Ideas to Action: 3 takeaways from the PPF dialogue with ex-minister Khaw Boon Wan 

11/10/2023

Mr Lee Kuan Yew was known for many things, including his policies that made a real difference to the trajectory of Singapore. During the second of a three-part dialogue organised by the PAP Policy Forum last Saturday (Oct 7), MPs past and present gathered for a panel discussion about the impact and legacy of Mr Lee’s policies.  

In particular, Former Party Chairman and Minister for Transport, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, shared some of his perspectives on working with Mr Lee. Here are three takeaways from his speech that are useful (not just for nation-building) but as sage advice for life in general.  

1. Telling the hard truth  

One defining characteristic of Mr Lee’s leadership has been his unwavering belief in dishing out hard truths over soft lies. There was popular pressure for the government to provide free healthcare to the population, recalled Mr Khaw. However, Mr Lee was adamant that doing so would overwhelm the system, making it harder for patients with serious illness to access healthcare.  

Rather than live in a Matrix, the unpalatable truth was something Singaporeans were told right from the start. “Mr Lee shaped our political culture of PAP politicians telling the voters the truth…(and) this is a very rare and precious political culture,” said Mr Khaw. 

2. Staying realistic while making friends  

As an island surrounded by much larger neighbours, the reality is that Singapore remains vulnerable since friendly relations can mask underlying tensions and rivalries. Citing our dispute with Malaysia over water and the Konfrontasi Indonesia waged against us as examples, Mr Khaw noted that nations tend to act only on their political self-interests, with small nations squeezed to take sides when tensions rise.  

To ensure that Singapore stayed independent and did not become a vassal state of any degree, Mr Lee worked hard at building bilateral relations and making Singapore relevant to the world, shared Mr Khaw. Today, besides numerous international agreements and trade deals, one thing Singaporeans have benefited from decades of charm offensive is that we now hold the most powerful passport in the world. 

3. Thinking out of the box to deliver results  

According to Mr Khaw, Mr Lee was a politician determined to uphold the mandate given to the PAP and deliver results. To do so, Mr Lee was not afraid to think out of the box and come up with unique approaches as long as it was in the long-term interests of Singapore and Singaporeans.  

Nothing illustrates this point better than the development of Singapore into a Garden City. What might have started as idealism has turned out to be a far-sighted move, turning Singapore into a clean and green paradise.  

As we move forward into the future, this courage to make long-term decisions will continue to guide the PAP in developing policies for a brighter future.