I refer to Straits Times congratulatory messages by LKY worshippers Mr Senan, Mr Anthony Oei, Mr Sim S. Lim, Mr Johnson Lim, Mr Ramasamy, Mr Allen Tan, Dr Tony Tan and Mr Ng Eng Hen on the occasion of his 90th birthday , , , , , , , .
Mr Senan claimed that it was LKY’s audacious, bold, pragmatic yet willful vision and determination of choosing export industrialization over the traditional import substitution that put us on our path to rapid development, allowed us to succeed against the odds in the 1960s and transformed us into a vibrant nation of global influence out of proportion to our tiny base .
Mr Oei claimed that LKY elevated Singapore from Third World to First in one generation and made it a spectacular success so that Singaporeans today enjoy a high standard of living and a stable and peaceful environment .
Mr Sim claimed that LKY, at the heart of our good government, took the poorest Asean country (by gross domestic product per capita) and made it the richest through brilliance and tenacity and proved that one man can make a difference and create value from little more than air, water and earth .
Mr Johnson Lim claimed that we owe LKY a debt of gratitude for our success story because our nation is what it is today because of his energetic passion, prophetic vision, foresight, courageous leadership, pragmatic policies, courage, compassion, conviction and commitment that decisively transformed Singapore and made it possible for a small city state to make a big difference on the world stage .
Mr Ramsamy claimed that we owe a great deal to our pioneer leaders led by Mr Lee who, in one generation, transformed Singapore from Third World to First .
Mr Allen Tan claimed that modern Singapore is the result of LKY, whose leadership and vision made Singapore exceptional and made us feel exceptional .
Dr Ng claimed that LKY, with singular mission and dedication, steered Singapore to independence, laid the foundations that transformed Singapore from a nation born into hardship and poverty to a modern, thriving metropolis, forged Singapore into a nation admired worldwide for its prosperity, harmony and stability, lifted an entire nation, improved the lives of countless Singaporeans over several generations, left a lasting legacy to us all and achieved greatness , .
Dr Tony Tan claimed that generations of Singaporeans benefited from LKY’s lifelong contribution towards creating the peaceful and prosperous Singapore that we know today .
1. We weren’t the poorest
Singapore wasn’t the poorest but the richest Asean country in per capita GDP when LKY took over . LKY thus could not have taken the poorest country in Asean and made it the richest since Singapore was already the richest at the point when LKY took over.
||1960 real per capita GDP
2. LKY didn’t take us from Third World to First
LKY did not take Singapore from Third World to First because we weren’t Third World to begin with when LKY took charge in 1959. Our 1960 per capita GNI in 2010 PPP USD was already US$4,794  which put us in the Upper Middle Income category according to World Bank classification.
||Criteria (based on 2011 per capita GNI)
||US$12,476 or higher
|Upper Middle Income
||From US$4,036 to US$12,475
|Lower Middle Income
||From US$1,026 to US$4,035
||US$1,025 or below
Carl Trocki also wrote on page 166 of his book ‘Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control’: “Singapore had already attained a middle income status in 1960 with a per capita GDP of $1,330”. Thus, Singapore did not transition from Third World to First under LKY’s watch but from near First World to First World.
3. LKY didn’t transform us from poverty and hardship into a modern metropolis
Many authors testify to the fact that Singapore was already prosperous when LKY took over:
• Post-war Singapore was never a backward fishing village waiting to be transformed by Lee Kuan Yew into a modern economy. The King of Thailand wouldn’t have sent 20 of his sons to a fishing village for education in the late nineteenth century. A fishing village could not have staged a manned air flight as early as 1911. Singapore was credited with the finest airport in the British Empire in the 1930s. LKY had already acknowledged in an Aug 1967 speech to American businessmen in Chicago that we were already a metropolis. (LKY could not have transformed Singapore into a metropolis in just two years after our independence).
