Remembering Lee Kuan Yew - Thank you - The nation with you in your final journey - See u in heaven

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew - Thank you - The nation with you in your final journey - See u in heaven
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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew 1923 - 2015 Chapter 2 - Timeline - Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister in the 1960s

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew 1923 - 2015

Chapter 2 - Timeline - Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister in the 1960s

Those without this indomitable fighting spirit had better go and sell stocks and shares. This task (Politics) is not for the faint-hearted. It is for people with deep and abiding conviction. LKY 1955

Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister in the 1960s
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 27, 1990
THE 1960s saw Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew embroiled in battles with the communists and communalists here and Malaysian leaders.
He also had to face the Confrontation campaign waged by Indonesia's President Sukarno.
The struggle against the communists climaxed in the do-or-die battle for supremacy over the People's Action Party when it split in 1961.
In 1962, Mr Lee led the fight to win the people's backing for merger and to obtain favourable terms for Singapore's entry into the federation.
Three bitter years of highly personal battles against the central leadership in Kuala Lumpur, however, ended in Separation in 1965, which Mr Lee faced with a sense of profound personal anguish.
The fledgling state raced against time to build up a credible national defence force to fill the gap resulting from the pull-out of British forces.
Mr Lee also turned his attention to establishing ground rules for industrial relations with tough labour laws in 1968. He was instrumental in setting up Asean in 1967.
Sept 2, 1961:
 "MERDEKA! MALAYSIA!" Mr Lee rallying supporters after 71 per cent of the electorate had voted in favour of the Government's proposal on merger with Malaysia. A quarter of the voters had heeded opposition party Barisan-Socialis' calls to cast blank or spoilt votes in protest against the Government's "Alternative A" for merger. The PAP Government's plan called for conditional merger with the Federation of Malaysia, with labour and education under state control and automatic conversion of Singaporean to Malaysian citizenships. An emotional Mr Lee declared: "The verdict of the people is a terrifying thing for the politically dishonest. The verdict is decisive. It is the seal of public and popular approval for merger and Malaysia. We are off to a good start." April 28, 1963: ISLAND-HOPPING WALKABOUT The Prime Minister, socks off and trousers rolled up, embarking on a tour of eight Southern Islands, as part of his walkabout. Mr Lee visited all 51 constituencies before the 1963 election. Mr Lee discussed issues facing the fledgling state with the islanders. He spoke about the merger talks taking place with Malaysia, redevelopment and resettlement plans for the islands. He urged the islanders to find new ways of making a living apart from fishing. May 10, 1964: IN THE BEGINNING THERE WERE SWAMPS PM Lee visiting the undeveloped area which was to become the Jurong Industrial Estate with the Yang di-Pertuan Negara, Yusof Ishak (extreme left). The estate was designated as the industrial heartland of Singapore, with industrialisation and export trade being seen as the way to beat the unemployment problems of the past.July 27, 1965: LABOUR PAINS Mr Lee warned leaders of the 15,000-strong Public Daily-rated Employees Unions Federation and National Trades Union Congress that the workforce would have to show discipline and not make excessive wage claims or he "would have to enforce discipline for them". The unions had been demanding a revision of the wage structure and backpayment of wage increases under a wage agreement of 1961. But Mr Lee said he could not agree to granting the back pay as that "would bankrupt the Government". The run-in with the unions culminated in the passing of new labour legislation in 1968 which restricted the unions' right to strike. Aug 9, 1965: SUDDENLY, A SOVEREIGN STATE Mr Lee struggling to control his emotions as he announced, at a press conference, Singapore's separation from Malaysia. The Proclamation of Singapore, signed by Mr Lee, read: "Now I, Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore, do proclaim and declare on behalf of the people of Singapore that from today the ninth of August in the year one thousand nine hundred and sixty-five, Singapore shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent nation." June 18, 1968: BIRTH OF AN ARMY Mr Lee inspecting the guard of honour before presenting the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (Safti) with its colours. Set up in 1966 to train officer cadets, Safti represented the beginning of a concerted drive to build up a national defence force from scratch. Nearly 120 officers were trained in its first year. And in July, 1967, the first batch of national servicemen was drafted.Work on filling the swamps in Jurong had begun in September 1961 and by the end of 1963, more than 700 hectares of land had been prepared for industrial purposes. In 1968, the Jurong Town Corporation was set up to manage the industrial estate and factories.
Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister in the 1970s
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 27, 1990
FOR the Prime Minister, the 1970s was the decade of fence-mending, diplomacy and internal consolidation.
In 1971, he hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and acted as a peacemaker between African states and Britain over the latter's plan to sell arms to South Africa. Mr Lee also embarked on a series of visits to boost relations with Singapore's neighbours. He visited Malaysia in 1972 and Indonesia in 1973.
In 1976, he travelled to China where he met ageing Chairman Mao Zedong.
At home, Mr Lee urged Singaporeans to improve their skills and raise their productivity, especially in the face of the world-wide recession triggered by the two oil crises in 1973 and 1979.
While stressing the importance of bilingualism in Singapore, Mr Lee appealed to Chinese parents to replace the use of dialects with Mandarin in 1979.
And in setting the annual Courtesy campaign in motion, he said that he wanted to create a more socially gracious society to make life in a compact city bearable.
June 1, 1979:
 SMILE, SINGAPORE Mr Ong Teng Cheong pinning a Smiley badge on Mr Lee at the launch of the two-month campaign aimed at improving the social graces of the people. Mr Lee argued that this was necessary if life in a highly compact society was to be bearable. In 1980, Mr Lee set the task of creating a Courteous Society by 1990. He said: "We can file down the rough ragged corners of our social behaviour which grate on each other."Sept 7, 1979: USE MANDARIN, NOT DIALECTS Launching the Speak Mandarin Campaign, the Prime Minister urged Chinese parents to use more Mandarin and less dialects when speaking to their children.This, he argued, would help to unite the Chinese community in Singapore and ease the educational load on their children, many of whom spoke dialects at home and had some difficulties learning two languages in schools.Feb 23, 1976: REVIEWING ASEAN UNITY Mr Lee and President Suharto reviewing a 600-strong guard of honour in Bali, where leaders from the five member states of Asean gathered for the first Heads of Government meeting.The summit re-affirmed the principles of the organisation, set up in 1967, and signed a Treaty of Amity and Co-operation and the Declaration of Asean Concord. The agreement was aimed at accelerating economic growth and serving as the foundation for peace and stability in the region.May 26, 1973: NO MORE CONFRONTATIONS A red-carpet welcome and 19-gun salute greeted the Prime Minister when he made his first visit to Indonesia after more than 13 years. The warm reception given to Mr Lee by President Suharto helped put aside bitter memories of the 1963 Confrontation and the hanging of the two Indonesian marines found guilty of a bomb attack in Singapore in 1968. The visit heralded the start of a new era of relations between Indonesia and Singapore. It also helped to establish personal rapport between the two leaders.March 22, 1972: REKINDLING RELATIONS "We are not strangers," said Mr Lee when he met Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak and his wife Toh Puan Rahah, on his first visit to neighbouring Malaysia since Separation in 1965. Mr Lee spoke of the special relationship that existed between both countries because of their proximity and historical ties. A warm welcome awaited Mr Lee when he arrived at Subang airport in Kuala Lumpur. It reflected the desire of both countries to put the trauma of Separation behind them.1971: PRESS BATTLES In a keynote speech entitled "The media and new countries", Mr Lee told the International Press Institute in Helsinki, Finland, on June 10, 1971, that the Western model of press freedom was not universally applicable. Mr Lee asserted that press freedom in Singapore would have to be subordinated to the will of the elected government and the need to maintain harmony in a multi-racial Singapore. The year saw the demise of the Singapore Herald and the Eastern Sun, which had been accused of "black operations" to undermine Singapore's security. Four executives from the Nanyang Siang Pau were also detained for stoking up racial feelings among the Chinese community.Dec 15, 1971: GREEN PIONEER The Prime Minister planting a Yellow Flame tree in his Tanjong Pagar constituency, after his return from a five-week tour of Europe and India which caused him to miss the first national tree-planting day held on Nov 7, 1971. Mr Lee, who has been planting trees since the early 1960s, fervently believes in making Singapore clean and green. It all began with the Keep Singapore Clean campaign in 1959, the forerunner of the Clean and Green Week held earlier this month. He also pushed for the clean-up of the Singapore and Kallang Rivers, a 10-year project which began in 1977.
Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister in the 1980s
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 27, 1990
The 1980s were the years of transition and problem-solving. The Prime Minister repeatedly stressed the importance of attracting the best men and women into politics.
Aug 9, 1990:
 SWINGING IN THE STERLING SILVER JUBILEE The Prime Minister and Mrs Lee leading the countdown to Singapore's 25th birthday at Swing Singapore along Orchard Road. More than 500,000 people joined in the celebrations. Dec 13, 1988: DRAWING THE LINE BETWEEN RELIGION AND POLITICS Commenting on religious activism among Singaporeans, Mr Lee stressed that the Government must remain secular and warned of the dangers of mixing religion and politics. His speech made at this Buddhist function at Manjusri Secondary School was a harbinger of the Religious Harmony Bill which was later introduced and then passed in Parliament this month.Sept 4, 1988: CHANGING OF THE GUARD The Prime Minister with his successor Mr Goh Chok Tong at post-election press conference at 3.40am, declaring that the 63.1 per cent votes cast for the People's Action Party was a solid victory for the new team. "The transition is complete. The future is up to my younger colleagues," said Mr Lee. Oct 9, 1985: STRIKING A BLOW AT PROTECTIONISM The Prime Minister addressing the United States Congress and urging American lawmakers to maintain the will to keep world trade free, open and fair.A protectionist US market would result in a downward spiral of the world economy. Other exporting countries could resort to traditional means of power via territorial expansion and the carving up of trading blocs, he argued. His speech drew rounds of applause from congressmen.Aug 14, 1983: BABY TALK In his National Day rally speech, Mr Lee touched on the sensitive subject of procreation and babies - or rather the lack of them. To buck the trend, several policies were soon put into place, including the setting up of match-making agency Social Development Unit and a new population policy of "Have three or more, if you can afford it".July 7, 1980: A NATIONAL UNIVERSITY The University of Singapore and the Nanyang University were merged to form the National University of Singapore because of declining enrolment in the Chinese university and difficulty in recruiting enough Chinese-language teachers. Mr Lee had feared that the beleaguered Nantah might lower its entry qualifications. Nantah's Jurong campus then became home to the Nanyang Technological Institute, which was upgraded to a full-fledged university and renamed the Nanyang Technological University.Dec 18, 1981: TRUE MEETING OF MINDS This was how the Prime Minister described his first official meeting with his Malaysian counterpart Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamed during the latter's first visit to Singapore. A series of bilateral issues were settled then, paving the way for greater co-operation and closer relations between the two countries in the decade. It marked the beginning of a personal understanding between the two leaders which was later cited by Prime Minister-designate Goh Chok Tong as one reason why he asked Mr Lee to stay on as Prime Minister for a little longer to wrap up the negotiations on the water agreement.
A room for pragmatism
This article was first published in The Straits Times on May 28, 2011
This is one of five essays on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's place in history.
Indonesian President Suharto at a meeting with Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in the Cabinet Room at the Istana. – ST PHOTO
MUCH of Singapore's destiny has been determined in one small, spartan room.
It is hidden away, under guard, in the sprawling, lush grounds of the Istana.
There are few trappings of power or ostentation amid the mahogany-panelled walls with two slender windows and a beige-patterned carpet.
Even chandeliers which once adorned the room have been replaced in recent years by plain fluorescent bulbs.
Yet this modest room in the north-eastern part of the Istana's hallowed halls, measuring just about 11m by 6m in size, has hosted powerful world leaders like then Chinese vice-premier Deng Xiaoping on his first visit in 1978. It has also been the make-or-break room for many an aspiring politician, and witnessed most of the pivotal decisions in the nation's history.
A camouflaged side door lets in butlers serving coffee, iced water, and Chinese tea in ceramic cups. And a small lift opposite the entrance connects to the upstairs office of a certain Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The lift's ping often signals his arrival in the room.
The centrepiece of the quiet room is a long mahogany conference table. Around it are 24 dark green, leather office chairs, 10 squeezed along each side of the table.
The temperature of the room is set at 21.5 deg C and humidity at 65 per cent, using a gauge on the wall, as per Mr Lee's instructions.
The austerity of the compound and its even climate are apt symbols of the no-nonsense and unwavering pragmatism with which Mr Lee has steered Singapore from Third World to First. When it comes to governing Singapore, there is little room for frills.
Former top civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow recounts a story of late former Cabinet Secretary Wong Chooi Sen asking Mr Lee for permission to change the furniture in the room in the late 1970s.
Mr Lee's terse reply: "What's wrong with the current furniture?"
This unbending pragmatism has been the backbone of many decisions that Mr Lee has made in his political career, which included establishing national service for the nation's defence, teaching English in schools, ownership of HDB flats, industrialisation through foreign investments, and forced savings in the form of the Central Provident Fund.

