Let’s pledge to continue building this exceptional nation: PM Lee
SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong today (March 29) delivered the eulogy for Mr Lee Kuan Yew, his father and Singapore's founding Prime Minister, at the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore. His eulogy, in full, here:
SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong today (March 29) delivered the eulogy for Mr Lee Kuan Yew, his father and Singapore's founding Prime Minister, at the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore. His eulogy, in full, here:
This has been a dark week for Singapore.
The light that has guided us all these years has been extinguished. We have lost our founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who lived and breathed Singapore all his life. He and his team led our pioneer generation to create this island nation, Singapore.
Mr Lee did not set out to be a politician, let alone a statesman, as a boy. In fact, his grandfather wanted him to become an English gentleman! But events left an indelible mark on him. He had been a British subject in colonial Singapore. He had survived hardship, danger and fear in the Japanese Occupation. These life experiences drove him to fight for independence.
In one of his radio talks on the Battle for Merger many years ago in 1961, Mr Lee said: “My colleagues and I are of that generation of young men who went through the Second World War and the Japanese Occupation and emerged determined that no one – neither the Japanese nor the British – had the right to push and kick us around.”
Mr Lee championed independence for Singapore through Merger with Malaya, to form a new federation, the Federation of Malaysia. He worked tirelessly to bring this about, and succeeded. Unfortunately the merger did not last and before long we were expelled from Malaysia. Separation was his greatest “moment of anguish”, but it also proved to be the turning point in Singapore’s fortunes.
From the ashes of Separation he built a nation. The easiest thing to do would have been to appeal to Chinese voters alone. After all, Singapore had been expelled from Malaysia because we were majority Chinese. Instead, Mr Lee went for the nobler dream of a multi-racial, multi-religious nation. Singapore would not be based on race, language or religion, but on fundamental values – multi-racialism, equality, meritocracy, integrity, and rule of law. Mr Lee declared: “This is not a country that belongs to any single community; it belongs to all of us.”
He checked would be racial chauvinists, and assured the minorities that their place here was secure. He insisted on keeping our mother tongues, even as English became our common working language. He encouraged each group to maintain its culture, faith and language, while gradually enlarging the common space shared by all. Together with Mr S Rajaratnam, he enshrined these ideals in the National Pledge.
He kept us safe in a dangerous and tumultuous world. With Dr Goh Keng Swee, he built the SAF from just two infantry battalions and one wooden ship, into a well-trained, well-equipped, well-respected fighting force.
He introduced National Service (NS), and personally persuaded parents to entrust their sons to the SAF. He succeeded, first because he led by example – his two sons did NS just like every Singaporean son. In fact my brother and I signed up as regulars in the SAF … and we went in on SAF Scholarships. Secondly, people trusted Mr Lee, and they believed in the Singapore cause. And therefore today we sleep peacefully at night, confident that we are well protected.
Mr Lee gave us courage to face an uncertain future. He was a straight talker, and he never shied away from hard truths, either to himself or to Singaporeans. His ministers would sometimes urge him to soften he tone of his draft speeches, even I would sometimes do that, to sound less unyielding to human frailties and often took in their amendments, but he would preserve his core message. As he said: “I always tried to be correct, not politically correct”.
He was a powerful speaker: moving, inspiring, persuasive, in English and Malay, and by dint of a lifelong hard slog in Mandarin and even Hokkien. MediaCorp has been broadcasting his old speeches on TV this week, reminding us that his was the original Singapore Roar: passionate, formidable and indomitable.
Above all, Lee Kuan Yew was a fighter. In crises, when all seemed hopeless, he was ferocious, endlessly resourceful, firm in his resolve, and steadfast in advancing his cause.
Thus he saw us through many battles: the Battle for Merger against the communists, which most people thought the non-communists would lose; the fight when we were in Malaysia against the communalists, when his own life was in danger; Separation, which cast us out into a hazardous world; and then the withdrawal of the British military forces from Singapore, which threatened the livelihoods of 150,000 people.
Because he never wavered, we didn’t falter. Because he fought, we took courage and fought with him, and prevailed. And thus Mr Lee took Singapore, and took us all from the Third World to the First.
In many countries, anti-colonial fighters and heroes would win independence and assume power, but then fail, fail at nation-building, because the challenges of bringing a society together, growing an economy, patiently improving peoples’ lives are very different. ... But Mr Lee and his team succeeded at nation building.
Just weeks after Separation, Mr Lee boldly declared that “ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear!” And indeed he made it happen. He instilled discipline and order – ensuring that in Singapore, every problem gets fixed. He educated our young. He transformed labour relations from strikes and confrontation to tripartism and cooperation. He campaigned to upgrade skills and to raise productivity, calling this effort a marathon with no finish line.