Peter Wilson / Gavin Peebles, Economic growth and development in Singapore: past and future, Page 26
• Before World War II Singapore had already experienced very considerable economic development. At the beginning of the 1950s it was the most important communications centre in the Far East, not just for shipping but as a focal point for airlines, telecommunications and distribution of mail, Singapore in the inter-war period, was the biggest market in the world for natural rubber, internationally important as a specialized futures market for tin, and a major world oil distribution centre. There existed a reservoir of human capital: the city had an entrepreneur class which is both extensive in numbers and high in quality, and substantial industry, not least as a centre for ship repair with the skilled labour force this implied. Quantitative evidence confirms this impression of rising living standards. In 1956 the first estimates of national income for Singapore showed that per capita income had been increasing fairly steadily and rapidly since 1948 and were very much greater than almost anywhere else in Asia. Per capita income was probably over a third of that in the United Kingdom. Prosperity had spread, so that Singapore was almost certainly the only place in Asia where there is a really substantial middle class. In the mid-1950s the island had 30 people per private car and British Malaya 70. No other country in Asia had fewer than 120.
The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century, W. G. Huff, pages 31-33
• Since its foundation, Singapore had rapidly developed into a prosperous international free port. Its success was due to joint Sino-British expertise, capital and labour. By the 1930s Singapore had become a trade focus for an immense and wealthy area stretching from the Bay of Bengal to China and embracing the whole of Southeast Asia. This entrepot trade in tropical produce of the surrounding regions and imported manufacturing goods from the West was the backbone of the Colony’s economy
Yeo Kim Wah, Political Development in Singapore, 1945-55, page 14
• Singapore thrived as the intermediary for the trade between the advanced industrial economies and countries with lower levels of achievement. Singapore was the example par excellence of a colonial port that had prospered on global trade because its overlord had the wisdom not to confine its trade for narrow imperial gain.
Abu Talib Ahmad and Liok Ee Tan, New terrains in Southeast Asian history, page 152
• By the time the Suez Canal opened in 1869 and with the advent of the steamship revolution in the latter half of the nineteenth century, this small settlement and outpost of British imperialism had become a global port that could rival any other in the world.
Derek Thiam Soon Heng, Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, Singapore in Global History, page 57
• The growth of Singapore to its position not only as the key port of the Straits region by the late nineteenth century but also to a position as a major global port is perhaps the most exciting aspect of economic change in the Straits in this period. By the early 1930s, Singapore was estimated to be the fifth or sixth most important port in the world.
Goh Kim Chuan, Environment and development in the Straits of Malacca, pages 107, 114
4. We had more than just air, water and earth
Nearly all First World nations derive less than 2% of their GDP from natural resources. Thus, just about all First World nations create wealth out of little more than air, water and earth. Furthermore, many authors testify to the fact that Singapore had more than just air, water and earth to help us succeed:
• There are four reasons which enabled Singapore throughout her history as a British colony, and today as an independent republic, to survive and even prosper in the face of apparently insurmountable difficulties. First, there is the well-known fact of a superb central geographical location with a natural harbor swept by currents flowing between the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. The second reason must be ascribed … to Sir Stamford Raffles’ great vision of the island growing into a great emporium founded on the Victorian belief in the virtues of free trade. Successive colonial governors zealously nurtured the port, maintained lean and efficient administrators, and allowed merchants and bankers full scope for the exercise of their talents. In the modern idiom, the Victorians who governed Singapore established and maintained an infrastructure at minimum cost with maximum efficiency. The third reason derives from the second condition, the nurturing of the free enterprise system. In the absence of monopolies and privileged business interests, keen and free competition ensured efficient business. Finally, what made Singapore grow as a trading centre despite mercantilist policies of neighbours was that the economics of the business did not add up to a zero sum game. This happy result emerges from the continuous and rapid economic development of the countries in Southeast Asia under British and Dutch colonial administrations. For well over a hundred years Singapore learnt to adapt her economy to changing circumstances. This ability to adapt which was won in the hard school of experience remains an asset which the government of independent Singapore decided to retain. It might have been politically expedient to rid ourselves of institutions and practices that bore the taint of colonial associations. Had we done so, we would have thrown away a priceless advantage.
