times and was hauled up for publishing the "flash estimate" of quarterly economic growth ahead of its official release.

Like most people, I was initially flummoxed by why the authorities would take five young professionals to court over this. The then Attorney-General (AG) prosecuted the case himself, even though it was being heard in a subordinate court.

In the midst of the long-running case, I was one day invited by Mr Lee, then Senior Minister, to lunch at the Istana, together with two other editors. If not for the OSA case, this wouldn't have been unusual, as he occasionally invited editors to lunch, to discuss issues and float a kite or two.

But that particular lunch was a touch surreal for me. Mr Lee of course made no reference to my OSA case, and I resisted all temptation to bring it up and was probably quieter than usual. Before we left, I thanked him for lunch, he nodded his acknowledgement.

At the conclusion of the case, we were all found guilty and fined - I paid $4,000 - not least because the AG told the judge we were "honourable men with honourable careers" and he was not pressing for jail sentences. We went back to our jobs and our careers never suffered.

But one important thing had changed: Communicating information in breach of the OSA would henceforth not require proof of mens rea, or intention to commit the act. This was what the AG argued and won.

Why was this such a big deal? Because for several preceding years, Mr Lee had seen how his good friend Margaret Thatcher had lost case after case involving breaches of the British OSA.

One infamous case was the Spycatcher affair, where a former MI5 spy, Peter Wright, published an autobiography in Australia spilling a load of explosive British secrets. The Thatcher government failed in 1987 to persuade an Australian court that the book should be barred from publication. The UK law lords later ruled that the British press could publish extracts.

The ignominy was complete when the European Court of Human Rights found the UK government's actions had violated the right to freedom of speech. Meantime, the book went on to become a best-seller - I still have my copy.

The conclusion I came to was that our case had been used - brilliantly, I concede - to establish a local precedent for a "strict liability" OSA offence.

Put simply, I now tell our journalists that if the Singapore equivalent of the Pentagon papers were to fall off the back of a lorry, we the media cannot publish them because we would have no defence if taken to court. It's similar to having sex with a minor and being inescapably guilty of statutory rape.

This move was also prescient as we are now in the WikiLeaks era. Mr Lee could see then that governments and diplomacy can't function if everything can be leaked with impunity.

I can think of no better example of how his unique practical intelligence shaped particular aspects of public policy.

Another example is the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, a piece of legislation so canny that only Mr Lee could have devised it. By limiting ownership of a newspaper company by any one person or entity to no more than 3 per cent - it was later raised to 5 per cent - he made sure there would be no Rupert Murdochs in Singapore.

He knew too well the power a press baron could wield to make or break an elected government, and he was determined to have none of it in Singapore. He made sure that political leaders are never beholden to unelected media owners, and wanted the media out of the political process. Foreign colleagues who have worked for capricious owners tell me how smart a move this was.

Many foreign reports this past week have cited these tough media strictures. But an even bigger beef seems to be that he used defamation laws to silence and even destroy his political opponents. This mis-characterises the man and his methods.

Mr Lee's obsession - and he had many - was to ensure that both the media and politics operate within the bounds of the law. So long as critics and opponents avoid defamation and contempt of our courts, they have considerable leeway to say what they want. Even a cursory look at the social media space will show this to be true.

But that said, the combination of Mr Lee's unique media policies, and the robust application of defamation and contempt laws, has led to Singapore being ranked No. 150 (out of 179 countries) for press freedom by the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.

In a 2010 open letter, the group urged the Singapore Government to "put a stop to the libel actions... against Singaporean and foreign media... and refrain from suing journalists over their articles and comments".

Going by Mr Lee's mantra - Do the right thing, and never mind what people think! - that open letter must have been given very short shrift.

The press freedom index is of course patently wrong. It is a travesty that Singapore is ranked one below Russia and one above Libya, putting us in the category where journalists get routinely murdered.

As Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in a 2010 speech at Columbia University that critiqued the ranking, the methodology is suspect as the scores depend crucially on who is chosen to be asked, and how that selection is made. None of this is made transparent. Obviously, the chosen ones are virulent critics.

