President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Monday morning conveyed his condolences to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the death of his father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
In his letter, which was also posted on Facebook, President Tony Tan noted Mr Lee's various contributions to Singapore that led towards "the building of a meritocratic and multi-cultural Singapore".
He also called Mr Lee a "leader who placed service before self-interest", and a revered senior statesman.
He wrote: "Mr Lee dedicated his entire life to Singapore from his first position as a legal advisor to the labour unions in the 1950s after his graduation from Cambridge University to his undisputed role as the architect of our modern Republic. Few have demonstrated such complete commitment to a cause greater than themselves.
Mr Lee was elected into the British Legislative Assembly in 1955 and became Singapore’s first Prime Minister after leading the PAP to victory in the 1959 general elections when Singapore was granted full internal self-government. At that time, Singapore faced problems of high unemployment, poor infrastructure and a hostile external environment. To secure Singapore’s access to land, water and natural resources, Mr Lee led Singapore to join the Federation of Malaysia before declaring independence from Britain in 1963. However, the problems were exacerbated when Singapore lost its economic hinterland after our forced separation from Malaysia in 1965. Many doubted if Singapore could survive as a nation but Mr Lee rallied our people together and led his cabinet colleagues to successfully build up our armed forces, develop our infrastructure and transform Singapore into a global metropolis.
Even when Singapore’s urban development was still in its early phases, Mr Lee already had the vision of establishing Singapore as a liveable Garden City. Mr Lee initiated the ambitious project to clean up the Singapore River and Kallang River which were then heavily polluted by garbage, sewage and industrial waste. The Singapore River now forms part of the Marina Bay, which is not only a valuable source of fresh water for our city state, but also a place which is enjoyed by Singaporeans and tourists from around the world. Mr Lee also set up the Housing Development Board to develop our public housing estates to give every citizen a stake in the nation. Today, because of Mr Lee’s farsightedness, Singapore is hailed as a model of sustainable and inclusive development for developing cities around the world.
Mr Lee made lasting contributions towards the building of a meritocratic and multi-cultural Singapore. As Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Mr Lee put in place measures to ensure that university places, government contracts, and appointments into public office would go to the most deserving candidates based on merit and regardless of race and religion. Mr Lee also established English as the common working language and the main medium of instruction in our schools so that all Singaporeans would have equal opportunities to learn, communicate and work regardless of race. Each ethnic group was encouraged to learn its mother tongue as a second language to preserve the cultural and community identity of the group. Because of these policies, Singaporeans today are able to leverage on our bilingual and bicultural edge to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves around the world.
A leader who placed service before self-interest, Mr Lee stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990 to allow for a smooth leadership renewal after he had built up a younger team of Cabinet Ministers. Nevertheless, he continued to serve and advance Singapore’s interests at home and abroad as Singapore's Senior Minister from 1990 to 2004 and then as Minister Mentor from 2004 to 2011. He had spent more than 50 years in the cabinet and was the world's longest-serving Prime Minister when he stepped down in 1990.
Through Mr Lee, Singapore earned international recognition and established cooperative relations with major countries affecting our region. Mr Lee was one of the first to recognize China's potential under Deng Xiaoping's reforms. Mr Lee’s brilliant intellect and candour of opinion led many international leaders and foreign diplomats to seek his views on developments in the region and around the world. Widely revered as a senior statesman, Mr Lee was conferred numerous international accolades throughout his political career.
Many aspects of our lives bear Mr Lee’s imprint - be it our HDB estates, our gardens, or the SAF. Without his remarkable foresight and relentless pursuit of Singapore’s development, the Singapore that we know today would not exist. Singapore was his passion and he continued serving Singapore till the last days of his life. Singaporeans owe an eternal gratitude to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The greatest tribute that Singaporeans can pay him is to treasure and build upon the legacy that Mr Lee and his team have left us, and make Singapore an even better home for our future generations.
Our thoughts are with you at this time of sorrow."