When the founding father of a country passes away, it is unavoidable that its people will evaluate his past contributions and sacrifices. It’s neighboring countries will do so too, and in LKY’s case, many past and present global leaders. For a soon to be Singapore Permanent Resident like myself, LKY was largely responsible of making Singapore a destination of choice for my young family’s migration here – corruption free government, safe and clean neighborhoods, good public schools and transport systems and other world class amenities.
I grew up in Malaysia and it was fun then to observe the public spats between then PM Dr Mahathir and LKY. I didn’t understand the political and national risks involved over electricity and water. I was also fascinated by the various political uprisings in Thailand – my favourite holiday destination. I remember many Chinese Malaysians voted for the main political party for peace and national unity. Political stability was something i took for granted when young. In a resource rich and NEP driven Malaysia, citizens come to accept its many faults in society. In a way, I grew up observing the many opportunities available to improve and contribute. And like many Malaysians based in Singapore, we are still hopeful but took the easier way of settling down in a more welcoming country.
As I grew older, i was fascinated by how far ahead Hong Kong and Singapore is relative to Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. Was it because of culture, work ethics, it’s people, natural resources, past colonial history etc? The list goes on and on. It’s easy to point out the faults but difficult to identify the causes of success.
Since I moved to Singapore in 2013, I have come to appreciate the threats that LKY highlights for Singapore better, and the need for self sufficiency, national defence and anti-corruption policies. As an economist by training, I often wonder why Singapore’s GDP per capita is so much higher than its neighbors and have come to believe that the highly adaptive government and their pragmatic economic policies have a large part to do with it. During my 6+ living years in Hong Kong, I was amazed with the vibrancy of the cosmopolitan city, it’s many TVB and movies stars, it’s many restaurants and retail shops. But that’s from the perspective of above average income earner. The poor in Hong Kong live a very tough life with very little state help for many years. The concept of living in cages and shoe boxes in a cold winter, fear for food safety and heavy pollution should not be synonymous with living in a modern city.
As such, it is with great hope that my young family migrate to Singapore. My wife and I took the conscious decision to send our kids to local public schools, volunteer where possible, and hope that even with the passing of LKY, Singaporeans will continue to be hopeful, welcoming and pragmatic as Singapore continuously redefines and asserts its role in the region and globally.