Wednesday, June 17, 2009

From Kuan Yew... to Kiasu

When the dust clears, one has to wonder, to whom indeed is Lee Kuan Yew the mentor of, like the wise old guru on the top of some sacred hill. In recent days, that hill is Penang Hill. The former Singaporean Prime Minister, on a lightning tour of Peninsula Malaysia, provides a negative comment on the development level of Penang, and all hell breaks loose.

As James Chin wrote, "His comments about crumbling infrastructure in Penang compared to Ipoh sparked off a war of words between DAP and Gerakan over who is responsible for Penang’s decay. Why do Malaysians take his words, in this case just a side remark, so seriously?"

Answering his own question, he continued, "I suspect the reason why Malaysians, especially the Chinese press, take his comments so seriously is in part based on historical sentiment, and another part based on Singapore’s economic performance."

The real question, in my opinion, is the rhetorical one: why do we need his approval? Mahathir may have been snide in calling him "The Little Emperor", but as least he was more supportive of his own country than the likes of the DAP and Gerakan, who seem like bickering children hungry for a smile from Grandfather Lee.

Food for thought is also if Penangites would really want to rub a magic lamp and have a Minister Genie transform the island into Singapore? The modern infrastructure will no doubt be useful, not to mention real social development with meritocracy at its core. But everything comes with opportunity cost and suddenly the focus will be your personal infrastructure when Penangites will have to work longer and harder to own their own houses. Houses, you say? Think again.

Essentially what people like our current and former chief ministers have done is paint a poor picture of Penang and its people as not having enough faith in, and pride in, the uniqueness of our state... warts and all.

Ultimately we're having a guest, not an auditor, and the proper response to Lee Kuan Yew is: sorry sir, in this country we learn that the first lesson of being a good guest is to not insult our hosts. And that, perhaps, sets us apart a little more than infrastructure ever will.