Tuesday 14 April 2015

Do not rush into decisions on how best to honour Mr Lee Kuan Yew, says PM

No hasty decisions on honouring Mr Lee: PM
He sees value in symbols, but only if they are meaningful and not empty
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2015

DECISIONS on how best to honour founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew should not be rushed into so soon after his death, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Parliament yesterday.

On suggestions to rename Changi Airport after the late Mr Lee or put his image on the local currency, PM Lee said these ideas are good but should not be enacted too hastily.

"We should allow some time to pass, consider the ideas carefully and make calm, considered decisions which will stand the test of time," he said. "Let us take time to consider the best way to honour his memory, in a way that is in keeping with his ideals."

He reminded the House that Mr Lee disdained monuments and personality cults: "It was not monuments but ideals that were his chief concern, the ideals upon which he built Singapore: multiracialism, equality, meritocracy, integrity and the rule of law."

Three MPs had tabled questions for yesterday's parliamentary sitting on ways to honour Mr Lee, who died on March 23.

For now, PM Lee has asked Esplanade chairman Lee Tzu Yang to head a committee to conceptualise a Founders' Memorial that honours not just Mr Lee but also his core team. They included Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr S. Rajaratnam, Mr Othman Wok, Mr Hon Sui Sen and Mr Lim Kim San. Mr Lee was always conscious he did not act alone, but was "first among equals" of a multiracial team that complemented one another and trusted one another implicitly, said PM Lee.

The idea of a Founders' Memorial, perhaps coupled with an exhibition gallery to educate future generations, was one Mr Lee himself saw value in, he added.

Last night, Mr Lee Tzu Yang said he was "honoured and at the same time slightly daunted by this project".

The former chairman of Shell Companies in Singapore is forming a committee to represent segments of society. He said it will "consult widely" in studying and recommending concepts to honour the founding fathers' legacy while inspiring present and future generations.

PM Lee made clear that there was value in suggested moves to honour Mr Lee. Monuments and memorials can be "a form to focus the mind on abstract ideals, to generate the emotions and to bond people", he said.

PM Lee, voice breaking with emotion, recalled how different choirs performed the song Home when Mr Lee's casket lay in state. Nearly half a million people queued for hours to pay respects.

"You need these symbols, these physical things - but (ones) that are full of meaning and not empty, that's what we're looking for," said PM Lee.

He pointed to how national memorials in other countries, such as the United States' 9/11 memorial or the one honouring President Franklin D. Roosevelt, took decades to take shape.

The passing of generations is needed for the person's "historical trace" to become clear, PM Lee said. "(It) emerges in sharper focus and we know, if you're only going to do one thing, what is it which you want to do? And then we do that."

He said whatever is done to honour Mr Lee must be relevant to future generations as well.

PM Lee noted the debate in the US over whether to portray Roosevelt in his wheelchair. Roosevelt hid his disability when he was alive, but attitudes have changed over the decades.

"So for us to think we can settle this within the next few months or few years, I think that is being presumptuous," he said.

"If we try to do that, we'd make decisions which, even if we didn't regret it, our children would regret it. And I don't think we should do that."

He reminded the House: "We are not canonising a person, we are honouring a human being."

Mr Lee 'very careful' about lending his name or likeness
The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2015

IN LIFE, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was very careful when it came to lending his name or likeness, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Parliament yesterday.

Mr Lee consented to his name being used by institutions and initiatives only for causes that he was passionate about, and where using his name served a greater purpose, said PM Lee.

Mr Lee was also careful not to let a personality cult grow around him, which is why there are few busts, portraits or statues of him in Singapore. PM Lee said yesterday there are only two busts of Mr Lee in public.

1. The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore

PM Lee revealed that on the occasion of Mr Lee's 80th birthday in 2003, the Cabinet convinced him that having such a school, and associating his name with it, would help establish the Singapore brand of governance.

They believed it would advance the school's mission - to raise standards of governance in Asia, improve the lives of people and contribute to the transformation of the region, said PM Lee.

"For the same reason, he supported Nanyang Technological University when it named its school of international studies after his old comrade, S. Rajaratnam, and the Singapore Armed Forces when it named the command and staff college after Dr Goh Keng Swee," PM Lee said.

2. The Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize

"The Water Prize honours contributions towards solving the world's water challenges, because water in the Singapore context was a lifelong obsession of his," said PM Lee.

3. The Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism and other education awards in his name

"The various education awards in his name are to encourage students at all levels and of all abilities to strive for all-round excellence," said PM Lee.

"The Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism focuses on mother-tongue learning.

"He paid close attention to this issue all his life, not just as a policy matter, but as someone who learnt Mandarin the hard way as an adult and kept up the effort till his last days."

4. The bust at Parliament House

This bust of Mr Lee was made in the early 1980s by British sculptor Sydney Harpley, who also did the Girl On A Swing and other sculptures on display in the Botanic Gardens. After Mr Lee stepped down from the Cabinet in 2011, this bust was put on display in Parliament House.

5. The bust at the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities in the Singapore University of Technology and Design

Made by French sculptor Nacera Kainou, this bust was given in 2013 by the Lyon-Singapore Association as a token of friendship between the people of France and Singapore.

