Lee leaves a lasting legacy in Singapore

24 Mar 2015

Source: Gulf News, 24 March 2015

The death of Singapore’s founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, marks the end of an era. Lee was the leader of Singapore when it won its independence, as part of Malaysia, from Britain in 1959, and for three decades he was the driving force behind Singapore’s success in becoming a dominant commercial hub for all of Asia, despite its lack of natural resources and hostile international environment. A significant part of Lee’s achievement was to develop Singaporean society with remarkably little ethnic tensions despite its volatile mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians. This was particularly difficult in the immediate aftermath of Malaysia’s expulsion of Singapore in 1965 because Singapore refused to back the affirmative action in favour of the Malays that the rest of Malaysia had adopted.

The combination of race riots exploited by both Communist and Indonesian sedition gave major challenges to the new prime minister of the reluctant state. But Lee’s success in taking Singapore to the highest levels was due to his determination to focus on practical issues like efficiency, lack of corruption and pragmatism, supported by an authoritarian government that backed a liberal business regime. One example of this was his linking the salaries of ministers, judges and top civil servants to leading private sector professionals, thereby reducing the temptation for corruption. It was important that Lee institutionalised his success so that when he stepped down in 1990, his work was able to flourish and continue, as he made the important leap to recognise that the state was larger than himself. 

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