As Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen put it in his tribute to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the Republic’s founding Prime Minister never believed that “physical monuments or towering edifices” sustained greatness.
So while there have been calls to build or name existing monuments after Mr Lee, historians, Members of Parliament (MPs) and other observers TODAY spoke to agreed that this would not be the best way to preserve Mr Lee’s legacy. What is more important is to continue to uphold the principles and values that Mr Lee had stood for, they said.
Nevertheless, simple gestures such as having a remembrance day for not only Mr Lee, but also other members of the Old Guard, or a commemorative stamp could go some way in reminding future generations of the contributions of the country’s founding leaders, some of them suggested.
Singapore Management University’s Associate Professor Eugene Tan said the “life-giving ethos and resilience” of Mr Lee and the pioneer generation should be imbibed in future generations. “Physical structures are severely limiting and may result in our focusing on form rather than substance,” he said.
Professor Tan Tai Yong, executive vice-president of academic affairs at Yale-NUS College, reiterated that principles and values that stood Singapore in good stead all these years, such as meritocracy and multiculturalism, are worth remembering and instilling. “How do we perpetuate these values and ‘instincts’? It is not easy and, perhaps, these are qualities that we have to constantly imbue in younger Singaporeans in all possible ways, through the formal educational system and beyond,” said the Nominated MP.
Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Gillian Koh said the best ways to honour Mr Lee was to “consider afresh the governance principles that he and his team established and institutionalised and seek to ensure that some of those enduring principles ... are maintained, even if adapted for new conditions”. She cited principles such as integrity, zero tolerance for corruption, as well as fair and effective governance.
For instance, while sharing the fruits of economic growth and success was important to Mr Lee, the methods used by the Government to achieve this have changed over the years. Dr Koh noted that while the People’s Action Party (PAP) “used to be famous for its allergy to welfarism”, its more recent schemes seek to address concerns over income distribution, social stratification and an ageing population.
The PAP has set up the Tribute to Lee Kuan Yew website. However, a PAP HQ spokesman said the website would eventually be taken down. So far, more than 84,000 tributes have been posted on it.
The Remembering Lee Kuan Yew website set up by the Government has received about 54,000 tributes since the site went live last week. The Ministry of Communications and Information said the tributes would be archived as part of the Singapore Memory Project, a Government-led initiative started in 2011 to collect material that tells the Singapore story. TODAY understands that the website will also not be run permanently.
Assistant Professor Goh Geok Yian from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University suggested issuing a commemorative stamp as a mark of respect to Mr Lee.
Noting how Mr Lee’s role in Singapore history was very much interlinked with the Republic’s independence, she said: “It would seem more appropriate to retain his story within the account of Singapore’s early independence and the follow-up development of events as Singapore becomes what it is today.”
In his book Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going Mr Lee said he had told the Cabinet to demolish his house at 38 Oxley Road after his death. Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan felt the house carries huge historical significance, but like the other observers, he stressed that it was up to Mr Lee’s family to decide what to do with the property.