Good Government – LKY
I’m a big fan of Lee Kuan Yew. I couldn’t help but envy Singapore for having such a determined and disciplined leader who cared more for the country’s good than for his popularity. Here’s what he had to say about good government:
Can you have a good government without good men in charge? American Liberals believe you can- have a good system of government with proper separation of powers between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, plus checks and balances between them, regular tussles between Congress and the White House, and between the House of Representatives and the Senate in the US, and there will be good government, even if weak or not so good men win elections and take charge. That’s their belief.
My experience in Asia has led me to a different conclusion. To get good government, you must have good men in charge of it. I have observed in the last 40 years that even with a poor system of government, but with good strong men in charge, people get passable government with decent progress.
On the other hand, I have seen many ideal systems of government fail. Britain and France between them wrote over 80 constitutions for their different colonies. Nothing wrong with the constitution, with the institutions and the checks and balances. But the societies did not have the leaders who could work those institutions, nor the men who respected those. Furthermore, the esteem, the habits of obedience to a person because of his office, not of his person, is something that takes generations to build into people. But the leaders who inherited these constitutions were not equal to the job and their countries failed and their system collapsed into riots, in coups and in revolution…
Singapore must get some of its best in each year’s crop of graduates into government. When I say best, I don’t mean just academic results. His O & A levels, university degreee will only tell you his powers of analysis. That is only 1/3 of the helicopter quality. You’ve then got to assess him for his sense of reality, his imagination, his quality of leadership, his dynamism. But most of all, his character and motivation, because the smarter a man is, the more harm he will do society.
– Speech on Parliament on the White Paper on ministerial salaries, Nov. 1, 1994