He enabled his economic team – Goh Keng Swee, Hon Sui Sen, Lim Kim San – to design and carry out plans to attract investments, grow the economy, and create prosperity and jobs. As he said, “I settled the political conditions so that tough policies ... could be executed”.
However, Mr Lee was also clear that while “the development of the economy is very important, equally important is the development of the nature of our society.” So he built an inclusive society where everyone enjoyed the fruits of progress. Education became the foundation for good jobs and better lives. HDB new towns sprung up one after another – Queenstown, Toa Payoh, Ang Mo Kio to be followed by many more. We roofs over our heads and we became a nation of home owners. With Mr Devan Nair in the NTUC, he transformed the union movement into a positive force, cooperating with employers and the government to improve the lot of workers.
Mr Lee cared for the people whom he served, the people of Singapore. When SARS struck in 2003, he worried about taxi drivers, whose livelihoods were affected because tourists had dried up, and pressed us to find ways to help them. Mr Lee also cared for the people who served him. One evening he rang me up. One of my mother’s WSOs (woman security officers) was having difficulty conceiving a child, and he wanted to help he. And he asked whether I knew how to help her to adopt a child. So Mr Lee was concerned for people not just in the abstract, but personally and individually.
Internationally, Mr Lee raised Singapore’s standing in the world. He wasn’t just a perceptive observer of world affairs, but a statesman who articulated Singapore’s international interests and enlarged our strategic space. At crucial turning points, from the British withdrawal “East of Suez” to the Vietnam War to the rise of China, his views and counsel influenced thinking and decisions in many capitals.
In the process, he built up a wide network of friends and acquaintances, in and out of power. He knew every Chinese leader from Mao Zedong and every US president from Lyndon Johnson. He established close rapport with President Suharto of Indonesia, one of our most important relationships. Others he knew included Deng Xiaoping, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Schmidt, George Shultz, as well as President Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger, who we are honoured to have here this afternoon. They all valued his candour and insight. As Mrs Thatcher said, “(Mr Lee) had a way of penetrating the fog of propaganda and expressing with unique clarity the issues of our times and the way to tackle them. He was never wrong.” And hence despite being so small, Singapore’s voice is heard, and we enjoy far more influence on the international stage than we have any reason to expect.
Mr Lee didn't blaze this path alone. He was the outstanding leader of an exceptional team – A team which included Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Othman Wok, Hon Sui Sen, Lim Kim San, Toh Chin Chye, Ong Pang Boon, Devan Nair, and quite a number more. They were his comrades, and he never forgot them. So it is very good that Mr Ong Pang Boon is here today with us to speak about Mr Lee later on. Thank you, Mr Ong.
Mr Lee received many accolades and awards in his long life. But he wore them lightly. When he received the Freedom of the City of London in 1982, he said: “I feel like a conductor at a concert bowing to applause, but unable to turn around and invite the accomplished musicians in his orchestra to rise and receive the ovation for the music they have played. For running a government is not unlike running an orchestra, and no Prime Minister ever achieves much without an able team of players.”
Because he worked with a strong team and not alone, because people knew that he cared for them and not for himself, and because he had faith that Singaporeans would work with him to achieve great things, Mr Lee won the trust and confidence of Singaporeans. The pioneer generation, who had lived through the crucial years, had a deep bond with him. I once met a lady who owned a successful fried rice restaurant. She told me: “Tell Mr Lee Kuan Yew I will always support him. I was born in 1948, and I am 48 years old. (The year was 1996, there was some issue then …) I know what he has done for me and Singapore.” She and her generation knew that, to use a Chinese phase, “跟着李光耀走不会 死的” – if you follow Lee Kuan Yew, you will survive.
Mr Lee imbued Singapore with his personal traits. He built Singapore to be clean and corruption-free. His home was spartan. His habits were frugal. He wore the same jacket for years, and patched up the worn bits instead of buying new ones. He imparted these values to the government. Even when old and frail, on his 90th birthday when he came to Parliament and MPs celebrated his birthday in Parliament, he reminded them that Singapore must remain clean and incorruptible, and that MPs and Ministers had to set the example.
He pursued his ideas with tremendous, infectious energy. He said of himself: “I put myself down as determined, consistent, persistent. I set out to do something, I keep on chasing it until it succeeds. That’s all.” Easy to say, very few do it. And this was how he seized opportunities, seeing and realising possibilities that many others missed.
