Archive for September, 2014

Brookings Lee Kuan Yew Chair for Southeast Asian Studies – letter to Susan Rice

September 24, 2014

Dear Ms Susan Rice,

I refer to your 22 Sept 2014 remarks at Brookings Institution’s formal announcement of the creation of the Lee Kuan Yew Chair for Southeast Asian Studies.

Founding father

You said:

it’s fitting that Brookings’ new Chair in Southeast Asian Studies is named for Singapore’s founding father, a man who has played such a key role in shaping the region’s growth, Lee Kuan Yew.

Singapore’s founding father is not Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore was founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles. There has been no re-founding of Singapore ever since. Lee Kuan Yew studied at a school named after Raffles.

In Lee Kuan Yew’s own words, Singapore was already ¾ independent in 1959 when he came to power. That ¾ independence wasn’t won by Lee Kuan Yew but won by Singapore’s independence fighters who were generally regarded as the Leftists, Lee’s most hated enemies.

Lee Kuan Yew didn’t build on this hard won ¾ independence but married us off instead into Malaysia. We would have ended up with eternal Malaysian servitude had Malaysian Prime Minister Tungku Abdul Rahman not kicked us out. Our last ¼ independence was born out of the Tungku’s kick, not born out of us fighting for it. Lee Kuan Yew didn’t even want independence. He cried and cried in front of national television at our separation from Malaysia and had to convalesce at Changi chalet for 6 weeks. So do not confuse Lee Kuan Yew with America’s founding fathers please. Lee Kuan Yew is no founding father in any sense of that phrase. He never fought for Singapore’s independence, never got into harm’s way for fellow Singaporeans in the way your founding fathers did.

Shaping region’s growth, Asia’s rise

Lee Kuan Yew did not play a key role in shaping the region’s growth. Neither was

“Asia’s rise in global affairs is due in no small part to Southeast Asia’s contributions.”

May I quote Singapore law minister Mr Shanmugam’s remarks on the same occasion:

Modern East Asia, including Southeast Asia is what it is today because of the crucial role the United States played in underwriting security in Asia-Pacific. The U.S. provided security and stability that helped to stem the tide of communism, the 7th Fleet kept the ceilings open. The U.S. generously opened its markets to the region, and that sustained economic growth and prosperity of many Asian countries. In turn, that created conditions that allowed East Asia, beginning with Japan, to seize opportunity to uplift their people’s lives, and China is a most recent example of that. Success of countries in the region created a dynamism which has also created new challenges and opportunities, and let me add … the U.S. did all of it

Thus, contrary to what you have said, it was United States, not Lee Kuan Yew, not Southeast Asia that has been instrumental in shaping the region’s growth and Asia’s rise. Lee Kuan Yew never stopped bickering with his Malaysian counterpart so it’s hard to imagine Lee earnestly helping to shape Malaysia’s growth.

During Deng Xiaoping’s famous Southern tour in 1992, he called for China to learn from South Korea, to catch up with the four dragons, to build several Hong Kongs along the coast. Thus, China’s rise was due to learning from the rest of prospering East Asia and not just Singapore alone. If China’s rise was predominantly learnt from Singapore, how can they end up with so much corruption and food scandals involving gutter oil and tainted baby milk? How can they have such promising home grown technology firms as Lenovo, Xiaomi, Huawei or Baidu while we don’t (excluding the ‘has been’ Creative)? The great many Taiwanese and Hong Kong firms that have invested in China probably left a larger footprint on China’s economy than Singapore did.

Arc of development

You said:

Singapore embodies the arc of development that nations across Southeast Asia are achieving.

Please understand that this embodiment was already there even before Lee Kuan Yew took power in 1959. Singapore was already the third richest nation in Asia back in 1960 after Iran and Hong Kong and we were already top in Southeast Asia before Lee Kuan Yew took power (Penn World Tables 8.0, real per capita GDP, output).

