Controversial opinion piece prompts FT to speak out in defence

Local blogger Jeraldine Phneah recently published a blog post about why she would not be “THAT sad” about the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Although the piece was well-researched, she still drew the ire of grieving netizens. This backlash prompted another blogger to come to her rescue: Limpeh Is Foreign Talent (LIFT). Before we start slamming about how foreign talent are in no position to comment on our great and mighty Founding Father, at least look at what they both have to say.


1. On what they personally feel about LKY

JP: Acknowledges that LKY has “many qualities” and “good traits”. But not a “hardcore fan”.

LIFT: “I actually have a lot of respect for the great man.”


2. The points of contention

#1. MYTH OR FACT: Harry Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore from a fishing village into a first-world country.

fishing villageSource

ANSWER: The port of Singapore was established long before LKY’s time. Sir Stamford Raffles and William Farquhar were the pioneers of this idea. In 1825, Singapore’s port already enjoyed a trade volume of $22 million, surpassing that of Penang.

In 1939, the British completed the construction of a $500 million naval base.

Plus, if you watched the Channel 8 drama The Journey: Tumultuous Times, you would probably know that the police force, hospitals, schools and public transport were already present.

Verdict: MYTH. However, LKY did introduce some of his own remarkable policies, which we will also look at.


#2: MYTH OR FACT: LKY was the sole economic architect of modern Singapore.

modern singaporeSource

To say that Lee was an architect would be agreeable, but to say that he was the sole architect would fail to accord the proper respect to many other Singapore stalwarts who also gave their life to build Singapore.

Albert Winsemius was a Dutch economist who served as Singapore’s economic advisor for the period 1961-1984. He worked closely with Mr Lee and his team to attract foreign investment, an economic policy that still stands today. He was such an influential figure that LKY personally wrote a letter of condolence when Winsemius died.

“It was Singapore’s good fortune that he (Dr Albert Winsemius) took a deep and personal interest in Singapore’s development. Singapore and I personally are indebted to him for the time, energy and development he gave to Singapore. I am proud to have known him and to have been his friend.


Goh Keng Swee was another key figure under LKY’s leadership. He set up the Economic Development Board (EDB), introduced compulsory National Service, established the Government Investment Corporation (GIC), and spearheaded the building of attractions like the Jurong Bird Park and Singapore Zoo.



#3: MYTH OR FACT: LKY did not do much in terms of contributions to Singapore.

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 12.05.54 pmSource

Many people worked hard to build Singapore up, LKY was just one of them. But what set LKY apart from the rest was perhaps his remarkable ability to rally Singaporeans together and give them reason to work towards a better future.

Could anyone really not have felt inspired after hearing the man speak?


3. Why we need to know all of that: LIFT

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Even as LKY built one of the best education systems in the world, we still have a long way to go before Singaporeans as a whole learn to accept and debate differing opinions. A possible reason why active debate was clamped down on in Singapore’s budding years could be that Lee wanted to avoid unnecessary hindrance towards economic growth. You just have to look at America’s frequent deadlocks toward economic policies as a classic example.

But these days, any opinions contrary to the general sentiment will be ridiculed and slammed.

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Phneah’s article contained facts. Not baseless slander. Yet, many still found fault. But a true fan of Lance Armstrong should also have to come to terms with the fact that he was caught for doping. Doing anything else would just be selective. Similarly, we should respect the man for what he was, and despite what he was.

4. What probably pissed us all off

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People are grieving, and sad people are not exactly the most rational. So we can’t help but feel Phneah had it coming when she published the article at such an inappropriate time. Like how Bertha Hensen put it, “Mourn now – fight later”.

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The sky-high salaries that our politicians enjoy is probably common knowledge by now. But Phneah put it in a not-very-nice way, and even seemed to insinuate that Lee did it for the money, power, and status. Obviously Singaporeans would get pissed.

Dear Ms Phneah, this is a man who commands the highest level of respect and reverence, and here you are implying that maybe he did it all for the power instead.

My ah-ma will slap you la, you know.

(She really loves Lee Kuan Yew.)

UPDATE: Ms Phneah has clarified with us that she did not mean that LKY did it for the money and power. She merely thought that there could be a mix of intentions.

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With reference to Wikipedia, Wikipedia, LIFT, Jeraldine Phneah