Lee Kuan Yew on fate of S’pore in 100 years’ time

Lee Kuan Yew on fate of S’pore in 100 years’ time

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 – 10:00

The Sunday Times

SINGAPORE – Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s new book launched last Tuesday, One Man’s View Of The World, presents what he thinks about the future of major powers and regions. In these extracts, he speaks about death and dying, a younger generation of Singaporeans who have known only a thriving Singapore, as well as Japan’s ageing society and Europe’s currency woes.Mr Lee: “On Aug 22, 2012, I received a thank-you card from a Singaporean by the name of James Ow-Yeong Keen Hoy.

From his elegant, cursive handwriting, I guess he must at least be in his 50s. Young people these days prefer to type, and when they do write, they simply do not write as beautifully.

He wrote: “My family is deeply grateful and has benefited from your magnificent leadership and solid contributions that have enabled our nation to achieve peace, happiness, progress, prosperity, solidarity and security all these good years. A big thank you!

“May we have the honour to sincerely wish you, Sir, peace and joy, wisdom and longevity and all the very best in the coming good years. And may our beloved country be blissfully and richly blessed and be mercifully safeguarded now and always. God bless.”

I quote at length from this card to highlight the enormity of the mindset shift, from an older generation, including this writer, his peers and his seniors, to a younger one that takes for granted Singapore’s affluence.

People like Mr Ow-Yeong have seen Singapore develop from the unsettling 1960s, when hardship and poverty were still the rule rather than the exception, to today’s vibrant and cosmopolitan Singapore, providing well-paying jobs to a highly educated population.

Many older Singaporeans also progressed from living in shanty huts to high-rise apartments with present-day conveniences and surrounded by safe neighbourhoods.

They have a good understanding of the nation’s imperatives – what it took for us to get here and what it would take to keep up our success – as well as its vulnerabilities.

The younger voters do not share those views. Having been born into a Singapore that had in many ways already arrived, they see all that is around them – a working system generating stability and wealth – and they ask: “Where is the miracle?”…

Even as things stand, we have regretfully shifted the system away from attracting the best talent through reductions to ministerial pay.

If I were a Cabinet minister at the time the change came up for discussion, I would have stood firm. But the younger generation of ministers decided to go with the trend.

It is true that no country in the world pays ministers as we do. But it is also true that no other island has developed like Singapore: sparkling, clean, safe, with no corruption and low crime rates.

You can walk the streets or jog at night. Women will not be mugged. Police do not take bribes, and if they are offered bribes, there are consequences for the ones offering.

None of this came about by coincidence. It took the construction of an ecosystem that requires highly paid ministers.

With every pay reduction, the sacrifice that a minister makes – giving up his profession or his banking job – becomes greater.

Some will eventually tell themselves: “I don’t mind doing this for half a term, 21/2 years, as a form of national service. But beyond that, it has to be: thanks but no thanks.”

The final outcome would be a revolving-door government, which will inevitably lack a deep understanding of the issues or the incentive to think about problems in a long-term manner.

Will Singapore be around in 100 years? I am not so sure. America, China, Britain, Australia – these countries will be around in 100 years. But Singapore was never a nation until recently.

An earlier generation of Singaporeans had to build this place from scratch – and what a fine job we have done.

When I led the country, I did what I could to consolidate our gains. So too did Goh Chok Tong.

And now, under Lee Hsien Loong and his team, the country will do well for at least the next 10 to 15 years.

But after that, the trajectory that we take will depend on the choices made by a younger generation of Singaporeans.

Whatever those choices are, I am absolutely sure that if Singapore gets a dumb government, we are done for. This country will sink into nothingness.”

Lee Kuan Yew on life after Cabinet… and death


Tuesday, August 13, 2013 – 08:00

The Sunday Times

SINGAPORE – Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s new book launched last Tuesday, One Man’s View Of The World, presents what he thinks about the future of major powers and regions.

In these extracts, he speaks about death and dying, a younger generation of Singaporeans who have known only a thriving Singapore, as well as Japan’s ageing society and Europe’s currency woes.

Mr Lee: “My daily routine is set. I wake up, clear my e-mail, read the newspapers, do my exercises and have lunch. After that, I go to my office at the Istana, clear more papers and write articles or speeches.

In the afternoons and evenings, I sometimes have interviews scheduled with journalists, after which I may spend an hour or two with my Chinese teachers.

I have made it a habit to exercise daily. At the age of 89, I can sit up and I do not need a walking stick.

When I was in my 30s, I was fond of smoking and drinking beer. I quit smoking because it was causing me to lose my voice at election campaigns. That was before medical research linked smoking to lung and throat cancer, among other things. Oddly enough, I later became hyper-allergic to smoke.

The drinking gave me a beer belly and it was showing up in pictures appearing in the press. I began to play more golf to keep fit, but later on turned to running and swimming, which took me less time to achieve the same amount of aerobic exercise.