Country 1960 real per capita GDP (output) 1960 real per capita GDP (expenditure)
Singapore $5,075 $2,413
Malaysia $2,789 $2,252
Philippines $1,647 $1,708
Indonesia $1,530 $790
Thailand $964 $986

Dictatorship and democracy

You said:

Entrenched dictatorships have given way to new democracies, and throughout the region, citizens are playing a greater role in their government and civil life. As President Obama said in Malaysia earlier this year, “perhaps no region on earth has changed so dramatically” during the past several decades.

How can you celebrate democracy and the dis-entrenching of dictatorships in Southeast Asia while at the same time exalt in the naming of an important Brookings Institution after a Singapore leader when Singapore is bottom most amongst the original five members of ASEAN in EIU’s Democracy Index 2012?

Countries EIU Democracy Index 2012
Indonesia 6.76
Thailand 6.55
Malaysia 6.41
Philippines 6.3
Singapore 5.88

Singapore is also ranked 150th in World Press Freedom by Reporters Without Borders in 2014. How much truth can come out of a country ranked 150th for press freedom?

Many Singaporeans suffered years of incarceration under Lee Kuan Yew, some for longer than Nelson Mandela had been, without ever being charged in court. There were also those who were forced to run away from Singapore to escape being detained without trial. One of them, Mr Francis Seow is still in the US under political asylum. A recent movie made to highlight the plight of these Singaporean political exiles was effectively banned by our government for purportedly “undermining national security”. Does this look like democracy or dictatorship to you? Lee Kuan Yew himself is not ashamed to say that he is not an advocate of democracy.

“I’m not intellectually convinced that one-man-one-vote is the best. We practise it because that’s what the British bequeathed us.” – Lee Kuan Yew, 1994

“There are some flaws in the assumptions made for democracy. It is assumed that all men and women are equal or should be equal. Hence, one-man-one-vote. But is equality realistic? If it is not, to insist on equality must lead to regression.” – Lee Kuan Yew, Create 21 Asahi Forum Tokyo, Nov 20 1992

Putting Lee Kuan Yew on the Chair for Southeast Asian studies is to shame, tarnish and to humiliate Southeast Asian democracy and basic human decency.


Already sacrificed yesterday, no rewards yet sacrifice some more?

September 18, 2014

I refer to the 14 Sept 2014 Straits Times article “Sacrificing now for a better tomorrow” by Dr Lee Wei Ling.

Jurong Rock Cavern

Dr Lee refers to the Jurong Rock Cavern as a huge project requiring foresight, vision and staying power. But ancient civilizations have been building underground caverns since thousands of years ago such as the massive Derinkuyu Underground City in Turkey. What’s so foresighted or visionary about building underground, thousands of years after others have done so? The Jurong Cavern is also nothing compared to the much larger 816 underground nuclear plant in China’s Chongqing Fuling district. Nor is it deeper than the Seikan undersea tunnel linking Honshu and Hokkaido. Staying power is essentially money power which is nothing more than the government’s great ability to squeeze ever more money out of the populace.


Lee Kuan Yew in the early 1960s was none the wiser than contemporary Third World leaders. Like Third World leaders, he too fell for the conventional wisdom of import substitution as he became Singapore’s champion for merger with Malaysia and import substitution through the Malayan Common Market. Export industrialization through MNCs wasn’t a conscious choice by Lee Kuan Yew but the only path left to us after our expulsion from Malaysia.

• 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]

• Until 1965, the economic strategy of the country hinged on a merger with Malaya to establish the larger domestic market, deemed necessary for economic viability.
[Helen Hughes, The Dangers of export pessimism: developing countries and industrial markets, page 225]

• Singapore at first adopted the industrialisation policy of import substitution, followed after 1966 by the export of labour intensive manufactured goods.
[Jacques Charmes, In-service training: five Asian experiences, Bernard Salomé, Page 21]

• Singapore’s industrialisation strategy was originally dependent on policies of import substitution within the Malaysian common market, but the attainment of political independence in 1965 led to export industrialisation.
[Robert Fitzgerald, The Competitive advantages of Far Eastern business, Page 55]

