In a tribute he paid to the recently deceased ex-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, a close political associate of the latter observed that he had created a ‘democracy of deeds’ as opposed to one of mere words. As we came across this expression, we could not help reflecting that in this country we are still struggling to establish a democratisation of the economy, despite having been independent almost as long as Singapore, which became free of British rule in 1965.
Shortly after returning from England with his law degree and joining the political fray, Lee Kuan Yew realized that – as he said in an interview much later – Singapore had to get rid of British rule and stand on its own feet. And he set about to make this happen, setting up the People’s Action Party, and being elected as Prime Minister in 1959. Once independence was obtained, he took charge to transform his country and, according to the same interview, he did not follow ‘any theoretician of democracy’ but was guided by ‘first principles’ based on his own thinking and vision of where he wanted his country to be: ‘a first world state in a third world situation.’
It was thus that, fighting communism and marauding gangs that were terrorizing the inhabitants, and ‘heart-breaking’ away from a short-lived federation with Malaya, Singapore despite being one third the size of Mauritius and practically a marshy, unhealthy backwater with no indigenous fresh water source or other resources, rose to become a model of multiracial and multicultural peaceful coexistence and a prosperous economy.
Not only is it the envy of other small island states, it is even looked up to by all developed nations. Equally respected has been its founding father and leader, for thirty years as Prime Minister then – after voluntarily stepping down in 1990 — mentor and moral authority until shortly before his death a few days ago. Little surprise that several world leaders, many of whom have known him personally, have been forthcoming in their high praise of him and his leadership, and as a voice of wisdom that was carefully heeded.
He published a comprehensive and insightful account of how he and his team built Singapore from scratch in a book published in 2000, ‘From Third World To First – The Singapore Story: 1965-2000’, which those who have not had the opportunity to peruse would learn much in doing so. Not only was he a practical and pragmatic, forward-looking Prime Minister, but he was also a fine writer as this and his other books show. Besides, he expressed himself with great clarity and his replies to interviews were very well thought out and balanced. We remember him listening to the interview he gave to the MBC-TV during a visit to the country in 1993 or so, and it was most impressive, to say the least. We have not, unfortunately, had the benefit of having his local equivalent in terms of both writing and speaking. And any future prospect of the same is also unforeseeable.
It is significant that in his onward march of the development of Singapore, he always aimed ‘to be correct, not politically correct.’ This is a great lesson that several leaders ought to learn and apply in these days of outrageous political correctness that is destroying the very soul of nations.
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The Budget Orientations
All our Budgets have been a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly – depending on one’s standpoint. It is always a fact that the Opposition will find nothing good, and that others with different vested interests and agendas will praise or make politically correct noises. And although as for all Budgets, there are some interesting and positive measures, such as for unemployed graduates, the incentives for Mauritian professionals settled who might be interested in coming back, the stimulus for an enhanced SME culture, getting rid of the zougadere mindset and so on, we will have to wait to see how all these translate in concrete terms. Although the claim is that this is a no-tax Budget, the reality is the depreciating rupee that effectively diminishes the purchasing power of the citizen and nullifies savings.
On the other hand, the growing disparities juxtaposed to the ostentatious displays of luxury living strike an unacceptable image of a country that has been pretending that the rising tide will lift all the boats. Many boats are still stuck in the sand, and the struggle of the middle class becomes harder by the day. Ask any young couple wanting to own their first home, despite the waiver of registration fees on Rs 1.5 million.
However, we will give the benefit of the doubt to the Finance Minister, and sincerely wish that he achieves the second economic miracle, sooner rather than later. And let us hope that, on the way to this goal, his government does not get derailed by methods of conducting the affairs of the country in a spirit that is captured by this Christian blog:
‘You can get elected slandering people. You can get ratings and big careers and catapult yourself into bestsellerdom. What you cannot do is destroy other people — deliberately and maliciously inflict harm on them that pushes them to the edge of despair and scars them for the rest of their lives — and stand righteous before the living God.
The more you do this, the more it destroys you. That is what it means to deliberately and for your own pleasure and dark gratification to destroy another person with your words, your Photoshopped photos, your hazing, mockery and shunning. That is what it means to bring another person down like a lion bringing down a gazelle.
That is character assassination, and it destroys those who engage in it from the soul out. We have become a nation of people who advocate for things we claim to believe by using character assassination instead of discussion. If someone disagrees with us, we try to destroy them and their standing in the community. We try to degrade them to death.
We do not talk about why we think their ideas are wrong. Instead, we try to vanquish their ideas by destroying their worth as people.
If you engage in character assassination, if you sit still and be quiet while others do it in front of you, if you enjoy watching while it is done to someone else, you are in sin. You are erecting a fence between yourself and your own salvation.
Slander and character assassination are murder with words. The damage they do to the people who suffer them is real and lifelong.’
* Published in print edition on 27 March 2015