From Hard Truth

Q: Do you think he (Li Yipeng, PM Lee’s son from his first marriage who has Asperger’s syndrome and is albino) would have made it as a university graduate if your family did not have additional resources?

LKY: He would not. He was sent to Dover Court Preparatory School, run by the British…… For secondary school, the mother, Ho Ching, carefully looked for a principal who would look after him, accept him as a strong boy in the class. Many schools just said no, we don’t have the resources. He went to Zhonghua, not a popular school. The principal was compassionate. He’ll take him. And Yipeng flourished. Passed his ‘A’ levels eventually, took more time, more years because he’s disadvantaged, can’t see well……….”

Q: So he (Li Yipeng) was fortunate enough to benefit from the family’s resources?

LKY: Not just resources, attention. Personal attention. This is not just resources. It is the personal attention of Ho Ching and the father. Ho Ching scouted around for a secondary school that will look after him and accept him with his disadvantages. He was turned down in so many schools. They said, no, we haven’t got the teachers to look after him. This school principal said he would try. And it was a success…….”

Q: In your personal life, apart from your wife, what was the most trying and difficult period for you?

LKY: (Long pause) I think when my son’s (Lee Hsien Loong) wife died. His whole tent collapsed. The pole was struck down… I said at the end of the day you have to move on. Moving on means you have to find a woman who will marry you and accept these two children… In the end, he (Lee Hsien Loong) decided on a workplace associate. Ho Ching was in the Defence Ministry in the cipher department. Loong was in computers. He was also in ciphers for some time. I suppose they must have known each other then. They must have redeveloped the friendship.

I said, “You better make sure that she accepts your two children otherwise it’s a real misery. You’ll be sad, your mother will be sad, I’ll be sad.” Ho Ching came in fully aware that she’s walking into a family. She has been a good mother to the children. In fact, she’s bent over backwards for them, as a result of which my granddaughter has not enough discipline……”

Q: Moving on to the PM’s wife, are you troubled by some of the things that are being said about Madam Ho Ching, whether it’s her performance as Temasek CEO or her relationship to the PM?

LKY: Not at all, because all the people in the know in Singapore know the quality of these people. Ho Ching has re-positioned Temasek during the time she’s been there. I was talking to Ong Beng Seng yesterday and he raised this question with me. We were talking about how he can develop Desaru as a resort. He’s very good at that. He said, “You know, moving out from Temasek is a mistake. She (Ho Ching) can do it. We don’t need this American.” (referring to Chip Goodyear, who was appointed CEO-designate at Temasek Holdings in March 2009 but quit in July 2009 before taking office.) I said, “I don’t know what it’s all about. She says it’s time to move on and change.” But he (Ong Beng Seng) said, “She has changed Temasek and completely revamped it.”

So if she’s not up to the job, even without it being said, people will know this is nepotism and the PM is risking the country’s future by favouring his wife. He did not want to be responsible for her appointment. So Dhanabalan and Chok Tong (then PM) appointed her. And she’s done a good job of it. She’s resigned not because she made a loss on Merrill Lynch. She think it’s time to go and she probably want’s to do something else….. (Note: LKY’s remarks to the interviewers were made before Goodyear left Temasek. Ho Ching remains CEO of Temasek.)

Q: Some people have been asking what Madam Ho Ching is going to do next and there’s speculation that she’s being groomed for politics…

LKY: No, I have never heard about it. At her age, to go into politics doesn’t make sense. You have to develop a whole new different skill set as they would call it, right? You have to go round knocking on doors, talking to people, meeting people and so on. That’s not her forte….

Q: You speak about Ho Ching being a good wife and mother, bending over backwards, accepting PM’s first two children as her own. But the public doesn’t seem to see this side of her.

LKY: Why should they? It’s not relevant. My style has been that my private life is my business and every politician’s private life is his or her business. I do not subscribe to the American or British style of politicking. I’m not sure in Europe today whether they dig into your family affairs, but in America they do. So they play up Michelle Obama, the children, the dogs and so on. Maybe it gives them a better sense of the family, but how does that help them in deciding whether he’s a good president or whether he’s concentrating on the right things to get the economy going?

Q: But it does help the public image, in case she (Ho Ching) becomes the target of criticism?

LKY: It makes no difference. I have always been judged on what I’ve been able to do and what I’ve promised the people. Whether I have a harmonious family life or a contentious family – that may be of interest to investigative journalists who like to write it up, but it’s irrelevant. The question is whether I am able to concentrate on my job. Clinton was able to have all these rows. He must have felt very angry and humiliated but he carried on with his job. But in America, it was unbecoming of the President to do what he did.

Nevertheless, to bring it all out and impeach him for that was, I think, in bad taste. And it was also bad politicking to degrade him and so the whole system. The French not would not do that. When Mitterrand (former France President) died, his non-wife came forward with a child. I’m sure the French newspapers already knew about it; the wife knew about it; but that’s the French way. They’ve different attitudes to the private lives of political leaders.

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