A Founders' Memorial to stand the test of time

A Founders' Memorial to stand the test of time

DURING the month of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's final illness, and the week of national mourning after he passed away, Singaporeans experienced a tremendous outpouring of emotions - gratitude, sorrow, and solidarity.

People prayed for, grieved over and paid their last respects to the founding father who had done so much to create today's Singapore. Many wrote touching messages in condolence books and cards, and made special tribute books and items.

During the special session of Parliament, Members spoke movingly about Mr Lee's contributions, what he meant to them, and their personal experiences of him.

I thank this House, and all Singaporeans, for their tributes to my father.

Those of us who lived through this special moment in our history, and experienced this sense of togetherness in our shared grief, will remember it for the rest of our lives. Mr Lee's passing brought us closer together as one people and intensified our sense of nationhood. It was his last gift to us.

How should we remember and honour him - his person, his contributions, his ideals? Members of the House and the public have made many suggestions. There were several questions on the Order Paper today.

Ms Foo Mee Har and Dr Lily Neo suggested printing his image on our currency notes and coins; Mr Ang Wei Neng and Dr Neo suggested renaming Changi Airport after him; and Ms Foo suggested designating a day to commemorate our founding fathers every year. And there are many more suggestions.

These are all good ideas.

But we should not rush into making decisions on this matter, especially so soon after Mr Lee has passed away. We should allow some time to pass, consider the ideas carefully, and make calm, considered decisions which will stand the test of time. We want to honour Mr Lee, but we must do so in the right way.

Ideals, not monuments

MOST importantly, how we honour Mr Lee must be faithful to the ideals he lived by and fought for. Mr Lee made it very clear throughout his life that he did not need and did not want any monument.

It was not monuments but ideals that were his chief concern, the ideals upon which he built Singapore: Multiracialism, equality, meritocracy, integrity, and the rule of law. He hoped these ideals would endure in Singapore beyond him. We can pay no greater tribute to him than to uphold the principles upon which he built this country.

Mr Lee was very careful when it came to lending his name to institutions and awards. When he consented, it was for causes that he was passionate about, and where using his name served a greater purpose. He was intent on showing his support for the cause or institution, rather than using the honour to glorify himself.

For example, on his 80th birthday, he agreed that NUS (National University of Singapore) should create a Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Cabinet had discussed this carefully and had convinced him that having such a school, and associating his name with it, would help establish the Singapore brand of governance and advance the school's mission - to raise standards of governance in Asia, to improve the lives of people and to contribute to the transformation of the region.

For the same reason, he supported NTU (Nanyang Technological University) when it named its school of international studies after his old comrade, Mr S. Rajaratnam, and the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) when it named the command and staff college after Dr Goh Keng Swee.

Similarly, the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize honours contributions towards solving the world's water challenges, because water, in the Singapore context, was a lifelong obsession of his.

And the various education awards in his name are to encourage students at all levels and of all abilities to strive for all-round excellence.

One of his recent contributions to education for awards was the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism and this focuses on mother tongue learning. He paid close attention to this issue all his life, not just as a policy matter, but as someone who learnt Mandarin the hard way as an adult and kept up the effort till his last days.

Mr Lee was very careful never to allow a personality cult to grow around him, much less to encourage one himself. He was exceptional in this respect among post- colonial leaders and founders of countries.

They were larger- than-life figures, and often developed personality cults around themselves, especially if they lasted long in office.

Hence, you will not find portraits or busts of Mr Lee all over Singapore. He did have his portrait painted and his bust made in his lifetime, but he did not allow them to be displayed publicly and I know of only two exceptions to this.

After he stepped down from Cabinet in 2011, a bust of him, which had been made many years ago in the early 1980s by Sydney Harpley (a British sculptor who did the Girl On A Swing and other sculptures which are in the Botanic Gardens) was displayed in Parliament House.

There is another bust of Mr Lee, made by French sculptor Nacera Kainou, which is displayed at the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities in the Singapore University of Technology and Design with his permission.

This was presented by the Lyon-Singapore Association as a gift to Singapore in 2013, as a token of friendship between the French and Singaporean peoples.

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