Now, I walk on the treadmill three times a day – 12 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes after lunch and 15 minutes after dinner. Before dinner, I used to swim for 20 to 25 minutes.

Without that, I would not be in my present condition physically. It is a discipline.

I continue to make appointments to meet people. You must meet people, because you must have human contact if you want to broaden your perspective.

Besides people in Singapore, I meet those from Malaysia, Indonesia, and, from time to time, China, Europe and the United States.

I try not to meet only old friends or political leaders, but people from a variety of fields, such as academics, businessmen, journalists and ordinary people.

Next page: Mr Lee on travelling

I have cut down on my overseas trips significantly, because of the jetlag, especially when travelling to the US.

Until 2012, I was still travelling to Japan once a year to speak at the Future of Asia Conference – now into its 19th year, organised by the Japanese media corporation, Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei).

For a time, I was going to China nearly once a year, although I am reluctant to go to Beijing now because of the pollution. But the leaders are there, so you have to go there to meet them.

The JP Morgan International Council, which I am on, did me the honour of holding its 2012 annual meeting in Singapore, so did the Total Advisory Board.

Going to France is all right. It is a 12-hour direct flight on an Airbus 380, there and back. But to go to New York is much more tiring – especially because of the time change, from night into day and day into night.

Travelling overseas helps me widen my horizons. I see how other countries are developing. No country or city stays static. I have seen London and Paris change, over and over again.

Being out of Government means I am less well-informed of what is going on and the pressures for change. I therefore go by the decisions of the ministers, by and large. I seldom express a contrary opinion – at least, much less than when I was in Government and attended Cabinet meetings, which allowed me to participate fully in the debates.

Occasionally, when I disagree strongly with something, I make my views known to the Prime Minister. There was an instance of this when the Government was looking to reintroduce Chinese dialect programmes on free-to-air channels.

A suggestion was made: “Mandarin is well-established among the population now. Let us go back to dialects so the old can enjoy dramas.”

I objected, pointing out that I had, as prime minister, paid a heavy price getting the dialect programmes suppressed and encouraging people to speak Mandarin. So why backtrack?

I had antagonised an entire generation of Chinese, who found their favourite dialect programmes cut off. There was one very good narrator of stories called Lee Dai Sor on Rediffusion, and we just switched off his show.

Why should I allow Cantonese or Hokkien to infect the next generation? If you bring it back, you will find portions of the older generation beginning to speak in dialects to their children and grandchildren. It will creep back, slowly but surely…

Next page: How do I go?

Life is better than death. But death comes eventually to everyone. It is something which many in their prime may prefer not to think about. But at 89, I see no point in avoiding the question.

What concerns me is: How do I go? Will the end come swiftly, with a stroke in one of the coronary arteries? Or will it be a stroke in the mind that lays me out in bed for months, semicomatose?

Of the two, I prefer the quick one.

Some time back, I had an Advance Medical Directive (AMD) done which says that if I have to be fed by a tube, and it is unlikely that I would ever be able to recover and walk about, my doctors are to remove the tube and allow me to make a quick exit. I had it signed by a lawyer friend and a doctor…

If you do not sign one, they do everything possible to prevent the inevitable.

I have seen this in so many cases… Quite often, the doctors and relatives of the patient believe they should keep life going. I do not agree. There is an end to everything and I want mine to come as quickly and painlessly as possible, not with me incapacitated, half in coma in bed and with a tube going into my nostrils and down to my stomach.

In such cases, one is little more than a body.

I am not given to making sense out of life – or coming up with some grand narrative on it – other than to measure it by what you think you want to do in life. As for me, I have done what I had wanted to, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied…

Different societies have different philosophical explanations for life and the hereafter.

If you go to America, you will find fervent Christians, especially in the conservative Bible Belt covering much of the country’s south.

In China, despite decades of Maoist and Marxist indoctrination, ancestral worship and other traditional Buddhist or Taoist-based religious practices are commonplace.

In India, belief in reincarnation is widespread.

I wouldn’t call myself an atheist. I neither deny nor accept that there is a God. The universe, they say, came out of the Big Bang.

But human beings on this earth have developed over the last 20,000 years into thinking beings, and are able to see beyond themselves and think about themselves. Is that a result of Darwinian evolution? Or is it God? I do not know.

So I do not laugh at people who believe in God. But I do not necessarily believe in God – nor deny that there could be one.”

Lee Kuan Yew on Singapore’s economy in a global world

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 – 00:09

The Sunday Times

SINGAPORE – For his book, One Man’s View Of The World, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was probed by Straits Times journalists Han Fook Kwang, Zuraidah Ibrahim, Chua Mui Hoong and Elgin Toh, and civil servant Shashi Jayakumar, who was seconded to work on the project. Below is an exchange on the Singapore economy:

On the issue of making productivity gains, we lag behind many developed countries. In manufacturing and services, Singapore’s productivity is only 55 per cent to 65 per cent of that in Japan and the United States.

