Letters & Opinion

The Passing Of A Titan

By Peter Josie
By Peter Josie

ON Sunday last, the world woke up to the news that former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore had expired. Prime Minister Yew has been credited for transforming his island from a back water third world colonial outpost into a vibrant, first world, developed country – all within fifty years. I first met Prime Minister Yew at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Melbourne, Australia, where as Minister of External Affairs of Saint Lucia I was chosen to represent Prime Minister Winston Cenac.

I recall Prime Minister Yew being invited to caucus with leaders from the Caribbean to share experiences and help design an agenda for Commonwealth Small Island developing states, aiming to copy the Singapore miracle. I was the youngest among those present and so listened rather than offered any suggestions to the likes of Seaga of Jamaica, Burnham of Guyana, Chambers of Trinidad and of course to Yew himself. Bishop of Grenada (and other heads) was also at that caucus which had gathered that morning before the plenary.

Much has been said and written about Yew before his passing, and since. Much more will be said and written, mostly positive, about the way in which he transformed his little island to the benefit of its people. But there was a price to pay for such rapid transformation and progress. Although Singapore remained a country which was determined to change its government by the democratic vote, Prime Minister Yew ruled with an iron fist, often bordering on methods employed by ruthless dictators.

In this regard, some analysts will choose to refer to Prime Minister Yew as a benevolent dictator. One feels, however, that his former opponents may describe him differently, bearing in mind his treatment of opposition forces in his heyday. Prime Minister Yew was determined that no one would derail his dream of economic progress and development for his beloved Singapore. That he ruled with a tight fist, no one doubts. But his tenure of office was also distinguished by anti-corruption which he was convinced was necessary and essential to make Singapore worthy of foreign investments. Discipline, anti-corruption, hard work and cleanliness of the environment became his (and Singapore’s) watch words.

There is another dimension to Singapore’s rapid development which is often overlooked by Yew’s admirers. Singapore is situated at the neck (or choke hold) of a crucial shipping lane. This would have accounted for the encouragement by certain western powers, fearful of growing communist influence in that part of the world, to prop-up the breakaway Singapore, from the Malaysian federation, while turning a blind eye to Yew’s excesses. Singapore’s miracle must therefore be seen not only in the excellent and personal example set by Prime Minister Yew, but also in light of geopolitics of the time. Recall too, that the cold war between East and West (Communism and Capitalism) loomed large, during Yew’s early years in politics.

Yew and his western allies may also have been fearful of the political ideologies of surrounding Muslim States, with their strict religion, and its restrictions on the role of women in society. The same principle of selective assistance and investments had been successfully applied to the city of Berlin, in Germany. Money was poured into West Berlin to showcase the power of capitalism (and democracy?), while East Berlin, increasingly looked like the Cinderella of the former united city. The change in activity and development from West to East Berlin across the Berlin wall was as clear as the Caribbean sunshine.

In eulogizing former Prime Minister John Compton of Saint Lucia, Sir Dwight Venner, Governor of the East Caribbean Central Bank, was moved to compare the efforts of Compton (and Barrow of Barbados), in the development of their respective islands, to that of Prime Minister Yew’s. Still, there is little doubt that Britain had historically focused on Barbados, perhaps because it wished to create a miniature replica of itself, (Little England?) with its kith and kin, in the Caribbean. Britain may have repeated its pattern of preference in both Bermuda and Rhodesia.

Much later, Saint Lucia (and John Compton) was also targeted for special assistance. This time the reason was due in part, to John Compton’s determination (like Yew’s), and to the threat which certain returning graduates, seeming equally determined to change the colonial/prejudices, by attacking its perverted remnants. But the colonial powers in the Caribbean were equally determined that their interests lay with the conservative Compton, and his admiration of Yew’s model.

It would be of interest to ascertain where the present leader of Saint Lucia stands in comparison to such titans as Yew, Barrow and Compton. The sad reality is many Saint Lucians are now discovering that, the present leader of Saint Lucia comes nowhere close to these three, judging objectively and without malice or ill will.

It is clear for all to see that Prime Minister Anthony is closer to the end of his political journey than its beginning. In fact, from his own lips he should have been gone by now. Anthony will not be judged kindly by history. At least two issues will weigh very heavily against him. His refusal to develop the Vieux-Fort Coco-Dan area into a marina because it was Compton’s idea. That was a terrible mistake. Then there was the proposed re-development of Hewanorra International Airport for which a departure tax had been levied by the UWP Government. That tax was stopped by the Labour Government and what became of the millions which had been collected is anyone’s guess.

Compare this behaviour to Yew’s attitude and contribution. Hard work equal opportunity and strict discipline marked every aspect of Yew’s rule. Can this honestly be said of today’s Labour Government in Saint Lucia? On the contrary, Saint Lucia’s good name has now been dragged into mud by those elected to serve and enhance it. The recent IMPACS report, plus secretive oil drilling deals, plus repeated appointment of a Lebanese as Saint Lucia’s ambassador to UNESCO are just a few examples worth noting.

The IMPACS Report (which looked into police killings) was completed and presented to the Government at least six months ago. Why has it just been turned over to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP)? Speculation on the streets of Castries is that the DPP is soon to proceed on pre-retirement leave. If true, what happens if the DPP is unable to make a determination before she demits office? At whose feet should this tardiness be laid? As Minister for Finance, couldn’t the Prime Minister have suggested to the DPP, the appointment of a special prosecutor to implement the IMPACS report? This begs the question, is Government playing politics with the IMPACS report and can anything be done to save Saint Lucia’s good name?

The passing of former Prime Minister Yew of Singapore ought to remind us that leadership requires much more than University degrees. It requires hard working men and women of vision, determination, goodwill and good character, and who fear God.

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