Lee Kuan Yew not beacon of hope for South Africa

Dear Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng,

I refer to the 23 Oct 2014 Straits Times report of your Singapore Law Academy lecture “Singapore ‘a beacon of hope for S. Africa’”.

Singapore leadership isn’t necessarily as visionary, uncorrupted or as poorly endowed as has so often been made out to be. It was the vision of Dr Albert Winsemius, not Lee Kuan Yew that gave us our post independence prosperity. Singapore’s million dollar minister salaries is a substitute for corruption. Our superb geographical location is worth any natural resource.

Lee Kuan Yew did not envision the Singapore today

Lee Kuan Yew did not envision the Singapore today. He envisioned Singapore to be a part of Malaysia and dependent on Malaysia for economic sustenance. That was why he fought so hard to merge Singapore with Malaysia.

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 (merger with Malaysia) 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]

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]

Singapore today is the vision of Dr Albert Winsemius

Singapore today is the vision of Dr Albert Winsemius and his team from the United Nations who came up with Singapore’s industrialization plan. Lee Kuan Yew himself admitted to being indebted to and learning from Dr 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]

Lee Kuan Yew is not our founding father

Lee Kuan Yew has never been and will never be fit to be called Singapore’s founding father. Singapore was founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles. There has been no re-founding of Singapore ever since.

Lee Kuan Yew never fought for Singapore’s independence like George Washington or Gandhi did for their respective nations. Americans and Indians call Washington and Gandhi their respective founding fathers because they are respectively indebted to these two great men for putting their lives on the line for their respective nation’s freedom. But Lee never put himself in harm’s way to fight for Singapore’s independence but left the fighting to Left leaning patriots like Lim Chin Siong. Lee fought instead to marry Singapore into Malaysia which wasn’t independence in any sense of the word. It was Tunku Abdul Rahman who gave Singapore our independence when he kicked us out of Malaysia. Lee didn’t even want independence for which he cried and cried and ended up convalescing at Changi chalet for six weeks. If Mandela fought to uphold apartheid and cried tears of sadness, not joy when the whites finally agreed to end apartheid, would you still hold Mandela up as your founding father?

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]

Lee is the exact opposite of Nelson Mandela. While Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years, Lee incarcerated his political opponents like Dr Chia Thye Poh and Dr Lim Siew Hock for a total of 32 years and 20 years respectively without trial. Honoring Lee Kuan Yew as Singapore’s founding father is like honoring apartheid white supremacists who locked up Mandela as South Africa’s founding fathers.

When Nelson Mandela walked out from Victor Verster prison in 1990, the mantle of the world’s longest-serving political prisoner passed briefly to another figure, hidden in a much darker recess of history. Former Singaporean opposition member of Parliament Chia Thye Poh had marked the twenty-third year of his imprisonment in 1989 by being released technically but in practice confined to the tourist island of Sentosa; full restrictions on his movements and actions would not be removed until 1998. Like Mandela, Chia had been offered early remission … if he agreed to governmental conditions; just as Mendela refused P.W. Bortha’s offer of freedom if he gave up armed struggle, so Chia refused either to confirm to the Singapore government that he had been a member of the Malayan Communist Party or renounce its actions. Yet there the similarities ended. Mandela had been convicted in the high drama of a series of court cases; Chia was simply detained indefinitely under the Internal Security Act.

[Autobiography and Decolonization: Modernity, Masculinity, and the Nation-state, Philip Holden, page 168]

Chia Thye Poh, a Socialist Front member of parliament in Singapore … was detained in 1966 under the Internal Security Act (ISA). The Singapore government accuses him of, amongst other things, having ties to the CPM (which he denies). Detained from 1966 to 1998, without having ever being charged, Mr Chia was one of the world’s longest-serving political prisoners, locked up even longer than Nelson Mandela.

[Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore, Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, page 26]

Chia had spent most of his adult life in prison, with no one to talk to but interrogators trained to break his spirit. Until a few years ago he was one of the longest serving political prisoners in the world … Chia had endured twenty-three years in a Singapore prison, mostly alone in his cell, merely because of his politics. He never cracked. I looked for hints of steeliness, something that might reveal a clue to Chia’s mental resilience beneath his whispering, solicitous manner, and could surmise only that soft spoken courtesy can be as effective a shield against continuous mental aggression as a more swaggering posture … He had been robbed of an active life. His health was ruined.