So it was he who pushed to move Paya Lebar airport to Changi. It was he who rejected the then conventional wisdom that multi-national corporations (MNCs) were rapacious and exploitative, and he wooed foreign investments from MNCs personally to bring us advanced technology, to bring us overseas markets, to create for us good jobs.
He was not afraid to change his mind when a policy was no longer relevant. When he saw that our birth rates were falling below replacement, more than 30 years ago, he scrapped the “Stop at Two” policy and started encouraging couples to have more children. That was almost 30 years ago. Having upheld a conservative approach to supervising our financial sector for many years, he eventually decided to rethink and liberalise, but to do so in a controlled way. And this was how Singapore’s financial centre took off in a new wave of growth, to become what it is today. He was always clear what strategy to follow, but never so fixed to an old strategy as to be blind to the need to change course when the world changed.
Nothing exemplifies this better than water security, which was a lifelong obsession of his. He entrenched the PUB’s two Water Agreements with Johor in the Separation Agreement. He personally managed all aspects of our water talks with Malaysia. He launched water saving campaigns, he built reservoirs, he turned most of the island into water catchment to collect the rain to process to use. He cleaned up the Singapore River and Kallang Basin. He dreamed of the Marina Barrage long before it became feasible, and persevered for decades until finally technology caught up and it become feasible and it became a reality. And he lived to see it become a reality. When PUB invented NEWater, and when desalination became viable, he backed the new technologies enthusiastically. The result today is Singapore has moved towards self-sufficiency in water, become a leader in water technologies, and turned a vulnerability into strength. So perhaps it is appropriate that today for his state funeral the heavens opened and cried for him.
Greening Singapore was another of his passions. On travels when he came across trees or plants that might grow well here, he would collect saplings and seeds and hand carry them back home. He used the Istana grounds as a nursery, and would personally check on the health of the trees. Not just in general but individual particular trees. if they had names he would know their names. He knew their scientific names. Singapore’s Prime Minister was also the Chief Gardener of the City in a Garden.
He had a relentless drive to improve and continued to learn well into his old age. At 70, to write his memoirs, he started learning how to use his computer. Every so often he would call me for help, sometimes late at night, and I would give him a phone consultation, talking him through the steps - how to save a file, how find a document which had vanished somewhere on his hard drive. And if he couldn’t find me, he would consult my wife.
He made a ceaseless effort to learn Mandarin over decades. He listened to tapes of his teacher, talking, conversing with him, everyday, in the morning while shaving at home, in the evening while exercising at Sri Temasek. He kept up his Mandarin classes all his life. Indeed, his last appointment on the 4th of Feb this year, before he was taken gravely ill early the next morning, was with his Mandarin tutor.
He inspired all of us to give of our best.
And he was constantly thinking about Singapore. At one National Day Rally in 1988, he declared: “Even from my sickbed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up”. And he meant that. Indeed, even after he left the Cabinet, occasionally he would still raise with me issues which he felt strongly about.
During the Budget Debate two years ago … MPs hotly debated the cost of living, public transport and so many other matters preoccupying Singaporeans. Mr Lee felt that we had lost sight of the fundamentals that underpinned our survival. He emailed me, he sent me a draft speech. He told me wanted to speak in the Chamber, to remind Singaporeans of these unchanging hard truths - what our survival depends on. But I persuaded him to leave the task to me and my ministers. And he took my advice.
But his biggest worry was that younger Singaporeans would lose the instinct for what made Singapore tick. And this was why he continued writing books into his 90s – Bilingualism, Hard Truths, One Man’s View of the World and at least one more guided by him, still in the process of being written, on the history of the PAP. Why did he do this? So that a new generation of Singaporeans could learn from his experience, and understand what their security, prosperity, and future depended upon.
One of Mr Lee’s greatest legacies was preparing Singapore to continue beyond him. He believed that a leader’s toughest job was ensuring succession. So he systematically identified and groomed a team of successors. He made way for Mr Goh Chok Tong to become Prime Minister after him, but stayed on in Mr Goh’s Cabinet to help the new team succeed. He provided stability and experience and quietly helped to build up Mr Goh’s authority. He knew how to guide without being obtrusive, to be watchful while letting the new team develop its own style, its authority. He described himself as a “mascot”, but everyone knew how special this mascot was and how lucky we were to have such a mascot.
It was likewise when I took over. Mr Goh became Senior Minister and Mr Lee became Minister Mentor, a title he felt reflected his new role. … Increasingly he left policy issues to us, but he would share with us his reading of world affairs, and his advice on major problems which he saw over the horizon. Some other Prime Ministers told me that they couldn’t imagine what it was like to have two former PMs in my Cabinet. But I told them it worked, both for me and for Singapore.
