Amidst all the good and great that Lee Kuan Yew did for Singapore are mistakes that could have been buried and forgotten over time. Instead, they are magnified and played out today, threatening to derail the People’s Action Party.
It was LKY who was adamant that Singapore’s Ministers had to be made the highest paid in the world. As with all things then, he got what he wanted. Since 1994, Ministerial salaries have been benchmarked against the top private sector earners.
Nothing good has come out of that. It only created a disconnect between the leaders and the people that seems to worsen with each passing year.
When politics becomes a stepping stone to riches, the element of sacrifice and public service is removed. And our politicians are stripped of moral authority when they try and tackle any number of issues – from income disparity, rich-poor divide and elitism in schools to lecturing Singaporeans on how to manage cost of living.
The retort would always be: who are they to tell us what to do, ensconced in an ivory tower, the prince talking to the pauper, the elite trying to lord over the masses, the super rich not able to empathise with the problems of the disadvantaged and downtrodden?
So it must be said that LKY made a serious error of judgement in putting Ministers’ pay on a stratosphere and it keeps biting and haunting the PAP till this day.
It is also said that the greatest of leaders always put their people and country above their family. In this regard, LKY fell short at times and this gave rise to his other major mistake.
He paved the way for his son to become Prime Minister and today, we have protracted leadership succession, we have a son who is always compared unfavourably with the father, we have talk of PM Lee Hsien Loong intending to perpetuate a Lee dynasty, and we have lingering questions and discontent over lack of transparency and conflict of interest at Temasek, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund.
It is also somewhat of a self-inflicted wound when you consider that the Lee family would be intact today and not in tatters had one among them not been made Prime Minister.
But LKY did make the fateful decision (in spite of what they may say, that it was not his choice) and the rest, as they say, is history.
All leaders are prone to making errors of judgement. Many of these errors are forgotten or erased over time and do not become a blight on their legacy.
But when their errors become magnified over time, and threaten to even derail the political party they founded, then it does put a dampener on their legacy.