Debunking the deification of Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy

By | March 29, 2015

There has been a great deal of debate about whether Lee Kuan Yew single-handedly transformed Singapore from a fishing village into a first-world country and plenty of postulations that without him, Singapore will not be where it is today.

Without going into historical details (because history is like a bad case of Rashomon on an endless loop), there is actually a simple litmus test to debunk the deliberate deification of Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy by unreliable narrators.

Unfortunately, the test probably works best for those with children (or at the very least, have some experience in mentoring responsibilities).

Here’s how it goes: I want you to read the sentence below out loud.

Without me, my child will not be where he is today.

Ok, say that out loud again. This time with a straight face.

Without me, my child will not be where he is today.

Sense something wrong?

True, you’ve probably contributed much to the current state of your child (whatever that may be) through providing financial support, food and a roof above his head, and hopefully some parental love along the way.

But if people were to attribute the success (or lack thereof) of your child entirely to you, they are essentially undermining the growth potential that is inherent in every child and the hard work that the child has put in. To give credit to just one man is also to ignore the contributions of many people who may have a hand in guiding your child to where he is today.

Does that make sense to you now?

So let’s give credit where credit is due, but there is no need to put Lee Kuan Yew on a pedestal.

11 thoughts on “Debunking the deification of Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy

  1. Anonymous

    Would you all like to hear of further inside scoops regarding the LEE family? Well .here goes.

    LKY is on a heart pacer. His wife as you probably know is in the ICU of Tan Tock Seng Hospital (in a coma and, sadly, not expected to recover), his daughter Lee Wei Ling married an Indian businessman in Hong Kong against his wishes but has since divorced, his other son, Lee Hsien Yang, is having an affair with his Singtel staff (a Malay woman), and his wife, Lee Suet Fern, is in the process of divorcing him (she has since left Lee & Lee and is now Managing Partner of Stamford Law Corpn). One grandson of LKY (LHL’s son) is not on talking terms with another grandson (LHY’s son). The whole family, it would seem, is splitting asunder. The only source of comfort is that LKY has been reconciled of late with his only daughter, and she has been accompanying him in all his later overseas trips (more as his personal doctor than anything else).

    You want more? Well, here goes….

    In the ’90s hotelier Ong Beng Seng wanted to bring in F1 racing to Singapore but the proposal was not approved by the PAP government. Then in the ensuing years, he somehow managed to wrestle over a gazetted national heritage site Jade Villa off Nassim Road, had its status removed and converted into high class condo called Nassim Jade. Many units were taken by LKY and his family members (at special discounts on top of the usual market discounts). In fact, all the LEE cronies bought units there, including LKY’s good friend, the then Chief Justice Yong Pung How. During this period there was also a speculative craze in property transactions building up and the Government had to act to prevent a bubble from forming. PM Goh wanted to introduce several drastic measures to arrest and defuse this potential problem, but was advised by LKY to go for softer options. The reason was, his daughter, Lee Wei Ling, had been one of the property speculators at that time, holding on to an open position of more than 10 properties on her speculative board, all of which were still in various stages of payment.

    After the goodwill offered by Ong Beng Seng to the LEE family through the sale of units at Nassim Jade, the astute businessman then re-submitted his proposal for holding the F1 race in Singapore, and, as expected it was approved lock, stock & barrel. The government even picked up the tabs in paying for the cost of fabricating the race circuit for his benefit! Once they have taken the bite, it is difficult to say no the second time round isn’t it?

    a) Lee Wei Ling. She was a very rebellious daughter in her younger days, playful and likes to challenge authority. A friend of mine whose uncle worked as one of her personal bodyguards told of a time when she went into a shop from the front, leaving her bodyguard outside, and disappeared through the back door. He had a hard time trying to explain to the old man how he lost contact with his daughter after that.

