As Mr Lee would say, when Singapore parted from the alliance with Malaysia after the racial clashes in the early 1960 and Singapore wanted to be an independent state, Singapore’s leaders were in search of a model from which they could draw worthy parallels. The model Lee Kuan Yew picked was Ceylon.

When I eventually asked the time-pressed Prime Minister Lee why Singapore forged ahead from a Third World to a First World country and Sri Lanka which was keen to emulate the city state was still dragging itself virtually on its belly, Mr Lee now on his feet, looked at me almost sadly and said “too much politics” and left.

Some countries will punish the guilty but only if they are from the opposing side. If they are from your side of the political or family fence why then they are released, promoted or given salary hikes to go out and play hookey. And people want to know why we cannot be like Singapore. Of course we can — if nobody insists on MERITOCRACY and HONESTY. The trouble Prof Kishore Mahbubani is that we are extremely short of both — like turmeric, tamarind and truth.

The first pillar is MERITOCRACY. Prof. Mahbubani says Singapore searches for the best people in the country to fill vacant positions. When it comes to selecting the country’s finance minister or economics minister, “Singapore will not give the posts to their brothers, cousins, uncles, relatives. They will give it to the best”.

Prof Mahbubani finds the third pillar the hardest to achieve. That is HONESTY. When Mr Lee became prime minister he wanted to clean up corruption — not so much at the bottom of the rung but at the top. On one occasion when a deputy minister and his family were on holiday with a businessman, the politician was arrested on his return. What wrong had he done to be arrested, he had asked somewhat perplexed.

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