Cheers for all our pioneers since 1819

I refer to the 18 Aug 2014 Straits Times report “Heartfelt cheers for pioneers”.

When PM Lee referred to Singaporeans born before 1950 who helped transform the island from poverty to success, did he refer to people like Tan Kah Kee, Lim Boon Keng, Gan Eng Seng, Seah Eu Chin or Tan Kim Seng? Would he disqualify these luminaries by saying they weren’t Singaporeans? Singaporeans have been referring to one another as Singaporeans since colonial times:

While the peculiarities of his predecessor, amounting almost to eccentricity, had laid us unfortunate Singaporeans under his ban …
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 17 Aug 1848, page 3

Do then the Singaporeans acquiesce in the opinions of the Straits Times?
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adverstiser, 15 Feb 1850, page 2

And last but not least comes “Snoutt-a-Goosta,” also new to Singaporeans …
Straits Times Overland Journal, 27 Apr 1869, page 4, “The Coming Races”

I should be much surprised if it were found that the Singaporeans approve of this scant politeness shewn to a meritorious officer …
Straits Times Overland Journal, 6 Dec 1871, page 4, “Reception of admiral Kellet”

The library is visited by large numbers of passing visitors and by numerous Singaporeans …
Straits Times Weekly Issue, 20 May 1891, page 13, “The Raffles Library”

… there certainly appears to be an overwhelming majority of Singaporeans in favour of the “Cuss you, Jack, I’m all right” spirit I had the misfortune to encounter …
The Straits Times, 4 Nov 1925, page 10, Singapore Courtesy

As another Singaporean, I wish to say that his last remark was quite uncalled for …
The Straits Times, 21 Dec 1925, page 10, News Services

Sir, it is curious how illogical, I almost wrote obtuse, are the minds of some Singaporeans.
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 25 Aug 1928, page 10, Fullerton Building

The degradation of Waterloo Street here is known to every Singaporean …
The Straits Times, 1 May 1939, page 15, Waterloo Street in Singapore

Would he disqualify them because they died before 1965 and hence did not contribute to our post independence prosperity? Would he disregard their pre-independence economic contributions that formed the strong foundation that independent Singapore’s success rested upon?

It would be heartless to deny that our Singapore luminaries were Singaporeans. It would be heartless to deny their contributions to Singapore’s success. If we accept they were our Singaporean pioneers and if we celebrate their contributions to Singapore’s success, it means our heartfelt cheers for our pioneers must go all the way back to colonial times for that was when our road to success began. Since the spirit and enduring values of our pioneers began in 1819, it is not enough that we merely celebrate SG50 next year, more importantly we must celebrate SG200 five years later in 2019.

Singapore’s difficult situation at independence wasn’t something Singapore experienced for the first time. On the contrary, difficult situations have arisen from time to time since colonial times as Dr Goh Keng Swee expained:

… Speaking of the 1840s … At this time there were misgivings as to the future of our trade; the acquisition of Hong Kong and the opening up of commerce with China were expected to affect our interests injuriously; it was thought that the zenith of Singapore’s prosperity had been reached … And so down the century, we have always had from time to time these gloomy forebodings … As early as 1823, four years after Singapore’s founding by Sir Stamford Raffles, the first discriminatory measures against Singapore … were introduced … the Dutch imposed a special levy on … goods … from Singapore … By 1834 the duty was increased to 70 per cent. Further, shipments from Singapore could not be made directly to Sumatra, Borneo or the Celebes … Trade discrimination and flag discrimination were only two of the perils Singapore merchants had to contend with. Another took the form of the establishment of rival trading centres. In 1847, Makassar was converted into a free port by the Dutch to take away the flourishing Bugis trade from Singapore. In the next five years five more free ports were established …
[The practice of economic growth, Goh Keng Swee, page 4-5]

In Lee Kuan Yew’s own words, ¾ of our sovereignty and independence had already been achieved by 1959, six years before our independence. The last ¼ sovereignty and independence was courtesy of Tungku Abdul Rahman.

Lee Kuan Yew was no rugged leader as he broke down in front of national TV and had to convalesce at the Changi chalet for six weeks. His good comrade Goh Keng Swee also testified to Toh Chin Chye saying that after the big split of 1961, Lee Kuan Yew was just staring at the ceiling looking defeated.

