VETERAN television journalist Charlie Rose had an exchange with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong over the way the Singapore leadership dealt with insinuations of nepotism.
He also asked Mr Lee about the legacy of his father, and the biggest lesson the Minister Mentor has taught him.
Excerpts from the interview:
Your father is enormously respected around the world. You are his son. Your wife is important in Singapore as a business person, correct?
I'm not sure you'll call her a business person. She's an employee, but you can call her what you want.
You seem to be sensitive to the issue of what's called nepotism.
We are very sensitive.
Tell me about this sensitivity.
The whole of our system is founded on a basic concept of meritocracy. You are where you are because you are the best man for the job, and not because of your connections or your parents or your relatives.
And if anybody doubts that I as Prime Minister am here not because I'm the best man for the job but because my father fixed it, or that my wife runs Temasek because I put her there and not because she's the best woman for the job, then my entire credibility and moral authority is destroyed because I'm not fit to be where I am.
And it is a fundamental issue of fitness to govern.
First, you must have the moral right, then you can make the right decisions. It's a basic Confucian precept.
Only when you have the moral right then can you govern and make the country right. In Singapore, people expect that. And if there's any doubt that this is so, and people believe that I'm there because my father fixed it, or the whole system is just make-believe, then the system would come down.
It's not tenable. If it's true, it'd better be proven and it better be kicked out. If it's not true, it'd better also be proven to be not true and the matter put to rest.
So if some journalist writes about nepotism and you think it's not true...
Well, then we sue him, as we did recently.
Well, we raised the matter with the International Herald Tribune, and they paid damages and apologised and didn't go to court. They could have gone to court.
But you thought what was written in the IHT would somehow attack the moral fibre of your trust with the people you govern.
Yes of course. They compare... They put us in the same list as Kim Jong Il.
Because he inherited his power from his father.
Yes indeed. And in a similar way.
And you say we won't stand for that because it goes to the essence of our moral authority to govern.
Yes, and in this case, in fact, the same journalist and the same newspaper had made the same allegations and apologised and paid damages, and promised never to do it again. And they did it again.
Are you also anxious to send a signal that 'You don't dare write about nepotism in Singapore because the Singaporeans would sue you'?
No. The signal we want to send is that if you want to make an allegation, make sure it is true, and be prepared to prove it.
We were prepared, when we sued them, to go to court, give evidence, enter the witness box and be cross-examined under oath.
And they can bring their lawyers and demolish us and prove that what they said is true. What more can you ask?
What's the legacy of your dad?
He made a state where there was none, a country which would become a nation, which nobody believed could succeed. And he made a system which can run without him and will endure beyond him.
What's the most important lesson he's taught you?
Never say die, however desperate the situation. If you think hard enough, you will find the resource and you will find a way out of it. And don't forget where you came from. It could all be very different.
- end of ST article
To view the full video of PM's interview with Mr Charlie Rose, please click here.