Which country wouldn’t want to be able to point to or have as prime minister someone with the following pedigree?
– Followed his PM father to political activities from age 11.
– Plays the clarinet.
– A President and SAF scholar.
– A Senior Wrangler at Cambridge University in England, a position once regarded as “the greatest intellectual achievement attainable in Britain”, a Cambridge alumnus with First Class honours in mathematics and an MPA from Harvard.
– The youngest Brigadier-General (1983) in SAF history.
– At 32, elected an MP and immediately appointed as Minister of State (1984).
– 20 years of apprenticeship at the ministerial level; helming trade & industry, defence, finance portfolios amongst others and Dy PM for 14 years before ascending to the throne of the 3rd Prime Minister of Singapore.
What’s uniquely more, he was personally under the tutelage of and had unfettered access to his famous father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, with his formidable political wisdom, for at least a good 60 years for advice on leadership.
PM Lee’s Speech At Ho Rih Hwa Leadership Series
With credentials such as his, PM Lee eminently qualifies to speak at the Ho Rih Hwa Leadership lecture.
To keep this article short, we shall discuss the body of PM Lee’s speech another day. Suffice to note that the mainstream media widely reported the speech to encompass ‘Singapore’s key future challenges: Economy, population, identity’ and how he hopes to meet them in broad strokes. For now, we know that good Speechmaking 101 suggests the introductory and concluding remarks to be crucial pointers of a speaker’s purpose.
How then does his speech measure up to the purpose of the Lecture series – which one assumes is what he was invited to serve?
Host SMU states: The series “seeks to inspire students and the public with the views and valuable opinions of accomplished entrepreneurs, business and political leaders from within and beyond the Asia-Pacific region.
...the lecture series serves as an enriching platform for the sharing of relevant knowledge and experience…It is a tremendous opportunity for audiences to draw on the foresight, knowledge and experiences of these distinguished speakers…” Link
A speech Introduction is chiefly to state the speaker’s proposition or thesis. Here, PM Lee was in his element. Within a minute or 160 words, he said with feeling, “But he (Mr Ho Rih Hwa) served with distinction as our ambassador in Thailand, in Belgium and the European Economic Community as it then was and also at the United Nations in Geneva. He refused to accept any remuneration because he saw this as a National Service, a duty that he was honoured to discharge.”
Ahhh, now, he’s talking! “refused to accept remuneration…a duty that he was honoured to discharge”. Anyone in the audience would have her expectations raised. Finally, the PM was going to inspire us all with a volte-face of the PAP’s long-held conviction of paying millions to ministers and civil servants. Could this be a clarion call to his current brothers and sisters in arms to discharge their duties without care or consideration for remuneration like Mr Ho?
Nope. Sadly, none of that followed in the body of his speech as can be seen with his concluding words.
Now, the conclusion; Good speakers would use the conclusion to emphasize the primary message and, in this case, to inspire one’s audience with a call to action. Here’s what he said:
“But all these things we want to do depend on good leadership…We need leaders with a sense of responsibility wholly committed to Singapore and to Singaporeans, leaders who can win your support and rally the country together, leaders who can work with us and make the next 50 years as glorious as the last 50 years and then not only will our next generation enjoy a good life but they will be able to look forward to a brighter future for themselves and for their children.”
Measuring those closing words with the explicit purpose of the Lecture series; “To inspire…to draw on the foresight, knowledge and experiences of these distinguished speakers”, did LHL’s words achieve that purpose? Or was he thinking he was electioneering, appealing to his audience to vote for ‘leaders who can work with us (PAP) and make the next 50 years…a brighter future for themselves and for their children’?
It appears that PM Lee misled his audience with high hopes of inspiring Singaporeans with a change that he and leaders of his choosing will now lean closer to following Mr Ho’s exemplary display of selfless service to the nation. Or he needs more help with speech writing.
In place of inspiration he displayed his party’s pure and unadulterated hubris that Singaporeans can conceive and achieve a Singapore only with ‘leaders who can work with us’ (PAP) and none else. It begs the question, does Singapore exist to be led by and for the PAP only?
The son has to invoke his father’s name 3 times in his half-hour speech, almost as if to seek papa’s guidance or to borrow from the halo of papa’s brand name. Almost as if pleading for papa’s departed spirit to show up behind him. For all Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s controversial leadership, no one can argue with his clarity of vision for Singapore when he was PM.
Over and above all the challenges that our parents faced; being kicked out of Malaysia, the British pulling out their military resulting in significant job loss, the Viet communist threat being even more a clear and present danger than ISIS today is – we also had less resources and capabilities then vs now – the founding PAP leaders were able to see above all our existential challenges and articulate a clear vision that rallied my parents, yours and all of us to roll up our sleeves, grit our teeth and pull all our weight behind those leaders who were discharging their duty without million $ pay packets.
The vision was simple as it was clear: A First World oasis in a Third World neighbourhood.
Alas, with ‘Team Lee Hsien Loong’, there is no vision! Only a discussion of the details with emphasis on the scale of the challenges and aim of achieving only the doable. His is a leadership bereft of imagination. Our children will say, ‘We are like, you know, totally UNINSPIRED! No vision thingy.’
Check out this space to find out why when we discuss the body of his speech.
Meantime, I paraphrase the great Churchill, ‘The Singapore of the future is a Singapore of the mind.’
Law Kim Hwee