  2. Anonymous

    b) Lee Hsien Loong. He was drafted into national service in 1971 and posted straight to OCS (Officer Cadet School in SAFTI). At that time, the route for enlistees to become SAF officers was 3 months basic military training, followed by 3 months Section Leaders Training (SISL at SAFTI) and then 9 months OCS (this was later reduced to 6 months). While at OCS, his routine was attending lectures in the day (hardly ever partake in any real physical training, usually standing nearby watching his comrades doing all the physicals) and by end of day the chauffeur would come to pick him home. No stay-in for him. No rifle cleaning. No area cleaning duties. In the morning before 8 am the chauffeur would fetch him to camp and he would just stroll in when others are having their muster-parade, etc. Well, can’t think of a better and easier way to pass your NS days than this.

    A couple of months before his stepped down from his days in full time service with the military, he was promoted from Colonel to Brig-General. Days later, he left and join PAP as a co-opted candidate for the elections. Ever heard of any other colonel in the army who was promoted (to BG) and then resigned? He would have been shot.

    c) Lee Kuan Yew. He was born with the name Harry Lee Kuan Yew in his birth certificate. All was fine with that name, especially when he went to Cambridge and mingled with the British aristocracy. But when he returned and had to mingle with the largely Chinese ground during his early days in politics, suddenly the name “Harry” became an impediment to his progress with the more Chinese oriented colleague. He did a deed poll and removed the hairy part to win the Chinese ground. Anyway, after his return from UK he worked as a small time lawyer representing workers’ unions and was responsible for evoking anti-colonial sentiments among union members. The Hock Lee Bus Riots were in some part incited by his advocation of anti-colonial sentiments.

    During one of the court appearances on behalf of the unions at a district court, he was chided by the magistrate for some transgression of court procedures.

    The sitting magistrate at that time was a man called J.B. Jeyaretnam. That reproach left an indelible mark on him and he probably swore on vengeance one day.

    He did get his chance. After the 1959 municipal elections the PAP swept to victory and formed the first self government and LKY was elected Singapore’s first PM. His first act of duty? JBJ was removed as a district judge. Now it’s the turn of JBJ to swear on vengeance against LKY. He joined the WP which was founded by ex-chief minister David Marshall. And so the feud between PAP and the WP has all along been personal – it was always JBJ against LKY and not so much the WP against the PAP. That was the sad thing about what could have been for Singapore opposition politics had JBJ put aside his personal agenda.

    In any case, LKY’s betrayal of the “communist” element within the PAP, the “Fajar” generation political leaders, is already a well known saga and so I will skip that part.

  3. Anonymous

    The inner man in LKY. After his rise in power by displacing the “communist” elements, he always had that sense of insecurity and distrusted Chinese bodyguards (fearing infiltration from the Chinese communists into his establishment). His personal bodyguards were all non-Chinese (mostly Indians and Eurasians). Before his permanent move of abode to the annexe wing of the Istana, he stayed at his Oxley Road home. Each night he would rotate sleeping in different bedrooms, and his bodyguards would check under the bed before he retires for the night. Same with the food he consumed, someone would have to taste them first. So uptight he was, afraid of vengeance from the communists who were still roaming the Malaysian jungles then.

    He only relaxed this seige mentality AFTER Deng Xiao Peng’s visit to Singapore in 1978 (thereabouts), wherein Deng made a promise that China will, thereupon, stop its support for the Communist Party Of Malaya, in return for some concessions. In 1980 Deng kept his part of the bargain, reigning in CPM’s leader Chin Peng and ordering him to dismantle the party. LKY reciprocated by asking Deputy PM and Defence Minister Goh Keng Swee to step down and not run for election, subsequently being appointed as economic adviser to China (some time around 1984/1985) where he was allegedly paid a salary of S$500,000 p.a. But he did lay the ground work and foundation for economic growth of the Chinese economy. LKY also had another part of the bargain to fulfill – and that was to conduct the “Speak Mandarin Campaign” for the Chinese Singaporeans here, as Deng had earlier lamented his unhappiness that the Chinese in Singapore did not speak Mandarin much. You can say LKY prostituted himself to serve a greater master. On top of that, he had to ensure that our business leaders also throw their investment money into China to help it kick start the various avenues of growth there, the early birds there being developers, some of whom got their fingers burnt pretty bad.

