SINGAPORE: The hefty projected costs of the Founders Memorial and NS Square has raised critical questions on the use of taxpayer dollars, among Singaporeans online.

Concerns erupted in the hours after the ground-breaking ceremony of the Founders’ Memorial took place on Wednesday (5 June). The memorial, which is designed to commemorate the founding fathers of Singapore as well as cover the country’s history from after World War II to its first few decades of independence, has begun construction and it is slated to open its doors to the public in 2028.

The memorial at Gardens by the Bay’s Bay East Garden will consist of two connected two-storey buildings that will also function as a viewing gallery that overlooks Singapore’s city skyline, alongside having an amphitheatre, exhibition galleries and multi-purpose rooms for workshops and programmes.

It has since come to light that the memorial will cost a whopping $235,660,000 to construct.

The information was exposed online by Reddit user ‘shimmynywimminy‘ who cited publicly available data at the Building Construction Authority’s online database for March 2024.

Hours later, another Redditor ‘potatetoe_tractor‘ cited the same BCA database to reveal that the upcoming NS Square costs more than double the cost of the Founders Memorial at more than $599 million.

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NS Square is an upcoming outdoor multi-purpose venue, meant to replace The Float@Marina Bay. Construction of NS Square, which will house a 30,000-seat grandstand, a National Service-themed gallery, community sports facilities and a public waterfront promenade, began this March and the project is scheduled to be completed in 2027.

The cost projections as per BCA’s database has stirred discontent on social media, with many asking if these expensive developments are truly a wise use of taxpayer funds. Many pointed to the recent goods and services tax (GST) hike and questioned if the hike was implemented to fund such opulent structures instead of being used in a way that may better benefit ordinary Singaporeans.

Some also pointed to founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s aversion to monuments as cast doubts on the need for a founders memorial.

In response to events organized to commemorate Mr Lee’s first death anniversary in 2016, his only daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, said he would have “cringed at the hero worship.”

In a Facebook post, she added, “…in looking at acts of commemoration in general, I would ask how the time, effort and resources used to prepare these would benefit Singapore and Singaporeans.”

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Asserting that “Papa was dead set against a personality cult and any hint of cronyism,” Dr Lee said:

“Papa’s focus never wavered. What he did was all for the welfare of the nation and its people. Yes, it is good that we remember history. But it would be even better if we honour Lee Kuan Yew by working for the well-being of Singapore and Singaporeans.

“Any veneration could have the opposite effect and lead future generations of Singaporeans to think that my father’s actions were motivated by his desire for fame, or creation of a dynasty. He strove hard and determinedly in life to advance Singapore, and not for his place in history, or leaving a great legacy. He is a rare politician and leader, who did what he had to do with no thought to any gain for himself.”

Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong who transitioned from Prime Minister to Senior Minister just last month, agreed in 2016 that their father “made it very clear throughout his life that he did not need and did not want any monument.”

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Mr Lee Hsien Loong, however, mooted the idea of the Founders Memorial to commemorate not just his father but the team that led Singapore forward. He said, in 2016, “Indeed, Mr Lee himself had thought that there was value in such a memorial.”

Asserting that such a memorial “need not be a grand structure,” Mr Lee Hsien Loong said the development must stand for the ideals and values of Singaporeans.

Mr Lee said, at the ground-breaking ceremony this week: “I hope this Founders’ Memorial will become a space where Singaporeans reflect on our ongoing nation-building journey; appreciate our precious inheritance from the founding generation; and resolve to continue building a harmonious and successful Singapore, based on our foundational values and ideals, for generations to come.”

Interestingly, mainstream media outlets – which covered Mr Lee’s comments as well as the plans for the memorial, right down to what sort of flowers would be available there – did not include information on how much the project would cost.