‘Quiet wisdom and a steady hand’: Tributes pour in for outgoing PM Lee


PM Lee Hsien Loong has been Singapore’s Prime Minister since 2004. - ST

SINGAPORE: Over his 20-year tenure as Singapore’s third prime minister, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong developed a reputation for being a sharp and demanding leader with clear views and strong convictions.

But he is also known for his integrity and fairness, as well as his care and empathy for Singaporeans.

These attributes were reflected in tributes that poured in for PM Lee after news broke on April 15 that he would be stepping down from office.

Political office-holders and backbench MPs took to Facebook to pen bittersweet goodbyes to PM Lee, even as they welcomed Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, who will be taking over the baton come May 15.

From how PM Lee guided Singapore through issues such as Covid-19 and the global financial crisis, to his hand in maintaining the country’s unity during times of societal fragmentation and the strides the nation has made under his stewardship, many PAP MPs remember the Prime Minister as a visionary leader who has left an indelible mark on Singapore’s history.

Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat recalled the many episodes of uncertainties Singapore has had to navigate over the past two decades, such as the global financial crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and today’s fractured geopolitical environment.

Through all this, PM Lee remained selflessly dedicated to the country, leading with “quiet wisdom and a steady hand”.

His generous service, DPM Heng said, has allowed Singapore to stand out – at a time when societies are growing more fragmented – as “a beacon of openness and collaboration amid a more reticent global environment”.

Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information as well as Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity, agreed. She recounted how PM Lee led the Solidarity Walk in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

She also said PM Lee is a hands-on leader who was able to engage in Singapore’s technological conversations with his exceptional grasp of mathematics, economics, science and technology.

But more than that, his efforts to understand such nuances were a source of inspiration to those under his stewardship.

Teo said: “It helps our professional teams to know that we have a leader who is interested in their work, who understands its difficulties and believes in helping them get things right.

“It helps visitors see that we are a serious-minded country, committed at all levels to deep understanding of issues and not prone to go along with hype.”

PM Lee has also pushed Singapore to expand its scope of involvement in various environmental issues, said Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment as well as Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations.

Under his leadership, she said, her ministry has expanded its work to embrace a comprehensive sustainable development model where economic progress is achieved with environment protection and resources resilience.

She added that he has been a “strong sponsor and champion” of ministry policies that prioritise issues such as climate action and the circular economy, as well as food and water security.

Stable leadership and the ability to plan long term have always been among Singapore’s biggest assets – a tradition that PM Lee has continued, said Vikram Nair, an MP for Sembawang GRC.

Beyond laying the foundations for Singapore’s protection against climate change, PM Lee has also consistently endeavoured to implement changes that will have lasting impact on citizens’ daily lives.

Minister for Transport and Second Minister for Finance Chee Hong Tat thanked PM Lee for his leadership over Singapore’s different transport sectors, which have vastly improved under his 20-year guidance.

Of the importance of the public transport system, Chee said PM Lee had emphasised its role as a social equaliser, connecting people and places.

He added that PM Lee described it as “a shared experience of living in Singapore, where Singaporeans from all walks of life use public transport to go to work, school and recreation”.

This is only one of the heartfelt takeaways Chee has of his time working with PM Lee to build a “stronger and better Singapore”.

He said the Prime Minister taught him to always think long term and plan for the future, “for the benefit of Singapore and Singaporeans, including future generations who are too young to vote and may not yet be born”.

Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development and Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration, concurred, adding that PM Lee “believed strongly in passing on to our children a better Singapore than we inherited”.

Lee recalled how PM Lee made various moves to make public housing more affordable for Singaporeans, such as introducing means-tested housing grants in 2011 and the Standard-Plus-Prime model in 2023.

He noted that PM Lee’s belief in building a better Singapore for future generations also underpins the bold long-term land-use planning moves made in recent years, including the development of Paya Lebar, Jurong Lake District and the Greater Southern Waterfront.

“This forward-looking spirit inspires all of us to keep planning and building a future Singapore that is more vibrant, liveable, sustainable and resilient than today,” he said.

PM Lee also pushed for policies that ensured all Singaporeans had the opportunity to thrive, regardless of their socio-economic status, said Senior Minister of State for Defence and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad.

In his tribute to PM Lee, Zaqy said: “Today, we have broadened social safety nets, and I was privileged to have played a role when PM announced enhancements to our progressive wages policy (during National Day Rally 2021), to uplift our lower-wage workers and bridge income inequality.”

Referencing PM Lee’s 2013 National Day Rally, Desmond Lee said the Prime Minister’s words about the Government and community needing to do more to support individuals “left a deep and enduring impression” on him.

“It was a rallying call for our society and nation to come together, and forge a new way forward as one.”

He witnessed this “new way forward” when PM Lee launched the ComCare Fund to provide a social safety net for lower-income Singaporeans in 2005, and again two years later when the Government rolled out the Workfare policy to top up the wages of lower-income workers.

He continued to see these support efforts throughout the years, such as in 2012 when the Progressive Wage Model was established to sustainably raise wages, and in 2015 when MediShield Life was implemented to cover costly medical bills.

Lee said: “It has been my great privilege to serve under PM Lee’s leadership and stewardship of our country these past 11 years. During this time, I have had the opportunity to experience, first-hand, what PM Lee meant by the ‘new way forward’.”

While the many tributes that poured in highlighted PM Lee’s formidable leadership, they also spoke highly of his gentle demeanour and the respect he has for others.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Nadia Ahmad Samdin recalled a time when she addressed the Prime Minister as “boss”, and he, in turn, smiled, referring to her as “comrade”.

Addressing PM Lee, she said: “It made me reflect on how open you have been over the years to different views, treating people from different ages and walks of life with respect.

“You seek to engage with genuine interest, never making people feel less despite your years of wisdom and how much you have shouldered for Singapore.”

She described him as someone rooted in his values, yet able to recognise that times change and is willing to listen to others, seeking to enlarge the common space.

“In an increasingly fragmented world, your steadfast disposition has built bridges, holding us together,” she added.

Minister for Education and Minister-in-charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing said: “Policy nous and many other things can be honed. But the most important values that PM has shown us is the critical task to keep our system clean and upright to inspire more good people to come forward and serve.

“We are thankful for PM’s leadership and service to Singapore, always putting the country and people before self.” - The Straits Times/ANN

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