Besides, if indeed we are No. 150 for press freedom, my colleagues and I must be superhuman to put out the newspapers that we do. Whatever Reporters Without Borders may think, I am proud of the editions we published last week, in all four languages, and I dedicate them to Mr Lee.

And to the noisy minority here who cannot see the travesty, I should at least point out for the record this line in the group's report: "The (press freedom) index should in no way be taken as an indication of the quality of the media in the countries concerned."

Talking of the noisy minority, I'm most proud too that Singapore's silent majority has come out in force this past week to show they have imbibed what Mr Lee stood for, and are hugely appreciative of what he's done for them and for this fortunate country, tiny though we are.

So rest in peace, Mr Lee. Singapore may yet attain the new golden era you spoke of in 2007 when you were 84. You told young Singaporeans: "You're a generation that is especially blessed... If there are no wars or oil crises, this golden period can stretch out over many years."

The trusted photographer
George Gascon, former ST photographer, was given unique access after gaining Mr Lee's confidence
By Raul Dancel, In Manila, The Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

He did not crowd a room, bark instructions or prance around.

And because he knew how to observe without intruding, Mr George Gascon earned the privilege of gaining access to a man known for being exacting in all his affairs, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

For seven years, as a photographer with The Straits Times, Mr Gascon recorded Mr Lee for posterity.

He witnessed unguarded moments of tenderness: Mrs Lee lovingly combing Mr Lee's hair before a photo shoot. He was there when Mr Lee hosted important world figures, lingering on when all the other photographers had been ushered out, prompting quizzical looks. Who was this man with the camera and the Charles Bronson moustache?

Mr Gascon joined The Straits Times in 1992. Three years later, he was asked to take pictures when Mr Lee was being interviewed for the book Lee Kuan Yew: The Man And His Ideas.

His brief was to go in, take a few shots and then head for the door. Mr Lee was not known to be an easy subject; the first photographer assigned to the job had managed to get just 17 shots before being told the session was over.

To his surprise, Mr Gascon ended up staying for two hours as Mr Lee spoke.

In an interview with The Sunday Times last Thursday at his farm, south of Manila, where he has lived since retirement, the 62-year-old paused to reflect on what made Mr Lee trust him.

"I paid attention to how he was reacting.

"I went to one side. He seemed okay with it.

"Then I went to the other side. Still okay.

"Then I began circling him.

"When he went to the toilet, one of the editors who were interviewing him said I was moving too much and making too much noise.

"I told him, 'But he doesn't seem to mind.'

"He said, 'Yeah, why is that?'" said Mr Gascon.

At the end of the shoot, Mr Gascon had used up 12 rolls of film of 36 shots each.

His boss told him: "You just earned your bonus."

He had been told to lug a tripod, a strobe light and a flashgun, but Mr Gascon said he instinctively knew that bursts of light and a noisy shutter would get him sent out faster than he could say "Cheese".

All he took was a camera. The only lighting was sunlight.

To keep his nerves steady, he thought of Mr Lee not as one of Singapore's most powerful men, but as a father or a grandfather.

Mr Gascon said that when he was next invited to the Istana, Mrs Lee walked up to him. "So you're the photographer? Thank you very much, George, for the wonderful pictures of my husband."

From that point on, Mr Gascon became "George".

At official functions, Mr Lee would acknowledge Mr Gascon with a slight nod. He would be invited not just to the Istana but to Mr Lee's home in Oxley Road and to occasions as intimate as a family birthday party.

Mr Lee's office would often consult the photographer - what shirt colour would work best for a shoot, what was the ideal spot in the Istana for group portraits of some of the world's most important men?

During photo sprays, he would be allowed to linger and he could move outside the security rope and shoot from any angle he wanted.

When Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, former Indonesian president, paid Mr Lee a courtesy call in 2000, she noticed that everyone had been led out of the room except for one man.

"Who is he?" she asked her host.

Mr Lee told her: "This is George Gascon. He's my photographer. He's from the Philippines."

