Sunday, December 27, 2015

Book Review: The Big Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew

As I have said in my previous post that our family’s vacation in Singapore was not enough to understand Singapore’s way of life so I took home an essential book titled “The Big Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew” of the Straits Times Press edited by Shashi Jayakumar and Rahul Sagar.  The book has five parts where:

Part 1 is about the “Personal Reminiscences” of SR Nathan, a two-term President of Singapore and Heng Swee Keat who served as Principal Private Secretary to Lee Kuan Yew.  Both shared their personal unique experiences working with the Singapore’s great leader;

Part 2 explains about “Law and Politics” and the different views as regards the “Rule of Law”.  It provided explanation on Lee Kuan Yew’s basic approach to law, order and security, race and religion as well as international relations;

In Part 3 it tackles about Mr. Lee’s style of governance, his political will, about his pragmatic approach that made a big difference for Singapore that changed it from a third world to first world country.   It also explained how Singapore’s public service was transformed, how its public servants adopted a culture of excellence;

Part 4 contains Mr. Lee’s ideas on “Society and Economics” where it explained Singapore’s bilingual and multi-racial concepts.  It provided an insight on how language played an important role in governance and in transmitting values;

Part 5 is about “Foreign Affairs’ and his big ideas on small state survival.  It explained Mr. Lee’s thoughts and approach on how Singapore became relevant to the world.

The book not only provided an account of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s way of governance but also shared the experiences of those people who worked closely with this great leader.  As I read through the pages of this book, I was amazed of the details I uncovered specifically how Mr. Lee built Singapore the way it is now.  This made me admired more the people who put enormous effort in building one of the best countries to live in.  I cannot help but highlight Mr. Lee’s characteristics as described by the people who worked with him. Aside from being a very intelligent man, he is confident and consistent in whatever he wanted to achieve.  He is well known as a tough leader but one of his outstanding qualities that was revealed in this book is his being a “deeply thoughtful man”, his caring nature that in my own opinion not only moved those people close to him but his country as a whole.

So while I was reading this book, I cannot help but compare the qualities of our presidential aspirants to those qualities of Mr. Lee.  I was thinking if anyone of them has the making of a great leader that will put the Philippines at par with the best in the world or would we be electing somebody that will put our country in the shame/worst list for the longest time?  Kishore Mahbubani in the book’s introduction described five of his qualities as (1)”he is a deeply thoughtful man” (2) he is “a man of action” (3) “he is pragmatic” (4) he is “guided by some deeply held values” and  (5) he has courage.  These five qualities of Mr. Lee were explained in detail in the book.  I wish that all candidates for the coming Philippine general election will have the time to read this book and get inspiration and might as well learn and apply Mr. Lee’s big ideas.

I wish to quote Lee Kuan Yew as written in page 96 of the book about people and leadership “My experience of development in Asia has led me to conclude that we need good men to have good government. However good the system of government, bad leaders will bring harm to their people.”

In the same chapter on page 97, it provided a plain example with huge impact on how he governed his people as he was quoted saying after discovering that light switches in a government structure did not work  “…And I say it does you no harm whatsoever just to make sure that the thing works.  And don’t be too kind.  If you want to be kind to your people then you have got to be firm. And at times, stern to those who have a duty to perform to see that the duty is performed.

Those words reminded me of incidents in my country which could have been prevented if only the people who are in-charge have the political will to ensure that things work out the way they must be. All too common are non-working escalators/elevators and even trains in our own MRT/LRTs, filthy pathways/walkways/waterways, crime news everyday except during Manny Pacquiao's fight and many other perpetual problems that made me wonder if there is really someone governing us or are we living to each his own.

The Philippines and its people have so much to learn from Singapore and we have lots of work to do to correct all the wrong actions and perceptions of our leaders and would-be leaders.   As how the book puts it, “Learning from Others, Learning from the Best”.  And the Philippines definitely need to learn from the best.

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