SG50 commemorative note to feature Mr Lee
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2015

THE late Mr Lee Kuan Yew will be on a new commemorative $50 note that is already in production, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Parliament yesterday.

The note will feature a transparent panel showing Mr Lee with his fist raised, leading the crowd with the rallying cry of "Merdeka!", which means independence in Malay.

The $50 note is part of an SG50 commemorative set of dollar notes that capture Singapore's values and significant achievements in its history. The set also includes five $10 notes.

The plans for the notes were finalised last year. Mr Lee died last month at age 91.

"We had hoped that Mr Lee would launch the commemorative set of notes himself. Sadly, that is not to be," said PM Lee.

"But we have decided to continue with the project and will launch the notes later this year. They will form part of our SG50 celebrations, which will honour our founders even as we pledge ourselves to continue their work," he added.

No further details of the notes are available at the moment, but PM Lee added, in response to another question, that printing Mr Lee's image on Singapore's currency notes and coins "is certainly something we can consider for the future".

Mr Lee adamant about having his house demolished
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2015

SINGAPORE'S founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew knew about calls from the public to turn his home at 38, Oxley Road into a museum and a memorial to him, but he was adamant the house should be demolished after his death.

He wrote formally to the Cabinet at least twice to put his wishes on the record, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament yesterday.

The first time was soon after his wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, died in late 2010.

The second time was after he stepped down from the Cabinet in May 2011, said PM Lee, who is Mr Lee's elder son.

In a statement delivered in Parliament, PM Lee said his father's position on 38, Oxley Road was unwavering over the years, and added that Singaporeans should respect his wishes.

Mr Lee, who died last month, stated in one of his books in early 2011, Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, that the house "should not be kept as a kind of relic".

He was averse to the idea as he had seen too many other houses of famous people "kept frozen in time... as a monument with people tramping in and out", and they invariably "become shabby", said PM Lee.

PM Lee's mother, Madam Kwa, also felt strongly that the house should be demolished, he said.

But since some people wanted the house preserved, Mr Lee's view sparked a public reaction.

That was the reason that, in December 2011, PM Lee held a special Cabinet meeting to discuss 38, Oxley Road. Mr Lee attended the meeting at his invitation.

"The ministers tried hard to change his mind," PM Lee said.

After the meeting, Mr Lee wrote the Cabinet a letter, in which he acknowledged their unanimous view that 38, Oxley Road should not be demolished.

He wrote: "I have reflected on this and decided that if 38, Oxley Road is to be preserved, it needs to have its foundations reinforced and the whole building refurbished. It must then be let out for people to live in. An empty building will soon decline and decay."

But when he made his will two years later in December 2013, he stated that he wished for his house to be demolished after his death.

His children, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, were appointed executors of his will.

They revealed this in a statement on Sunday and, yesterday, PM Lee weighed in.

"If and when Dr Lee Wei Ling no longer lived in the house, Mr Lee had stated his wishes as to what then should be done. At that point, speaking as a son, I would like to see these wishes carried out. However, it will be up to the government of the day to consider the matter," he said.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) and Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) asked if Mr Lee's home could be photographed and recorded on video and other digital media formats, so that Singaporeans could tour the house virtually.

This would respect Mr Lee's wishes while preserving the house's heritage value at the same time, they said.

PM Lee replied that the building has been documented and photographs of it published, especially of the dining room, where important meetings took place.

He added: "If you go on what Mr Lee has said publicly, I think in the Hard Truths book, he said: 'Whatever you want to do after I'm gone, take pictures, if you like, then demolish the building.' That's on the record. His will follows that. We have to go in accordance with his wishes."

Memorial to founders must be 'full of meaning'
Time, discussion and perspective needed to get it right, says PM Lee
The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2015

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday elaborated on why some time is needed to consider the best way to honour Mr Lee Kuan Yew, in response to points raised by Members of Parliament. Here is an edited extract of the exchange.

Mr Zainudin Nordin (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC): How do we ensure inclusivity so that all communities can relate to how we are honouring the founding fathers?

PM Lee: That is a very important question and that is why we are taking some time over the matter.

It's not a matter of just having the right place or the right structure, but also a process by which we can involve people in discussing what is the best way to honour him, how can we develop this idea of some sort of memorial for the founders which is more than just a memorial, and have people feel that this is something which is right for Singapore and the right way to do it.

After that, we find the correct place and if we are going to have a gallery and information and education, the right activities, so everybody feels that this is part of our common heritage.

Dr Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC): Will the request by many to name our airport after Mr Lee Kuan Yew be accepted? Or having his picture on our currency notes?

PM Lee: These are all sensible proposals but I hesitate to make decisions on them now. It's two weeks since the state funeral; it's three weeks since Mr Lee passed away. I think we need some time to pass, we need to have some overall sense of perspective and history, and then there is time enough for us to make these commitments and decisions to honour him - not just in the next few months but really in the next few decades.

If you look at how other countries do it, when they have people who have made a big mark in their history pass away, you will have in the hometown, perhaps straightaway, a street is named after you. But on the national basis, a memorial may be 50 years later, may be 70 years later, may be several generations later. And then your position, your historical trace is clear; emerges perhaps in sharper focus.