Mr Gascon said: "I felt my pride swelling, for someone so important to introduce me to someone equally important."

He said the freedom Mr Lee gave him allowed him to capture some little-seen facets of the leader. For a meaningful photograph can capture more than facial features, it shows a man's thoughts, he said.

Mr Gascon particularly remembered one shot where Mr Lee clasped his cheeks with his palms. "You can feel his exasperation in that photo, at having to belabour a point, at trying to overcome stubbornness with patience," he said.

It was also the unguarded moments that he cherished. In a photo shoot for the first of Mr Lee's two-volume memoirs, Mr Gascon was invited to Mr Lee's house.

He was asked to take a photo of Mr Lee in front of a computer, so that Singapore's seniors could see that they had nothing to fear from technology.

As they were preparing for the shoot, Mr Gascon caught a glimpse of Mrs Lee combing Mr Lee's hair.

It was a moment that Mr Gascon dearly wished to capture. So he took out his Leica, knowing the quiet shutter would not intrude into the tenderness.

Yet, even with her back to Mr Gascon, Mrs Lee heard the clicking of the camera.

She said: "George, I heard that."

When Mr Lee learnt that Mr Gascon was planning to leave Singapore and retire in the Philippines, he asked to see the photographer.

For about 20 minutes, Mr Lee met Mr Gascon and his wife, trying to persuade them to stay on.

"But I had already made up my mind," said Mr Gascon.

As parting advice, Mr Lee told Mr Gascon to take good care of his hard-earned money. The advice has served Mr Gascon well. He placed about $100,000 of his Central Provident Fund savings in an investment fund with DBS Bank. When that fund matured, he transferred the money to a Philippine account, where it serves as a buffer against emergencies.

Mr Gascon now spends most of his days at his 500,000 sq m farm, in Cavite province's Mendez town, a three-hour ride from Manila. He gets most of what he needs from the farm, spending no more than $500 a month.

"I'm at peace here," he said.

He was tending to his garden when he heard the news of Mr Lee's death. Gathering the most fragrant herbs and most colourful flowers from his farm, he arranged them around a portrait of Mr Lee, the one that eventually became a book cover.

He lit a candle and said a prayer for the man to whom he would always be "my photographer".

Bukit Ho Swee fire victim James Seah Kok Thim
The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2015

My parents, two elder sisters and I lived in Beo Lane at the Bukit Ho Swee kampung until I was 13.

On May 25, 1961 - it was a public holiday - when the big fire broke out, my mother and I were at my second auntie's house.

We reached home before the fire reached it and my mother managed to take away a sarong with our birth certificates. My family was among the 16,000 fire victims left homeless that night.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew promised that in nine months we would all have new flats to live in.

The Housing Board (HDB) had taken over from Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) for only three months.

SIT, after over 30 years, had built only 23,000 flats. So people were asking if the PAP Government and Prime Minister Lee would be able to do better than the British government.

So when we got the Jalan Bukit Ho Swee HDB flat less than a year later, we were really grateful. We were saying, at least this Government can keep its promise.

In 1962, Mr Lee visited our estate to see how the fire victims had settled in. My friends and I followed him around.

A neighbour had a provision shop in the kampung, so he made his new flat like a shop. We bought flavoured ice tubes, sweets and cookies for 10 cents from him.

The Prime Minister was quite understanding. It was not right but people had to make a living. He also inspected the communal toilets. He was a very simple guy. When he visited, he wore short sleeves.

Many from the kampung were very poor, uneducated, a lot of coolies, port workers. They approached the Prime Minister with job problems.

Kampung people keep their gratitude in their hearts, they didn't say it. But the respect we have for him is because Mr Lee got things done.

He was not the kind who cared about popularity... He gave my family a house, he was our benefactor.

Former bodyguard's memories of Mr Lee
By Suresh Nair, Tabla!, 27 Mar 2015

On a sunny Friday in the mid-1970s, travelling along Orchard Road near the Mandarin Hotel, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew saw a puddle of water along the side of the road. It looked like an ordinary water leak but he pointed to the spot and wanted to know what caused the puddle, recalled Mr Karuppiah Kandasamy, who was then his bodyguard.

