Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew a pragmatist, also an idealist: Former Cabinet minister S. Dhanalaban

SINGAPORE - Mr Lee Kuan Yew is indeed the "Father of our Singapore," said former Cabinet Minister S. Dhanabalan in his eulogy of the country's first Prime Minister on Sunday afternoon.

Mr Dhanabalan spoke on four aspects of Mr Lee's leadership, at the state funeral service at the National University of Singapore.

One was Mr Lee's "absolute obsession" with ensuring an honest, corruption-free political process and public administration system - he demanded and expected honesty and probity from political colleagues.

Mr Dhanabalan said that while Mr Lee could be seen as a hardhearted man, he had agonised over his decisions in private.

Succession plans were also foremost in his mind.

What has been etched in his memory, said Mr Dhanabalan, was how much energy Mr Lee put into preparing his younger Cabinet colleagues for the responsibilities ahead.

Whenever he made official visits overseas, for instance, he would ask a few of the younger team to accompany him to familiarise themselves with how to interact with the leaders of other nations.

"He would always try to seek the relevance to Singapore of his and our observations," he said.

A third point was the way Mr Lee took decisions. Mr Dhanabalan said that the myth was that he brooked no opposition to his views but that was not the case. Mr Lee in fact argued tirelessly to get the Cabinet to accept his views on the strength of his arguments and not because he was the prime minister.

"The idea that he expected his team to follow him like a herd of sheep without question completely misrepresents the man and his values."

Mr Dhanabalan also spoke about Mr Lee's reputation as a "political pragmatist", with many seeing him as one who had no room for idealism getting in the way of what would work in and for Singapore.

But that was not the case.

He was a pragmatist but in a deep sense Mr Lee was also "an idealist", said Mr Dhanabalan.

He was concerned with what the feel of Singapore's society should be.

For instance, it would have been popular with the Chinese electorate if Singapore had championed the Chinese language, he said.

Yet Mr Lee strongly believed that Singapore should be multi-lingual with English as the main language of administration and commerce.

Mr Dhanabalan held the post of chairman of Singapore investment company Temasek Holdings between 1996 and 2013. He had started his career in the civil service as an assistant secretary at the Ministry of Finance. While he was in Government, he served as Minister for Culture, Minister for Community Development and Minister for National Development.

Mr Lee died, 91 on March 23, and Sunday marks the end of a seven-day mourning period.

The funeral service is attended by family members, top leaders from more than 20 countries, and about 2,000 invited guests.