MM gets Woodrow Wilson Award

AT A glittering gala dinner featuring a tony list of who’s who in the world’s financial capital, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew became the first South-east Asian leader to be conferred the Woodrow Wilson Award for public service.

Singapore banker and former OCBC chairman Lee Seng Wee joined the honours list by receiving a corporate citizenship award.

Some 400 guests, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former Federal Reserve Bank chairman Paul Volcker, IBM head Samuel Palmisano, Singapore property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, and senior US government officials turned up for the event at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Also present were three former US ambassadors who had served in Singapore. Tributes for both the Minister Mentor and Mr Lee flowed from pre-taped video clips that were beamed on two projection screens. They flanked a huge montage of flags of several nation states, including Singapore, just above the podium where the awards were given.

In his speech, Mr Lee Seng Wee who received his award first, said that he accepted the award with “reluctance and trepidation”.

He paid tribute to MM Lee and the Singapore Government for creating the conditions that allowed ordinary citizens like him to do well. “We should pay back to society what we get from them,” he said.

MM Lee drew praise from several respected American statesmen, including former president George H.W. Bush, the father of the current American leader. Mr Bush credited MM Lee for turning Singapore into a leading financial centre and a recognised power in Asia.

Mr Bush said: “He is a man of principle. He stands up for what he believes in. I have known him for a long time and I can say that he is a true leader because people listen to him and follow him.”

Others who spoke highly of MM Lee’s contribution to Singapore’s success included former US state secretaries Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, and former treasury secretary Robert Rubin.

From Singapore, son and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, entrepreneur Ho Kwon Ping, ambassador to the US Chan Heng Chee and Straits Times Political Editor Zuraidah Ibrahim paid tribute to his leadership.

Reflecting on how his father had built up Singapore, PM Lee said: “How did he do it? It was partly character, experience and a deep sense of responsibility.”

The gala dinner was sponsored by several major American and Singaporean corporations.

Mr Fred Bush of the Woodrow Wilson Centre for International Scholars, which administers both awards, said that the event raised US$750,000 (S$1.2 million).

The money will be used to support research in the social sciences and humanities at the institute, which is a living memorial to the 28th president of the United States.

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