THE ISTANA, 2011: The Cabinet room today, where Government meetings and deliberations have been held since June 1971. – PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
They were all practical decisions made unapologetically to deal with the harsh realities facing a fledgling Singapore. At the launch in January this year of the book Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, Mr Lee said: "It is a pragmatic process of nation building... step by step. Each step we take is to open avenues for yourself and your children's future and that is the message I want to convey very strongly before I am not able to say it."
Exactly 52 years ago, Mr Lee formed his first Cabinet in May 1959. The air was thick with uncertainty but laced with hope.
He chose City Hall as a new venue for the Cabinet, rather than Empress Place, to underscore the new Government's separation from its former colonial masters.
Six years later at the City Hall Cabinet room, a solemn Mr Lee returned from Kuala Lumpur bearing devastating news: Singapore was booted out of Malaysia.
On Aug 16, 1965, a week after claiming independence, the new Cabinet of the Republic of Singapore met for the first time to get down to the nuts of bolts of building a nation from scratch.
Once the foundations had been laid, the Cabinet office was moved to more regal surroundings at the Istana Annexe for equally pragmatic reasons in June 1971. The traffic congestion and difficulty in parking had made it impractical for Cabinet meetings to be held at the old venue. Mr Lee the pragmatist was at work again.
Later, as Mr Lee sought to renew party ranks, potential candidates would be trotted into the room for several intense rounds of interviews, where their views on politics, philosophy and everything else were scrutinised.
Former Member of Parliament S. Vasoo recounted to The Straits Times his experience of being interrogated by then Prime Minister Lee, Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr S. Rajaratnam in the Cabinet room in 1984, when he made the cut to run under the PAP banner that year.
Dr Vasoo, who stepped down as an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC in 2001, recalled: "It lasted about 35 minutes. It was a milestone for me." He added that the lone chair meant for him across the table from the politicians became "like an oasis" - his little refuge.
But beyond that, precious little is known about the actual goings-on inside the most important room in Singapore.
When meetings are in session, the door is shut, the window blinds drawn. Only the ministers, the Cabinet Secretary, who takes notes, and a few selected observers from the civil service are allowed to sit in.
Bound by the Official Secrets Act, official records of the discussions are not available to scholars or the public, notes Dr Lam Peng Er, senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute. Thus, there is no way of knowing how the decisions are actually reached, he said.
During Cabinet meetings, held weekly in the afternoon, ministers debate what is on the agenda within the privacy of the four walls. In the 1980s, then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong began a ritual, where a more informal meeting begins earlier over lunch, with no notes taken and nothing recorded, for the ministers to toss up ideas - without Mr Lee's intimidating presence.
While the Cabinet outwardly presented a united front, there were heated arguments within the four walls over a range of topics.
The Old Guard famously clashed over Mr Lee's controversial views on genetics. He and a few others believed, for instance, that some people's genes were just better than others'. The likes of deputy prime ministers Dr Toh Chin Chye and Mr Rajaratnam begged to differ, believing in the equality of man.
Policies must be pragmatic, not dogmatic... Good government should never be shackled by theories however attractive and logically elegant.

