Monday, June 14, 2010

Lim Kim San: One Man, Many Hats

The young bank officer being introduced to Mr Lim Kim San at his SPH office could scarcely believe the words uttered in a moment of candour, "One thing you can say of the PAP, they look after their own kind. If it weren't for them, I'll be sleeping in the streets." Lim was appointed executive chairman of Singapore Press Holdings from 1988 to 2002, and senior adviser till he retired in 2005. He died in July 2006.

Former Straits Times senior writer Asad Latif never had the opportunity of such a eye-opening perspective, as his book, "Lim Kim San: A Builder Of Singapore", was written without a single personal interview with his subject. His literary effort is more accurately described as a review of Lim's Oral History Inteview as conducted by a Mrs Lily Tan, a former director of the National Archives, and in all probability a civil servant who was fully aware her paycheck was determined by her sense of political correctness.

Latif also depended as his source of information on the "builder, political leader and corporate icon" inteviews with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. As in the "Men In White" book, the author allowed the duo to paint history as they saw it. And take snipes at their political adversaries.

In the Latif book, Lee is quoted as describing Ong Eng Guan as a "maverick, unstable minister in the National Development Ministry who was out to make a name for himself at all costs and was unstable and reckless." Ong apparently irked the man because, we are told, he wanted to turn the Istana into public housing, i.e. covert the state land to house the masses instead of serving one useless figurehead. That has to be a popular recommendation, relevant even in today's political climate.

And when Ong Teng Cheong wanted to do more than be a useless figurehead, Lee said, "Ong wanted to have a powerful presidency (to guard the nation's reserves). This may be unkind (it definitely is), maybe his chemotherapy and his problem with his cancer may have affected his judgement. He wanted to stay on as the president and die in office." The public record has it that Ong Teng Cheong decided not to run for a second term as elected president because he had cancer. And President Ong was not given all the trappings of a state funeral.

According to Goh Chok Tong's version of the clash, "His (Lim Kim San's) advice to the president then (Ong Teng Cheong) was to put a system in place to check the Government but not approach it as though the present government was a rogue government." In other words, only a non-PAP government can ever qualify as a rogue government. That's the kind of advice one expects from one who knows which side of his bread is being buttered.

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