Thursday, March 26, 2015

Losing LKY, Prem's advice to Singaporeans

I really appreciate what former Thai PM Prem had penned in his condolence message.

"The things he wanted to do for Singapore but was not able to complete, the Singaporean people must come together to finish" he wrote.

On the surface this is a most unusual message. Didn't LKY already meticulously set up for a new team to take over? Prem did not say what were the tasks to be completed, objectives to be achieved but he suggests there are!

There are insights but not knowledge or data I do not tell my children before they are ready. There are also lessons they must or can only learn on their own. I know what these are but I have to keep them to myself. If I tell them they might not understand or I could also spoil it for them.

If I may borrow from Luo Guanzhong, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Zhuge Liang often gave sealed instructions to his generals which they must not open until they are desperate.

Unlike many Thai premiers, Prem is a very wise man and knew LKY well.

This is not the place to speculate what these tasks we must complete as a people but clearly Prem must have understood they are what this PAP government could not deliver. We must also bear in mind the situation in Thailand which must be constantly on his mind even as he offer us that advice.

Of course this is not it, but one of the things the government cannot deliver quickly and satisfactorily is getting the damn MRT system to be more reliable. I suggested in an earlier post that a more courageous leadership would have come clean and co-opt their customers to find a solution. This is an example but I say this is not what Prem had in mind, that we must come together as one people to solve.

We also know that if any of the young ministers could be a geopolitical strategist par excellence, LKY would not fail to invest in him or her. There was no one, not even George Yeo. So he kept performing that role of watching out for Singapore to the very end. As far as I know nobody ask to see someone else if LKY is not available. It is like I can't get the top specialist doctor I had to settle and worry about living with the next available doctor. I might go somewhere else. The Americans will ask Kissinger. That shrewd man just visited China and got an enviable reception from Xi Jinping. Kissinger is sending a message to America, no more LKY just ask me.

Now I need to prove that there are some likely worrisome and even scary developments otherwise I am just speculating. For that, I have to borrow Han Fook Kwang. He is a good guy but I don't know why they got a dud to succeed him as ST editor.

On Tuesday, Han Fook Kwang shared this piece with us. This guy is quite good at inserting ideas surreptitiously when he needs to. If you are perceptive Han Fook Kwang has the message.

You are naive if towards the end you assume the LKY when he was still strong and vigorous, able to intervene like he did when the SIA pilots union had problems in 2003 (read he was no longer PM and yet he had to step in) is the same guy who losing physical stamina and emotional vitality would pick fights.

No, he will adjust. Before he got too weak he gave up on rising from the grave if he feels something is wrong here. He replaced that with he had given his whole life for Singapore. The job is finished.

See the bit underlined in red. He was still in good shape at that time. After all he took on the SQ pilots union but he was no longer PM. Had he been the one which the buck must stop with him, he would tell us what Goh Chok Tong wouldn't. He will deal with it his way.

If he was in charge as PM today, he wouldn't even allow the MRT to be in this shape. In fact he warned his son and the ministers about the problem of taking in too many people, not to mention so quickly.

Assuming he booed booed, he would not live with a situation which the people ceaselessly complain about the unreliable train system. If he can't fix it quickly, he will plead with us once and for all to come along and help. He knows how to rally us. His successors do not. He told his younger colleagues to under promise and over deliver, which I heard on TV Ng Eng Hen repeated in parliament just now. Unfortunately those who succeeded him over promise and under deliver. Whenever the PM or any minister say "don't worry", I start worrying. That is shorthand for over promising!

Yes, Prem is spot on,. We must unite as one people to continue working on LKY's unfinished business for us. He is gone but he left us this beautiful place to build on for the generations.

I wonder what  other ominous thoughts LKY had which we need to discover for ourselves. We have to earn the right to know? No use if we are frightened. We must rise and say the only thing to fear is fear itself.


  1. Fully agree with you. We now have too many over promising and under delivering. What causes most anguish is that they still think they have delivered what they promised. They dont admit their failure. They should just turn right and exit. But they dont, why.

  2. Re : Han Fok Kwong
    Unfortunately, this is the same situation with ex-establishment figures turned retirees. When they are in a position to make a difference, they dutifully suspend critical thinking, faithfully parrot the official line, look the other way when black is preached as white and collect their big salaries. When they retire, they start showing some "independent" thinking and some hail them as heroes. Ditto to Ngiam Tow Dong, and probably many others too.

    Why was the "dude" selected as ST editor? Because he can be relied on to toe the official line. Same thing when it comes to selection for MPs or Ministers. They all think the same way and most importantly, can be relied on to support the official line.