Chia was born in Singapore … Some of Lee’s opponents … were accused of having pro-Communist sympathies. Lee did everything to stoke such suspicions, and just before the elections … called Operation Cold Store, all of Lee’s main political rivals found themselves in jail, without charge … This was easily done under the … Internal Security Act … Lee gratefully inherited … to eliminate his political rivals. His word for this was “fixing.” He fixed the Communists, the Chinese-speaking schools, the opposition parties, the independent Law Society, the churches, all in good time, until only the PAP was left in charge.

Inspired by Tan Lark Sye’s views on good citizenship, Chia decided to run as a Barisan candidate. It wasn’t easy. Everything was done to make it impossible for Barisan to put on an effective campaign: printing plants were closed suddenly; permits to hold rallies failed to come through; radio time was denied … Chia won his seat nonetheless … But thirteen opposition members in Parliament were too many for Lee to stomach, so three were arrested immediately; two, who were about to be taken in, just managed to escape overseas … Tan Lark Sye was denied Singaporean citizenship.

This might strike one as odd behavior in a Cambridge-educated, socialist prime minister … but .. Lee was in power now, and … He explained … “all this talk of democratic rights, laissez-faire liberalism, freedom and human rights, in the face of start realities of an underground struggle for power, can only confuse the English-educated world.” The implication … was that Chinese speakers were unsuited to democracy and should be treated ruthlessly …

Under these trying circumstances … Chia began his life as a member of Parliament. There is no evidence that he was ever a dangerous radical, let alone a Communist. But he did believe in parliamentary procedures, so when Lee chose to ignore the legislative assembly, even on such a vital issue as Singapore’s merger with Malaysia, Chia resigned in protest … A few weeks later, in October 1963, he was in jail. The pretext for his arrest was a protest demonstration against a planned visit … by … Lyndon B. Johnson … But he was not officially charged with anything. Nothing was ever announced. Chia simply disappeared from sight. He was only twenty-five years old.

Chia was locked up in a narrow cell, about the size of a toilet cubicle, in a nineteenth-century brick building called Moon Crescent Detention Center. Without light and with a very high ceiling, it was like being buried in a tomb. The only sound that penetrated Chia’s chamber was the stamping of military boots and the muffled screaming of a prisoner in another cell. Chia was told that after a few days in this dark dungeon most men went mad.

Chia was lucky in a way. Unlike some political prisoners, he was not badly beaten or half drowned in a toilet bowl or tortured by electrodes clipped onto his genitals.

[Bad Elements: Chinese Rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing, Ian Buruma]

… when I met Chia in the 1990s, his was a body that had been ravaged by time and the ordeal of incaceration … his eyesight was poor

“You are my hero … next to Nelson Mandela,” I told him … He was probably in his mid-fifties.

I asked him, “Now that you will soon be a free man, will you be looking for a wife to get married, to catch up on all those lost years?” He looked pained. “What’s the point? I am too old now. My life has gone, it has been taken away from me …” But he never once blamed anybody for his fate.

Yet, for three decades, he has been branded by the government a violent communist revolutionary and a threat to national security. It was only in 1995, after thirty-two years of stubbornly protesting his innocence, that Chia was finally restored his full rights as a Singapore citizen.

“The best years of my life were taken away just like that without charge or trial,” … Tears swelled in his eyes as he contemplated his lost chance of marrying and raising a family, “I’m getting old.”

Sceptics say that Chia need not have wasted his life in detention if he had complied with the will of the authorities. I had asked Chia … why he did not recant as the authorities wanted him to do. He … told me: “To renounce violence is to imply you advocated violence before. If I had signed that statement I would not have lived in peace.”

[Dissident Voices: Personalities in Singapore’s political history, Mesenas Clement]

Singapore has a natural resource more precious than minerals

While Singapore has no mineral resources, it would be a mistaken notion that Singapore has no natural resources. Dr Goh Keng Swee, Singaporeans’ undisputed No. 1 most respected post independence leader explained that our superb geographical location was one of four reasons why Singapore succeeded.

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.

[Goh Keng Swee, The Practice of Economic Growth, Chapter 1: Why Singapore succeeds, pages 6-7]

Small countries with no resources prosper more easily

If we compare small population economies (defined as less than 10 million population) against large population economies (defined as 10 million population or more), the percentage of small population economies achieving World Bank’s High Income status classification is nearly twice that of large population economies. It seems therefore that prosperity is easier achieved for small population economies than for large population economies. Smallness has been an advantage, not a hindrance to our prosperity.

