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Abdullah Tarmugi, Wong Kan Seng, Grace Fu recall LKY's leadership style

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Former speaker of the house Abdullah Tarmugi has only one word to describe founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew - "proper".


Former speaker of the house Abdullah Tarmugi has only one word to describe founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew - "proper".

"He was always 'Proper'," Mr Abdullah said in remembrance of Mr Lee one year after his passing. "This single description, for me, somehow encapsulates everything the man was."

The former speaker was one of three people who spoke on Wednesday at the old Parliament House - now the Arts House - where present and former members of parliament turned up to remember Mr Lee. The others were Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu and former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng.

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and many of his Cabinet members were also at the parliamentarians' remembrance ceremony.

In his speech, Mr Abdullah said: "(Mr Lee's) sense of integrity and of right and wrong, his discipline and standards, his vision. Everything must be done right; nothing was too small or too unimportant."

He recalled an incident during the Sars outbreak in 2003, when everyone who entered parliament premises must have their temperatures checked at the gate. One day, as Mr Lee and his security officers approached Parliament, the Cisco guards were unsure whether to check his temperature. Mr Lee rolled down his window screen and insisted that they do.

"Mr Lee could have just driven through without being checked," Mr Abdullah said. "But he didn't because he knew it was improper for him to do so."

Another thing the former speaker remembered was the need for MPs to ask the Speaker or the Leader of the House for leave when they could not attend Parliament for a day because of other commitments.

"Only Mr Lee made it a point to write a note to the speaker every time he was unable to come to Parliament for the day," Mr Abdullah said. "To my recollection, no other MP did this."

He said that with Mr Lee, "you see what you get; you get what you see". "The smiles are real, whether alone or in front of others. I've seen too many whose smiles are forced and only for public consumption."

Mr Wong, in his speech, recalled a 35-year-old Mr Lee saying: "This will be an era which will light up the dark pages of the history of Singapore."

The former deputy prime minister said that the page was turned during Mr Lee's leadership. "His legacy lives on in Singapore, in the values, principles and high standards that moved Singapore from third world to first."

Mr Wong said that Mr Lee's strategic long-term vision was legendary, but he also paid attention to details. Ministers were encouraged to drive their own cars instead of using drivers. In this way, Mr Lee said, they could then see the road condition for themselves. They could notice things that needed attending to by PWD (Public Works Department).

Ms Fu said that Mr Lee and his team left subsequent generations a rich legacy - strong institutions and systems based on multi-racialism, self-reliance, meritocracy, integrity and rule of law - "values and principles that remain precious and important to us in this present day".

Wednesday's parliamentarians' remembrance ceremony coincided with the launch of The Parliament in Singapore History exhibition in the old Parliament House.

"The exhibition traces Singapore's judicial and legislative history, from the colonial days to 1999 when this building last housed the Parliament," Ms Fu said.

Guided tours of the exhibition for the public are available from March 24 to May 29. More information on the tours can be found at