• Import substitution was adopted in the early 1960s in anticipation of the Malayan common market. However, Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965 dashing the hopes of the common market, hence an export strategy was promoted instead.
[Eddie C. Y. Kuo / Chee Meng Loh / K. S. Raman, Information technology and Singapore society, Page 87]

If Lee Kuan Yew knew that export industrialization will allow Singapore to prosper without depending on Malaysia, why did he fight so feverishly for merger with Malaysia? Why did he become so devastated at our separation that he had to cry and cry until he ended up convalescing at Changi for six weeks? Instead of crying, shouldn’t he have been his usual cocky self, smiling at the TV camera and proudly and confidently claiming that Singapore will prevail through MNC led export industrialization? The turn of events shows that at the point of separation, Lee had no idea of the enormous potential MNC led export industrialization held. That Lee had placed all his bets on import substitution for Malaysia and knew of no other way for Singapore to survive let alone thrive is well documented by himself and others:

• Everyone knows the reasons why the Federation is important to Singapore. It is the hinterland which produces rubber and tin and that keeps our shop window economy going. It is the base that made Singapore the capital city. Without this economic base, Singapore would not survive. Without merger … and an integration of our two economies, our economic position will slowly and steadily get worse. Your livelihood will get worse …
[The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew Volume 1, Lee Kuan Yew, page 109]

• Prime Minister said … “… We are taking a decision of momentous proportion” … “This is something bigger than ourselves. This is going to ensure our survival”
[Lee Kuan Yew: The Crucial Years, Alex Josey, page 178]

• Singapore’s leaders were especially keen on the merger because they felt that, as a small island without any natural resources, Singapore could not survive as an independent state.
[Consumption, Cities and States: Comparing Singapore with Asian and Western …, Ann Brooks and Lionel Wee, page 40]

LKY’s loss of confidence at our separation from Malaysia was in sharp contrast to the optimism of Dr Winsemius who never believed in the Malaysian common market and whose faith in Singapore never wavered.

• Lee’s dismay was also not shared by the country’s most prominent foreign advisor. Winsemius, the former leader of the UN development mission and now a regular consultant to the Singapore government, said in an interview in 1981 … 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.
[Sikko Visscher, The business of politics and ethnicity: a history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, page 171]

• Dr Winsemius and I.F. Tang in their heart of hearts never believed in a Malaysian Common Market.
[Tong Dow Ngiam, A Mandarin and the Making of Public Policy: Reflections, page 66]

In the end, it was Dr Winsemius, not Lee Kuan Yew, who was unencumbered by conventional Third World wisdom. Dr Winsemius not only came up with Singapore’s industrialization plan, he also personally persuaded important Dutch multinationals like Shell and Phillips to invest in Singapore. Even Lee Kuan Yew himself admitted to learning from and being indebted to Winsemius.

• Most of all, he (Dr Winsemius) was wise and canny. I (Lee Kuan Yew) learnt much about Western business and businessmen from him. He gave me practical lessons on how … Singapore could plug into the global economic system of trade and investments by using their desire for profits … It was Singapore’s good fortune that he took a deep and personal interest in Singapore’s development. Singapore and I personally, are indebted to him for the time, energy and devotion he gave to Singapore.
[Straits Times, Singapore is indebted to Winsemius: SM, 10 Dec 1996]

• 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, Ngiam Tong Dow, 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]

• 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]

• 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]

• 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]

• 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]

• 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 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]


The bold, innovative way of reclaiming Jurong Island off the sea came from Japanese contractor Penta Ocean, not PAP. Because PAP is not innovative, it had to pay an innovative contractor to do the innovation.

Marina Bay

Lee Kuan Yew’s idea of a Venice-like Marina Bay was nothing extraordinary as the Venice theme was already replicated in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. In the day time, Gardens by the Bay doesn’t look very different from Bishan Park or Punggol Park. It would be good if a survey can be carried out to find out how Singaporeans feel about the $1.05 billion spent on Gardens by the Bay and whether it is money well spent. In any case, it was the Botanical Gardens, not Gardens by the Bay that was voted the top park in Asia by TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards, not once but twice in a row.