"I immediately got in touch with the Public Utilities Board (PUB) and I was told there was a damaged water pipe which PUB rectified immediately.

Later that evening, as I jogged with him, Mr Lee asked me about the puddle of water and I had to explain to him," said Mr Kanda, as he's affectionately called.

Another incident, in the early 1980s, involved a tree branch that had dried leaves. Mr Lee was on his way to visit the refurbished northern town of Nee Soon, and a tree, on Thomson Road, caught his attention. The whole tree was green except that particular branch, and Mr Lee wanted to know why.

"I checked and found that the branch had come in contact with a naked electrical wire and caused the damage. National Parks Board (NParks) was informed and action was taken immediately.

When returning from Nee Soon, he was informed about this matter and the quick action taken."

These two incidents, said Mr Kanda, stand out in his mind and remind him of how observant Mr Lee was even when he was on the move.

"He was such a caring, concerned, 'made for the people leader', very attentive to the smallest detail, which were relevant to the layman. His heart was with Singaporeans and when he was travelling from home to his office or to any function, he never sat back and relaxed. He was always looking around to ensure everything was in order," said

Mr Kanda, who served as Mr Lee's bodyguard from 1970 to 1990.

Mr Lee, he said, took great pride in the Keep Singapore Clean campaign.

"Mr Lee took pride that greening was the most cost-effective project he ever launched. He firmly believed that improved environmental conditions would not only enhance the quality of life for Singaporeans and cultivate national pride, but also attract foreign investors and tourists to Singapore."

Mr Kanda, who grew up in the shoddy Lorong Retna kampung, off Jurong, joined the Singapore Police Force in 1960 when he was 20. "It was my first job at a reckless time when I was on the verge of being recruited as a triad member in my neighbourhood of Indian and Chinese gangsters," he said. "But I believed serving the country was more challenging than being a hoodlum."

He excelled as a police trainee and was selected to be an instructor at the Police Training School at Thomson Road in the mid-1960s. He specifically excelled in shooting, martial arts and physical fitness.

In 1970, he was called up to join the elite Police Security Branch and on Nov 16, 1970, assigned to Mr Lee's family.

"It was a very scary experience to be Mr Lee's personal bodyguard as the personal and professional standards were very high," he said. "I did not dare to look at his face when he spoke or gave instructions.

But within a few months, I gained confidence and courage before talking to him. It was the same with Mrs Lee and the three children.

"Slowly, the Lees trusted me as I was with them almost every day. Mr Lee was firm and did not tolerate any shortcomings. But he was also a very fair gentleman. When you make a mistake, he will advise you not to repeat the mistake.

"As a security officer, one had to be very alert and on one's toes. He spoke only to his personal security officer and passed on instructions.

You had to be extra alert and listen carefully to his instructions. When he spoke, I never looked into his face, but kept my ears wide open. Sometimes he'd ask me to repeat what he has said," said Mr Kanda.

"What struck me was his keen interest to listen first to express confidence in others. I would sum him up as a God-sent leader, who paid attention in order to gain insight to the concerns, requirements and problems in order to decide what course of action to take."

In terms of devotion to work, Mr Kanda described Mr Lee as more than a workaholic. "He was such a disciplined gentleman, he worked day and night. He did his work at home and in the office.

Almost every day, he went to bed past midnight. Many people thought that, as prime minister, he could go to his office as he liked or go to bed as he wished. When I was on duty, almost every night, I saw him working in his room till past midnight."

The fitness fanatic in Mr Lee was extraordinary, noted Mr Kanda, as he stayed mentally and physically on high personal alert. "He never missed a day of exercise unless there was severe lightning and thunder and he was very serious about his fitness regime. He cycled and jogged around the Istana grounds daily.

