Singapore Mint suspends orders for medallions marking 5th anniversary of Lee Kuan Yew's death

The Pride of Singapore range featuring Mr Lee Kuan Yew comprised four commemorative gold, silver and base-metal medallions, as well as made-to-order copper busts.
The Pride of Singapore range featuring Mr Lee Kuan Yew comprised four commemorative gold, silver and base-metal medallions, as well as made-to-order copper busts. PHOTO: THE SINGAPORE MINT

SINGAPORE - Orders for medallions engraved with the face of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, as well as busts in his likeness, were stopped hours after their launch on Monday (March 2) amid online criticism.

As of 7pm, the medallions and busts were no longer available for order on The Singapore Mint’s website, which has a notice saying orders were “temporarily suspended”. The Straits Times has contacted The Singapore Mint for information.

On Monday, at about 12.45pm, The Singapore Mint said in a statement it had launched the medallions and busts to mark the fifth anniversary of Mr Lee’s death on March 23, 2015.

The medallions were available at between $10 and $1,888 each.

The prices of the copper busts, available in 110mm and 430mm sizes, were not stated.

The Pride of Singapore medallion range featuring Mr Lee comprised four commemorative gold, silver and base-metal medallions, as well as made-to-order copper busts.

The latest launch was to be the second issue of The Singapore Mint’s Singapore Salute Series.

The first was a set of medallions of Sir Stamford Raffles, launched last year  to commemorate the Singapore Bicentennial.

The Singapore Mint is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sembcorp Industries.

Many netizens criticised the latest launch, saying the medallions and busts in Mr Lee’s likeness went against his wishes, as he had said he did not want to be memorialised.

Facebook user Dereth Tan wrote: “Didn’t the late Mr Lee explicitly (express) his wish to not be idolised in such a way? Why is this simple request being disrespected?”

Some thought the use of his image was political in what could be an election year, while others said it was in poor taste to profit from his image through the sale of medallions and busts.

Yet others believed the timing of the launch was unfortunate, owing to the dispute between Mr Lee’s children over the Lee family home at 38 Oxley Road.

The matter of notes and coins bearing the image of Mr Lee, as well as busts of him, was addressed in Parliament in 2015 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

PM Lee had said that although issuing notes and coins that bear his father’s image “is certainly something we can consider for the future”, he noted earlier that “Mr Lee was very careful never to allow a personality cult to grow around him, much less to encourage one himself”.

PM Lee also said the late Mr Lee had made clear “he did not need and did not want any monument”. He said he was chiefly concerned with ideals and principles such as meritocracy and multiracialism.

“He did have his portrait painted and his bust made in his lifetime, but he did not allow them to be displayed publicly and I know of only two exceptions to this,” he added.

One is in Parliament House and the other at the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

Some people, however, supported the launch, saying they can help the younger generation remember Singapore’s history. Others said it was not a big deal, as the medallions and busts are a far cry from erecting a statue of Mr Lee.

“These mints will be useful... to tell our young about this great man, how Singapore came to be,” wrote Facebook user Charmaine Wong.

The new issue was to feature 1/2 oz 999.9 fine gold and 1 oz 999 fine silver oval-shaped medallions engraved with the portrait of Mr Lee.

The copper and nickel-plated zinc medallions of the issue were also to have sampans and Singapore's skyline on the reverse side, representing the development of Singapore from humble beginnings.

The latest range was supposed to be available for pre-order from Monday to March 15 at The Singapore Mint's outlets and online store.

Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth guidelines say Mr Lee’s name or image may be used for purposes of “identifying with the nation, as long as it is in accordance with law and accord dignity and respect to Mr Lee’s name and image”, and should not be used for “commercial exploitation”.

The guidelines state that commercial exploitation usually refers to the use of Mr Lee’s name or image in mass merchandise for sale. This includes medals or coins; clothing; household linen or similar articles; furnishing material; paper or any other material that may be used for wrapping or packaging purposes; and adhesive tape.

It is unclear if The Singapore Mint’s use of Mr Lee’s name and image had flouted the guidelines.

When contacted, MCCY declined to say whether The Singapore Mint's use of Mr Lee's name and image had flouted these guidelines, and only said on Tuesday that the ministry was aware of the launch and subsequent suspension of orders for the medallions and busts.