Because we have large numbers of migrants who do not fit into the workforce so easily and who do not speak English.

Some hold work permits and do not stay for long – they leave within a few years, after developing skills.

Moving on to income inequality: Could more have been done to raise the wages of those at the bottom, despite the realities Singapore faces?

The inequalities are there because at the lower end, there’s an enormous supply of Chinese and Indian workers, not here but in China and India.

So unless you are skilled, that gap will widen to your disadvantage.

But you ask yourself how many small and medium-sized companies will pack up if we cut off the foreign workers?

But isn’t it a chicken-and-egg situation? Precisely because it is so easy and cheap to hire foreigners, the SMEs continue to rely on them. If the tap were tightened, they would be forced to find new ways of operation. There will be some that will shut down, but maybe some level of churn is necessary so that the economy can go on to be more productive.

You cut them off and you find the SMEs just caving in.

Would that be a bad thing, or could that just be a necessary transition?

If our SMEs collapse, we will lose more than half of our economy.

In a way, that is what the Government is now trying to do. They are trying to slow down the growth in the foreign labour force.

Yes, because the Singapore public feels uncomfortable with so many of them. Not because of the economics. From an economic point of view, we should grow.

So how do you see this ending now that we have started to tighten the tap? Does it mean that we will lose half of our economy?

As you bleed out the present workers on work permits, the economy will shrink. But we are keeping the same level and just slowing down the inputs of new workers. Not stopping them. You stop it, you are in trouble.

Our tax rate is now very low compared to many other developed countries. Is there scope for moving it up?

If you raise it too much, you find your best people leaving. Already, we are losing them. Many of our best students go to America, they are headhunted by the big companies and don’t come back.

The people who are middle-aged and beyond will stay. They have no choice. Those who are still flexible, below middle-aged, will leave in larger numbers.

And without top-quality Singaporeans, this place would not be the same. Without my generation, there would be no such present Singapore. It’s Goh Keng Swee, S. Rajaratnam, Lim Kim San who helped build this place.

In today’s world, they would probably go to America and get a job with Microsoft and not come back.

But you and your generation decided to come back to Singapore after being educated at the best universities in the world. Is it not possible for a younger generation of Singaporeans to come back also if they feel a sense of home or purpose?

My generation – we were not allowed to stay in America or Britain after graduation.

Could you not have stayed on as a lawyer in Britain?

No. I wouldn’t have made a living. I didn’t do my chambers in Britain. I came back and started working here.

What about Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s generation? My point is, maybe the decision to come back is not merely one of economic opportunity.

No, the only reason that will bring them back is their parents.

That’s one big reason. But how about a sense of patriotism, or a sense of having something to contribute to the land?

You’re talking about a globalised world. The world is their oyster.

And maybe Singapore is a special part of the oyster?

No. The world was not globalised then. It is now.”


Lee Kuan Yew on Europe’s currency problems

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 – 05:30

The Sunday Times

SINGAPORE – Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s new book launched last Tuesday, One Man’s View Of The World, presents what he thinks about the future of major powers and regions. In these extracts, he speaks about death and dying, a younger generation of Singaporeans who have known only a thriving Singapore, as well as Japan’s ageing society and Europe’s currency woes.

Mr Lee: “The fundamental problem with the euro is that you cannot have monetary integration without fiscal integration – especially in a region with spending and thrift habits as diverse as those of Germany and Greece.

The incongruity would break the system down eventually. For this reason, the euro was destined to flounder, with its demise written into its DNA.

Its difficulties over the last few years should not be seen as stemming from either the failure of one or two governments to spend within their means or the failure of others to warn them of the dangers of not doing so.

That is to say, the euro’s troubles are not the result of a historical accident that could have been prevented if a few actors involved had made different decisions – more responsible ones – in the course of its implementation.

Instead, it was a historical inevitability that was waiting to happen. If things had not come to a head in 2010 or 2011, they would have come to a head in another year, with another set of circumstances.

I am not convinced, therefore, that the euro can be saved, at least not in its present form, with all 17 countries remaining in the fold.

From the inception of the euro project, clear-eyed and well-respected economists, including the likes of Harvard Professor Martin Feldstein, had been sounding alarm bells about its inherent paradoxes.

The British did not join because they did not see it working. They were not convinced about the benefits and were fully cognisant of the dangers.

However, the governments which joined the euro zone in 1999, as well as the populations that elected them, while eager to move on the single currency, were not prepared to accept fiscal integration because of the loss of sovereignty that it obviously implied.

In the end, their choice to go ahead with the euro anyway reflected a misplaced belief that Europe was somehow special enough to overcome the contradictions. It was a political decision.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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