• SINGAPORE — The Singapore Botanic Gardens has been ranked the top park in Asia for the second year in a row in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards, the travel site said yesterday.
[TodayOnline, Botanic Gardens again voted top park in Asia by travel site, 18 Jun 2014]


HDB inherited and built upon the work of the SIT. The 1940s British colonial report saying Singapore had one of the worst slums shows the honesty with which the British governed us. The British acted upon this report and built beautiful housing precincts like Tiong Bahru and Queenstown that became Singapore’s pride and admiration at that time.

• The housing of 150,000 Singaporeans by the SIT had no parallel elsewhere in Asia. Straits Times, 2 Feb 1960
[Beyond Description: Singapore Space Historicity, Ryan Bishop and John Phillips and Wei-Wei Yeo, page 57]

• … He told the Straits Times: “I have never seen such wonderful blocks of flats … The S.I.T. flats, which he toured yesterday, “staggered him.” … “People in Liverpool where we consider ourselves to be in the forefront of town planning and slum clearance, would fight to get an S.I.T flat in one of the new blocks I saw to-day.
[The Straits Times, 10 June 1952, Page 5, He is all praise for SIT homes]

• The S.I.T should be congratulated for developing Queenstown into a beautiful estate which was once covered with shrubs and graveyards. Queenstown should now be considered a model housing estate for Singapore. It has the highest building, schools, markets, good roads and plenty of playing grounds for children and very good flats.
[The Straits Times, 8 September 1956, Page 12, A SLUM IN THE MAKING]

• One of its enduring achievements was the building of a new town at Tiong Bahru, intended to relieve the congestion in Chinatown. It housed 6,600 people and was to have been the first of a series of satellite towns.
[Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore, Kernial Singh Sandhu and Paul Wheatley, page 18]

• The SIT record shows that by the end of 1959, it had built 22,115 housing units, 904 shops, and twelve markets. Another solid achievement to its credit was the completion of the Master Plan. It is often commented that the performance of the SIT was unremarkable compared with that of its successor, the HDB. But the different conditions under which the two bodies worked should be taken into account.
[Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore, Kernial Singh Sandhu and Paul Wheatley, page 19]

First World

Singapore reached First World status in record time primarily because it didn’t start from the starting line but from mid-way along the race because Singapore was already middle income status by the time Lee Kuan Yew took power in 1959.

If Dr Lee thinks that the usual trajectory for small countries with no resources is slow, she would be well advised to know that the usual trajectory for large countries with resources is even slower.


Lee Kuan Yew was no leader with gumption as he broke down in front of national TV time and again and had to convalesce at 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]

Short term hardship for long term hope

Having exhorted about how we’ve made it to First World in record time, isn’t it ironic that Dr Lee then tells us that we must continue to suffer hardships? What’s the point of making it to First World in record time only to continue to suffer hardships? In any case, we’ve suffered for 50 years already. Must we suffer another 50 years?

Dr Lee senses a shift in the ground towards immediate satisfaction and less willingness to persevere in times of difficulties. But our pioneers have persevered for 50 years already. They now want to enjoy what is rightfully theirs. How can that be seen as wanting immediate satisfaction? Satisfaction after 50 long years is no immediate satisfaction.

Dr Lee claims our country will be in trouble if our expectations can only be met by a price we are unwilling to pay. Is Dr Lee saying that our pioneers who deserve our utmost respect haven’t paid enough to deserve what they expect today?

Dr Lee urges all to emulate our pioneer generation in working hard, accepting trade-offs and sacrificing for a better future. What’s the point of emulating the pioneer generation in giving our all to our nation, only to be denied our just rewards at the end of the day?