For all his public duties, Mr Lee also had his own family. My mother was a big part of his life. They were a deeply loving couple. She was his loyal spouse and confidante – going with him everywhere, fussing over him, helping with his speeches, and keeping home and hearth warm. They were a perfect team, and wonderful parents. When my mother died, he was bereft. He felt the devastating loss of a lifetime partner, who as he said had helped him become what he was.
My father left the upbringing of the children largely to my mother. But he was the head of the family, and he cared deeply about us, both when we were small, and long after we had grown up. He wasn't very demonstrative, much less touchy feely. So, not new age but he loved us deeply.
After my first wife Ming Yang died, my parents suggested that I tried meditation. They gave me some books to read … I read the books but I didn’t make much progress. I think my father had tried meditation too, also not too successfully. His teacher told me later that when he told Mr Lee to relax, still his mind and let go, he replied: “But what will happen to Singapore if I let go?”
When I had lymphoma, he suggested that I try meditation more seriously. He thought it would help me to fight the cancer. He found me a teacher and spoke to him personally. With a good teacher to guide me, I made better progress.
In his old age, after my mother died, my father started meditating again, and this time with help from Ng Kok Song, whom he knew from GIC. Kok Song brought a friend to see my father. The friend was a Benedictine monk who did Christian meditation. My father was not a Christian, but he was happy to learn from a Benedictine monk, and he even called me to suggest that I meet the monk, which I did. He probably felt I needed to resume meditation too, and to give you some context, this was the few months after the 2011 General Election. I was by then nearly 60 and he was by then nearly 90. But to him I was still his son to be worried over, and to me he was still a father to love and appreciate, just like when I was small.
So this morning before the ceremonies began at Parliament House, we had a few minutes. I sat by him and meditated.
Of course, growing up as my father’s son could not but mean being exposed to politics very early. I remember as a little boy, knowing that his constituency was Tanjong Pagar, I was proud of him becoming legal advisor to so many trade unions, and I was excited by the hubbub at Oxley Road whenever elections happened, and our home became the election office.
I remember when we were preparing to join Malaysia in the early 1960s, going along with my father on constituency visits – the “fang wen” tours which he made to every corner of Singapore. For him, it was backbreaking work, week after week, every weekend, rallying the people’s support for a supremely important decision about Singapore’s future. For me, these were not just Sunday outings, but also an early political education.
I remember election night in 1963, the crucial general election when the PAP defeated the pro-communist Barisan Sosialis. My mother sent me to bed early, but I lay awake in bed to listen to the election results until the PAP had won enough seats to form the government again. And then I think I fell asleep.
I remember the day he told me, while we were playing golf at the Istana, that should anything happen to him, he wanted me to look after my mother and my younger brother and sister.
I remember the night the children slept on the floor in my parents’ bedroom at Temasek House in Kuala Lumpur, because the house was full of ministers who had come up from Singapore. And every so often my father would get up from the bed to make a note about something, before lying down to rest again. But obviously he wasn’t asleep and the date was 7 August 1965, two days before Separation.
Growing up with my father, living through those years with him, made me what I am.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence. We all wanted Mr Lee would be present with us on August 9 to celebrate this milestone. More than anybody else, it was he who fought for multiracialism, which ultimately led to our independence as a sovereign Republic. It was he who united our people, built a nation, and made our 50th anniversary worth celebrating. Sadly, it is not to be.
But we can feel proud and happy that Mr Lee lived to see his life’s work come to fruition. At last year’s National Day Parade, when Mr Lee appeared and waved, the crowd gave him the most deafening cheer of the whole parade. Last November, the People’s Action Party celebrated its diamond anniversary at the Victoria Concert Hall, where Mr Lee founded the party 60 years ago. Party members were so happy to see that Mr Lee could be there, they gave him a rousing, emotional standing ovation. Those of us who were there will never forget it.
St Paul’s Cathedral in London was built by Sir Christopher Wren, the famous architect. He was the architect of the cathedral, and he is buried in the cathedral, which was his masterpiece. There is a Latin epitaph on his grave, and it reads: si monumentum requiris, circumspice. It means, If you seek his monument, look around you. Mr Lee Kuan Yew built Singapore. To those who seek Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s monument, Singaporeans can reply proudly: “look around you”.
Let me continue in Malay and Mandarin.
(Translation from Malay)
Fellow Singaporeans, we have lost a leader who had guided us, inspired us, united us and laid the foundation for our success. This includes the racial harmony that we have enjoyed all this while. It is the result of Mr Lee’s deep commitment to strengthen inter-racial and inter-religious ties among the different races and religions in Singapore - A vision that is also strongly supported by the Malays.