Mr Lee had a lot to do with Changi Airport, he had a lot to do with our having a currency which is worth the paper on which it is printed. He had a lot to do with many things too - the Singapore River, the greening of Singapore. If we want to name things after him, there's no shortage of things which are suited. I would say, take our time. Let's focus in the first instance on this idea of how should we remember our founders, not just Mr Lee, but the core founding fathers of the country. That in itself is a major exercise.

Over the years, there will be anniversaries, there will be birthdays, there will be 100th birthdays. We will come back to this and we will look at it again. At that point, I'm sure these ideas of Dr Lily Neo and others will still be there. And perhaps by then we will be a bit more ready.

Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC): Could more effort be made to preserve the heritage value of Mr Lee's house for future generations while respecting his wishes to demolish it. Perhaps the furniture can be considered historical artefacts which can be donated to the museum for a replica of the basement to be put up?

PM Lee: If you go on what Mr Lee has said publicly: "Whatever you want to do after I'm gone, take pictures, if you like, then demolish the building." That's on the record. His will follows that. We have to go in accordance with his wishes.

The building has been documented, photographs have been taken and published, especially the dining room where the important meetings took place...

We have to let time pass. We have to let perspective emerge gradually over the years and decades.

What we can do is to focus on one possible promising direction: A Founders' Memorial and education gallery somehow linked to it, perhaps co-located, and how do we conceptualise that so that it is something which is meaningful and which achieves our future-oriented purpose. That itself is a very big task. To go round adjudicating which other things you want to do will be hard to achieve.

For the Founders' Memorial itself, it would be necessary to involve historians, people who have worked, lived in Singapore, ordinary Singaporeans, people who have expertise, who have seen how such memorial ideas are developed and gradually brought to reality over many years.

It is a very difficult process.

Look at the 9/11 Memorial. It's now 13 and something years since 9/11. The memorial is done. But there was tremendous argumentation and disagreement and bitterness and battles along the way before they built it this way. Some people, including some significant sections of the families of the victims, are very unhappy with the way it was run and the outcome.

If you look at the way people honour (American) presidents - George Washington or Eisenhower or FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt) ... From the time the person stopped being president or died to the time when you do it, it may be, in Eisenhower's case, he died in 1969 and they are just arguing over his memorial now. They haven't finished the dispute...

For us to think we can settle this within the next few months or few years, that is being presumptuous. If we try to do that, we'd make decisions which even if we didn't regret, our children would regret it. I don't think we should do that.

Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong: While I'm not against the idea of having memorials, a more important question would be, how are we going to ensure those ideals (of Mr Lee) are shared and imbibed, are carried on through the generations?

PM Lee: I agree fully with Ms Chia Yong Yong on her very sensible views. Indeed, it is the ideals and the way we live our lives which is much more important than any physical thing you build.

And yet it is helpful to have what you might call a local habitation and a form for that abstract ideals to focus the mind, to generate the emotion and to bond people. Everybody has that.

The Israelis have Masada. Every recruit goes there. He's presented his rifle there. He remembers events 2,000 years ago, relevant to their spirit today.

You go to other countries. In Britain, you go to Parliament Square, you've got Winston Churchill's statue there; Trafalgar Square, you've got Nelson's statue there. You go to Washington on the Mall. It's a pilgrimage, not a tourist visit, especially if you visit the Vietnam War memorial or the Second World War memorial, which I just visited last year.

It focuses your mind and brings people together. So too with our week of national mourning and the State Funeral service. It's a form, right? But it meant something to the participants and it left an indelible mark and it changed them.

We had, by chance, a choir come through Singapore from St John's College, Cambridge. And because of the Cambridge connection, they offered to sing at the lying in state. They came with a beautiful rendition of Home. It was such a success that we decided we would ask other school choirs and other performing groups, including Jeremy Monteiro and his group, to come and perform during the lying in state.

It was a tremendous success; not just for the people who came to pay respects but for the people who came to sing. And as one of the schoolchildren said: "It's not a performance, it's a tribute."

(PM paused, gathered himself)

So you need these symbols, these physical things. But what are they? Which are full of meaning and not empty? And that's what we're looking for.

Education is an important part of this. After the national mourning period, I think we are rethinking how we can do the national education content in the schools so that you try to get some of the same impact. Otherwise I can write the best textbooks in the world, but between the textbook and the presenter and the listener ... each stage there's attrition, diminution, dilution, eventually you get an empty message rather than something substantial.

Yet if we can have one really powerful experience and it's emotional as much as it is intellectual, you bring people together.

On TV, we had one week of old footage broadcast, it took many years to assemble all that material ... and I think it had a big impact.

It reminded people what all this was about. We need to do more of that during this SG50 year and beyond. Not in a big gush of overwhelming information, but a continuing trickle just to remember ourselves, where we come from and what we should be committing ourselves to.

That way we will be able to achieve our bigger objectives.

In Parliament on Monday, PM Lee said that he had asked Mr Lee Tzu Yang to chair a committee to look into the suggestion...
Posted by Lawrence Wong on Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Memorial park for pioneer leaders?
ESM Goh's idea among suggestions on ways to honour founding fathers
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 15 Apr 2015

A DAY after the Government said a committee would be formed to canvass views and conceptualise a memorial for Singapore's pioneer leaders, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said he favoured the idea of a park to remember Singapore's founding fathers.