Once, at midnight, he returned from an overseas trip, and went straight to the gym to exercise, according to his strict work-play daily routine. Even on Chinese New Year or Christmas, he would do his 5.45 to 7.15pm workouts of aerobics, gym work, indoor rowing, cycling, jogging and swimming," added Mr Kanda.

Mr Kanda recalled that Mr Lee had decided in 1959, when he took office as prime minister, not to live at Sri Temasek, the official residence of the prime minister, in the Istana. He wanted his family to live in humble surroundings without the colonial-style grandeur of butlers and orderlies to fuss over their needs.

38 Oxley Road has been home to the Lees since the 1940s. Built over 100 years ago by a Jewish merchant, Mr Lee once described the property as "a big, rambling house with five bedrooms, and three others at the back originally used as servants' quarters".

Said Mr Kanda: "I could see clearly that the Lees raised their three children in a simple and humble way, to be well-behaved, polite, considerate and never to throw their weight around as the prime minister's children."

Compared to the high-tech Secret Service-style electronic equipment of the Istana security officers today, Mr Kanda smiled cheekily as he recalled in the 1970s, the walkie-talkie (more formally known as a handheld transceiver, or HT) was "very bulky, about 4kg in weight, looked like a portable radio and we didn't have any earpiece". He first started armed with an old-line Webly revolver and later switched in the 1980s to a dexterous Smith & Wesson handgun.

Tears welled up in Mr Kanda's eyes as he spoke of Aug 15, 1990 - the eve of his 50th birthday - which was his last day at work.

He recollected: "I spoke to Mrs Lee when she was going to her office and told her that it was my last day. She said that I must tell the prime minister. At about 11am, Mr Lee was in the lift on the way to his office and I told him about my retirement. He stepped out of the lift, placed his bag on the floor and asked me why I was retiring.

"I told him that I had exceeded my retirement age by five years and had to go. He asked me: 'How old are you?'. I replied: '50 years, Sir.' He said: 'What? You are 50 years? You don't look like it.' He then asked me if I had another job. I told him there were two jobs waiting. He then told me: 'Well, if you have to go, you have to go.'"

From that rare quick conversation, Mr Kanda realised that Mr Lee handled even those closest to him in a professional way. "You are not indispensable. If you go, someone else can look after him. It's the truth, a fact of life, and I agreed wholeheartedly," said Mr Kanda.

"The next day was my birthday and I was called up by my Police Security Branch boss and presented with the best birthday present of my life, a personally-signed testimonial by Mr Lee."

The handwritten testimonial read: "He was my personal security officer since 1970. He was keen, alert and quick. He anticipated my movements and was unobtrusive in the manner he covered me. He is also helpful, resourceful and courteous. I commend him to anyone looking for a reliable and trustworthy personal security officer."

Teary-eyed, Mr Kanda, a father of two boys, Suresh and Ramesh, said: "Getting this great testimonial from a great man is more than a dream come true. After I retired, I had two different jobs but never used this testimonial as a job reference. I framed it and it hangs proudly in my living room as proof that I worked for one of the greatest men in the 20th century."

Another unforgettable moment was in 2013, when Mr Lee was invited to a function at the Senior Police Officers' Mess on Mount Pleasant Road. Four other former Istana security officers were also invited.

"Mr Lee saw me and said: 'Kanda, how are you? Are you still working? You look the same.' He told the senior officers: 'He used to look after me and jogged with me at the Istana almost every day.'

"Hearing these words was one of the proudest moments in my life as I served the longest-serving Prime Minister in Singapore's history."

If he could turn back the clock, Mr Kanda, now 74 and working in the private security industry, wished he could have told Mr Lee that he symbolised a "mega-God to millions of Singaporeans" who dedicated his life for the happiness of those millions of Singaporeans.


Lee Kuan Yew, truly the father of Changi airport
It was he who asked that plans to expand Paya Lebar airport be dropped in favour of building an airport in Changi, and remained interested in the project even till late last year.
By Liew Mun Leong. Published The Business Times, 31 Mar 2015

CHANGI Airport is today a strategic international air hub, where more than 100 airlines connect Singapore to more than 300 cities across the world.