World Bank Data Population less than 10 million Population 10 million or more
Number of High Income economies 55 19
Number of Not High Income economies 73 67
Total 128 86
Percentage 43% 22%

Similarly, if we compare economies deriving less than 5% of its GDP from natural resources against economies deriving 5% or more of its GDP from natural resources, we find that the percentage of the former group achieving World Bank’s High Income status classification is similarly more than twice that for the latter group. So again, it seems that prosperity is easier achieved for economies deriving less than 5% of its GDP from natural resources than for economies deriving 5% or more of its GDP from natural resources. The absence of natural resources hasn’t been a hindrance to us.

World Bank Data Less than 5% GDP from natural resources 5% or more GDP from natural resources
Number of High Income economies 61 13
Number of Not High Income economies 82 58
Total 143 71
Percentage 43% 18%

How did Singapore get it right?

The Singapore economic muscle is just one of four East Asian dragon economic muscles of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore with China fast catching up too.

According to Dr Goh Keng Swee, Singapore got it right through a confluence of factors like our superb geographical location (discussed earlier), priceless British inheritances and sheer good luck of China’s Cultural Revolution scaring investors away from South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong towards Singapore.

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 …

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]

It is a matter for speculation whether in the absence of the upheavals caused by the Cultural Revolution in the mid and late 1960s, the large American multinationals – among them, National Semiconductors and Texas Instruments – would have sited their offshore facilities in countries more familiar to them, such as South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. These resources had skills superior to Singapore’s. My own judgment remains that these three areas were too close to the scene of trouble, the nature of which could not but cause alarm to multinational investors.

[Wealth of East Asian Nations, Goh Keng Swee, page 256]

To that must be added the invaluable contribution of Dr Albert Winsemius.

Lee Kuan Yew, not Singapore was rejected

It wasn’t Singapore but Lee Kuan Yew who was rejected by Malaysia’s Tunku Abdul Rahman for his political ambitions and racially inflammatory speeches.

The events of 1963-1965 appear to be substantially a clash of temperaments and world views, with consequent misunderstandings among the key players. Lee’s own colleagues tell a story of Lee Kuan Yew in overdrive, aggressively engaging in brinkmanship and pushing the Malaysian experiment to the precipice. Lee found it difficult to exercise self-control in front of a microphone and developed a pattern of making outrageous and inflammatory speeches, which Toh Chin Chye later characterised as anti-Malay. When Lim Kim San, a key cabinet minister during the period was asked by Melanie Chew whether he counseled Lee to tone down his speeches, he replied “Oh yes! We did! But once he got onto the podium in front of the crowd, paah, everything would come out. Exactly what we told him not to say, he would say!” Lee at this time was driving himself to the brink of a breakdown, and his judgment was impaired by a regime of prescription drugs designed to help him cope with the stress. He was not at his best and all his prejudices about Malays and his fears about the future were given a free rein, just at the time when he needed to keep them under strict guard

[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethinicity and the Nation-building Project, Michael D Barr and Zlatko Skrbiš, page 29-30]

… the political ambitions of PAP leaders led by Lee Kuan Yew created a situation that, if not arrested, might inevitably result in a serious Sino-Malay clash.

[Across the Causeway: A Multi-dimensional Study of Malaysia-Singapore Relations, Takashi Shiraishi, page 43]

He (Lee Kuan Yew) was subsequently taken to task in Malaysia for apparently questioning the status of Malays as the indigenous people of Malaysia, angering Malays and endangering the Chinese in Singapore. He was also accused of having aspirations to become Malaysia’s prime minister and of wanting special status for Singapore within Malaysia

[Chronicle of Singapore, 1959-2009: Fifty Years of Headline News, Peter H. L. Lim, page 74]

… Lee Kuan Yew’s own political ambition also contributed to the separation of Singapore from Malaysia.

[A History of South East Asia, Arthur Cotterell, page 346]

… Mr Lee is a highly is a highly ambitious man,” the Tunku told Malay leaders in 1966, “he feels Singapore is too small for his aspirations … he wants a bigger stage for his dictatorial performances. Mr Lee has become prouder since the outside world proclaimed him as a wise and clever man. But he is living in a dream world …

[Lee Kuan Yew: The Crucial Years, Alex Josey, page 42-43]

Force to be reckoned with

Singapore didn’t just become a force to be reckoned with after our independence in 1965. Singapore was already a force to be reckoned with during colonial times.