"I think the idea of a Founders Memorial Park to trace the making of a nation, capturing its trials and tribulations, is more meaningful," Mr Goh said in a Facebook post yesterday.

Salesman Ken Chew, 39, backed the idea, saying the park should be built in Marina Bay, which symbolises the forward thinking of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Lee, who died on March 23, had envisioned a freshwater reservoir at the bay in the 1980s.

The iconic Gardens by the Bay at the site also encapsulates his belief in creating green lungs to make an urban city liveable.

"Mr Lee Kuan Yew envisioned a great future for the area - and it was fulfilled in less than two decades," noted Mr Chew. "It is reflective of the huge change the whole of Singapore went through too, so it's a fitting place to honour not just Mr Lee but also all our founders," he added.

Mr Chew also suggested that the park have panels on the lives and contributions of pioneer leaders like Dr Toh Chin Chye, Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr S. Rajaratnam.

The idea of a memorial park was among the suggestions made by ordinary Singaporeans yesterday when asked how best the country can honour the legacy of Mr Lee and his team of leaders, as well as to educate future generations on it.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament on Monday that Mr Lee Tzu Yang, chairman of the Esplanade, will head a committee on a Founders' Memorial.

The late Mr Lee supported the idea of such a memorial, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen wrote on Facebook yesterday, as it could teach future generations about the values and beliefs that built a successful Singapore.

But Dr Yeo Kang Shua, of the Singapore University of Technology and Design, believes a regularly updated exhibition on the leaders will be a meaningful way to honour their work.

"An exhibition would be more informative and interactive," he said. "Honouring them shouldn't revolve just around physical reminders, but done in a way that can reach into the lives of Singaporeans too."

Marketing assistant Marilyn Lim, 29, wants podcasts of speeches by Mr Lee and the other founding fathers at the memorial.

Graduate student S. Puvanes-wary, 26, would like to see all four official languages used in exhibition displays.

Accountant Noor Azlin Yusof, 34, said that should Mr Lee's Oxley Road house be demolished, a plaque should be placed at the site, explaining its historical significance as it was where the formation of the People's Action Party was discussed.

Several agree with PM Lee that there is no need to rush the decisions on a memorial. Said retired shop owner Robert Wong, 60: "We always want to get things done fast, but these people spent years building Singapore. Do we want statues that will just gather dust? Do we want roads with their names? Let's give them our patience and think things through."

Law allows Govt to preserve Mr Lee's house, say experts
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 15 Apr 2015

THE late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's explicit wish was to have his Oxley Road house demolished after his death, but heritage and legal experts say the law allows the Government to protect it by preserving it as a national monument.

Under the Preservation of Monuments Act, the National Heritage Board can ask the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth to gazette the more than 100-year-old bungalow.

This is provided the property fulfils criteria such as having historic, cultural, traditional, archaeological, architectural, artistic or symbolic significance, and being of national importance.

Senior consultant Gopalan Raman of law firm KhattarWong's litigation department said yesterday that the property is clearly of "great historical value".

"It is the house of the first Prime Minister, who has done so much to develop Singapore to the state that it is in today with his early comrades," he said.

The Act also trumps Mr Lee's wish in his will for the house to be demolished after his death - or immediately after his daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, who lives there, moves out

Singapore Management University heritage law expert Jack Lee said the state has "power over personal wishes".

"A will of any person cannot override the ordinary law of the land. For instance, if someone were to will that his house becomes a casino, land zoning laws would take precedence," he said.

When a property has been identified for its heritage value, the authorities generally engage the owner over their plans.

The owner's consent is sought as the task and cost of the upkeep of the monument falls on the owner, said experts. So when a declaration to preserve it is made, it is presumably with the owner's consent, they said.

In the case of an unwilling owner, the law allows the Government to step in to acquire the property, said Dr Jack Lee. But this has rarely been done.

There is also no annual budget for acquisitions, said Dr Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore.

The experts yesterday acknowledged the late Mr Lee's wishes and noted that his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, told Parliament on Monday that Dr Lee intends to continue living there.

"Therefore, there is no immediate issue of demolition of the house, and no need for the Government to make any decision now," PM Lee said of the property and Mr Lee's wishes, in response to questions from MPs.

Dr Tan said it was unlikely that the Act would be used to acquire the house any time soon, owing to the difficulty of doing so.

Still, most experts said the formal process of assessing its historical significance should get under way. The Oxley house is where the People's Action Party was formed in 1954 and key decisions made in the early years of independent Singapore.

Dr Tan also believes that by the time the Lee family makes a decision on the house, a Founders' Memorial would have been built. This would allow Singaporeans to commemorate Mr Lee and the first-generation leaders without the Oxley premises in focus.

Since Mr Lee died on March 23 at age 91, calls to preserve his house have grown. An online petition gathered 1,700 signatures in about a week.

Straddling fine line between public and private wishes
In seeking to honour Mr Lee's wishes, loss of heritage will be significant
By Fiona Chan, Deputy Political EditorThe Straits Times, 14 Apr 2015

THE biggest struggle for any public figure is the sacrifice of some personal desires.

