Just hours after launching a series of medallions and busts dedicated to the founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Mint has decided to “temporarily suspend” the range.
At around 12.45pm on Monday (2 March), The Singapore Mint revealed in a statement that it had released medallions with the face of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s face engraved on it, as well as busts resembling him to mark his fifth death anniversary.
Titled “The Pride of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew”, the series comprises of four commemorative gold, silver, and base-metal medallions, and made-to-order copper busts that come in two sizes. This latest range is part of the Singapore Salute collection.
The ½ oz 999.9 fine gold and 1 oz 999 fine silver medallions in an oval shape are engraved with late Mr Lee portrait on it. The copper and nickel-plated zinc medallions also have pictures of sampans and Singapore’s skyline on the other side, showcasing the country’s development from its earlier days.
As for the copper busts, they come in two different sizes – 110mm and 430mm.
Based on the Singapore Mint, the collection is “meticulously engraved and sculpted by the Singapore Mint’s master engravers with their skillful craftsmanship”, with a “dignified interpretation” of late Mr Lee’s image. “Mr Lee’s great foresight and determined pursuit of Singapore’s growth have played an important role in bringing Singapore to where it is today, and shaping the history of modern Singapore.”
It continued, “The Pride of Singapore medallion range also seeks to remind Singaporeans to be resilient and indomitable to concur challenges and adversity in unity”.
However, as of 7pm on the same day of the launch, the medallions and busts, priced between S$10 and S$1,888, were not available for orders anymore on The Singapore Mint’s website. The website has now a notice saying, “We have temporarily suspended this program until further notice.”
TOC has reached out to The Singapore Mint to find out its reason for suspending The Pride of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew series.
The Singapore Mint was founded in 1968 to mint circulation coins for the newly-independent country, and is fully owned subsidiary of Sembcorp Industries. Sembcorp Industries is an energy, marine and urban development group in Singapore, and 49.5 percent of the company’s shares are held by Temasek Holdings.
Late Mr Lee did not want any monument
While speaking in Parliament in 2015, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted the possibility of having notes and coins bearing the image of his late father, Mr Lee.
PM Lee noted that having notes and coins with his father’s image “is certainly something we can consider for the future”, but he said previously that “Mr Lee was very careful never to allow a personality cult to grow around him, much less to encourage one himself”.
Additionally, PM Lee also pointed out that his father had clearly revealed that “he did not need and did not want any monument”. He asserted that he was mainly concerned with ideals and principles like multiracialism and meritocracy.
“He did have his portrait painted and his made in his lifetime, but he did not allow them to be displayed publicly and I know of only two exceptions to this,” PM Lee explained.
He added that one is kept in Parliament House and the second one is placed at the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
Law to protect late Mr Lee against commercial exploitation and misuse
In 2015, the government said that it might be considering laws to protect the name and image of the late Mr Lee against commercial exploitation and misuse.
The then Minister of Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong asserted that theses new laws were in response to concerns raised by members of the public following the misuse of late Mr Lee’s name after his death in March that year.
“The first example that you can easily see was what happened with the company that tried to do the buns, right?” Mr Wong was reported as saying. “So again at that time there was a lot of public reaction about how this was distasteful and it was commercially exploitative and it was probably bad and not the right thing to do.”
“There have been concerns of people, also of potentially printing T-shirts, selling them with his name and images, and figurines that can be sold for profits or commercial gain.”
Mr Wong also added that such laws were not meant to “restrict people from coming up with their own creative ways to pay their tribute to Mr Lee. Our intent is in line with public concerns”.
Although similar laws are in place, Mr Wong did not seem to have referred to commercial copyright laws, but to those that regulate the use and display of national symbols, such as the Singapore flag and anthem, which come under the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Act.
Following the government’s intention to come up with new laws, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth released a set of guidelines in 2016, in conjunction with late Mr Lee’s first year death anniversary, on the proper use of his name and image.
Below are the three broad guidelines:
- Mr Lee’s name or image or likeness may be used for the purposes of identifying with the nation, including on works of art or publications, or items for charitable purposes, in accordance with the law.
- Mr Lee’s name or image or likeness should be accorded dignity and respect.
- His name or image or likeness should not be used for commercial exploitation or be assumed or taken to indicate any kind of official endorsement of products or services.