Lee’s vision and Pakistan

By Dr Shahid Hussain Kamboyo
March 19, 2023

Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore, believed in the importance of meritocracy, pragmatism, and honesty (MPH) as the cornerstones of good governance. His vision and leadership transformed Singapore from a struggling port city to a prosperous and successful nation. Today, Singapore continues to uphold these principles, serving as a model for other countries looking to build strong and effective governments. Pakistan could greatly benefit from Lee Kuan Yew’s vision, particularly in the areas of meritocracy, pragmatism, and honesty.


Meritocracy is the principle that individuals should be selected for positions of responsibility based on their abilities, skills, and knowledge, rather than their political affiliations or personal connections. It was a central pillar of Lee Kuan Yew’s vision for Singapore. He believed that people should be selected for positions of responsibility based on their abilities, rather than their connections or social status. To this end, he established a system of scholarships and awards to encourage academic excellence and talent development. This ensured that Singapore had a pool of talented and qualified individuals to fill key positions in government and the private sector.

In Pakistan, political patronage and nepotism are major problems, with political parties and leaders appointing their loyalists or family members to key positions. This has led to a lack of qualified individuals in important positions, resulting in poor governance, corruption, and inefficiency. By adopting a merit-based approach to appointments, Pakistan could attract and retain the most talented individuals, resulting in better decision-making and improved governance.

Pragmatism is an approach that focuses on practical solutions to problems, based on evidence and experimentation, rather than relying on abstract theories or ideologies. It emphasizes the importance of taking action and experimenting to solve real-world problems, and stresses the need for practical solutions to issues, rather than being driven by ideological or political considerations. Pragmatism is another key element of Lee Kuan Yew’s governance philosophy. That involved a commitment to evidence-based decision-making, a focus on long-term planning, a willingness to make difficult decisions, and a willingness to learn from other countries.

This approach was crucial in transforming Singapore from a developing country to one of the most prosperous and successful nations in the world. He believed in taking a practical approach to problem-solving, focusing on what worked best rather than ideology or dogma. He was known for making tough decisions that were sometimes unpopular but necessary for Singapore’s long-term success. For example, he implemented policies such as compulsory military service, family planning, and the English language as the medium of instruction in schools, which helped to modernize and improve the country.

In Pakistan, there has been a lack of pragmatism in governance, with politicians making unrealistic promises during election campaigns without a clear plan for implementation. This has led to disappointment and disillusionment among citizens, who feel betrayed by the politicians they voted for. By adopting a pragmatic approach to governance, Pakistan could prioritize the most pressing issues and identify the most feasible solutions.

Honesty was also a cornerstone of Lee Kuan Yew’s governance philosophy. He believed in transparency, accountability, and a commitment to the truth. He recognized that corruption and cronyism could undermine public trust in the government, and he took strong measures to combat these problems. He established the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) to investigate and prosecute corruption cases, and he implemented strict laws and regulations to prevent conflicts of interest and unethical behavior. In Pakistan, corruption, bribery, and embezzlement of public funds are common occurrences, eroding public trust in the government and the political process. By promoting honesty and accountability in government operations, Pakistan could ensure that the government is held accountable to the citizens and that decisions are made in the best interest of the country, rather than for personal gain.

These principles have immense scope in Pakistan to be implemented in public sector, policy development, and government transparency, leading to a stronger, more stable, and more prosperous Pakistan but implementation in Pakistan requires a comprehensive plan that includes building political will, creating public awareness, developing a skilled workforce, establishing monitoring and reporting systems, strengthening anti-corruption measures, and encouraging citizen participation.

Achieving these goals will require collaboration between political leaders, civil society organizations, and citizens. However, there are several challenges to implementing these principles in Pakistan, such as political resistance, lack of infrastructure, limited resources, deep-seated corruption, lack of technical expertise, and resistance from interest groups. Addressing these challenges will require a concerted effort from political leaders, civil society, and citizens to build a culture of transparency, accountability, and meritocracy in Pakistan, which will take time, patience, and a long-term commitment to reform.

Under Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership, Singapore became one of the most prosperous and successful countries in the world that was once in a similar situation to Pakistan. His vision helped to build a strong and stable government that was responsive to the needs of its citizens. Today, Singapore continues to prioritize these principles in governance, with a merit-based civil service, a focus on evidence-based policymaking, and strict anti-corruption measures. Therefore, it is highly relevant to the current situation in Pakistan because it provides a roadmap for overcoming the challenges that have held the country back for decades.

The principles of meritocracy and pragmatism are critical for creating a competent and effective government that can tackle complex challenges and implement effective policies. Prioritizing these principles as the cornerstones of democratic governance can help unlock Pakistan’s full potential and lead to a prosperous and thriving democracy. By adopting these principles, Pakistan can learn from Lee Kuan Yew’s vision and build a strong and responsive democracy. However, implementing these principles will require strong leadership, political will, and a long-term commitment to reform. Nonetheless, the benefits of a prosperous and successful Pakistan are enormous.

The writer holds a PhD in public administration and is the author of ‘Basics of Governance & Public Policy’. Currently, he is an LLM scholar at Yong Pung How School of Law, Singapore Management University and can be reached at kamboyo shahidgmail.com