It was a trade-off that the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew faced over and over again, from missing out on seeing his children grow up while he was busy building a nation, to arguing with the Cabinet in 2011 over whether his house should become a museum - against his and his wife's wishes - after his death.

Now, the task of balancing public interest with private preferences has fallen on his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who yesterday reiterated in Parliament that his father had strenuously opposed preserving 38, Oxley Road as a relic to his memory.

The late Mr Lee had "seen too many other houses of famous people 'kept frozen in time... as a monument with people tramping in and out'. They invariably 'become shabby'," PM Lee recalled his father saying. In front of a packed House, he also recounted his mother's distress at the thought of strangers traipsing through her private spaces long after her death. Noting that his father had asked in his will for his house to be "demolished immediately" after his death, PM Lee said: "Speaking as a son, I would like to see these wishes carried out."

Yet, PM Lee has his own fine line to toe between his filial responsibilities as a son and his official obligations as head of government.

Since his father's death on March 23, the calls to preserve 38, Oxley Road have grown louder, with an online petition to save the house gathering 1,700 signatures in about a week and polls showing strong support for such a move.

These calls are not disrespectful or deliberately dismissive of the late Mr and Mrs Lee's wishes.

They simply reflect the desire to preserve an irreplaceable artefact: the house where Mr Lee and his colleagues founded the People's Action Party and decided to contest the 1955 elections, setting Singapore on the path to independence. It was also where Mr Lee, who chose to live there instead of moving into Sri Temasek, worked into the night on issues that shaped the country. And it was where PM Lee and his siblings grew up and gained their first exposure to politics, with a young PM Lee absorbing the excitement whenever his home was turned into election headquarters to prepare for the polls.

At yesterday's sitting, Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong suggested that memorials have little impact on citizens' lives and national identity, and proposed focusing instead on how to pass down Mr Lee's ideals to the next generation, such as by teaching them in schools.

But this underestimates the power that physical symbols hold in education and nation-building.

A country's history and values are difficult to absorb from even the best textbooks. They are better imbibed when brought to life, such as through museums or conserved buildings - including the Shakespearean houses in Stratford-upon-Avon, where the late Mr and Mrs Lee were married in 1947.

Indeed, PM Lee's response to Ms Chia noted the need for a solid "form for abstract ideals to focus the mind, to generate the emotion and to bond people". The national mourning and state funeral service for the elder Mr Lee made this clear, he added.

"It's a form, right? But it meant something to the participants and it left an indelible mark and it changed them," he said.

In a year packed with SG50 events celebrating Singapore's heritage, Mr Lee's death has catalysed an organic groundswell of interest in national history that no orchestrated initiative can match.

Many younger Singaporeans said they had learnt more about the country's past from the eulogies and newspaper articles over the week of national mourning than they ever did in school.

Other suggestions yesterday by MPs Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) and Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) to create a virtual tour of 38, Oxley Road, or to donate its furniture to a museum, would help keep the memory of the house alive in some way. But they would not create the same immersive and participatory experience future generations could have walking through the rooms where history was made, and seeing the simple furniture and fittings that embodied Mr Lee's lifelong ideals of pragmatism and thrift. Barriers could be erected to keep Mr and Mrs Lee's private rooms closed, with only the significant common spaces - such as the basement dining room in which many seminal political discussions were held - opened to the public.

Such real-life history lessons are especially key for a young country that has always looked forward, sometimes at the expense of remembering the past, and that tends to prize progress over sentiment.

In some ways, the directive to demolish his house is classic Lee Kuan Yew. He had said that demolishing it would raise property values for all who lived in the area. But Singapore has torn down enough buildings rich in history to know that demolition can lead to permanent regret. And since it is not uncommon for private properties to be gazetted for government use in the name of national interest, this rule could theoretically be applied to 38, Oxley Road too.

The decision has been deferred as PM Lee's sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, is still living in the house. Significantly, PM Lee said he would leave the decision on whether to tear down the house to the "government of the day" when Dr Lee stops living there.

It will be a difficult decision to make, for PM Lee in particular, having to honour his father's wishes while also bearing in mind the wider, longer-term national significance of the house where so much history was made.

A right way to remember
In the wake of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death, a committee will be convened to conceptualise a memorial to Mr Lee and Singapore's other founding fathers. It will be no easy task.
By Rachel Chang Assistant Political Editor And Rachel Au-yong, The Straits Times, 18 Apr 2015

WHEN epochal leaders die, countries turn to memorials to keep their legacies alive. These grand works of architecture and design then become spiritual centres for a mourning nation, reminders of the values upon which it was built.

Be it the contemplative Abraham Lincoln gazing out onto an American nation "conceived in liberty", or the candle in New Delhi that burns unceasingly for Mahatma Gandhi's ideals of peace and non-violence, the most beloved memorials around the world are seen as the better angels of a nation's nature.

In the wake of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's death on March 23, a clamour has emerged for a public marker to keep alive his life and legacy, both for the Singaporeans who laboured with him in the trenches of nation-building, and the later generations who were born blithe into the fruits of their hard work.