Later, when Mr Lee became the Senior Minister and then Minister Mentor, younger leaders also questioned his assumptions, but he would attempt to sway them with his "databank" of historical realities and the force of his personality.
In Hard Truths, he recounted how former Transport Minister Raymond Lim had suggested privatising companies like Singapore Airlines.
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A shelter, a bulwark
This article was first published in The Straits Times on May 28, 2011
This is one of five essays on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's place in history.
One of the first three blocks of HDB flats at Queenstown under construction – blocks 45, 48 and 49 at Stirling Road. – PHOTO: HOUSING AND DEVELOPMENT BOARD
THE 47-year-old block of flats stands on a hill in Queenstown, towering over a busy intersection, the neighbourhood school, and newer public housing projects a stone's throw away.
Residents who have lived in Block 81, Commonwealth Close long enough have witnessed from their doorstep the steady evolution of Singapore - from the building of MRT lines to the rise of the Central Business District, visible in the distance.
Rising 16 storeys, the block is an icon of the nation's development. It belongs to a cluster of flats built in Singapore's first new town soon after the Housing and Development Board was established in 1960 to tackle a dire housing shortage.
Over 50 years, the statutory board has built more than one million flats. These, in turn, house more than 80 per cent of Singapore's residents. Last year, the Republic registered a home ownership rate of 87.2 per cent, a remarkable achievement for a country once blighted by shanty towns.
It started with one man's conviction of the great value of home ownership more than 50 years ago.
Then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew saw it as a quick way to cement national belonging amid staggering income disparity and at a time when the Republic was struggling to muster an army to ward off external threats.
He wrote in his 2000 memoir From Third World To First: "I believed this sense of ownership was vital for our new society which had no deep roots in a common historical experience."
Owning a home gave Singapore's foot soldiers something tangible to defend.
While Singapore's public housing system tackled pressing problems, it was also part of a grander scheme. Large tracts were compulsorily acquired from landowners to build flats that were sold at a subsidised price, amounting to a systematic redistribution of wealth. Through this, Mr Lee and the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) recast the bottom-heavy social order by putting assets within the reach of ordinary citizens.
This expensive exercise was made possible when Mr Lee and his right-hand man Goh Keng Swee expanded the colonial-era pension scheme to allow workers to buy flats with their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.
Buyers could also use their CPF money for the down payments for their flats.
He told PAP Members of Parliament in 1981: "No Singaporean will lose out on his HDB home because he was born later or got married later."
For a government ostensibly against handouts, housing formed a key plank of its social welfare programme. With a large chunk of retirement savings used up for housing, the flat quickly became a hedge against inflation and a store of retirement income.
After independence in 1965, I was troubled by Singapore’s completely urban electorate. I had seen how voters in capital cities always tended to vote against the government of the day and was determined that our householders should become home owners, otherwise we would not have political stability. My other important motive was to give all parents whose sons would have to do National Service a stake in Singapore their sons had to defend.

If the soldier’s family did not own their home, he would soon conclude that he would be fighting to protect the properties of the wealthy.