Goh Keng Swee, The Practice of Economic Growth, Chapter 1: Why Singapore succeeds, pages 6-7
• The economic success of Singapore is explicable on two counts. One is that Singapore started from a high base. The other is the favourable international economic forces on which Singapore capitalized. Singapore inherited an administration which worked and built on it.
The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century, W. G. Huff, pages 31-33
• By the 1830s, Singapore had become the major trading port. It was challenged by Manila and Batavia but had three crucial advantages over the other colonial port cities and over the major indigenous ports. First, its geographic location: most ships trading between China, India and Europe had to pass Singapore. Second, its status as a free port: the Dutch in Batavia and the Spanish in Manila levied a range of tariffs and charges on imports, as did local rulers in the smaller ports. Third, its linkages into the British commercial and industrial empire: Britain was then the dominant colonial power.
A Short History of South-East Asia, Peter Church, Chapter 9
• This entrepot economy was a combined product of Singapore’s geographical location and the deliberate policies of British policies after 1819. The international free trade policy of the Straits Settlements Government has also done much to attract the trade of the nearby countries to Singapore and to make the city a clearing house for the products of the area known as south eastern Asia.
Sin Kiong Wong, Singapore Chinese Society in Transition: Business, Politics, and Socio-Economic Change, 1945-1965, page 231
5. Our economic blueprint was from Dr Winsemius, not LKY
Many authors testify to the fact that it was Dr Winsemius and his team of United Nations experts who developed the economic blueprint upon which Singapore’s post independence economy was based.
• He was Singapore’s trusted guide through economically uncharted waters for 25 years from 1960. Through him, Singapore borrowed ideas and strategies that worked for Netherlands and other developed nations. Singapore’s economy is flying high today, thanks in large measure to his sound advice and patient counsel. He is the Father of Jurong, the Dutchman behind Singapore Incorporated. Dr Winsemius was a special person for he had changed Singapore to what it is today. For Singaporeans today, a huge debt of gratitude is owed to the Dutch economist.
Straits Times, Dr Albert Winsemius Singapore’s trusted guide, 7 Dec 1996
• He was behind the 10-year development plan that saw the island state transform into today’s high technology, high value added industrial hub.
Straits Times, He Believed in Singapore’s Future, 7 Dec 1996
• Singapore’s economic miracle owes something to Dutch economist Dr Albert Winsemius. Dr Albert Winsemius was not merely a consultant, he was someone who revolutionalised and set Singapore’s economy in the right direction.
Tactical Globalization: Learning from the Singapore Experiment, Aaron Kon, page 170
• Dr Winsemius of the Netherlands and Mr I.F. Tang of China were two foreign friends of Singapore who made extraordinary contributions to the economic development of Singapore as leader and secretary of the first UN Industrialisation Survey Team in 1961.
A Mandarin and the Making of Public Policy: Reflections, Tong Dow Ngiam, page 66
• Goh Keng Swee and Dr Albert Winsemius are generally regarded as the brains behind the coherent export/foreign investment oriented policies that Singapore has followed.
Multinationals and the Growth of the Singapore Economy, Hafiz Mirza, page 77
• A year after his first visit to Singapore, he presented a 10-year economic development plan. Winsemius also advised the government about large scale housing projects in Singapore and managed to get Philips, Shell and Exxon to Singapore.