This week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the appointment of Esplanade chairman Lee Tzu Yang to head a committee to conceptualise a Founders' Memorial. It will honour not just the late Mr Lee, but also others in his core team.

But coming up with a concept that resonates with all Singaporeans will be arduous. Public support for the idea is likely to be the only point of unanimity in the journey towards its realisation, as architects, heritage experts and political watchers tell Insight.

If past experience - both here and elsewhere- is any indication, everything from the location and the design to the politics of the memorial will come under intense public debate.

For instance, the iconic Lincoln memorial in Washington DC was erected 57 years after Abraham Lincoln's death - after decades of objection to its location, then a backwater swamp, and its Grecian-style columns, which some saw as unpatriotic.

Expectations for Singapore's proposed Founders' Memorial are high, even before Mr Lee Tzu Yang has assembled his committee. Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng, who wrote a biography of founding Deputy Prime Minister S. Rajaratnam, says: "For centuries to come, this memorial should be viewed as a symbol for who we are as a people."

Design dilemmas

BUT it may be an impossible task to please everyone. The where, what and who of memorials have always bitterly divided their publics.

In Singapore, some have already cast their vote for locations to house the Founders' Memorial, such as Marina Bay - the game-changing plot of reclaimed land Mr Lee Kuan Yew had envisioned since the 1980s - or his lifelong ward of Tanjong Pagar.

Others, like architect Chang Yong Ter, feel that Mr Lee's home at 38, Oxley Road is the most fitting site for the memorial - despite Mr Lee's desire to have the house demolished, rather than have it become a "shabby" relic.

The modestly furnished pre-war bungalow was the site of many a decision that determined Singapore's very existence, including the formation of the People's Action Party.

"Preserving it would let future generations have a sense of how (Mr Lee) had lived simply despite his extraordinary vision for Singapore," says Mr Chang, the principal architect of CHANG Architects. "Even if the house is demolished, keeping 38, Oxley Road as a monument (site) has more value socially and economically than if it were to become just another condominium site."

But that location would constrain the size of the memorial. A sprawling space like a park to "trace the making of a nation (and) capture its trials and tribulations" has already received the public endorsement of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

A related idea to rename the Gardens by the Bay after Mr Lee, most recently advocated by journalism don Cherian George, has received the backing of Gardens chief executive Tan Wee Kiat.

Some experts like the idea of a park because the memorial can then be added to or evolved through the generations, unlike a more static creation of Mr Lee and his colleagues in statue form.

Indeed, a successful memorial is one that brings to life - and keeps alive - a person's ideals and work, says architect Randy Chan of Zarch Collaboratives, citing the Jacob Ballas Children's Garden in the Botanic Gardens, which Mr Chan worked on.

Mr Ballas, a Jewish-Singaporean philanthropist, valued nature and education. The Children's Garden, the first of its kind in Asia, embodies those beliefs in a way that continues to be meaningful to new generations.

But the manifold contributions of Mr Lee and his team defy easy categorisation. They, too, prized nature and envisioned Singapore as a Garden City, but were equally renowned for their governing principles of meritocracy, multiracialism and non-corruptibility.

PM Lee summed up this difficulty in Parliament on Monday, in his response to MP Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC), who had argued that renaming Changi Airport after Mr Lee would be a fitting reminder of how his expensive but farsighted decision to relocate the airport from Paya Lebar showed his determination to take on short-term pain for long-term gain over others' objections.

As PM Lee put it, the late Mr Lee "had a lot to do with (so) many things (that) if we want to name things after him, there's no shortage of things which are suited".

As individuals, each of Singapore's founding fathers was also multi-faceted. Mr Lee, for instance, was a tough-as-nails leader who did not shy from the use of methods like detention without trial against opponents. But he was also a devoted and loving husband of 63 years - a softer side of him that touched many Singaporeans.

Emphasising one aspect over another in a memorial is a sure way to court controversy.

In the United States, a bitter battle has been running since 2006 over the memorial for former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who died in 1969. The memorial's architect, Mr Frank Gehry, inspired by Mr Eisenhower's writings about his "barefoot boyhood" full of dreams in Middle America, had planned for a statue of Mr Eisenhower as a boy to take prominence in the structure.

Mr Eisenhower's grandchildren, however, were indignant that such a statue should take centre stage in a memorial for a man who went on to become a fearsome five-star army general and respected president.

"I am not sure if Mr Lee or the founders could be reduced to a central element," said Dr Chang Jiat Hwee, an assistant architecture professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

For this reason, he and other observers prefer a more abstract rendering of the founders' ideals. "A literal statue or sculpture is seldom as evocative or rich," he says.

As an example, Dr Chang pointed to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC, which he described as being "rich with so many layers of meanings that it could be read in many different ways by different 'stakeholders'".

It features a V-shaped wall, cut into the ground like a wound, on which the names of more than 58,000 wartime dead are inscribed on a mirrored surface that reflects visitors' visages - a symbolic meeting of past and present.

But literal representations can also be powerful ones, whether the sea of red porcelain poppies - meant to evoke bloodshed - around the Tower of London on the centenary of World War II, or the enormous statue of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping posing triumphantly in Shenzhen, the city where he began his free-market experiment to open up what is now the world's biggest economy.

