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Friday, October 12

Pundita's Person of the Week Award goes to Lee Kuan Yew

I don't know how I missed these wonderful comments at the time, which was September 27 -- at the height of the junta's brutal crackdown on the protests:
Singapore's elder statesman, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew referred to Burma's ruling military council as "dumb generals." He said they had mismanaged the economy badly, and would face revolt if their excesses continued.
My point exactly! -- but that such a powerful Asian said it, bluntly and in public, is the best news I've had all week.

A Western author once called Singapore "Disneyland with the death penalty." There are worse fates for a nation, as Burma illustrates. But Burma's rulers are so dumb they don't know that it's entirely possible to run a repressive government and still keep the people well fed, with good health care, gainfully employed, and without slaughtering ethnic groups to keep them in line.

If I were one of Burma's generals, I would be so ashamed of how badly my people were treated that I could not show my face in public. I would be mortified that the entire world saw during the protests how badly off my people were.

Corruption is the real sticking point with Burma's rulers, which is why I doubt they'd willingly take advice from Lee. When he was prime minister he perfectly understood the cancerous effort of rampant corruption:
Lee was well aware how corruption had led to the downfall of the Nationalist Chinese government in mainland China. Fighting against the communists himself, he knew he had to 'clean house'. Lee introduced legislation that gave the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) greater power to conduct arrests, search, call up witnesses, and investigate bank accounts and income tax returns of suspected persons and their family. With Lee’s support, CPIB was given the authority to investigate any officer or minister. Indeed, several ministers were later charged with corruption.

Lee believed that ministers should be well paid in order to maintain a clean and honest government. In 1994, he proposed to link the salaries of ministers, judges, and top civil servants to the salaries of top professionals in the private sector, arguing that this would help recruit and retain talents to serve in the public sector.(1)
That last is a practice that even the United States needs to adopt.

Burma's generals also need to take a hard look at how much Singapore accomplished after independence. They made astounding progress because the government put faith in the energy and resourcefulness of their people. They placed the highest value on human resources.

Above all, Than Shwe needs to abandon the conceit that he represents the tradition of ancient Asia's greatest kings. What great king did not live to serve his people? Shame on Than Shwe, nothing but shame!

1) Wikipedia
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