  4. Anonymous

    Hi fellas. Here are some inside scoops of past events, the real news that were not reported in the ST:
    a) In the early ’90s (1990/1991) there was a very short report in the ST that a horse had ran amok from the stables of the Singapore Polo Club and onto the main Thomson Road where it was run down by a vehicle (I think the put animal was later put down to sleep). That was it, one or two paras and the ST went to sleep. What was not reported was on the why and the what which made the horse galloped out in wild frenzy.

    The inside scoop is that a helicopter carrying the Sultan of Johore had entered Singapore airspace and landed at the polo club without first obtaining flight clearance from our authorities (the Sultan comes to Singapore frequently for his R & R activities). At that time, LHL, the acting PM (GCT was, I believe, on an overseas mission) ordered the helicopter off the field as it was infringing on our sovereignty. The Reserve Police were despatched to enforce this action, whereupon the Sultan had his aerial plaything headed home, suffering a slight to his face.

    A couple of weeks later, off Pulau Tioman (Johore) the Malaysian Marine Police rounded up several of our fishing enthusiasts who had been on their craft fishing in and outside Malaysian territorial waters. All those who had passports with them were allowed to return home. Those without their pp were detained (there were quite a few because they were in international waters). At the outer reach, the Malaysian police crafts were chasing a yatch which was racing away (in international waters) but was finally caught. The yatch had belonged to one of LKY’s relative (a member of the Cheng family of Wing Tai group). The Malaysian policemen could not accept the “coffee money” that was offered them citing the reason that it was a political tit-for-tat, with orders coming from the top (they had waited patiently for some days to spring the dragnet as soon as news of LKY’s relative being in the area was confirmed). The matter was then resolved through political channels. All these the ST kept mum and Singaporeans were kept in the dark.

  5. Anonymous

    b) Immediately after the October 1973 Yom Kippur war between the Israelis and the Arabs (particularly Egypt), Singapore was involved in a piece of espionage activity. One of our patrol vessels from the Maritime Command (predecessor of our Republic of Singapore Navy) was sent to the Mediterranean area (Haifa, Israel) to collect a secret cargo which was then brought back to Singapore, whereupon it was transferred over to US authorities. It was a CIA operation involving the transfer of a captured Russian jet fighter, the MIG-23, which was dismantled into several crates and brought to US through Singapore. The jet was, at that time, one of the latest and advanced in technology for its era. With Russian eavesdropper covering every move of the Israelis the mission had to be accomplished through a third party.

    This was a time when the cold war spy vs counter-spy thing was lived through in real life and not merely Hollywood stuff. In fact, a Singaporean by the name of Amos Dawe, the Managing Director of the Mosbert Group, had been a Russian agent. Moscow Narodny Bank, Singapore Branch, had given him a $50m credit line which he used to buy over 2 US banks (in the States) on behalf of the Russians, who had wanted access to some vital information on state secrets which the banks had access to. He was also active in his foray in Hong Kong. At the commercial level, he was later sued for bankruptcy in HK and Singapore, while in the States he faced indictment by the Grand Jury.

  6. Anonymous

    c) Has the PAP government ever fumbled on a grand scale and taken for a ride by foreigners? Yes, it happened at about the same period, in 1971. Slater Walker Group (UK based) had bought over controlling interests in Haw Par Brothers International Ltd (HPBIL) which was listed on the stock exchange in. There was nothing wrong with this commercial transaction, except that HPBIL owned Chung Khiaw Bank Ltd, and this appeared to have circumvented our Banking Act. One of the provisions of the Act forbid foreign ownership in any of our local banks in excess of 30 % of their capital. HPBIL had, technically, with that transaction, become the indirect owner of a local bank, and this was in violation of the spirit of the provisions of the Banking Act. The Slater Walker Group did not contravene the Act in the legal sense because the loophole in the relevant clause of the Act had failed to define what foreigner ownership meant, i.e. indirect ownership through proxies was not clearly specified. Because of this, LKY could not prosecute the British group. But the “transgression” had to be corrected.