Singapore was already the estimated 5th or 6th most important port in the world by the early 1930s and the key port in the Straits region by the late 19th century

[Goh Kim Chuan, Environment and development in the Straits of Malacca, pages 107, 114]

• Singapore was the most important communications centre in the Far East, not just for shipping but a focal point for airlines, telecommunications and mail distribution at the beginning of the 1950s
• Singapore was the biggest market in the world for natural rubber, an important international market specializing in tin futures and a major oil distribution centre in the inter-war period
• Singapore had extensive numbers of high quality entrepreneurs and substantial industry and a skilled labour force, not least in ship repair prior to independence
• The first estimates of Singapore national income in 1956 showed rapidly rising per capita income that was very much greater than almost anywhere else in Asia
• Singapore had already experienced considerable economic development before World War II
• Singapore in the mid-1950s had 30 people per private car compared to 70 for British Malaya and more than 120 for the rest of Asia

[The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century, W. G. Huff, pages 31-33]

Singapore had become a global port that could rival any other in the world 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

[Derek Thiam Soon Heng, Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, Singapore in Global History, page 57]

Singapore had become the trade focus for an immense, wealthy area stretching from the Bay of Bengal to China and embracing the whole of Southeast Asia by the 1930s

[Yeo Kim Wah, Political Development in Singapore, 1945-55, page 14]

Singapore had become the example par excellence of a colonial port that prospered on global trade and thrived as a trade intermediary between advanced industrial economies and countries with lower levels of achievement

[Abu Talib Ahmad and Liok Ee Tan, New terrains in Southeast Asian history, page 152]

Lee had proudly proclaimed to American businessmen in Chicago that we were already a metropolis in an Aug 1967 speech (can’t create a metropolis in two years!)
[Peter Wilson / Gavin Peebles, Economic growth and development in Singapore: past and future, Page 26]

Brutal introspection

The brutal introspection should be that much of what has been told to you is false which you cannot depend on to nurture South Africa’s prosperity. Singapore’s true beacon of hope will appear after Lee’s demise and hopefully shine the light brightly for South Africa to finally go on the right path.

Straits Times, Singapore ‘a beacon of hope for S. Africa’, 23 Oct 2014

SOUTH Africa’s Chief Justice has lauded Singapore as a beacon of hope for his country, citing its visionary leadership, abhorrence of corruption and making the most of the least.

Delivering the 21st Singapore Academy of Law lecture on Tuesday Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng noted that both countries had visionary founding leaders.

But unlike Mr Nelson Mandela, Singapore’s Mr Lee Kuan Yew lives to see the vision for his country fully realised.

“Sadly, for South Africa, by the time our founding father had passed on, much still had to be done,” he said. He dedicated the lecture to Mr Mandela, who was also a lawyer, like Mr Lee.

Among the audience at Tuesday’s talk at the Supreme Court Auditorium was Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Attorney-General V.K. Rajah, retired chief justice Chan Sek Keong and , Ms Hazel Ngubeni, South Africa’s High Commissioner to Singapore.

His talk, “Twenty years of the South African Constitution – Origins, Aspirations and Delivery”, traced his country’s progress in the 20 years since it attained democracy.

Stressing the significant role of the courts in ensuring that the rule of law is observed, CJ Mogoeng praised Singapore’s achievements. Unlike South Africa, Singapore is a small country without mineral resources and “yet the economic muscle of Singapore cannot be compared to that of South Africa”.

He added: “As the rand continues to slide, the dollar of Singapore seems to be gaining more and more strength.”

The key question to ask of Singapore is: How did you get it right?

“If a country that was ‘rejected’ could become a force to be reckoned with that you have turned out to be, I think a little bit of brutal introspection will take South Africa far,” he said.

South Africa has a “vibrant democracy” and has made great strides in the rule of law, said CJ Mogoeng, citing advances in educational opportunities, judicial appointments and land ownership, among other areas.

And one thing that the country did right was to abolish the death penalty at a time when about 95 per cent of the people wanted the penalty to be retained.

“Those of us who knew better thought it was a good move because nobody can tell me with certainty that judges never make mistakes,” he said.

There had been a few incidents in South Africa where, after those convicted had been put on death row, the real culprits stepped forward and admitted guilt.

The “safest route” thus was to abolish the death penalty, given the kind of “skewed” justice that applied then.

“It was a brave move which was facilitated by the supremacy of the Constitution as the law,” he said, noting that there is still the death penalty here.

“If the death penalty is still retained in this country, don’t understand me to be criticising the laws in this country, not at all.”

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