A lesson from Lee Kuan Yew
“We are still living with my father Lee Kuan Yew in the old house
constructed in the year 1945. In comparing that house with the modern
beautiful houses in the surrounding areas, anyone can say that it is not
a modern beautiful house. But we live happily in that old house....”
“In our last stages of life ‘Aston Martin’ or ‘Porsche’ will not
console us. If you have treated your people or your countrymen with love
and compassion in your lifetime that will be the only thing that will
soothe you. ....”
This is an important statement made by Lee Wei Lee daughter of the
former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew recently about her’s and
her father’s humble life. This is a discerning reminder for those who
swindle national wealth by importing sub-standard petrol to this country
and attempt to become rich overnight and to those who dream of
possessing supra luxury vehicles such as ‘Aston Martin’, ‘Porsche’ etc.
Lee Kuan Yew who made Singapore which was poorer than Sri Lanka one
of the richest nations is a leader who led a self-disciplined and a
humble life. It was like ‘preach what you practice’ concept. When Lee
Kuan Yew became the Prime Minister of Singapore, his family was not a
poor family without any resources. But we do not see that he became rich
through politics. Instead he followed a stern policy against corruption
and malpractices in the nation he was building. Once he did not hesitate
to send a very close relative of his to 10 years’ imprisonment on a
bribery charge. What happened in this instance was not just locking him
in a jail, but to allow for the correct implementation of the laws of
Singapore relating to bribery and corruption not making any interference
in the implementation of the Law.
Corruption and malpractices
Once, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew came to know that there was an
irregular dealing between the Housing Minister of Singapore and a
contractor who has been given the contract for the construction of a
housing complex in the country.
The matter related to the minister getting his house repaired by the
contractor. That house was only an ‘annexe’. Prime minister Lee Kuan Yew
summoned the minister and submitted two options.
These options were either to face the commission that will be
appointed to inquire into the matter and prove his innocence or face the
punishment. Or else to jump out of a housing complex like the one they
were holding the discussion and commit suicide. Later it was known that
the minister implemented the second option.
In the building of Singapore Prime Minister Lee’s policies against
corruption and malpractices were so stern. Lapses, ignorance, just
wasting the time and shelving commission reports in lockers were almost
non-existent. Now the whole country is waiting to see the minister
becoming a Lee Kuan Yew about the substandard petrol report.
Similar to Lee Kuan Yew the Minister of Petroleum Susil Premajayantha
is also a lawyer. He has earned a reputation as an honest minister.
In comparison with the matter of getting his own house repaired by a
contractor assigned to construct a housing complex, importing
substandard petrol become a minor simple matter. It can be termed as an
innocent malpractice. This type of thing is very common in countries
like ours. The kind of fools who jump from housing complexes and commit
suicide do not indulge in politics in countries like ours. But the
substandard petrol issue is similar to a daytime heist.
About 20,000 vehicles got affected. In addition to this, the loss
incurred by the Corporation is said to be about Rs. 17 million. Several
more millions will have to be spent to pay compensation for the affected
vehicles. In a country such as Sri Lanka which spends 35 cents from
every rupee it gets as revenue for payment of loan interests, cannot
ignore a loss of this magnitude. Even if the government properties are
like something inherited from the legacy of the parents someone will not
simply waste it in this manner. Therefore there is no room for shelving
the substandard petrol commission report.
Even at the initial reporting of these matters to the minister, the
officials misled the minister. They told the minister that during the
rainy days it is possible for underground water to seep into the petrol
tanks. It was a diabolical lie. A deliberate attempt to mislead the
minister. The minister even got into a fix by revealing this to the
Yew’s house. Pic. courtesy: Straits Times file photo
The commission report states that substandard petrol had been
imported by creating an artificial Emergency situation and without
following the proper procedures.
At the same time the petrol had been issued to the market when it was
found that the petrol consignment was not up to the standard. Therefore,
this is a well planned malpractice done without any sort of fear and
If those who are responsible for this fraud are not brought before
the law and punished appropriately the Opposition would certainly credit
its consequences to the political leadership of the concerned
institutions. It was the same thing that was done by those who are in
today’s government when they were in the Opposition. Fortunately, the
Opposition today is divided and factionalized. It is a wrong calculation
to consider it as a permit given for some people in this government to
indulge in malpractices and frauds.
The pot will get filled drop by drop. It is not the politicians alone
that fill these drops. In some places things are happening today without
the scrutiny of the political leadership. Some places things happen even
ignoring the political leadership. Solely in the way it is required by
the whims and fancies of officials. There are also some persons who
ignore the relevant ministers and call themselves as those who directly
hold responsibility to the chief.
Ultimately these people do not hold responsibility for anyone. But it
is the political leadership that becomes responsible for answering the
people. Or otherwise the Cabinet of ministers that becomes responsible
on behalf of the government. This is not justifiable. But the fact is
By now the country is focused on a rapid development process. It is
just like awakening from a deep slumber. This awakening took place with
the dawn of peace. The group that established peace has now directed the
country for a rapid development process. It has received the maximum
support from the people. It is the truth that it was this people’s
support that depicted through the recent election results. What the
people think is that even though there are shortcomings that this
government is working for the benefit of the people.
We cannot solve our problems as a nation without getting foreign
investments. We cannot provide employment to the level of meeting the
existing demand. We cannot develop the purchasing power of the people.
If we are to get foreign investments and to export our products to
foreign markets it is essential to develop our infrastructure.
No one has the craziness of investing in a country in which they have
to travel on roads full of pot holes. Therefore it is necessary to
develop smooth roads, highways, expressways and access roads to main
roads regularly. Similarly it is necessary to develop water supplies,
electricity supplies, telecommunications, ports and airports on a rapid
It is not necessary to explain in detail that these development works
should take place simultaneously and not on a piece-by-piece basis. It
is what is being done now. For these activities a huge amount of foreign
loans are being spent throughout the country.
It is a common factor in developing countries that in an atmosphere
like this that corruption and malpractices also go hand in hand with
such developments. The Mahinda Chinthana - Vision for the Future has
mechanisms to minimize such corruption and malpractices. It is explained
in page 38 of the English version as follows: "I will appoint an
independent board comprising independent and politically unbiased
intellectuals under a new constitutional amendment, to eliminate all
forms of corruption, fraud and malpractices."
"As the first Act of Parliament, I will introduce a special act to
eliminate fraud and corruption, malpractices and violation of tender
procedures in government corporations, boards and financial