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Plans to erect Founders’ Memorial moves forward despite Lee Kuan Yew’s aversion to monuments

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The authorities are moving forward with their plans to erect a Founders’ Memorial in Singapore, in spite of late elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew’s aversion to monuments.

The Government announced its plans to build a Founders’ Memorial a mere three months after the nation’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew passed away in March 2015.

Interestingly, in April 2015, a month after his father’s passing, Singapore’s current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that his father did not care for monuments. He had said in Parliament: “Mr Lee made it very clear throughout his life that he did not need and did not want any monument… Mr Lee was very careful never to allow a personality cult to grow around him, much less to encourage one himself.”

Oddly, the Government commissioned a committee to look into developing a Founders’ Memorial, that would presumably feature Lee Kuan Yew among others, two months after Lee Hsien Loong noted his father’s dislike for monuments, in June 2015.

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The national broadsheet reported last week that the plans to erect the Founders’ Memorial, at 5ha plot in Bay East Garden at Marina Bay, have moved into the design phase.

A 15-member committee in charge of the project has projected that construction for the memorial site –  which will be located in a garden and feature an indoor gallery, a visitor’s centre and multi-purpose rooms – will begin by 2021. It is unclear if the committee’s earlier projection that the memorial will be opened to the public by 2025 still stands.

The committee will soon be calling for ideas on how the Founders’ Memorial should look like and plans to launch a design competition in January 2019 for the aesthetics of the memorial which will cover the key milestones in the nation’s growth – from the period after World War II to the first decades post-independence.

The committee’s chairman, Lee Tzu Yang, said at a media conference last week that the project is not meant to focus on personalities and people but aims to capture the values and ideals that shaped Singapore. He added, “I think (the late) Mr Lee Kuan Yew would have wanted that.”

Despite Lee’s assurance, it can be assumed that Lee Kuan Yew – who is oft considered the founding father of the nation – will be featured extensively in the memorial that covers the early days of an independent Singapore.

Lee Kuan Yew’s aversion to monuments is well-known. One month after his death, his second child and only daughter Lee Wei Ling wrote in an article on the national broadsheet: “…I was baffled by the news that our MPs were suggesting naming various structures or institutions after Papa.

“Papa had worked hard to prevent any personality cult from growing around him. It would most certainly go against what he would want and what he stood for in life, such as service to Singapore and Singaporeans, because that was the right thing to do, without any ulterior motive, least of all self-promotion.”

She added: “The best response to Papa’s passing is to honour the spirit of what he stood for, which is the welfare of Singaporeans. There is much that we can all work towards for this purpose.

“Similarly, to fuss over Papa’s personal objects or portrait defeats the purpose that he had strived for so diligently in life, which was the welfare of Singaporeans.”

Months after her article, in July this year, Lee Wei Ling and her younger brother Lee Hsien Yang alleged that Lee Hsien Loong was trying to preserve their father’s house at 38 Oxley Road against their father’s last wishes to demolish the house after his death.

The younger siblings alleged that their elder brother was trying to solidify his grip on power by preserving the house, that he had plans to groom his son for politics and that he used state organs to silence them.

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