Yesterday, our national broadcaster, Mediacorp announced that the series of documentaries on the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew titled, “Time Nor Tide” will be made available on DVDs to be sold at retailers.
The series documents Mr Lee’s life and legacy in building up Singapore from a third-world city to a first-world nation.
Thanks to the late Mr Lee, here are some things that we enjoy now, that we didn’t use to have 50 years back.
1.) Foreign relations
Being well-travelled, Mr Lee made it a point to secure good relations with both Western and Asian nations. He laid the ground for the various Free Trade Agreements which Singapore has with other countries, including the United States and China.
This was even more evident during his State Funeral which saw numerous foreign dignitaries (Heads of States, Monarchs and representatives) in attendance.
2.) Strong Education
If you are able to read this, you would probably have at least a secondary school education and studied English as your first language. He made English as the official working language to give all races equal opportunities through a common language to learn, communicate and work in, and also to attract investors to our shores as trade and industry was our only hope for survival.
He pushed for schools to be the foundation to nation-building, and this means nurturing Singaporeans with character – Singaporeans who are rugged, honest, cohesive, possessing strong instincts for racial harmony and our collective survival.
With the industrial unrest in the early years, Mr Lee and his team exhorted employers, unions and workers to cooperate and help the country to attract foreign investments.
The government then, enacted the Industrial Relations Act to stabilise labour-management relations and the Employment Act to regulate fair conditions of employment. These two laws made an immediate impact, and tripartism was forged and strengthened. Industrial peace has prevailed till the present day.
He stood by the NTUC in their struggle in their early years to provide support for its survival and growth.
4.) Conscription and Defence
The introduction of full-time National Service came in 1967.When the British announced their withdrawal of military presence in Singapore in 1971, Mr Lee and his team decided that Singapore should protect itself.
Together with Dr Goh Keng Swee, he built the Singapore Armed Forces from just two infantry battalions and a wooden ship, into a well-trained, well-equipped and well-respected force. We sleep with ease at night, confident that we are well protected.
5.) Garden City
Singapore is reputed as a garden city. Many visitors often cite how clean and green it is.
In 1963, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew planted a tree at Farrer Circus to start the journey towards greening Singapore.
Despite the intense urbanisation of Singapore, Mr Lee made sure that greening Singapore was a priority.
In 1971, the annual Tree Planting Day was started, which continues to this day as part of the Garden City Fund’s Plant-A-Tree programme and during the annual Clean and Green Singapore campaign.
6.) Changi Airport
Mr Lee shaped the local aviation industry. He made the difficult decision to move Singapore’s international airport from Paya Lebar to Changi. And over the years, he took a personal interest in the development of Changi Airport.
He continued to remain interested in the developments of the airport even after his retirement, visiting the airport on several occasions including the 25th anniversary celebrations in 2006 and the corporatisation of the airport in 2009.
An advocate for public housing, Mr Lee set up the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in the 1960 and began the enormous task of housing the nation. Indeed, one of Mr Lee’s greatest legacies is home ownership.
Owning a home, he says, gives Singaporeans a sense of equity, making them care more for the community.
He also had a strong interest in sustainability. Mr Lee was concerned that sunlight was coming into the interior of homes in the 1970s when the curtain wall was introduced, which required too much energy to cool it down. He started talking about global warming before the world talked about it.
8.) Singapore Zoo
As with the earlier mentions of Mr Lee, he also took an interest to the development of the zoo. After the zoo opened in 1973, he visited it numerous times with his children and then his grandchildren.
He was even concerned about animal waste washing into the Upper Seletar Reservoir. Hence, when he chanced upon selling the waste as fertiliser, he suggested the idea to the zoo’s management.
9.) Advancement of Women
Mr Lee treated women with respect and set the tone for the for gender equality in society.
Girls had better access to education under Mr Lee’s leadership in the People’s Action Party (PAP) government. Today, women are able to reach high levels of education and even climb up the career ladder.
Women in Singapore also have the Women’s Charter which, thanks to Mr Lee, gives them the right to property, and protection from family violence.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong rightly put it when he said: “To those who seek Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s monument, Singaporeans can reply proudly: “look around you”.”
The nation itself is a monument of Mr Lee – his work, contributions and sacrifices.
“si monumentum requiris, circumspice”
(If you seek his monument, look around you)
– Latin epitaph on the grave of Sir Christopher Wren in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.