I believed this sense of ownership was vital for our new society which had no deep roots in a common historical experience.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew laying the foundation for the 50-storey Pinnacle @Duxton in August 2005. – ST PHOTO
Starting about 20 years ago, at the suggestion of Mr Lee, the Government shored up the value of ageing flats by upgrading them.
Given its extensive reach, public housing also became a means of social engineering. The Government encouraged family formation by giving citizens who were married, or who chose to live near or with their parents, for example, more in housing subsidies. Singles, meanwhile, were not allowed to buy new HDB flats and could buy only resale ones when they reached 35 years of age.
It gave rise to a uniquely Singapore phenomenon of men proposing marriage to their sweethearts by asking them if they wanted to buy a flat.
Public housing was also used to encourage ethnic integration. The HDB introduced quotas for different ethnic groups in 1989 to prevent enclaves from forming. Although it subsequently lowered the prices of flats owned by ethnic minorities, Mr Lee said in his memoir: "This is a small cost for achieving our larger objective of getting the races to intermingle."
The public housing system was something that Mr Lee took a special interest in, and returned to over and over again during his time in government.
Mr Liu Thai Ker, the HDB's chief executive officer from 1979 to 1989, remembers how Mr Lee would visit public estates with HDB staff three to four times a year. Mr Lee, said Mr Liu, was willing to pursue unfashionable decisions based on logic. "The style of Mr Lee and his Cabinet is 'clarity equals courage'," he said.
Mr Koo Tsai Kee, former Member of Parliament in Mr Lee Kuan Yew's Tanjong Pagar GRC, on Mr Lee's role in revitalising the ward the former Prime Minister had helmed since 1991.
In the 1970s, for example, high-rise public housing was written off by many governments as slums in the making. But the HDB decided to forge ahead with highrise dwellings.
Mr Liu said: "If we could not go for that kind of density, we could not deliver on home ownership... We would have run out of land a long time ago."
Today, quality, affordable housing continues to form a key part of the PAP Government's promise to successive generations of Singaporeans.
Blocks 81 and 82 in Commonwealth Close belong to a cluster of flats built in Singapore's first new town. — PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
While widely admired around the world, Singapore's housing policy has its detractors. Academics have warned that the system encourages overspending on housing as well as an overdependence on it to provide for retirement needs. In an interview last year, housing economist Joseph Gyourko from the University of Pennsylvania argued that the extensive use of CPF funds for housing was akin to betting one's retirement savings on the fortunes of a tiny country's property market - a risky proposition.
A 2001 paper published by the Wharton-Singapore Management University Research Centre, meanwhile, shed light on the "asset-rich, cash-poor" status of the average Singaporean worker, who would have three-quarters of his assets locked up in housing upon retirement.
In 2005, a paper released by the Department of Statistics noted that HDB flat owners were well-off in terms of the asset value of their flats, as even the bottom 20 per cent of households by income had an average of $138,000 in home equity. Respectable as this figure was, economists noted that the equity was hard to extract, because owners of HDB flats could not use their homes as collateral for loans to fund other life needs.
This constraint was also cited as a reason for the lacklustre state of entrepreneurship in Singapore, as funds tied up in CPF contributions and housing could not be used to start businesses.
Over the years, the Government has steadily reduced the amount of CPF savings that potentially can be withdrawn for housing.
Still, in a 2007 paper entitled Singapore Model Of Housing And The Welfare State, economist Phang Sock Yong of Singapore Management University noted: "The present concerns faced by Singaporeans, in particular the lack of unemployment safety nets and the possible inadequacy of personal resources for retirement and health care in the future, serve to highlight the risks of over-emphasising housing in the welfare system for too long."
Policymakers, she wrote, would have to grapple with the difficult trade-offs to "reduce dominance of housing welfare without adversely affecting housing asset markets".
Depending on how one looked at it, Singapore's housing system is a policy straitjacket or a multi-function social welfare instrument.
The tightly woven nature of each aspect of the housing system meant that even small changes have major implications down the line.
(Without the housing scheme) the disparities between the property owners and the non-property owners would have led to great antagonisms and governments would have been voted out. Here, they have got something valuable, and if you change a good government for a dud one, the economic growth slows, confidence flows out, your properties would go down in price.
The view from Block 81, Commonwealth Close. It belongs to a cluster of flats built in Singapore’s first new town soon after the Housing and Development Board was established in 1960 to tackle a dire housing shortage. — ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
Recent moves to introduce a reverse mortgage scheme for elderly flat owners and allow more owners to sublet flats to counter the "asset-rich, cash-poor" phenomenon created greater demand for flats. This, coupled with an influx of foreigners and a growing economy, pushed up property prices, much to the detriment of families starting out.
In recent months, while the HDB has been churning out new flats, it also has had to guard against releasing too many units lest it depress the resale flat market - which would, in turn, shrink the retirement savings of hundreds of thousands of retirees and would-be retirees.
Despite various changes to CPF and housing policies over the years, National University of Singapore's Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo, from the department of real estate, wonders if there continues to be a systemic bias towards housing in the CPF system.
He tells The Straits Times: "Is the current low interest rate of 2.5 per cent for the ordinary CPF account a factor that creates disincentives for households to keep the money in their accounts instead of using the CPF savings to finance a bigger house?"
That said, most would agree that Singapore's housing policy has done immeasurably more good than harm, providing not just shelter but also a bulwark against social division and political upheaval.
In the HDB's 50th anniversary book Our Homes, released last year, Mr Lee was quoted as saying: "Without this scheme, Singapore could not have been as politically stable as it has been."
Singapore's chief gardener
This article was first published in The Straits Times on May 28, 2011
This is one of five essays on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's place in history.
The greening of Singapore: Mr Lee Kuan Yew planting a tree during his 10-hour tour of the Bukit Panjang constituency in 1963. – ST PHOTO
MR Lee Kuan Yew planted his first tender sapling on June 16, 1963.
When he bedded down the little Mempat tree in Farrer Circus, a traffic roundabout, he also seeded a civilised garden city in an unruly land.
In season, the tree, a native of dank South-east Asian jungles, was crowned with pale pink blossoms that looked like sakura.
Mr Lee planted the tree amid a drought to signify the start of an island-wide tree-planting campaign to help bring rain. A vegetative cover helps to produce and filter water.
In time, the prosaic rationale would acquire a complexity and subtlety that closely mirrored the country's jagged trajectory to the First World.
Mr Lee envisioned that a clean and green Singapore would carry a competitive advantage.
"After independence, I searched for some dramatic way to distinguish ourselves from other Third World countries. I settled for a clean and green Singapore," he wrote in his 2000 memoir, From Third World To First. "Greening is the most cost-effective project I have launched."
A well-tended city sent a signal to investors and VIPs that Singapore was a disciplined nation that cared about maintenance and order.
Greenery lifted the morale of the people, too, when the country was still a crude outpost. Later, when Singapore was a shiny metropolis, Mr Lee would say in his memoir that his own spirits rose each time he motored from the airport down verdant East Coast Parkway.
Tree-planting was turned into a nation-bonding exercise as well. Citizens and foreign dignitaries alike have been roped in to beautify Singapore since the first official Tree Planting Day on Nov 7, 1971.

GARDEN CITY: A Mempat tree in full bloom, similar to the one Mr Lee planted in 1963. The "pioneering" tree in Farrer Circus, a traffic roundabout, had to make way for roadworks – ST PHOTO
Mr Lee still unfailingly plants a new tree in November every year - the start of the rainy season, which minimises watering.
So the grand theme of the garden city is nation-building. Said Mr Poon Hong Yuen, chief executive of the National Parks Board (NParks): "We must remember that the greening of modern Singapore started when we were still not well-off. Now, we take it for granted that Singapore is and should be green, but why should it be a priority for a country that could not even be certain about its economic survival?
"I believe it is because Mr Lee saw greening as an integral part of nation-building. Well-managed greenery helped at that time to convince investors that Singapore was a place where things worked. It has also instilled in Singaporeans a sense of pride that they live in the Garden City. These are benefits that cannot be easily quantified, but critical to nation-building."
GREEN CITY: Mr Lee wrote in his memoirs that his spirits rose each time he drove from the airport down verdant East Coast Parkway. – ST PHOTO
Today, almost 50 per cent of the island is covered with greenery. No corner is left ungreened - not urban canyons or Chinatown, police stations or schools, overhead bridges or old estates.
This political equipoise was unlike the colonial British style of cultivating only the prestigious enclaves in Tanglin and around Government House (now the Istana). Elsewhere, the land was barren.
Today, about two million trees have sprouted, and each is recorded in the NParks database.
This eye for obsessive detail was no doubt imparted by the Chief Gardener, Mr Lee.
Mr Wong Yew Kwan, 79, the first commissioner of Parks and Recreation from 1974 to 1982, would be flooded with the then Prime Minister's memos and endless wish lists.
Recalled Mr Wong, an Oxford-schooled silviculturist: "He liked walking in the Botanic Gardens in the evening. Then his personal secretary would call with requests. Mr Lee might see pruned branches left on the side of the road. Or he wanted to know why the leaves had fallen from a troubled tree."
Mr Lee, who studied in Cambridge and noticed that even busy London had stately elms, was so passionate about plants that he grew knowledgeable about soil and drainage, climate and fertilisers.
He surveyed the continents for new plants, which have been introduced from places like Australia and South America.
His first priority was to put a cool canopy over Singapore with shade trees such as the angsana and rain tree, which he favoured. Then came the civic beautification, with flowering and fruit trees that drew the songbirds he noticed had been missing.
He exerted decades of strong political will to create a Garden City, not letting climate get in his way, or the survival rate of exotic imports, or children who vandalised new plants.
But sceptics today complain that the garden city is a high-maintenance artifice that is lacking in bio-diversity.
Dr Geh Min, immediate past president of the Nature Society (Singapore) and a former Nominated MP, wrote in Management Of Success: Singapore Revisited, published last year: "The garden city was a mere backdrop for the urban landscape, a highly engineered and managed showcase for good governance superimposed on Singaporeans who had no role other than as passive spectators and recipients."
She told The Straits Times that this "over-manicured" and "top-down" approach does not convey a respect for nature. "Instead it's the feeling that you can create anything if you have the money," she said.
Besides, the definition of greening has to be broadened, she argued, to include conservation of marine areas which are environmentally the most threatened. Truer greening must also mean greater citizen participation in basic green responsibilities like recycling, and a more active role for Singapore in global environmental issues, she added.
Can we not get tall equatorial forest trees, like the Jelutong or the Teak, that grow to 30m to 40m to grow alongside the 30- to 50-storey buildings sprouting all over the city?