Managing Transaction Costs in the Era of Globalization, F. A. G. den Butter, page 38
• Albert Winsemius presented a ten-year development plan to turn Singapore from a port dependent on entrepot trade to a manufacturing and industrial centre. Following the Winsemius Report, the Legislative Assembly passed an Act in 1961 to create a statutory board to promote industrialisation and economic development. The EDB came into being …
Lim Kim San: A Builder of Singapore, Asad Latif, page 106
• The 1960-61 United Nations mission led by Albert Winsemius helped develop a blueprint for Singapore’s industrialisation and development plan and recommended the establishment of EDB. The Winsemius report provided the basis for Singapore’s first development plan. It made two particularly notable observations. The first was that Singapore did not lack entrepreneurs but they were mainly in commerce and not in manufacturing. This suggested the need for the government to participate directly to operate certain basic industries if neither foreign nor local enterprises were prepared to do so. However, said the report, long-run government participation might harm the investment climate unless it was true to commercial and market principles. The second point recommended the establishment of a nonpolitical EDB with divisions for financing, industrial facilities, projects, technical consulting, services, and promotion. The report recognised that the EDB’s core function should be the promotion of investment and that it should eventually hand over its financing activities to an industrial development bank. The Winsemous report was accepted and its recommendations implemented almost immediately. In its early years, the EDB had technical advisers from the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Initially, it concentrated on the four industries identified in the Winsemius report, namely, shipbuilding and repair, metal engineering, chemicals, and electrical equipment and appliances.
Lessons from East Asia, Danny M Leipziger, pages 240, 241
• In 1960, a UN industrial survey mission headed by Albert Winsemius was sent to Singapore, at the PAP government’s request, to survey the possibility of industrialisation. The Winsemius Report recommended, among other things, that Singapore should make use of the skills and ability of the local labour force to develop certain selected industries including chemicals, building material, steel-rolling, ship-building, and electrical appliances and parts, by wooing well-known foreign firms to set up joint ventures with local firms. It also advised that the new local industries to be set up should aim at the overseas market, since the domestic market was tiny. In 1961, the government drew the State Development Plan based on the Winsemius Report, which later became a Five-Year Development Plan. That same year, in accordance with the advice given by Winsemius, it set up the Economic Development Board (EDB), which was then given the task of constructing industrial estates, providing loans to firms in the private sector, attracting FDI, setting up joint ventures with foreign MNCs, and putting into practice fiscal measures under the Pioneer Industries Ordinance.
Japanese Firms in Contemporary Singapore, Hiroshi Shimizu, page 31
• In line with the recommendation of the Winsemius Mission, Singapore implemented policies contrary to the spirit of the 1960s by allowing foreign companies full ownership of their investments and control of operations. This gave Singapore an immediate advantage over other countries that had adopted a more nationalistic or socialist philosophy that prevented complete foreign ownership and control of large manufacturing investments.
Singapore, the Energy Economy: From the first refinery to the end of cheap oil, Ng Weng Hoong, page 12
• Singapore’s emergence as a pivotal manufacturing node in the emerging network of transnational capitalism was partly made possible by missionary zeal displayed in the adoption of the Winsemius Report, submitted on behalf of the United Nations Industrial Survey Mission of 1960.
CyberAsia: The Internet And Society in Asia, Zaheer Baber, page 59
• The Winsemius Report, as it is commonly known, eventually formed the blueprint for Singapore’s development efforts.
No Miracle: What Asia Can Teach All Countries about Growth, Mitchell Wigdor, Chapter 6
• An area of 2,025 hectares was suggested at first for the new Jurong Industrial Estate. In June 1961, Dr Albert Winsemius, an economic expert from the United Nations Bureau of Technical Assistance, submitted his report on an Industrialization Programme for Singapore, and recommended 6,480 hectares. The Winsemius Report also proposed the setting up of an Economic Development Board (EDB) to develop the area and promote free-enterprise industry.
• With Singapore’s secession in 1965, the United Nations Proposed Industrialization Programme for the State of Singapore became the basis for Singapore’s industrialisation strategy.
State enterprise in Singapore: legal importation and development, Philip Nalliah Pillai, page 30
LKY himself feels indebted to Dr Winsemius for our economic success today when he said:
• Singapore and I personally are indebted to him for the time, energy and devotion he gave to Singapore. I learnt much about Western business and businessmen from him … He gave me practical lessons on how European and American companies operated … showed me that Singapore could plug into the global economic system of trade and investments.