MP Irene Ng envisions part of the memorial bringing alive what she calls "never again" moments in Singapore's history, "like the race riots, the trauma of separation and being left at the mercy of bigger neighbours, and the deep insecurity that came from being defenceless".

Dr Yeo Kang Shua of the Singapore University of Technology and Design argues similarly for the memorial to give visitors an "experience", like Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin, where visitors encounter three intersecting, slanting corridors which represent the three parts of Jewish life in Germany.

It also has continually changing exhibitions by different artists and curators, which Professor Yeo commends for "providing multiple narratives on the same subject".

Making the shortlist

THERE is also the knotty question of which individuals to honour in the Founders' Memorial.

In Parliament on Monday, PM Lee said that the core team of founders included former finance and defence minister Goh Keng Swee, former culture and foreign affairs minister S. Rajaratnam, former social affairs minister Othman Wok, former finance minister Hon Sui Sen and founding chairman of the Housing Board Lim Kim San.

Some members of the public also want to include Dr Toh Chin Chye, the PAP's founding chairman, and former labour and law minister K. M. Byrne, who was responsible for the groundbreaking Women's Charter.

Both men were in Singapore's first Cabinet headed by Mr Lee, as was former education minister Ong Pang Boon. Former law and national development minister E. W. Barker also drafted the documents for separation in 1965.

Then there is the thorny issue that several of the men who helped fight for Singapore's independence, like former chief minister David Marshall and former trade-union leader Lim Chin Siong, were bitter foes of Mr Lee.

"If we are talking about a Founders' Memorial, the difficulty will be in determining who these founders are," says law professor Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore.

"This gets us into the victor-versus-vanquished territory. It will be a nightmare and no one will be happy."

One possible solution is an "abstract and all-inclusive memorial to include all those who fought for the independence of Singapore, starting with David Marshall," says Dr Tan. Even then, he predicts an "impasse" with those who would prefer to see Mr Lee featured more prominently.

Making the process count

OBSERVERS say the only way to handle the debate over the memorial is to allow a full and unvarnished airing of differences.

"Good conservation of tangible and intangible heritage requires open engagement, debate, disagreement," says NUS heritage expert Johannes Widodo. "It also requires time over which something will crystallise into reality."

Experts were unanimous that the design process should be a blind and open one. Anyone should be able to submit designs to be publicly exhibited, but individual designers should not be identifiedso as to avoid any subconscious prejudices.

A similar process led to Ms Maya Lin, then a 21-year-old Asian-American undergraduate, designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982. Her race, gender and age were controversial, and some donors pulled their funding after her identity was revealed. But over two decades later, in 2007, the American Institute of Architects ranked the memorial 10th on its list of America's Favourite Architecture.

"The process of deciding the design of the memorial is as important as, if not more important than, the final outcome," says NUS' Dr Chang. "A memorial is frequently a reflection of not just who it commemorates, but also of the society that built it."

Like PM Lee did in Parliament this week, Dr Widodo urges patience. There should be no hurry to erect the Founders' Memorial in the next few years, he says.

Likening the journey to the public release of classified state documents after 30 years in some other countries, he said the passing of time "ensures a more objective view towards history".

"The iterative process will not only strengthen the final product, but also strengthen the democratic principles of a country."

With a brave and open process, Singapore's Founders' Memorial can join the ranks of beloved national icons everywhere - standing as testament to the nation's best, and a reminder of the greatness that successive generations should strive for.

Memorable memorials
Great leaders all over the world have been memorialised in various ways. Rachel Au-Yong takes a look at some of the more controversial monuments, and the lessons they may hold for the committee in charge of conceptualising the Founders' Memorial for Singapore.
The Straits Times, 18 Apr 2015

(1) Park Chung Hee

WHO IS HE? The South Korean president has been compared to Mr Lee Kuan Yew for his successful economic policies in the 1960s. He led the country until his assassination in 1979, at the age of 61.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? A memorial hall was opened in 2012, but not without vocal opposition and more than a decade of delay. The project was launched in 1999 but halted in 2005 by the liberal Roh Moo Hyun administration. After a long legal battle, construction was restarted in 2009.

Proponents said the memorial would boost awareness of Mr Park’s “economic miracle” that characterised his presidency, but opponents thought the facility idolised an “iron-fisted dictator”.

After it was opened, some civic groups complained that the association in charge of the memorial had violated its contract by filling the memorial’s library only with books on Mr Park.

(2) Martin Luther King Jr

WHO IS HE? The leader of the African-American civil rights movement, Dr King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, aged 39.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? Pretty much every aspect of Dr King’s monument in Washington DC, unveiled in 2011, drew some form of criticism.

Some wondered why Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin was hired, instead of an African-American artist. Human rights activists also took issue with the fact that Lei had previously created a sculpture of Chinese leader Mao Zedong, who was criticised for suppressing free speech and his enemies.

And despite promises that local stonemasons would be hired, it appeared that only Chinese labourers worked on the memorial. Granite from China was also used, leading to accusations that the contract was awarded based on financial considerations, given that the Chinese government had pledged a $25 million donation to help fund the monument.

Many also slammed the depiction of Dr King in the 9m-tall statue, arms crossed, as being “too stern” and having a “socialist realist” style more commonly associated with art forms in communist countries.