They will keep their proportions alongside these high-rises. Such tall trees are slow-growing. All the same, experiments in America with tree hormones have proved that tree growth can be speeded up. The challenge for Parks and Recreation is to give that touch of quality and originality in maintaining a balance of flora and fauna in our city, despite the bulldozer, despite the reinforced concrete structures and tarmac-ed motorways. Both brain power and aesthetic sense, and more resources are the keys to success.
GREEN FUTURE: Saplings in the Sembcorp Forest of Giants in Telok Blangah Hill Park. Some can grow as tall as a 30-storey HDB block. — PHOTO: SAMUEL HE
In reality, much has been irreversibly lost despite the pretty Garden City veneer. A road runs through the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, which is home to more tree species than the whole of the North American continent. Nature reserves make up about 5 per cent of Singapore now. Vegetable plots, swamps and coral reefs have also made way for progress.
Still, green activists such as Dr Geh give some credence to the notion that "top-down green is better than no green".
Mr Poon, the NParks CEO, said: "The conventional wisdom is that development is achieved at the expense of nature. In Singapore, our green cover, worked out from satellite images, has grown from 36 per cent in 1986 to 47 per cent in 2007, despite rapid economic and population growth.
"So, rather than thinking of our green drive as 'artificial', I would prefer to say we have achieved something extraordinary through sheer will and decades of hard work."
Officialdom's approach is more refined as well. He said: "From orderly trees that showcased our efficiency, we are now aiming for greater urban biodiversity and options for nature recreation that make Singapore a great city to live in."
So this greening drive has been widened over the years by NParks, which has recast the "Garden City" as "A City in a Garden" distinguished by a seamless green infrastructure of parks and streetscapes. To date, the Park Connector Network linking parks, nature sites and housing estates spans 150km.
NParks now works more with corporations and the community on programmes to stoke a love of the environment. Last year, Sembcorp Industries sponsored the Sembcorp Forest of Giants in Telok Blangah Hill Park. The saplings include the Tualang (Koompassia excelsa) that can grow as tall as a 30-storey HDB block.
Looking ahead, political risk consultant Azhar Ghani noted in a recent paper - Success Matters: Keeping Singapore Green, published by the Institute of Policy Studies - that the next phase of the greening journey will see greater focus on "recreation and leisure, catering for different interests and lifestyle aspirations, innovations and creativity for greening up Singapore".
Meanwhile, the first Mempat Mr Lee planted is no more.
An NParks spokesman said the tree was removed but not replanted when Farrer Circus made way for roadworks. However, other Mempat or Cratoxylum formosum trees still flower in places from Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8 to the Hundred Trees condominium in West Coast.
The "pioneering" Mempat was felled by progress, but the greening drive it heralded is alive.

NATION-BUILDING: Mr Lee Kuan Yew planting a Mempat tree in Farrer Circus in 1963, to signify the start of an island-wide tree-planting campaign. Mr Lee envisioned that a clean and green Singapore would carry a competitive advantage. – ST PHOTO
Educating a young nation
This article was first published in The Straits Times on May 28, 2011
This is one of five essays on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's place in history.
National Junior College, officially opened in 1970, is Singapore’s first junior college. – PHOTO: NATIONAL JUNIOR COLLEGE.
WHEN enrolment at The Chinese High School and eight other once-reputable Chinese-medium schools fell to a trickle in 1978, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew came up with a practical solution to save them. They would be transformed into "super schools" for the top 10 per cent of students, teaching in English but keeping up their high standard of Chinese.
At that time, one by one, the dominoes of Chinese-language education, including Nanyang University, succumbed to market forces and the ascendance of the English language.
The policy change meant that in one fell swoop, Chinese High, proud bastion of the Chinese community and former leftist breeding ground, was refashioned as one of nine Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools, getting choice teachers and extra government funding.
These schools would become hothouses for two of Mr Lee's overriding concerns - getting bilingualism right and ensuring the best talent for a small, resource-starved country.
This would transform the entire educational landscape, which in the early years under the People's Action Party (PAP) had been focused on mass education and still had schools in four separate language streams.
When the PAP came to power in 1959, just over half the population was, or would soon be, of school-going age. Throughout the 1960s, the Ministry of Education (MOE) was in survival mode, furiously building schools and recruiting teachers. By 1966, Mr Lee lamented the "literate but not educated population" that had poured out of these "faceless" schools, a far cry from the illustrious alumni of his schooldays at the elite Raffles Institution.
For if we are not to perish in chaos caused by antagonisms and prejudices between water-tight cultural and linguistic compartments, then you have to educate the right responses amongst our young people in the schools.
Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew signing copies of his latest book, My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey, in his office at the Istana on Dec 5, 2011. In all, 200 signed copies will be sold for at least $10,000 each. The sales proceeds of $2 million will go to the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism. The fund is administered by the Ministry of Education and will be used for initiatives to help preschool children learn their mother tongues and English. — ST PHOTO
From the late 1960s, new types of schools and programmes were spawned to remedy this. Pre-university classes in secondary schools were replaced by junior colleges with better facilities and more independent learning for bright 17- and 18-year-olds. He opened the first of these, National Junior College, in 1970.
Tailoring curriculum load to the ability of students, or streaming, started in 1979. A gifted education programme was launched in 1984 for the top 1 per cent of upper primary and secondary school students.
Many of these changes took place from the late 1970s, after Mr Lee and the Cabinet's best policy architect Goh Keng Swee had settled more pressing matters like defence and the economy. Mr Lee made himself Education Minister for four months in 1975 to get to grips with problems facing the schools. In 1979, he dispatched Dr Goh to overhaul the ministry, which the latter led until 1984.
On bilingualism, Mr Lee was clear that English should be the common language of all races. But he was also an untiring champion of the mother tongue, and not just to appeal to the Chinese-speaking segment of the population. He was convinced Singaporeans stood to gain from having both English as a window to the world, and the mother tongue for "cultural ballast".
He frequently cited his own experience of the "sterilising effects" of a "completely English-type education which deprives the child of that spiritual line with his past", as he put it in 1966.
That was the year a second language was made compulsory in all secondary schools - the beginning of the bilingual policy as Singaporeans know it, and the start of a painful time for many with no home exposure to a second tongue, be it English for the Chinese-educated or Mandarin for English-educated Chinese.
His interest in bilingualism was all-pervasive. It sparked long-running initiatives such as the SAP schools and the annual Speak Mandarin Campaign, which began in 1979, as well as short-lived, now-forgotten policy experiments.
One example was bilingual pre-primary classes in primary schools, which Mr Lee started in 1979 out of a belief that languages were best absorbed at a very young age. These classes were scrapped in 1990, the year he stepped down as prime minister, when MOE decided to pull out of pre-school education.
I have had, on many occasions, reason to discuss the sterilising effects of a completely English-type education which deprives the child of that spiritual line with his past... Therefore, there is the necessity for preserving for each child that cultural ballast and appreciation of his origin and his background in order to give him that confidence to face the problems of his society.
Bilingualism was "the most difficult policy" he had to implement as PM, Mr Lee said in a rare display of vulnerability in 2009. He had proceeded on the wrong assumptions, thinking one could be equally fluent in two languages, and then equating intelligence with language ability.
Finally, in 2004, a review of the teaching of the Chinese language which he participated in as Minister Mentor settled the problem, he told a 2009 issue of party magazine Petir. The review by MOE introduced a modular approach to teaching the mother tongue in primary schools, based on students' home language backgrounds.
"Had we done this earlier, we would have had less wastage of students' time and effort and less heartache for parents," he said.
On the flip side, his insistence that all students study both English and their mother tongue meant a new generation of Singaporeans could switch between cultures and speak to one another in a common language, in contrast to the more "water-tight cultural and linguistic compartments" of an earlier era, to use his own phrase from a 1959 speech.
Analysts say that underlying all these policy moves was a philosophy that did not subscribe to education for education's sake.
Rather, it was seen as "a vital tool of social engineering", says Singapore Management University Assistant Professor Eugene Tan, who has researched the bilingual policy. "Schools were the primary vehicle by which young Singaporeans were socialised into the norms and values of a young nation-state."
This view of education as a corollary of civic responsibility and nation-building was shared by Mr Lee's Old Guard colleagues, and still guides the Government's education policy today.
One of the PAP's founding principles was equality of opportunity for all in education. But as the education system evolved and had to respond to the higher-order challenges of globalisation, differences in the Cabinet emerged, specifically over how those of higher ability should be encouraged to thrive.
One controversy came up in 1984. Mr Lee and then Education Minister Goh, both hard-headed realists, decided to give graduate mothers with a third child priority in choosing the best schools for all their children, to encourage better-educated women to marry and procreate.
We, fortunately, came early to the conclusion that in fact children are what they are – a few gifted, several very able, most average, some slow, but all capable of learning to achieve their potential. This is our most valuable asset – the more orderly, systematic training and grading of people, so that employers can know who can do what, so that we have got the right man for the job he can do best.
Mr Lee subscribed to studies which showed that better-educated parents produce more intelligent offspring.
"The egalitarians in Cabinet led by Raja (S. Rajaratnam) were outraged," he wrote in his memoirs, From Third World To First. The Second Deputy Prime Minister at the time, Mr Rajaratnam was an avowed believer in fairness and justice for all.
This priority for graduate mothers was rescinded after the election later that year, when the PAP saw a drop of 12 percentage points in votes.
In recent years, questions have been asked if the education system is becoming overly elitist and eroding Singapore's much-vaunted social mobility. Earlier this year, Mr Lee sparked a parliamentary debate when he told reporters that while the quality of teaching was the same in top schools and neighbourhood schools, students in the former had many more parents who were graduates.
Then Education Minister Ng Eng Hen was quick to show that meritocracy is alive and well. Figures showed that of students in the bottom third socio-economic bracket, about half score within the top two-thirds of their Primary 6 cohort.
The bilingual policy has been another political hot potato. In the early years, Dr Goh's research showed that a majority of ethnic Chinese students were failing their languages because they were not speaking either English or Mandarin at home, but rather a Chinese dialect.