With more than 480 "World's Best Airport" awards from various quarters under its belt, it is now also known as the most-awarded airport in the world.

Many may not realise that the airport was the brainchild of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

In mid-1975, he decided it was advantageous to build the new international airport in Changi, and was single-minded about pushing it from its Paya Lebar location to the new site.

The year before that, however, we had started construction works to expand Paya Lebar airport to meet the rapidly growing aviation sector. I was then a young engineer in the Public Works Department (PWD), busy building a new aircraft parking apron and clearing resettlement cases - 11,000 families had to be resettled for construction of the second runway at Paya Lebar to proceed.

But Mr Lee, in a flight over Boston's Logan Airport, saw the genius in developing an offshore airport for Singapore. Building it on the Changi coast would give us the flexibility to expand the aerodrome towards the sea to meet future expansion needs; and it was better that the high decibels from aviation be directed out to sea instead of affecting the population in the city.

Moreover, building out to sea would mean there would be no need to restrict the height of future nearby developments, hence liberating several hectares of much-needed land for development.

There were, however, uncertainties about implementing this strategic shift to Changi. Some quarters in the government questioned whether the PWD was up to handling such a large-scale project and within a tight time frame at that. Rightly or wrongly, the perception back then was that the PWD was an old, conservative and bureaucratic department handed down from the British colonial days.

Some sceptics derided the PWD as having experience in building only drains, sewers, roads, bus stops, government offices and schools, and asked whether the department had the expertise and human resources for such a mammoth undertaking.

There were also doubts that we could complete Changi Airport by mid-1981, when more than half the site had to be reclaimed from the sea. But Singapore urgently needed a new airport by mid-1981 and we couldn't afford to delay this any further.


Mr Lee roped in a trio of top civil servants he called "The Three Wise Men'' to study the feasibility of building the new airport at Changi.

Port of Singapore Authority chairman Howe Yoon Chong, Housing Development Board chief executive Teh Cheang Wan and JTC chairman Woon Wah Siang had, among them, led many successful major national developmental programmes in Singapore and therefore had the credentials to do a feasibility study on the Changi project.

Mr Howe confidently concluded that the project could be implemented - and in time - by the PWD, with the PSA executing the sea reclamation work. Mr Lee later appointed Sim Kee Boon, a legendary leader in the civil service with a great eye for detail, to drive the project.

Mr Lee had invested his most capable civil servants in this undertaking.

We built the first runway as an extension of the existing British-built military runway. It was then 2,000 m long; we extended it to 4,000 m by expunging Tanah Merah Road.

Mr Lee wanted to see where the extension would be. He wanted an aerial view, so we arranged for a Skyvan, a military passenger transport plane, to take him to a height for a bird's eye view of the construction site. In order for him to spot the site from up there, we tied big, yellow aviation balloons to the working bulldozers.

Mr Lee was very involved from the beginning.

He wanted the airport to be built within a garden city. He wanted a lot of trees planted, saying he wished to "see a jungle" when driving to the airport.

We had to count trees daily and I sent telexes to Mr Sim, detailing the number of casuarina and rain trees we had planted.


Mr Lee's interest in Changi Airport never waned.

As recently as last November, he had visited the airport for an update of its latest developments, especially Project Jewel, the airport's retail and lifestyle complex. By then, he was not very mobile, so we took him around in a buggy and also went on the train connecting Terminal 2 to Terminal 3. When I asked him if he had enjoyed the train ride, he replied: "Yes, but too short."

Even till his last days, he would never fail to ask me, even in a weakened voice: "How is Changi Airport?"

What would have happened if he had not had the vision to move the airport to Changi?

If we had remained in Paya Lebar, we would not have had the flexibility to build the third runway - unless we forgo Tampines town - or the fourth terminal, let alone the fifth; of course, there would also be no Project Jewel.

Changi Airport was his baby, and it has become an icon. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was truly the Father of Changi Airport.

The writer is chairman of Changi Airport Group

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