Blog: Make Mr Lee Kuan Yew's National Day Rally speeches accessible to all

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew speaking at the 1982 National Day Rally at the National Theatre. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew speaking at the 1982 National Day Rally at the National Theatre. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

I did not go to Parliament House to pay my last respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. But I wanted to do one thing: listen again to his National Day Rally speeches from 1966 to 1990.

Sure, the media reproduced parts of selected speeches - plus extracts from his books - to illuminate how Mr Lee had shaped policies, tackled issues or proposed new undertakings as his Government went about the business of ensuring Singapore did not end up as a mere little red dot.

But I wanted to listen to him in full, to fully understand who he was and how his style of leadership evolved over the years as the country progressed and a younger generation, as he noted, perhaps began to take success for granted.

As prime minister, Mr Lee used his National Day Rally speeches to give an annual report card of how far the country had come - and what rough waters lay ahead.

And he had his say on a multitude of issues, from the greening of Singapore and succession planning to the need for young people to be realistic when it came to choosing their marriage partners and the declining birth rate.

My introduction to his Rally speeches came in 1984, two months after I came to Singapore to work.

I had never seen anyone else command attention like he did - how he would hammer home a point with a glint in his eye, and how his voice could shake one up with a thundering vehemence.

I made it a point to watch all his Rally speeches after that and what made a deeper impression was that while Mr Lee did not flinch from telling the hard truths, he also voiced optimism that things could still be all right, provided no one shirked the responsibility to stand up for Singapore.

Last week, those were the rousing speeches I wanted to listen to again, as my way of paying tribute to Mr Lee.

But, surprisingly, in the wired-up world that we now live in where YouTube can satisfy your desire to watch just about anything you might be interested in, there are only snippets of only two of Mr Lee's Rally speeches.

I have a suggestion for the authorities - rebroadcast his Rally speeches or, if that is not feasible, put them all up on a website or even on a YouTube channel.

I am sure the speeches are lodged in the National Archives or National Library but it is time to broaden public access to them.

The speeches are important, and illuminating, for they give a sense of the times that Singapore went through. It would be quite apt given that this is Singapore's Golden Jubilee year and surely it cannot all be parties and celebrations but also a time to take stock of the hits, misses and what had gotten people talking and worrying over the years.

What were the regional issues that threatened to tie Singapore into knots?

Did Mr Lee ever think it was possible to reverse the decline in the birth rate, which he raised in 1983?

What did he say about the rumours that he would run for President?

While we can all get a sense of what has happened from the people who lived through those times and maybe had a big hand in crafting and executing policies, and perhaps had worked with Mr Lee themselves, their memories and anecdotes can only shed so much light.

Now that the grief of Mr Lee's passing has started to settle, the business of living can continue and his speeches can fortify Singaporeans in going forward .

And, true to Mr Lee's frugal ways, it should cost very little to put up all his Rally speeches in a special portal or channel.