Book cover: My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingualism Journey by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. – ST PHOTO
To fix this, Mr Lee embarked on an aggressive Speak Mandarin Campaign to promote Mandarin instead of dialects. "The birth of bilingualism entailed a long and painful labour. It was as if something unnatural was being born, and the Government was begetter and midwife to the whole woeful process," historian Edwin Lee wrote in his book, Singapore: The Unexpected Nation.
Implementing bilingualism entailed deftly managing demands from different interest groups. On the one hand, the Chinese-educated felt marginalised by the loss of Nanyang University and the closure of the Chinese schools. On the other, other races charged that certain policies such as the SAP schools reflected a bias towards the Chinese language and culture that would unravel social cohesion.
In 1999, Mr Lee revealed that former minister S. Dhanabalan had argued strenuously in Cabinet for SAP schools to be shut down. "But I had argued back that what we lose will not make up for what we will gain," said Mr Lee.
He treasured the values of the old Chinese schools, such as discipline and a great capacity to endure hardship, which he felt "provided the social stability in Singapore that enabled the PAP Government to carry out the policies that got us through".
Clearly for him and Singapore, what is taught in the classroom resonates beyond the four walls. Future leaders will have their work cut out for them in applying both political will and personal conviction to such complex terrain.
We took 30 years to solve the problem (of how to teach the mother tongue). First, by recognising that students in the same class of similar ability in other subjects do not cope with the second language at the same pace. Second, if the home language is Mandarin/dialect, you can follow what you are taught in class. If you are from an English-speaking home, then you must learn Mandarin as a second language.
From grassroots to lifestyle
This article was first published in The Straits Times on May 28, 2011
This is one of five essays on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's place in history.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew opening the Minto Road Community Centre in 1960. — ST PHOTO
IT'S 7.45pm on a Tuesday night at the Tanjong Pagar Community Club.
In the main hall, a group is practising Aikido throws. In a studio, half a dozen women are learning to strengthen their abdominal muscles. In other rooms, motley groups of housewives, retirees and young professionals are picking up the finer points of Cantonese opera, jewellery making and Chinese brush painting.
Opened half a century ago by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1960, the three-storey building, which boasts a multi-purpose hall, a gallery, and studios for art, pottery and dance, has come a long way from its humble wood-and-zinc beginnings.
It sits on a slope up Yan Kit Road, wedged between the Housing Board flats in Tanjong Pagar Plaza built more than 30 years ago and the showcase public housing project, The Pinnacle@Duxton.
Community centres - or community clubs as they have been known since 1990 - are a Singapore institution dating back to the island's colonial era.
The first two community centres were opened in 1953 in Serangoon and Siglap. Although ostensibly set up to meet the social and recreational needs of residents, they had another role: to disseminate information about policies, as well as to gather feedback so that colonial administrators could retool unpopular ones.
When the People's Action Party (PAP) came into power in 1959, it not only overhauled the CCs but also built a lot of new ones.
At the opening of the Minto Road CC in 1960, Mr Lee said: "The policy of the Government is to build many modest, small and medium-sized community centres costing about $15,000 each, and to have one at every thickly populated area to provide the escape valve for the recreation of children in the day, and adults in the evening."
From a mere handful, there were, by 1966, 186 of these facilities all over the island, equipped with basketball courts, chessboards, black-and-white TVs and classrooms offering language classes and courses in dressmaking.
Formerly run by the Department of Social Welfare, all these CCs came under the People's Association (PA) which was established in 1960. Managed by a board comprising elected and appointed members including top civil servants and leading politicians, the PA set out to, among other things, build a multi-racial community, train leaders and promote recreational and nation-building activities.
In a thesis entitled Community Centres In Singapore: Their Political Involvement written in 1974, academic Seah Chee Meow wrote that mass-based institutions like the CC provided the Government with "the organisational framework by which to mobilise mass support".
He added that they "gave opportunities for political participation and the Government was thus able to avoid a situation of having to suppress demands for participation".
Suppose we did not have community centres (CCs), community development councils, residents’ committees and CC management committees, I believe we will be worse off.