To make matters worse, etched in granite alongside the statue was a quote from Dr King that drew ire because of the way it was paraphrased.

(3) Diana, Princess of Wales

WHO IS SHE? The first wife of Prince Charles, who is the heir apparent to the British throne. She died in a car crash in Paris on Aug 31, 1997. She was 36.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, London, opened in 2004 to numerous complaints almost immediately.

First, there was the issue of cost. Some wondered if the monument, which cost £3.6 million (S$11.3 million at 2004 rates), was an appropriate use of money to remember a princess loved for being down-to-earth and accessible.

There was also criticism that calling the Mobius strip-like pond of water a fountain was a misnomer.

The fountain was open to members of the public, who could wade in the water. But this decision was the cause of three hospitalisations, as some people slipped and broke their ankles. Leaves from nearby trees fell into the water, making it unsafe to walk in and unsightly, and the fountain was closed temporarily.

(4) Franklin D. Roosevelt

WHO IS HE? The American president guided the country out of its worst depression and led it through a brutal war. He died on April 12, 1945, after a stroke, aged 63.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC was delayed for decades over design and financing issues.

Though the 1974 design competition was won by architect Lawrence Halpin, Congress could not appropriate the funds to build it for over 20 years. The memorial was finally opened in May 1997.

One of the biggest controversies involved whether to depict Roosevelt in a wheelchair, which he used after contracting polio. Designers decided against doing so, as Roosevelt had been careful not to be seen in public on a wheelchair, to avoid being viewed as physically weak.

Halpin’s statue shows the former president seated with his cloak covering his chair, which some felt obscured the truth and furthered prejudice against the disabled.

The memorial’s inauguration looked set to be marred by a protest from disabled activists, until then President Bill Clinton stepped in at the last moment and helped pass legislation to ensure that there would be another statue in the memorial showing Roosevelt in a wheelchair.

In January 2001, another statue that clearly showed the president in a wheelchair was placed near the entrance. The National Organization on Disability had raised US$1.65 million to erect it.

(5) Chiang Kai-shek

WHO IS HE? The leader of the Kuomintang party was president of Taiwan from 1950 till his death in 1975. He was 87.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was planned immediately after his death, and completed in 1980.

It soon became the site of many pro-democracy protests, including the 1990 Wild Lily student movement that culminated in the first popular elections of national leaders six years later.

In 2007, President Chen Shui-bian renamed the memorial the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. This was met with hostility from Kuomintang officials, who felt that Mr Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was trying to denounce Taiwan’s historical heritage.

The Kuomintang made good on its promise to restore the site’s original name after it wrested back power from the DPP in the 2008 elections. However, Mr Chen’s renaming of the memorial’s surrounding area as Liberty Square was allowed to stand.

(6) Christopher Columbus

WHO IS HE? An Italian explorer whose voyages to new islands across the world helped establish contact between Europe and the Americas. He died on May 20, 1506, at the age of 54, after prolonged illness.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? Many monuments have been erected in his memory, but the Columbus Lighthouse in Santo Domingo Este, Dominican Republic, was notable for the discontent it generated when construction began in 1986. The structure was completed in 1992.

Criticism centred on the eviction of some 8,000 families to make room for the sprawling lighthouse, which stands 210m long and 10 storeys high.

The monument also projected beams of light in the shape of a cross that could be seen from more than 100km away. This taxed the power grids and caused blackouts in surrounding homes.

Controversy also arose over the monument’s ballooning cost. It had cost about US$70 million, more than six times the government’s original estimate of US$11 million.

(7) Jose Rizal

WHO IS HE? The Filipino poet and revolutionary sought self-government for his country through peaceful means. He was executed by a firing squad on Dec 30, 1896, aged 35, for rebellion, sedition and conspiracy.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? In 1901, the United States Philippines Commission agreed to the use of public land to erect a monument to Rizal. An international design competition for the structure was held from 1905 to 1907.

Though Italian Carlos Niccoli won the competition, the contract was awarded to second-placed Swiss sculptor Richard Kissling, with no official explanation. Some say Kissling offered a lower quotation for the monument, while others insist that Niccoli simply did not show up to sign the contract.

Even after Kissling signed the contract, many criticised his model. Others took issue with the jury for the design competition, none of whose members were artists, architects or engineers.

Kissling’s design – a bronze figure of Rizal, holding copies of his novels and flanked by an obelisk – was eventually left as is, mainly because the statue had already been cast. The monument opened in 1913.

(8) Horatio Nelson

WHO IS HE? Admiral Nelson led England to a number of decisive naval victories against France’s Napoleon. He died on Oct 21, 1805, at the age of 47.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? Nelson inspired a cult of statues and memorials all across Britain. Among the first and grandest of these was the 41m-tall Nelson Pillar in Dublin, Ireland, on which work was started within a month of Nelson’s death.

But it was not without its critics, who said the base was unsightly and that it was a traffic obstruction.

In March 1966, anti-British protesters blew up the pillar. Today, the Spire of Dublin stands in its place.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew and 38 Oxley Road
Dr Lee Wei Ling on honouring the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew: 'Honour the spirit of what Papa stood for'

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