Don’t rock S’pore’s foundation​s: MM

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 26 Apr 2011 report of MM Lee’s pre-election message.

You referred to MM Lee as modern Singapore’s founding father. The term ‘modern’ is unclear because what is modern today may be ancient decades down the road, just as what we now see as ancient was actually modern decades ago. If you refer instead to MM Lee as the founding father of independent Singapore, then that phrasing is also inappropriate because it belittles the significance of what founding means. The founding fathers of America had to fight a war with the powerful British Empire to win independence. The founding father of India too had to fight to win India’s independence, albeit peacefully. We had independence thrown at us. We didn’t fight for it, we didn’t even ask for it, it was thrown at us, we were kicked out. If stretching our arms out to receive independence can be considered an act of founding, founding must be really cheap isn’t it?

MM Lee reminded Singaporeans to remember where Singapore came from and how tough it was for us to get to where we are today. MM Lee should know very well that we came from a British colony. That was how we started – 1819. To focus entirely on the problems of the post-independence era is to ignore how equally tough it was when we started in 1819, when we literally had to carve a city out of a jungle. How equally tough it was to survive and to rebuild after the Japanese Occupation.

MM Lee said that it was not by chance but through careful planning by the first generation of leaders that the Singapore today came about. That is like someone who says that the movie succeeded because Fann Wong was used as the leading actress. Who is to say that the movie wouldn’t have succeeded just the same had Zoe Tay been used instead? When a country has succeeded, it is very easy for the leaders to claim credit for themselves. But who can say for sure that had it been a different team, the country wouldn’t have succeeded just the same?

Most of us grew up with the belief that it was MM Lee and his team who took us to where we are today. This belief is so deeply sunk in that we never even bother to question its truth. Because we believe that our success depends on the PAP, we continue to cling on to them tightly, never letting them go for fear of losing prosperity. We believe that good leadership is the key to a country’s success. But if that is true, then all the prosperous countries must be blessed with good leadership and all the poor countries must be lacking good leaders. If we study all the countries in this world, not just selected countries that are often used by politicians and forum writers to justify this thing or that. If we study all the countries in this world, we will invariably find that the prosperous ones belong to three main groups: the West, the oil rich countries, East Asia.

What is so special about the West? They are innovative. They started the industrial revolution. They made all the scientific discoveries. They were the first to arrive.

There is nothing special about the oil rich countries, they are just oil rich.

But what about East Asia? Without exception, all of East Asia are prospering. If we study how GDPs have multiplied over the last four decades for all countries, not just selected countries, we find that, aside from countries that struck oil or diamond, the chart toppers are all East Asian. Quite clearly, the difference has been in culture and society. We are merely a part of the collection of East Asian success stories. If good leadership is the reason for a country’s success, then all of East Asia must be blessed with good leadership. But there were a hundred over developing countries emerging from the ashes of the Second World War and all the good leaders happened to congregate in a handful of East Asian societies? So coincidental? What is the chance of that happening?

So MM Lee is right when he said that it wasn’t due to chance that we became what we are today. But it wasn’t due to our first generation leaders either. It is always possible that a different team would have taken us to where we are today, perhaps even further. Just look at Hong Kong, even without our authoritarian first generation leaders; they have succeeded just the same and with a lot more freedom too.

MM Lee spoke of the schools, hospitals, universities, police force, armed forces, air force, all built from scratch, from ground zero. But the school that educated MM Lee – Raffles Institution, was built by the British. Not only that, our police force also came from the British. So were our civil service and basic laws. We inherited a lot from the British. For many of the things we have today, we didn’t build from ground zero. Even before the government built hospitals, we already had Tan Tock Seng. Even the history of our national university can be traced to colonial times. The only thing that MM Lee listed which he built from scratch was our armed forces. But the armed forces basically comprise you and me, the common folks. So MM Lee didn’t give us our armed forces as much as we gave MM Lee his armed forces.

MM Lee urges us not to rock the foundation. It is not us who is rocking the foundation, it is MM Lee’s successors who are rocking the foundation. In fact, they have so over loaded this country beyond its current carrying capacity that we are in danger of sinking like the overloaded ferries of Mersing which capsized.

MM Lee wants us to ask ourselves how a Singapore house is 10 to 20 times the price of an Indonesian house and 5 to 10 times the price of a Malaysian house. We want to ask instead how come housing in many Western nations is so much cheaper than ours without compromise to prosperity?

MM Lee asks us not to risk our assets, property values and job opportunities. Good, old MM Lee at this scaremongering best. Why doesn’t he repeat his rant about Singapore women becoming maids? What risk is he talking about? Will the civil service stop functioning the day PAP is gone? Will public servants suddenly forget how to work when PAP is no longer around? All the basic tools of this society that we inherited from the British will continue to run with or without the PAP.

MM Lee asks us to vote for men and women with proven character and track records. In that case, shouldn’t MM Lee encourage Singaporeans to vote for Mr Chen Shao Mao since he proved his character by volunteering for national service and serving with distinction and he also charted a blistering career record which nobody can deny? Conversely, would MM lee ask us not to vote for Mr Wong Kan Seng and Mr Mah Bow Tan since their track records are now tainted and disproven?

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4 Responses to “Don’t rock S’pore’s foundation​s: MM”

  1. rogerpoh Says:

    Very well-thought out and argued. The same old bag of tricks PAP is using.

  2. ymac Says:

    Francis Seow while campaigning in Eunos in the 80s’ wrote a poem entitled: “Without you…” Remember?

    Actually if foundation so solid why scared people rock?

  3. ~autolycus Says:

    Just a brief note: We weren’t a British colony until 1824, under Crawfurd. 1819 was when Raffles set up a trading post and left Farquhar (who was already here) to run the show in his absence. After looking at the track records of the first PAP government, my students (oops) decided Goh Keng Swee was the true founder of modern Singapore. 😀

    • trulysingapore Says:

      Still, we must contend with the term “modern Singapore”. What is it? There was a youtube video in which the commentator referred to Singapore in the 1950s as a modern city. Modern is meaningless unless we mean independent Singapore. But independence was thrust upon us, not won nor fought by us.

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