Exceptional people, exceptional leadership

Going by Dr Lee’s examples:
• MNC led export industrialization (Dr Winsemius)
• Jurong Rock Cavern (Penta Ocean)
• Gardens by the Bay (Grant Associates and Wilkinson Eyre Architects)

Successive governments were led by the foresight of foreign consultants and contractors who were the exceptional people that Singapore leaders depended on. So it didn’t really matter that our leaders weren’t exceptional as long as the consultants and contractors they employed were.

Straits Times, Sacrificing now for a better tomorrow, 14 Sept 2014, Lee Wei Ling

I had stopped reading the newspapers for some weeks as there seemed to be nothing but bad news. But the photograph of the gothic-looking Jurong Rock Caverns on the front page of The Straits Times on Sept 3 caught my attention. The underground space would free up 60ha of space above ground – the equivalent of about 80 football fields.
The cavern took six years of planning and over eight years of construction at a cost of $950 million. It can store up to 1.47 million cubic metres of liquid hydrocarbons, which can fill more than 500 Olympic-sized pools.
Such a huge project requires foresight, vision and staying power to bring to fruition, and this is not the first time Singapore has completed such projects.

The best example of such massive infrastructure projects from our past is the Jurong Industrial Estate. In the 1960s, the received wisdom was that multinational corporations (MNCs) were exploiters of cheap land, labour and raw mate-rials. Third World leaders generally believed this theory of neo-colonial exploitation. Singapore leaders Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr Lee Kuan Yew were not impressed.
Singapore had no natural resources for MNCs to exploit. All it had were hardworking people, basic infrastructure and a Government determined to deliver. If MNCs could give workers jobs and impart know-how to Singaporeans, why shouldn’t we welcome them?
Dr Goh and Mr Lee thus decided to start the Jurong Industrial Estate. The estate – Singapore’s largest infrastructure development – covered over 3,600ha with roads, sewers, drainage, power, gas and water all laid out. Other massive infrastructure projects include Jurong Island. The artificial island was conceived in the 1980s to support Singapore’s growth as a petrochemical hub.
It was created by shooting tonnes of sand in a rainbow arc into the sea to fill up the water channels separating the seven southern islands. It was a bold and innovative way to increase our land size and attract investments to create good jobs.
The costly clean-up of the Singapore and Kallang rivers is yet another example. If Mr Lee had not pushed this project through despite the hefty price – thousands of businesses along the rivers were moved – waterways, like Jakarta’s Ciliwung River or Manila’s Pasig River, would be flowing sluggishly through downtown Singapore.
Mr Lee later imagined a Venice-like site in the reclaimed Marina Bay area. So Gardens by the Bay was born at a cost of $1.05 billion. Now, the combination of Marina Bay Sands, the Marina Barrage and the Gardens presents a magnificent sight.
The Housing and Development Board was established in 1960. It was headed by a man with sharp business sense, Mr Lim Kim San.
A British colonial report on housing had noted that the Singapore of the 1940s and 1950s had “one of the world’s worst slums – a disgrace to a civilised community”.
That was soon history. By any measure, Singapore’s achievement in public housing was remarkable.
Singapore is a small country. We have done well so far, reaching First World status in record time. This is not the usual trajectory of small countries with no resources.
We got here because successive governments were led by people with gumption and foresight. Equally, if not more importantly, the people were prepared to gel together as one and accept short-term hardships in exchange for long-term hope.
I sense that the ground has shifted in recent years. We have become more demanding of imme-diate satisfaction and less willing to persevere when there are difficulties. Our country will be in trouble if our expectations can only be met at a price we are unwilling to pay.
We must emulate our pioneer generation: Work hard, be willing to sacrifice for a better future and accept necessary trade-offs. The Government must be able to persuade our citizens why we must adopt a particular difficult course.
Only an exceptional people led by exceptional leadership could have built Jurong Industrial Estate, Jurong Island, the Jurong Rock Caverns and, in time to come, the Jurong Lake Gardens. If Singapore is to continue to survive and thrive, both its Government and people must remain exceptional.