REFLECTION BY MR PHILIP LIM, CHIEF EXECUTIVE - A Star

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  • Apr 22, 2015
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1 REFLECTION BY MR PHILIP LIM, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, ETPL, A*STAR It has been a difficult week for Singapore. Over the past four days, tens of thousands have shed tears, penned heartfelt tributes or queued patiently under the hot sun to pay their last respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In time to come, we will look back on this painful period and remember Mondays emotional announcement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Mr Lees passing, the haunting strains of Auld Lang Syne from the lone bagpiper on the roof of the Istana, the thousands who lined the streets as the Gun Carriage rolled past, the eight-hour queues at Parliament House, and the Singaporeans of all races who stood shoulder to shoulder and bowed together in front of Mr Lees coffin. 1

2 We will recall that the grieving continued online, through black-and-white video footage of Mr Lee in his prime, profile pictures of a black ribbon with Mr Lees likeness, or Twitter hashtags such as #NoYewNoUs. Yet intermingled with these outpourings of sorrow are stories and images of Singaporeans extending kindness to their fellowmen in grief. Volunteers, workers and businesses near Parliament House distributed food, water and fans to those in the long queue. Facebook user Nick Sim posted: There are many giving drinks and biscuits to those in the queue. When asked where they were from, they replied From Singapore. A florist gave out white roses to the public for free. The shop owner did not want to be named, saying only: Mr Lee Kuan Yew is a great man and were doing this to show our respect. All these events unfolded against a backdrop of city skyscrapers and the majestic Marina Bay Sands, a gleaming metropolis. 2

3 This then is the Singapore that Mr Lee leaves behind. In his death, as in life, he has brought Singaporeans together as one and brought out the best in us. We are desolate because we have lost our greatest champion, a man who devoted his heart, mind and soul to Singapore. We are devastated because the man who believed in us and pushed us to excel is no more. There is a sense that our world will never be the same again. Because Mr Lee had always been there, like a paternal figure. He was Prime Minister, Senior Minister then Minister Mentor, and then eventually just Mr Lee he had always been around. His passing from our midst is the end of an era. Let us mourn but let us also take the occasion to honour Mr Lee, a man who gave his life to build Singapore into a nation and home for his people. Singapore, a life-long passion Fifty years ago, when Singapore was booted out from Malaysia, Mr Lee wept and feared for our survival; yet he did not give up. Instead he made it his lifes work to take us from being a nation that should not exist to a First World country. 3

4 His passion for the people of Singapore gave rise to our nation; his belief in us earned him the right to be called Founding Father. As one of historys longest serving ministers in one of the worlds youngest republics, Mr Lee had a hand in shaping almost every aspect of Singapores development. Whether we agreed with his policies, style of leadership and interference in our private lives as he himself put it was immaterial. We knew he was fully committed to Singapore and wanted Singapore to succeed beyond his term, and indeed beyond his lifetime. That Singaporeans have continued to enjoy peace and prosperity after he stepped down as Prime Minister is testament to him putting the nations interests above his own. Perhaps Mr Lees single-minded dedication to Singapore is best reflected in his unwavering devotion to the late Mrs Lee. Their courtship started when both were students and their love lasted a lifetime. Mrs Lee was his life-long passion and tower of strength; likewise Singapore was Mr Lees life-long passion and inspiration. In both arenas, Mr Lee stayed true to the course right to the very end. 4

5 Singapore, a nation and home Of the many tributes that poured in over this past week, one for me summed it up well. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam said: Everywhere you turn: from the housing estates, the clean and efficient roads, the corruption-free system, the schools, the world-class universities, the leading financial centre that we are today, the good jobs and good quality of life our people have, the hospitals, the clean green environment, the vibrancy of this metropolis, the fact that it is now one of the great cities of the world ... Mr Lee was the chief architect of the system that produced all of this. In Mr Lees own words, he believed only in the Politics of Life. Politics that brought in jobs, provided homes, hospitals and schools for all, and a better environment for families and their children to grow up in. And that was the only politics he knew. I remember back in the early 70s in our rented shophouse in Petaling Jaya in KL, when my mother announced that my father had found a job in Singapore and we were moving to Singapore. I was around 10 years old, and I did not see much significance in that. It was not long after we 5

6 arrived in Singapore that we moved into a small three-room flat at Stirling Road in Queenstown, which I thought was a much smaller place, but my parents proudly pointed out that the difference was we owned this flat and it was not rented. I asked: Is this what this was all about, we moved so we can own a flat? But my mother said: No, more than that, it is so you can go to university and learn proper English. I obediently followed the script, went to university here in Singapore and almost immediately after graduation, with a full-time job in the Army, I was able to upgrade the entire family to a five-room flat in Clementi. Our apartment at Clementi Ave 4 was close to and had a view of the Sungei Ulu Pandan. But my mother thought that was a bad idea because she said it would smell. But for once, she was wrong. It was a clean flowing waterway. As with most waterways in Singapore, it might not be suitable for swimming, but there you would find a constant stream of egrets and other migratory birds, and certainly you would find many Singaporeans in their favorite fishing spots, legally or otherwise. 6

7 Through my days in school, my best buddies included Malays, Indians and Eurasians. We attended class together, and when we deemed fit, we missed class together, we were on the football pitch together, and sometimes deservingly we also got our canings together. Now we are all too old for the football pitch, and we limit our banter and mischief to Facebook, mostly lamenting the fortunes of Liverpool and Man United. As a young officer in the workshop platoon in the Armour Unit, I often had to deal with purchasing, and I was promptly introduced to the concept of three quotations. And it was impressed upon me that there must always be prudence, accountability and full transparency in every dollar we spent. I also remember I was once given what I then thought was a very unusual assignment: as a young public officer, I was asked to organize the units Annual Tree Planting Day. I soon learned that the term Clean and Green had a very special emphasis and is a significant part of our ethos in this country. In my later years, I was told that more than half of Singapore is but a piece of granite rock. But on this rock grew a garden. And from this garden sprouted a city. And eventually a First World metropolis. One man envisioned it. He promised it. And he and his team delivered it. 7

8 In my reflections these past few days, it struck me that I never had the chance to meet Mr Lee up close or even just shake his hand. I certainly was not invited for any tea sessions. But he touched my life in many special ways. From the day I first set foot on this island called Singapore, the difference was felt. Like me, many millions in this country never had the chance to chat up close with Mr Lee or shake his hand, but he touched their lives in intimate and special ways and made many things possible. And that is why thousands, with children and grandchildren in tow, see fit to queue in the hot sun or past midnight outside Parliament House to thank him and bid him a last farewell. In closure In Mr Lees eulogy to his wife in 2010, he said that without her, he would have been a different man, with a different life. For us, the Hard Truth is: Without Mr Lee, we would have been a different people, a different country, with very different lives. No words 8

9 can convey how incredibly blessed Singapore was to have had Mr Lee lead this country for as long as he did. The baton has passed on not just to the leaders of this country but also to you and I. For we are the sons and daughters of Singapore and the onus is now on each and every one of us to live up to the inspiration of the Founding Father. He left us a monumental legacy. May we continue that legacy. And from One North, we can certainly do our part to further that precious legacy. Thank you. 9

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