Mr Lee deeply appreciated the solid support of the Malays for his vision and the PAP, especially when Singapore was still part of Malaysia. Without the support of the Malays then, it is highly likely that Singapore today would have turned our differently.
So when Singapore gained independence, Mr Lee was determined to ensure that the minorities have their place in Singapore forever. His commitment in helping the Malay-Muslim community to progress was apparent. He laid the foundation for the formation of the mosque building fund so that the community could build mosques in every housing estate, through contributions from every working Muslim.
Mr Lee also believed that education is the main key to uplift the Malay community. For this reason, he strongly supported the setting up of the Mendaki Foundation to help needy Malay students and families. While we are saddened by Mr Lee’s departure, let us honour and celebrate his spirit and contributions. Let us contribute efforts to develop Singapore, strengthen our multi-racial and multi-religious society and work together as one united people, just as Mr Lee fought for all his life.
Now in Mandarin.
(Translation from Mandarin)
Singapore’s development and success were inextricably linked to Mr Lee’s personality and ideals. If Mr Lee and his colleagues had chosen a different path or did not have the vision and determination to fight for and defend Singapore's independence, Singapore would definitely not be what it is today.
Mr Lee gave his all and worked hard to build Singapore. His motto was: For Singapore to continue to thrive, we must always be vigilant and never rest on our laurels. We have to apply wisdom and creativity and keep persevering to continually remake Singapore. Then this Island state can safeguard its’ interest, be relevant to the world and be recognised internationally.
Mr Lee devoted his whole life to serving the nation and realise his lifelong aspiration to build a rugged society and a vibrant nation.
In his twilight years, he was heartened to see Singapore’s continued stability, prosperity and growth, even after he had stepped down.
A humble and keen learner, Mr Lee was a model of lifelong learning. In fact, he was attending his regular Mandarin lesson on the very night before he was last admitted to hospital.
Mr Lee was blessed with a happy family and a loving marriage. He and the late Mdm Kwa Geok Choo were a loving couple. His three children have successful careers and are contributing to society. In his later years, he was fortunate to enjoy his grandchildren’s company.
While we grieve for the loss of our founding Prime Minister, we are also deeply grateful that he had led Singapore on its remarkable journey which has now entered its 50th year.
As we remember him let us not forget his vision for Singapore, his love for this country, let us carry on his perseverance and dedication to continue the Singapore miracle. So that Mr Lee will not have toward about its future. May he rest in peace.
(PM Lee speaks in English)
I said the light that has guided us all these years has been extinguished. But that is not quite so. For Mr Lee’s principles and ideals continue to invigorate this Government and to guide our people. His life will inspire Singaporeans, and others, for generations to come.
Mr Lee once said that “we intend to see that (Singapore) will be here a thousand years from now. And that’s your duty and mine”. Mr Lee has done his duty, and more. It remains our duty to continue his life’s work, to carry the torch forward and keep the flame burning bright.
Over the past month, the outpouring of good wishes, prayers and support from Singaporeans as Mr Lee lay ill has been overwhelming, and even more so since he passed away on Monday. People of all races, from all walks of life, young and old, here and abroad have mourned him. Hundreds of thousands queued patiently for hours, in the hot sun and through the night, to pay respects to him at the Parliament House. I visited the queue on the Padang, many Singaporeans, not so few non-Singaporeans who came out of deep respect, and a sense of compulsion, that here was a man they wanted to do honour to. Many more wrote heartfelt messages and took part in tribute ceremonies at community sites all over the island. Thousands of overseas Singaporeans gathered in our embassies and consulates to remember Mr Lee. And later in this funeral service, all of us – in this hall, across our island, and in far flung lands – will observe a minute of silence, say the National Pledge, and sing Majulah Singapura together.
We have all lost a father. We grieve as one people, one nation. But in our grief, we've displayed the best of Singapore. Ordinary people going to great lengths to distribute refreshments and umbrellas to the crowd, and help one another in the queue late into the night. Citizen soldiers, Home Team, cleaners, all working tirelessly around the clock. Our shared sorrow has brought us all together, and made us stronger and more resolute.
We come together not only to mourn. We come together also to rejoice in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s long and full life, and what he has achieved with us, his people in Singapore.
We come together to pledge ourselves to continue building this exceptional country. Let us shape this island nation into a one of the great cities in the world, reflecting the ideals he stood for, realising the dreams he inspired, and worthy of the people who have made Singapore our home and nation.
Thank you Mr Lee Kuan Yew. May you rest in peace.