Straits Times, Singapore is indebted to Winsemius: SM, 10 Dec 1996
6. LKY’s primary goal was import substitution based on merger with Malaya
Many authors testify to the fact that LKY was the chief proponent of merger with Malaya and import substitution.
• Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP proposed a political union with Malaysia, which would provide a good-sized domestic market for an industrial strategy of import substitution. Expulsion from the union with Malaysia in 1965, on political grounds by the government in Kuala Lumpur, destroyed the import-substitution strategy.
The Fraser Institute, Case Studies in the Relationship between Political, Economic and Civil Freedoms, page 155
• During the federation period and immediately afterward, Lee’s government initially pursued an import substitution strategy … but the alienation from Malaysia, with its much larger market, rendered the strategy impractical.
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Asia Competitiveness Institute, Remaking Singapore, Michael Porter and Christian Ketels and Neo Boon Siong and Susan Chung, July 2008
• Lee Kuan Yew, appearing in tears on television when announcing separation, was devastated. His feelings strongly contrasted with scenes in Chinatown where firecrackers were set off to celebrate liberation from rule by Malays from Kuala Lumpur. Most Singaporeans did not share the government’s dismay. Winsemius also did not share Lee’s dismay. He said in a 1981 interview: To my amazement, a discussion had started: can Singapore survive? That was the only time I got angry in Singapore. I said: ‘now you have your hands free – use them!’ It was the best thing that happened during the whole period from 1960 till today.
The business of politics and ethnicity: a history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sikko Visscher, page 171
7. Government doesn’t make all the difference
Mr Sim claimed that Singapore’s only competitive advantage is our government and that some born and bred Singaporeans do not appreciate Singapore as much as immigrants do because immigrants have seen how bad things can get in other countries.
In other words, Mr Sim attributes the difference between Singapore and his former country Malaysia primarily to a difference in government. The following table shows 24 countries / economies that have worse governments than Malaysia but that have performed better than Malaysia economically.
||Average real GDP 1996 to 2010 (Penn World Tables)
||Average Government Effectiveness 1996 to 2010 (World Governance Indicators)
|Trinidad and Tobago
|Antigua and Barbuda
Thus, a good government isn’t a sufficient condition for economic success, there are other more important factors that can overcome government deficiencies.
Mr Sim also claimed that it was LKY who spawned good schools, rule of law and meritocracy. But Singapore already had good schools, rule of law and meritocracy before LKY took charge. LKY himself attended the good school of Raffles Institution spawned by the colonial government. LKY’s wife benefited from the British meritocratic practice of sending our best to UK for studies. If there was no rule of law during colonial days, how could LKY have become a practising lawyer before he took power?
8. LKY didn’t steer Singapore to independence
Singapore became independent when we were kicked out of Malaysia by Tungku Abdul Rahman. It was a result that went against LKY’s wishes and for which he cried on national TV. Our independence was essentially a divorce from Malaysia. LKY, being the number one proponent of merger with Malaysia, couldn’t have advocated let alone steered Singapore into a divorce from Malaysia.
In short, an abundance of factual evidence exists to show that the truth is diametrically opposite to the claims made in these congratulatory messages rendering the messages hollow and meaningless.
 Straits Times, ‘Bold vision put S’pore on path to fast growth’, 16 Sept 2013, Mr Dinesh Senan
The man has transformed a very troubled colony (troubled by communist insurgencies, triads, illiteracy and poverty) into a vibrant nation whose global influence is out of proportion to its tiny base.
The odds in the 1960s were against us succeeding at all, let alone at this pace. To a huge extent, it was his audacious yet pragmatic vision and his wilful determination that put us on this path to rapid development.