Who will provide these facilities for the two-roomers and three-roomers and the poorer of the four-roomers who have no access to badminton courts or volleyball courts, computers and so on?

In the CCs, we provide the infrastructure and the facilities. They are not deprived. Without the CCs, they would be deprived.

Indeed, the PAP deemed the CC a crucial tool in helping to foster unity among the different ethnic groups and create a national identity. It also helped to keep the communists at bay.
In an interview for the book We Are One to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the PA last year, Mr Lee explained one reason for setting up the PA and the CCs.
"I watched how the communists or pro-communist United Front operated. They won people over by helping them to improve themselves (through) literacy classes, which they used to pump in their ideas, Marxist ideas.
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CPIB ‘helped raise Singapore's standing’
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 19, 2012
Lee Kuan Yew outlines the critical role it played in helping Singapore prosper
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left), former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (behind PM Lee) at the Istana for the 60th-anniversary commemorative ceremony for the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) on Sept 18, 2012. — ST PHOTO
SINGAPORE’S graft-busting watchdog and its officers have contributed to the country’s standing, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said yesterday.
They give confidence to investors, which has led to national progress and prosperity, he said, in hailing their efforts as the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) marked six decades of stamping out bribery.
Mr Lee and his successor Mr Goh Chok Tong were special guests at a ceremony marking the occasion yesterday.
Mr Lee added in a statement: “We must remain vigilant and ensure that Singapore continues to be regarded as one of the least corrupt nations in the world, with a clean public service and businesses that abhor corruption.”
Singapore has remained clean despite being in an area where bribery is endemic, he noted, and its challenge is to stay corruption-free.
His mission when he became prime minister in 1959, he recalled, was to establish a clean and efficient government against such a corruption-ridden backdrop.
The CPIB had been set up seven years earlier by the British, but little was done because the CPIB lacked the necessary resources and legal powers, and corruption remained commonplace.
So, then PM Mr Lee set about tightening the laws and entrenching a zero-tolerance stance towards bribery.
Wealth disproportionate to a person’s earnings could now serve as corroborative evidence when a person was charged with corruption. Systems to ensure every dollar in revenue was accounted for were established. Instruments to prevent, detect and deter instances in which discretionary powers could be abused were sharpened.
“We... gave CPIB officers more powers of interrogation and to seize documents,” he said.
The latest cases are new forms of corruption, with sex being exchanged for favourable outcomes. There is no end to human ingenuity.
Nobody was exempt, including the prime minister himself, whom the CPIB was directly under.
If the head of government refused to give his consent for the agency to make inquiries into a case, its director could seek permission from the president.
The CPIB, which Mr Lee termed a “tenacious and effective instrument” against graft, has also developed a formidable reputation for thorough and fearless investigations. High-level government officials, including ministers, MPs, senior civil servants and prominent businessmen, have all been probed.
Mr Lee said this was testament to the agency’s independence.
They include the case of Teh Cheang Wan, one which Mr Lee recounted in detail in his message in a coffee-table book launched to coincide with the 60th anniversary celebrations.
In 1986, the then National Development Minister offered to pay back $800,000 in exchange for immunity. Teh eventually committed suicide and left a letter for Mr Lee, which is reproduced in the 120-page book.
The most recent high-profile probes involve the former chiefs of the Central Narcotics Bureau and Singapore Civil Defence Force, in which they allegedly obtained sex for contracts.
Mr Lee said the latest cases were new forms of corruption, with sex being exchanged for favourable outcomes, observing that “there is no end to human ingenuity”.

"Lee to MP's: Keep your hands clean", reads the headline of a Straits Times article published on Feb 24, 1977. Mr Lee had delivered a three-and-a-half hour speech in Parliament the day before, urging Members of Parliament never to become "hostages to fortune" . If they allowed themselves to put their hands "into anyone's till", then they and the government would be dead politically, he warned. – ST PHOTO
Leaders must be above suspicion, he said, and insist on the same high standards of probity of fellow ministers and the officials working for them.
Consultant and former university don Jon Quah, who has carried out research on corruption since 1977, paid tribute to the elder statesman, and said Mr Lee played a very important role in establishing Singapore’s zero-tolerance policy to graft from the start.
“That was the right decision, as being a country with no natural resources, the best way to attract investment was to show we did not accept corruption,” he said.
Former senior minister of state for law and home affairs Ho Peng Kee said the former PM set a clear and uncompromising anti-graft tone which has become embedded in Singaporeans’ DNA.
We must remain vigilant and ensure that Singapore continues to be regarded as one of the least corrupt nations in the world, with a clean public service and businesses that abhor corruption.
Tripartism: Why Singapore must not take it for granted
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 13, 1989
The article is an excerpt of a speech delivered by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at an NTUC workshop. He spoke on the future direction of the labour movement.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew was speaking in 1965 to a mass May Day rally organised by the National Trades Union Congress at the National Theatre. The rally was attended by more than 7,000 workers from all walks of life. — ST PHOTO
TWENTY-EIGHT years after the NTUC was founded in 1961, it is useful to assess the role it has played and to decide the future direction of the labour movement.
When the non-communist unions broke away from Satu (Singapore Association of Trade Unions) to form NTUC, there was a clear-cut difference in the two roles of the communist and non-communist unions.
The communists in Satu wanted to bring the system to a grinding halt and to topple the government. They were not interested in improving the lot of the workers or making the system produce rewards for the workers. The non-communists in the NTUC were determined to bring benefits to the workers by building up the economy.
The history of the last 30 years has shown that the communists were wrong. They have failed miserably, and not just in Singapore.
On the other hand, the NTUC has helped workers in Singapore achieve advances in their standards of living, of education and training, of home-ownership and in their high quality of life.
If NTUC policies of tripartism and high productivity had not produced results in a better life for the workers, by now new groups of unions, opposed to the NTUC, would be rallying thousands of disgruntled workers against tripartism.
This has not happened. Workers know that the policies of the NTUC have succeeded in getting them a better living and a better life in a better Singapore. The policy encapsuled in the phrase "tripartism" means that unions together with management and Government can create more prosperity for workers.
However, whether the future role of the NTUC in tripartism is valid has to be tested against actual performance. It is the benefits for workers from tripartite policies that decide its meaning to workers.
Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew (centre) met the Joint Chambers of Commerce representatives and trade union leaders at the PM Conference Room in City Hall in 1965. — ST PHOTO
It is useful to recall that the two trade union models for Singapore when the NTUC was formed in 1961 were either:
(1) the communist unions, used by the CPM as their united-front vehicle, a violently anti-employer, anti-profit, anti-imperialism line, or
(2) the British TUC (Trade Union Congress), an institution emphasising class divisions and antagonism and animosity of British workers towards British bosses, in a social system where workers were always one down in the social ladder, and employers always one up amongst the upper classes.
In the late 1940s, a British Labour Party government in Britain had sent British trade union leaders to Singapore to help move Singapore's trade unions away from the then communist model.
The NTUC and the PAP decided to reject both these models. We groped our way forward to search for a formula to meet our needs.
Had we adopted the British TUC model, both the NTUC and the PAP would have failed. At that time, we did not know that the Japanese had already worked out a union-management-government relationship that was to see Japan blossom into the world's greatest and most competitive industrial power.
Economists are convinced that without the co-operative attitudes of Japanese unions and their enthusiastic support of higher productivity, Japan would not have achieved such phenomenal growth. Had the Japanese unions been class-conscious, filled with animosity against their bosses like the British unionists, Japan may well have gone the other way.
The lesson is that fighting the boss successfully does not necessarily bring good to the workers. Indeed by defeating the boss, the workers will succeed in defeating the company and destroying their jobs. Instead, Japanese unions have shown that co-operating with intelligent management to achieve high productivity brings pay increases and job security.
Karel van Wolferen is a Dutchman who is very critical of the Japanese. He has lived there for over 20 years in Japan. In his book The Enigma Of Japanese Power, he concluded that the harmonious relationship between management and labour did not spring into being spontaneously. It was established only after the Japanese government, with the concurrence of the American occupation forces, neutralised a genuine threat from labour led by an ideologically-motivated Left in the 1950s.
Van Wolferen described how once the Japanese bureaucrats had neutralised the communists and radical Left, they rebuilt the Japanese unions on the concept of the 1920s idea of the company-as-family. The post-war labour unions in Japan were formed as enterprise rather than industry-wide unions.
Workers developed intense loyalty to their firms. They did their utmost to increase production and did not change jobs in mid-career. In return, employers cared for their workers and did not retrench them even during a recession.
However, despite the tremendous improvements Japanese unions brought to their members, their unionisation rate has steadily declined from 55.8 per cent in 1949 to 28.2 per cent in 1986.
In other words, over 70 per cent of Japanese workers did not find it necessary to be members of any unions. The same thing has happened in Singapore. In 1960, the unionisation rate was 39 per cent; in 1988, 19 per cent. (This is also true of the United States and many countries in Europe.)
Van Wolferen also described how genuine union protests in Japan, started in 1965, called Shunto or the "spring offensive" had now become an annual ritual, with lunch-hour strikes organised by company unions, wearing head-bands and arm-bands, with minimum disruption to production and minimum inconvenience to travellers or customers.
Japanese experts attached to Singapore's National Productivity Board tell us that they notice a fundamental shift in attitudes of many Japanese unions in recent years.
The class-consciousness that characterised the early unions, that divided workers and management, has disappeared. There is widespread realisation that Japanese workers are also home-owners, shareholders and consumers just like the bosses. So, relations between unions and management have become harmonious so much so that Nippon Telephone and Telegraph's in-house union Zendentsu in 1985 scrapped such terms as "class", "reaction" and "fascism" from their vocabulary.
Immediately after World War II, Japan had only one major national union called Sohyo. This was communist-led. Several years later, a second national union, Domei, was formed to oppose it. Its members co-operated with management and government. Domei supported the productivity movement when it was launched by the Japan Productivity Centre in 1955. Sohyo did not.
The achievements of the NTUC can be summed up in the dignity, a sense of their worth and fair value for their work that the NTUC has given to Singapore workers. Singapore is a society based on effort and merit, not wealth and privilege depending on birth.