    What happened was that the kingpins of OCBC, OUB, and UOB, were summoned to LKY’s office, together with Michael Walker, the MD of Slater Walker Group. During this meeting, LKY made the famous remark when addressing Michael Walker that “there is no such thing as an English gentleman anymore” (referring to his group’s back door entry into controlling Chung Khiaw Bank). He then requested that one of the 3 local banks to buy back Chung Khiaw Bank from the Slater Walker Group.

    DBS was still in its formative years and was left out of this mission. Tan Chin Tuan (OCBC) told LKY that he has to go back and do due diligence study first. Lien Ying Chow (OUB) said that his bank was not in a financial position to mount this takeover. Do you know what Wee Cho Yaw (UOB) said? Well, he told LKY “Mr Lee, anything you say I will do.” Wee and Walker then went into the process of commercial discussion, and the next day UOB wrestled back Chung Khiaw Bank from the foreign predator. Slater Walker group made an overnight kill of millions of dollars and UOB woke up with another bank in its pocket. That was how Wee Cho Yaw went straight into the good books of LKY and has been scratching his back right up to this day.

    Following this embarrassment, the Banking Act was immediately amended and the provision governing foreign ownership of local banks was expanded to include indirect ownership as well.
    There was another such incident when another foreign businessman took our legal framework for another ride through its porous provisions under our Companies Act. However, this time round, this chap wasn’t so lucky. His name was Tan Koon Swan and the historical chapter was known as the Pan El Affair.

    But that would be a story to be told at another time.

  7. Anonymous

    Yes, that story on LHL’s first wife, the Malaysian, was true. It was not a rumour. She was a trained doctor, and as you know, partly due to post natal trauma, the denial by LKY that the trait of the newborn son was from a strand from the LEE family DNA tree, she could not handle the pressure of being blamed for producing the poor innocent child. From inside sources, it was learnt that she had injected herself with a painless substance which relieved her of the emotional pain and brought her to sleep forever. This was covered up.

    And yes, Lee Wei Ling is also quite sick currently, although her ailment has been very successfully kept a secret. In fact, it seems that LHL’s backside is again given him some problems (that was why Teo Chee Hean was co-opted as a second Deputy PM as a precaution), I do not, however, know what is LHL’s condition currently but will feed back when further news is available.

    LKY has an older brother Freddy Lee Thiam Yew who was once a police inspector (during colonial days). He was known to be a big time Chap Dee Kee (2D) bookie in those days. After his retirement from the force, they gave him a place on the board of stock broking company J.Ballas & Co with sweet compensation of course. His younger brother, Lee Suan Yew, is a well-known doctor with his clinic just behind the Armenian Church. He used to provide free consultation and treatment for elderly patients (the most altruistic of the 4 brothers), and he is also the one who took care of their parents when they were alive (they lived with him in his Jervois Road bungalow).

  8. Anonymous

    The other brother, the late Denis Lee Kim Yew, a lawyer with Lee & Lee in his active days, was embroiled in some controversial matters a couple of times. In 1970 a businessman, Goh Tjoei Kok, applied for a banking licence which was turned down by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. The following year (1971) he re-applied again, but this time he included the name of Lee Kim Yew as one of the directors and the application was approved by the MAS.