When Lee Kuan Yew got back to Singapore, he invited the members of the Convention to attend his press conference. He was crying. I don’t understand him at all. On one hand, he worked so hard for merger. Having gotten the cupful, he shattered it. And then cried over it. He held two successive press conferences, and in which both he cried. On the third morning I went to work, and saw the press boys again. I asked Lee Wei Ching, his press secretary, “Why are they hanging around here?” Another press conference! I told Lee Wei Ching, “You ought to tell the Prime Minister to go to Changi and take a rest. Call the press conference off! Another crying bout, and the people of Singapore will think the government is on its knees. So he went to Changi, staying at the government bungalow for six weeks. There was a big time gap … between our last parliamentary meeting and the next meeting. More than five months. One would have thought with such a big event, Parliament should be immediately summoned and the announcement made to Parliament. The opposition came at me. Why is there no Parliament sitting? So I had to hold the fort. I was not appointed to act for him while he was away. When he went off to Changi, Parliament did not meet. So Singapore had a Parliament in suspended animation. Keng Swee and Lim Kim San saw me and asked me what was the constitutional position. Has he recovered? What if he does not recover? So what happens? I said I thought he was getting better, although I could not see him and telephone calls were not put through.
[Excerpt of an interview with Dr Toh Chin Chye, published in ‘Leaders of Singapore’ by Melanie Chew, 1996]

During the Big Split … Dr Goh Keng Swee … recalled Dr Toh Chin Chye visiting him in his Fullerton Building office in 1961, after seeing Mr Lee, saying: ‘I have just come from Harry’s office. He was staring at the ceiling just like you did. You should snap out of this mood. The fighting has just begun. It is going to be long and nasty. But if we keep wringing our hands in anguish, we are sure to lose.
[Straits Times, What if there had been no Toh Chin Chye?, 4 Feb 2012]

Mr Rahmat didn’t drive Lee Kuan Yew all over constituencies to rally support against communists. According to his son, Mr Rahmat drove Lee Kuan Yew all over constituencies to campaign for the general election. This is an example of PAP using national resources for personal election campaign use.

When I got older, I knew that the Land Rover with firecrackers and garlands was used during the then Prime Minister’s general election campaign.
[Straits Times, A father, a driver and a pioneer who gave to S’pore, 19 Aug 2014]

The generation that inherited Singapore from the British, contributed to the Singapore Story but did not write its opening chapters. The opening chapters of the Singapore Story were written by the pioneers who came after 1819. It was they who carved a beautiful city out of virgin jungle and built Singapore from scratch.

Straits Times, Heartfelt cheers for pioneers, 18 Aug 2014

FIFTY citizens from the pioneer generation were special guests at last night’s National Day Rally.
They were invited by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to represent the nearly half a million Singaporeans born before 1950 who helped transform the island from poverty to success.
Right at the start of his two-hour speech in English, and also in his speeches in Malay and Mandarin, he homed in on this cohort, thanking them for their sacrifices in building Singapore.
“Our pioneers were ordinary people who worked together to do extraordinary things. They overcame difficult and dangerous situations to build a sovereign, independent country,” PM Lee said. “They always looked to the future and strove to give their children better lives than themselves.”
And they were “rugged” just like leaders from former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s generation, who worked all the time and had no work-life balance.
Among pioneers present were former School Health Service director Uma Rajan, 74, who helped start the School Health Programme, and radiographer Ng Hon Weng, 79, from the Singapore General Hospital.
PM Lee also paid tribute to Madam Wong Ah Woon, 87, who worked as a Samsui woman for more than four decades, building Housing Board blocks and familiar buildings such as the Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Inviting pioneers in the audience to stand, he thanked them and led a rousing round of applause for them. “This is why we are commemorating SG50 next year: to celebrate the spirit of our pioneers, and to commit ourselves to their enduring values as we make our way forward,” he said.
He recalled how he thought carefully last year about how to meaningfully thank the nation’s living pioneers, before deciding to focus on health care.
Under the Pioneer Generation Package, citizens aged 65 who became Singaporeans before 1987 receive enhanced subsidies for outpatient treatment, additional annual Medisave top-ups and help with premiums for the new MediShield Life national insurance scheme.
He also spoke of a pioneer who is no longer around – Mr Rahmat Yusak, who died two weeks ago aged 95. In the 1960s, Mr Rahmat drove former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew all over as Mr Lee visited constituencies to rally supporters against the communists.
Addressing Mr Rahmat’s son, Mr Mohamed Zulkifli, 59, who sat in the audience, he said: “We will never forget your father …nor the many pioneers who built Singapore. They boldly wrote the opening chapters of the Singapore Story, and paved the way for their children to do better and write the rest.”


One Response to “Cheers for all our pioneers since 1819”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Using national resources for private purposes? Chee Soon Guan was vilified over the use of postal services for his wife’s Ph.D. thesis. When JBJ raised the same use by LKY during his constituency visits, the response was to officially sanction such use when Ministers visit the constituencies. Voila, it is now legal.

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