Lee Kuan Yew on Beating Corruption

Lance Ng
6 min readMar 18, 2019

The political legend who built modern Singapore on how nations can overcome corruption to give its citizens a better life and equal opportunities.

Source: Facebook

“I have had the privilege of meeting many of the world’s leaders over the past 40 years. None has shown greater insight, imagination and creativity than Lee Kuan Yew.”

— Henry Kissenger, August 2nd, 2011

When I was in my teens I heard about a political study. It found that while Singapore paid its civil servants one of the highest salaries in the world, they also had the least amount of money in their bank accounts among politicians in the region. That was because corruption was almost non-existent in this island nation of mine when I was growing up.

Truth be told, I’m a fiercely independent thinker. On more than one occasion I’ve found myself disagreeing intellectually with some of my government’s policies. But I can’t deny that without Lee and his founding team of statesmen who believed in meritocracy, this resource scarce island would never have gone from third world to first in 30 years. My brothers and I may not even have been able to afford our education!

That point was hammered home even stronger when I was in Nepal last year for a hiking trip. Visiting this mountain nation for the very first time, I saw and heard about how corruption had depleted a beautiful land and exhausted its hardy people. I wrote about this in the very first story I published on Medium, titled “Of Mountains & Monarchs — A Tale of the Real Nepal”.

In it I spoke about how my guides, who were the children of Gurkha soldiers who lived in Singapore, all had a picture of Lee in their homes. It was put there by their fathers, some of whom guarded the compounds of Lee’s home when he was the Prime Minister of Singapore. They revered him as a great leader and lamented the lack of someone like Lee to lead Nepal out of the downwards spiral it was in, due to endemic corruption and nepotism.

A lot of books have been written about Lee and his words extensively quoted, but this fateful journey in Nepal inspired me to look for more direct sources about him and his views on…