    JBJ brought this matter up in court in defence of the defamation suit brought against him by LKY some time in 1981/1982. The MD of MAS, Michael Wong Pakshong, was subpoenaed to testify in his defence. And, under oath, Michael Wong had not alternative except to agree as a point on fact. A few months later, Michael Wong was removed from his position. Fortunately, the South African born accountant of Chinese descent had maintained good relations with OCBC group and he was absorbed into the group’s directorship immediately where he still sits to this day.

    The late Denis Lee was also a director of UIC when Oei Hong Leong controlled the listed property group. In 1991, Glenn Knight, the Director of Commercial Affairs Department, had detailed 2 inspectors to look into complaints involving Denis Lee’s involvement in UIC’s purchased of 2 Japanese banks. What happened was that in Japan during that period there were a lot of deals and counter-deals of businesses, including banks, and a lot of kickbacks were given to agents or introducers. Whilst it was legally acceptable for the agents or introducers to receive them (as they constituted a commission) the fact was that the books of these agents showed a lot of remittances being returned to individuals who were representatives of the purchasing parties. In their investigations into these books of the agents, a lot of names were on their record (probably without the knowledge or awareness of the recipients). It seemed that Japanese authorities came across Denis Lee’s name being recorded as a recipient for such “commission” on the transactions involving the 2 Japanese banks. That was how Glenn Knight got wind of the matter and decided to despatch the 2 inspectors.

    But he got off to a wrong start with the 2 inspectors commencing from here, and as news spread to the LKY circle that Denis Lee was under the microscope of the CAD something had to be done to prevent the matter from discrediting the whole PAP empire by association of him to his PM brother. And that was why Glenn Knight was framed for a crime he did not commit, so that he be removed from office with shame and with his credibility broken. The 2 inspectors were removed from their job, but they were not charged. Obviously some compensation were given to buy their silence.

  9. Anonymous

    LKY served as an “interpreter” for the Japanese administrators when Singapore was under Japanese rule. “Interpreter” was a very courteous way to describe his service with the Japanese. These days we just came them collaborators, agents or informers. LKY was having his first lesson in fighting for his own personal security and survival. Rhis lesson, once digested, he later applied into his political doctrine of survival. And yes, he worked as an informer for the British during the transitional period from colonial rule to statehood (when internal security was still under the purview of the British).
    In fact, when LKY was passing through Pakistan some time in the mid ’90s en route to one his many overseas trips, he dropped by to see an old Pakistani friend. It was reported in ST that the said friend was an ex-police inspector in Singapore during the colonial days, and he was reported to have said that LKY and him used TO WORK TOGETHER DURING THE OLD DAYS ! Now that’s coming straight out from the horse’s mouth.

    Yes. He was the chief engineer of the anti-colonial sentiments during the late fifties, and was responsible indirectly for formenting the hatred towards removing the colonialists and the staging of riots, of which there were many. He was a legal advisor to many of the labour unions which, first went on strike against their employers, and later took part in street riots, some of which sprung out of control (the Hock Lee Bus riots being the most deadly as several people were killed, including a police detective and a foreign journalist).

    And yes, he rode on the back of the communist tiger, and used their popularity with the masses to win the elections in 1959, and once put onto the pedestal of power wrestled his way into becoming the PM through devious way, and then had the British arrest and put all his intra-party comrades who were a threat to his political existence (in the party) into jail indefinitely, giving him enough time to purge and re-organise the PAP with more men whom he could trust or use, consolidating his position thus.

    I will provide some insight on the Phey Yew Kok case, as well as inside scoop on the late Teh Cheang Wan suicide a little later. Also, a brief narration on how LKY had used the philosophy of Machiavelli very effectively in his consolidation of power in Singapore over the years.

  10. Anonymous


    This story must be told to the awakening Singaporean electorate.

    In the late ’70s and early ’80s the policy of LKY was to recruit all the top scholars and have them put into key management positions in the civil service, statutory boards, and GLCs. The NTUC, being the most crucial weapon controlled by the PAP, was no exception.

