Lee Kuan Yew – From Third World to First


We were careful not to squander this newly gained trust by misgovernment and corruption. I need this political strength to maximise what use we could make of our few assets, a natural world-class harbour sited in a strategic location astride one of the busiest sea-lanes of the world.

If we were a soft society then we would already have perished. A soft people will vote for those who promised a soft way out, when in truth there is none.

The first was to leapfrog the region, as the Israelis had done…we had to link up with the developed world – America, Europe and Japan – and attract their manufacturers to produce in Singapore and export their products to the developed countries…All it (Singapore) had were hardworking people, good basic infrastructure and a government that was determined to be honest and competent. If MNCs could give our workers employment and teach them technical and engineering skills and management knowhow, we should bring in the MNCs.

The second part of my strategy was to create a First World oasis in a Third World region. If Singapore could establish First World standards in public and personal security, health, education, telecommunications, transportation and services, it would become a base camp for entrepreneurs, engineers, managers and other professionals who had business to do in the region. This meant we had to train our people and equip them to provide First World standards of service.

We had one simple guiding principal for survival, that Singapore had to be more rugged, better organized and more efficient than others in the region. If we were only as good as our neighbours there was no reason for businesses to be based here. We had to make it possible for investors to operate successfully and profitably in Singapore despite our lack of a domestic market and natural resources.

If there was one formula for our success, it was that we were constantly studying how to make things work, or how to make them work better. I was never a prisoner of any theory. What guided me was reason and reality. The acid test I applied to every theory or scheme was, would it work? This was the golden thread that ran through my years in office. If it did not work or if the results were poor, I did not waste much time and resources on it. I almost never made the same mistake twice and I tried to learn from the mistakes others had made.



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