Friday, May 8, 2009

Singapore's green pull

SPRUCING up and greening Singapore with trees all over the island was a key economic strategy from Day One, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said on Wednesday night.

In order to differentiate the country from its larger neighbours, one of his first tasks on becoming Prime Minister was to develop a Garden City with good infrastructure and telecommunications.

To woo investors from developed countries, 'we had to make this a First World oasis in a Third World region', he told some 600 guests from the public and private sectors, non-governmental organisations and the landscape and horticulture industry at a dinner marking the Botanic Gardens' 150th anniversary.

MM Lee took part in a dialogue at the event on the greening of Singapore, moderated by Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh.

Professor Koh asked him at the start of the hour-long dialogue why cleaning up 'dirty and smelly' Singapore was a priority when it faced numerous other challenges upon gaining independence in 1965.

'It was part of a bigger plan. After we were asked to leave Malaya, we had to work out a strategy which would allow a little island dependent on Malaya for its hinterland to survive,' MM Lee said.

What could be done immediately was 'to show investors that this was a well-organised place', he said of what was effectively Singapore's secret weapon.

Coming from the airport into town, they would pass by lush greenery, and when they visited him in the Istana, they would see well-maintained lawns and shrubs.

'So without having to tell anything to the chief executive officer, I knew he would understand that when I say we will deliver, he knows we can deliver; that this is a country where the administration works, where there is a system,' he said.

The fact is, he added with a laugh, 'you can't just plant a tree and walk away. The tree will die'.

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