There is nothing in the lifestyle of the employer which is not open to the worker. If executives go to their country clubs, so can workers. If the executives play squash, tennis or golf, so do workers. If executives go on holidays abroad, so do workers.
Over time, many members of Sohyo began to support the productivity movement. Because they were members of Sohyo, they did not do this openly.
Two years ago, in 1987, Domei and like-minded Sohyo members got together to form Rengo. Rengo's aim is not to seek continual wage increases but to promote better working conditions and the general welfare of its members and families.
Rengo has also declared that it is not in favour of strikes. From red flags and red head-bands worn during lunch-hour strikes, they are changing to flags of different colours, especially green, to symbolise nature. And whereas many enterprise unions used to emphasise money in their negotiations, their programmes now increasingly call for self-fulfilment and family happiness.
Singapore unions have yet to reach such a mature understanding with management. However, even if NTUC achieves what the Japanese unions have achieved, it does not mean that its problems are over.
Indeed, your Secretary-General, Mr Ong Teng Cheong, has sent me a list of his problems. First, the lack of recognition of the union's role. As a result, employers and even some workers believe that the NTUC is too co-operative of government policies.
Second, management attitudes are wrong in that they actively discourage the formation of new unions, or ignore or undermine the union's presence, or do not support legitimate union activities or victimise union leaders.
Third, that workers, because of the wrong management attitudes, believe that the union is under management or government control, and does not push hard enough to get more for the workers. Fourth, that many workers calculate the worth of union membership by the cost versus tangible benefits.
This means that tripartism cannot be taken for granted. It is a relationship that must be nurtured, developed and sustained. It is a relationship whose benefits must be seen and understood, by both workers and management. It may be natural for some employers not to want unions, and not to have to deal with union leaders when changing terms and conditions of service.
Unions cannot expect such managements to actively foster trade unions. But what the unions can prove to them over time is that trade unionism in Singapore does not mean unreasonableness, antagonism and animosity; that unions mean an organised group of workers willingly accepting productivity targets and active participation to make the enterprise more successful and profitable, in order to share in the increased profits. Unions must show that this is more likely to happen when workers are organised and willing to co-operate with management for mutual benefit.
Because the PAP derived its early strength from the support of the unions, the Singapore Government has always been committed to a strong and a constructive trade union movement. This is a fact.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then the Senior Minister, meeting Singapore Airlines management and union leaders in 2004. — ST PHOTO
And because a single leadership straddles both the PAP and the NTUC, Singapore's economy has blossomed. But we cannot assume that this natural state of affairs will continue forever. So far, we have made it work because everybody believes this is in Singapore's best interests.
The older workers amongst you, and there are fewer and fewer of them, know that the NTUC could easily have gone in a different way, and our unions would be in a state of perpetual hostility towards management and towards Government. Workers could have become resentful of imagined grievances and unwilling to co-operate to increase productivity, and the economy would not have boomed. This did not happen.
The business of tripartism now is to find new ways to make enterprises more profitable by increasing productivity and so give workers better wages, better perks, better terms and conditions of service.
This has been better understood and recognised because the NTUC itself manages enterprises and needed to apply the principles of good management in its management of its many enterprises - a taxi co-operative, Comfort, an insurance co-op, Income, a retail co-operative, FairPrice, the NTUC Child Care Services, the NTUC Club and the NTUC Pasir Ris Resort. There are plans for a golf country club in Seletar, chalets in Sentosa, and a labour college.
Grassroots union leaders on the boards of these co-operatives read the financial statements each month. They know what it takes to run an enterprise and make it grow.
The achievements of the NTUC can be summed up in the dignity, a sense of their worth and fair value for their work that the NTUC has given to Singapore workers. Singapore is a society based on effort and merit, not wealth and privilege depending on birth.
There is nothing in the lifestyle of the employer which is not open to the worker. If executives go to their country clubs, so can workers. If the executives play squash, tennis or golf, so do workers. If executives go on holidays abroad, so do workers.
To conclude, each generation of union leaders must earn afresh the trust and respect of the workers they lead and of the managers they negotiate with. Similarly, managers must also earn the trust and respect of their workers and union leaders. Unions must remember that for their workers to do well, they must balance the needs of their workers with those of management, and of Government, that is the context in which tripartism can succeed.

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