He chose a bold vision: to leapfrog the traditional path of import substitution into export-oriented activity. His formula: Paint the vision, then build infrastructure to support the best global companies, while educating our workforce to meet their demand. The result: Thousands of multinationals set up regional headquarters here.
Most of all, I thank you, Mr Lee, for leaving me and my children a Singapore we are so very proud to be a part of in this world.
 Straits Times, From Third World to First – in one generation, 16 Sept 2013, Anthony Oei
He elevated Singapore from a Third World to a First World nation in one generation. Singaporeans today enjoy a high standard of living and a stable and peaceful environment to live, work and play in. Thank you for making this little red dot such a spectacular success.
 Straits Times, He’s proof one man can make a difference, 16 Sept 2013, Mr Sim S. Lim
Born and bred Singaporeans sometimes may not come to appreciate Singapore the way immigrants do – simply because immigrants have seen how bad things can get in other countries.
The only competitive advantage this country has is a good government, which has spawned good schools, the rule of law, meritocracy and corporate governance, which have in turn brought high-end investments here. These investments have raised the standard of living for all.
At the heart of good government, of course, is Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Through his brilliance and sheer tenacity, he has proven that one man can make a difference. He took the poorest country in Asean (by gross domestic product per capita) and made it the richest.
Singapore can create value from little more than air, water and earth.
Thank you for building this great nation.
 Straits Times, Lessons on the S’pore Spirit, 16 Sept 2013, Johnson Lim Teng Kok (Dr)
We owe him a debt of gratitude for Singapore’s success story – our nation is what it is today because of his energetic passion and prophetic vision. His foresight, courageous leadership and pragmatic policies decisively transformed Singapore.
One person with courage, compassion, conviction and commitment from a small city-state can make a big difference on the world stage.
 Straits Times, Lucky to be born in Singapore, 17 Sept 2013, Rajasegaran Ramasamy
We owe a great deal to our pioneer leaders led by Mr Lee. In one generation, he transformed Singapore from a Third World to a First World nation.
 Straits Times, The little country that could, 17 Sept 2013, Allen Tan Han Loong
Modern Singapore is the result of his leadership and vision.
His leadership has made Singapore an exceptional country, and made us believe and feel that we are exceptional.
Singapore is not a “natural” country. It is the result of sheer human will and determination; it cannot run on autopilot and complacency is our greatest threat.
 Straits Times, Mr Lee takes the spotlight – with no pomp or fanfare, 17 Sept 2013
Singapore was not born into greatness but hardship and poverty, Dr Ng said. But Mr Lee, with his singular mission and dedication, forged Singapore into a nation which today is admired worldwide for its prosperity, harmony and stability.
In lifting an entire nation and improving countless lives of Singaporeans of several generations, Mr Lee Kuan Yew has left a lasting legacy to all of us and achieved greatness.
 Straits Times, Parliament pays tribute to Mr Lee on his 90th birthday, 17 Sept 2013
Tony Tan Keng Yam wrote that “generations of Singaporeans have benefited from Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s lifelong contributions towards creating the peaceful and prosperous Singapore that we know today.
“Mr Lee, with his singular mission and dedication, steered this country to independence and laid the very foundations that transformed Singapore into a modern and thriving metropolis,” – Ng Eng Hen
“He led and forged a nation which today is admired worldwide for its prosperity, harmony and stability. In lifting an entire nation and improving countless lives of Singaporeans of several generations, Mr Lee Kuan Yew has left a lasting legacy to all of us and achieved greatness.” – Ng Eng Hen
 1960 per capita GDP figures in 2005 PPP USD obtained from Penn World Tables (PWT). No 1960 data available for Brunei.
 PWT’s 1960 per capita GDP figures in 2005 PPP USD can be converted to GNP figures using PWT’s GNP to GDP ratios. GNP is equivalent to GNI. The resulting GNP figures in 2005 PPP USD can then be converted to 2010 PPP USD. 2010 is the last available year in Penn World Tables and is as close to 2011 as one can get.