Love the man or hate him but there is no denying that he has helped shaped Singapore to what it is today. The list of policies that he implemented to create the Singapore we know now is non-exhaustive but DollarsAndSense shares just 3 ways that Lee Kuan Yew did to transform an island to the global hub today.
As one of the most celebrated political figures in Asia, there is no question that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has been one of the main drivers behind the Singapore that we know and live in today.
A lot of people, including just about everyone in the dollarsandsense.sg editorial team, were not born yet when Mr Lee started the implementation of major policies during the time when he was Prime Minister. Some of the effects of these policies can still be seen around us in modern Singapore today.
1. Home Ownership Scheme In 1964
In 1964, even before this island gained independence as a nation, Lee Kuan Yew decided to roll out a policy which encouraged Singaporeans to lease 99-year HDB flats that were sold as home ownership.
Creating this system of affordable housing put everyone into homes, and made them proud of what they owned. Granted, it’s only for 99 years, but this scheme allowed Singaporeans to own flats, which they could live in and call their very own. Owning their own flats was a superior living condition to being in the squatters in those times.
This scheme has been going on even till today. Along the way, the prices of these HDB homes have appreciated in line with the Singapore economy and have indeed gotten quite expensive. But it looks like the current government is at least trying to get back to basics, and offer Singaporeans home ownership and stability.
As with all systems, there are flaws within it that could be improved upon. The truth, however, is that in many ways it was a system that worked and achieved its purpose, and has helped shaped modern Singapore.
2. Eliminating High Unemployment
Mr Lee Kuan Yew realized the nation was at crossroads. If we wanted the success we craved, and have today, we had to work for it. Even today, every Singaporean knows the nation’s unofficial tagline “Our people are our only natural resource”. Say what you like about his rather contrary campaigning to “stop at two (children)” in the 70s, our society was built upon the mindset that we are capable and that all of us had a part to play to work hard for our success.
This was one of the reasons the Economic Development Board was established in 1961 to attract foreign investors. Our population evolved into a highly productive and efficient workforce. Singaporeans do not organize strikes nor do we revolt or riot. We work efficiently.
This mantra of being productive has continued till today, we pride ourselves on how fast and efficient everything is in Singapore. If we are at the bus stop waiting for 25 minutes for a bus, it is an outrage! If we take the MRT, and there is a breakdown (although this has been happening more often), it is a disaster and reported on the news! If we have to wait to hear from government offices for more than 3 working days, it is a scandal!
It is these reactions that set us apart from others in the world. And also why our ports and airports are the busiest and frequently voted the best, why we are often touted as the headquarters for firms expanding into ASEAN and Asia, and why we have an oil & gas hub, even though we don’t own a single drop of it.
3. Ensuring low levels of corruption
Lee Kuan Yew also believed eradicating corruption would put us in great shape to achieve our aspirations. Many don’t understand what this means today, us included. But just look at Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia or Thailand, they are reflections of what we and our economy could have been.
Sure, paying our ministers exorbitant amounts is a policy that few people are happy with, especially when we compare it to the basic salaries that leaders in other developed nations draw. There could have been other ways, or even the exact same way that didn’t pay such high salaries, but those weren’t tested, and simply put, we will never know whether we would have achieved the same effects or not. Mr Lee saw a potential problem and ensured that a solution was in place and that the corruption was eliminated, regardless of the cost or lack of popularity it may have with voters.
The time might be right to do away with a policy of paying our leaders salaries that beat the salaries of leaders in other comparable nations, but again, we cannot argue that it didn’t work.
Helping those who fall through the cracks?
We are but human. It’s a quote we often cite when we are weak, wrong and alone. Lee Kuan Yew is human too, his policies could have been flawed, but they were generally right, and most importantly, they were impactful and positive for the growth of Singapore.
The people that fall through the cracks deserved to be helped by this highly successful nation, and not to be left behind as they helped develop the nation too. These include the elderly, the less educated and those with special needs. Perhaps the one thing Mr Lee may have neglected in his drive for Singapore to prosper is the attitude that we needed to only focus on working and being productive, being singularly fixated on economic success and inculcating robotic calculation of returns on what we do.
Singapore has probably developed enough for us to widen our mindsets. Maybe we need another individual with Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s drive and vision to take the next major step towards nation building.
DollarsAndSense.sg is a website that aims to provide interesting, bite-sized financial articles which is relevant to the average Singaporean.
Image from Ong Yi Teck (@friedricebucket on Instagram). Used with appreciation.
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