    The only exception is Prof Tommy Koh. He's consistently spoken out on certain things, albeit in an always diplomatic and gentle way. He has my respect.

    What makes Sgp work in the early days was that we had a team of forefathers with different thinking, who are towers of intellect or wisdom in their own right. They supplement the hard-charging, even hard-headed LKY. Today, loyalty and similar philosophy ranks first in criteria for choosing our leaders. Dhanabalan resigned from the cabinet because he could not agree to the Marxist conspiracy. Is there nothing in the past 10 years or 20 years that can compel a Minister to resign? Maybe cushy salaries and guaranteed post-retirement directorships in Temasek linked companies can make all the difference.

    1. More than a few share your perception, and perception is reality. If LKY was still in charge and not just some ministers coach, he will not allow such invidious perception to become entrenched. You need courage and determination to fix such issues.

      We must always bear in mind, LKY didn't say he had given us the best team but the best team he could find. Then he urged us to have confidence in them because how else can he do better? In other words, those who are perceptive should understand that he had bought us as much time as possible. As long as he is around there cannot be another tiger in the hill. Now that he is gone that is possible. If he or she appears we must support him or her like our parents had LKY before.

      Just as GKS is gone and some people like to say Dr. Goh would have done it differently etc., Now LKY has also departed and we will also borrow and interpret him like we had with GKS, Raja etc., And since the PM is his son who ought to know him best, it is up to him to ignore or respond to the suggestions that would be served against his government. I would keep repeating the point that he lacks the courage and foresight to run this place right.

    2. Thanks for your reply.

      One of the best insight I've read on "why LHL is like that" is this post dated 7 February 2013 called "Prince in the Bubble" by a blogger :

      The barrage of articles in recent days Remembering LKY had been filled with anecdotes after anecdotes about how detailed oriented LKY is. He noticed the grass in NZ is very green and asked why. This led to the greening of Singapore. He asked market peddlers about the source of their goods in China and then realised trade with Taiwan was well and alive long before it was well-known. He discerned Robert Kuok probably gives the best insight into what's really going on in Msia and makes it a point to meet up with him every year. He even asked Lam Pin Min the type of material used in the roof shelter of a newly built CC (

      When was the last time anyone remembers what LHL asked?

      Or a penetrating insight he shares with the nation (other than, well in the last Rally speech, he noticed that Chinese Garden has less people using than Bishan Park, leading to his decision to upgrade it).

      Or such similar dogged desire to find out what's really happening on the ground by his Ministers (other than, well, Lui TY commenting recently that certain types of engines are more prone to breakdown than others).

      And I quote this portion from the article cited earlier :

      "LHL is likewise a patron saint for our bureaucrats who just look at the numbers and conclude that all is well with Singapore. It’s been said that the cosmopolitan class is paradoxically the most parochial of all people. LHL’s place is among that of that well heeled elite who forms an echo chamber unto itself, fairly confident that – even without looking at the situation on the ground, outside of its bubble, they have access to numbers and statistics that tell the story better than the superficial analysis of the man on the street. Ultimately the tragedy of putting somebody like that in a driver's seat is this: you can't have a selection process for the prime minister whereby it is a list of qualities where LHL is obviously found wanting. So what do you do? You look at what kind of a guy he is, and then you tailor the selection process around a guy like him. But in the end, what happens? Not only are you going to get a guy like him at the helm, but because you have centered the talent system around him, you're also going to get a lot of his lieutenants to be people almost exactly like him. That is the real tragedy of wanting too much for him to be put in charge. "
      " No matter how much LKY ruled over Singapore with an iron fist, he still did his best for the people of Singapore, and many people appreciated that. That would explain the ambivalence that people have over his legacy. They will cut any amount of slack to a dictator who still somehow manages to engineer a general rise in living standards for most of the people of Singapore.

      No, LKY’s biggest mistake was not the political repression. It was the decision, made a long time ago, to hand the premiership over to his son. It poisoned and corrupted the way that Singapore was run in the late phase of his own premiership, and more tragically, it handed power to somebody who is capable, but not capable enough to be our prime minister. "

  3. After this whole week of events, I hope Singaporeans can all get down to working out what has been wrong with the ways things are being done here. There has been a lot of videos replaying LKY's finest moments including his mention of the plane load of 300 capable members of his team that cannot fall from the sky or else ... maybe we should look closer to who constitute the list of passengers and whether they have been enjoyinbg the cavier and entertainment on board or are ready to take on the pilot's seat to stay on track.