    This central congress of labour unions commanded a total workforce of almost 800,000 workers, which meant that it was responsible for translating 800,000 votes for the PAP during each election time. And the man holding this trump card, the Secretary-General of the NTUC, was a very very important VIP to the party in power. At that time, Devan Nair was that man. He had been arrested and thrown into jail under the ISA by the British together with the others (the so called “communist” elements of the PAP, the Fajar generation). But LKY struck a deal with him and pulled him out from the doldrums and into the pedestal of political power again as Sec-Gen of NTUC. The reason was that DN all along, even before his incarceration, had a strong political voter base in the union members and LKY sought to use him as a proxy. Their alliance at first was tenable and they lived together in “one house two homes”.

    During this period, DN was constantly talking about “socialism that works”, and the political doctrine of socialism seemed to prevail in the air. Singapore’s political system was then even hailed as democratic socialism, whatever that means (democracy and socialism in their base form can never be reconciled as their doctrines are tangent to each other). This liberal vocal output of DN was still tolerable within LKY’s barometer. However, when DN continued his slant of promoting democracy as being socialist in nature, LKY could see that, if left unchecked, the phoenix of the Fajar generation would have a fair chance of arising from the ashes in time to come. He had to act quick to remove a potential time bomb. But he couldn’t just remove DN – he was sitting on 800,000 votes and had the allegiance of practically all the subsidiary union bosses.

    So he used a Machiavellan philosophy – elevate him to high office to earn his trust while plotting his downfall. By taking him out from the NTUC and appointing him as President of Singapore, he had appeased all his union bosses and members that their great leader had been elevated to the highest political office in the land. But they were still in their stupor to even realise that DN had moved from a position controlling a power base to one that is nominal in nature with no political power or control. Only the name President of Singapore was high sounding, and with it a tax free income (the only public office in Singapore with an income that is tax exempt).

  11. Anonymous

    The dice had been cast and the chips already rolling. LKY knew that DN was an alchoholic since his early union days. This has been common knowledge to his neighbours living in the Chestnut Drive area. And this was the weapon LKY can use to destroy him. But as the NTUC boss, this weakness could not be exploited as a weapon. Its tenacity as a weapon of destruction would be most expedient to use when he was holding a very high public office, one which had to maintain very high social decorum. Being the President of the country was the best way to use alcoholism to destroy him personally, and politically.

    The catalyst came when DN, as the President of the people, became untenable when he began to adopt personal politics in his persoanlity disagreement with LKY, and they grew more apart each passing month.

    Some time just before his downfall, DN gave a speech at one of the functions which included his call to all those aggrieved parties to sue government doctors if they have been found to be negligent. Within days Dr Tony Tan had to come out immediately to diffuse the situation by explaining to the public that the president had meant some other thing, etc, and not actually sueing government doctors per se. When DN gave that speech, although he did not mentioned any names, he was referring to a Dr Lee at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, who through a negligent act conducted by her had resulted in the unnecessary loss of life of one of the patients. That doctor was not trained as a surgeon but had been involved in a simple operation of a patient but due to inexperience, had negligently caused infection to set in the wounded area of he patient which became sceptic. A second susbsequent rescue operation by an experienced surgeon was conducted but it was too late and the patient died.

    Before DN let more cats out from the bag about LKY and his dirty baggages, LKY had to remove him from office without any further delay. And so it started, with rumours from the Istana filling the grapevine that DN had secretly wore a wig and stolen out at night from the Istana to make secret calls to promiscuous woman, etc. This culminated in the grand rumour that he had grabbed and fondled some women when he was visiting and was a guest at a long house in Sarawak. All these were baseless and unfounded, and were the work of the Istana Mafia.

    That was how DN was publicly disgraced and forced to retire as President. He had no more power base left as the NTUC had by that time been strongly rooted in its support and allegiance to LKY’s goodie boy at that time, Ong Teng Cheong (who was actually a very nice chap in person).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *