Tribute to Lee Kuan Yew
I just returned from paying my respects to Lee Kuan Yew. My friends and I were advised to go to his Tanjong Pager CC after being told not to join the queue to Parliament.
I first met face to face with Lee Kuan Yew when he interviewed me to be a candidate for the 1980 GE. It was very intimidating. Greats like Toh Chin Chye, Goh Keng Swee , and S Rajaratnam were present. They asked many questions. I fumbled some of the answers. I left the interview suspecting he was not impressed with me. Moreover, my academic records and CV were colourless. I was only a village doctor with a rebellious streak. But one striking thing he said was “We are not looking for yes men.”
I served under his leadership for a decade till 1990 when he passed the baton to Goh Chok Tong. He was without doubt the greatest leader I have encountered in my life. In my early years as an MP, he used to call me and other MPs for lunch. Lunch was a tutorial session. LKY would quiz me occasionally on my parliamentary speeches and offer tips for improvement. Some of his corrections were unpleasant to hear. But they were always valuable and meant to help us grow. I was surprised he followed what I said in Parliament. “Don’t be fooled to think you can speak off the cuff without preparation” he said. “You must always prepare.”
His personal interest in our development as parliamentarians impressed me. He generously shared his deep experience with us as a master politician. He brought into focus political issues of the day, be it local or world affairs. We were at a master class.
Lunch was also sometimes a fact finding session for him especially when he wanted to confirm the ground’s feedback on controversial issues. Two issues stood out for me
One was his family’s purchase of a flat at a discounted price. The first question he shot at me was “Cheng Bock, am l a crook?” I told him if he was a crook l would not have served him in the first place. LKY embodied the virtues of integrity and incorruptibility, without which Singapore could never have succeeded. I was then moved to speak up for him in parliament and was pleasantly surprised when he took the time to pen a note of thanks
The other issue was the elected Presidency. He wasn’t happy with the ground misunderstanding his intentions for creating the new elected office. At that time, many thought that he was doing this for himself. He was visibly disturbed. “I am doing this for Singapore , I don’t want to be President”. Indeed, he was truly a man who lived for our nation. Every political step taken by him, however difficult to understand then, he meant it for the good of Singapore. LKY loved his country, and it is only right for him to receive the highest honour and genuine affection shown by Singaporeans this week.
LKY is also often perceived as one intolerant of challenges to his core beliefs. Many a time, I saw the fire of his formidable personality when debating dissenting views. His MPs always felt safer being on his side.
But on one occasion I was at the receiving end of his fury. This was the debate on the Foreign Talent policy where he felt I offended him. He reprimanded me publicly and our relationship grew cold after that. No more lunch with him
But not many know that in 2006, I met him at my final post- budget dinner. I was retiring that year as MP and chose to close my tenure with my favourite song “My Way”. I changed the lyrics of the song with reference to MP’s role. After I sang, LKY looked at me and broke into a smile. We then shook hands. To me, it was a good feeling to end my stint as MP for Ayer Rajah.
I will always remember him as the greatest person I have ever met and worked with. A true son of the soil, his love for Singapore was his drive. Despite his outward hardness, he always took the trouble to sign his replies personally to letters l sent him, and not left it to his subordinates.
Lee Kuan Yew left a legacy we must never compromise. People will continue to support a good government that has integrity, honesty, incorruptibility, and transparency
Thank you Mr Lee Kuan Yew for your sacrifices and what you did for us. Rest in peace.