At one point during the Lianhe Zaobao interview, Shanmugam was emotional when talking about how founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and the system he built has benefitted people like him.
59 years old Shanmugam was born in March 1959, two months later, Lee Kuan Yew’s team won the elections and Singapore became independent. He was born in a simple family, they lived in a rental flat. Since young, his studies were never a cause of worry for his parents.
With his good grades, Shanmugam got into Raffles Institution, and graduated from NUS law school as the top student of his cohort with first class honours. He then entered a well-known law firm and became one of Singapore’s top lawyers.
When Dr Thum Ping Tjin wrote in his submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, accusing ruling party PAP and Lee Kuan Yew of being the source of Singapore’s “fake news”, Shanmugam felt strongly that Thum must publicly justify his position.
He explained, “All through my life, I was never met with discrimination, no need to look for handouts. I got the scholarships which I applied for which helped me through my education. After that, I was seen by many as among the top lawyers. I would say the system and the man made me who I am today.”
He feels that his story is not unique, and Thum has also benefitted from the country’s system. Since Thum swore to speak the truth in the hearings, then he has to accept being questioned and debated with, which they did for six hours.
Shanmugam revealed that he spent two days looking up the relevant books and materials, on the other hand, Thum is supposed to have spent his lifetime researching. “If so, why can’t he be questioned?” He asked.
“What did I do? I asked questions. He is the expert, he should know the subject better than me, he should be able to answer all the questions. Why does he end up admitting that he has misled, that what he said is misleading?”
Shanmugam reiterated that Thum was unable to answer his questions. He has not even read the key writings of Chin Peng, the Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Malaya,
“If you have been honest, and you can stand your ground, my questions will fall like arrows on steel. The arrows will break. But in fact it is not steel armour, it is made of cotton wool, it cannot withstand the test.”
But was the six hours worth it?
Shanmugam said, “I think it is a good use of time. In the future when people debate the history of Singapore, there will be the viewpoint that LKY put forward, a viewpoint that is supported by historians. And there will be the counter viewpoint by Dr Thum and a few others. Anyone who wants to look at Thum’s work will also read the transcript, and they will assess for themselves whether his views are credible or not.”
“So is six-hours’ worth it? You decide, I think it is. ”
Minister Shanmugam also talked about the importance of honesty.
Read the first part of the interview here