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Controversy surrounding commemorative packaging featuring Lee Kuan Yew’s image sparks public debate

Controversy surrounds Yeo’s commemorative packaging depicting the portrait of late Lee Kuan Yew, igniting discussions on respect, practicality, and inventive ideas in the public domain.



SINGAPORE: A recent controversy has arisen over a beverage packet featuring an image of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, leading to questions regarding official approval.

On 25 August, a Reddit user shared a photograph of the beverage packet on the social media platform, likening the inclusion of Mr. Lee’s image on the packaging to what they called “a cheap endorsement.”

Furthermore, this raises the query of whether the beverage brand had secured official authorization to feature Mr Lee’s image on its packaging.

Yeo’s, a local food and beverage brand responsible for producing the limited-edition chrysanthemum tea packets with Mr Lee’s image, has affirmed that they sought approval from the authorities for the design of the beverage’s packaging.

However, as per information provided by Mr Lee’s executor, Gutzy has learned that no permission was sought from them.

According to a report by The Straits Times, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) confirmed on Thursday that Yeo’s had indeed consulted them regarding their commemorative initiative.

This consultation aimed to ensure that it adhered to the guidelines concerning the use of Mr Lee’s name and image.

An MCCY spokesperson directed attention to the guidelines available on the ministry’s website, emphasizing that it remains the responsibility of individuals and entities to ensure that their use of Mr Lee’s image complies with intellectual property laws.

Yeo’s chief executive, Ong Yuh Hwang, stated last Saturday (2 Sept) that the company had consulted MCCY to ensure that its “latest initiative to commemorate the centenary year of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s birth” aligned with the published guidelines governing the use of his name and image.

None of the 500,000 limited-edition packets of their popular chrysanthemum tea were available for sale; instead, they were distributed for free, Mr Ong said as reported by The Straits Times.

He also noted that in designing the packaging, they intentionally departed from the usual brand identity of the product, which included bright yellow and red colors and the prominent placement of the logo.

In the commemorative design, green was chosen to symbolize Mr Lee’s visionary role in turning Singapore into an environmentally friendly city.

Additionally, Yeo’s reduced the size of its logo and relocated it from the center to the bottom of the packaging.

Mr Ong expressed hope that Singaporeans would view this gesture from Yeo’s as an attempt to unite the community around the significant value of balancing economic growth with environmental protection, which the late Mr Lee had advocated.

Furthermore, Mr. Ong stated that Yeo’s had partnered with various organizations to distribute the commemorative packs, primarily in educational settings.

These partner organizations included Gardens by the Bay, the National Museum of Singapore, Children’s Museum Singapore, National Parks Board, army camps, Safra clubs, and schools.

In 2016, MCCY issued comprehensive guidelines regarding the use of Mr Lee’s name and image, allowing them to be employed “for purposes of identifying with the nation” while cautioning against their use for “commercial exploitation or (to) be assumed or taken to indicate any kind of official endorsement of products or services.”

Yeo’s invites Singaporeans to join the centenary tribute

On 31 August, Yeo’s took to its Facebook page to reveal the introduction of its special-edition chrysanthemum tea packets, known as “Heritage Chrysanthemum Brew.”

Based on the post, this release serves as a tribute to Mr. Lee’s remarkable role in evolving Singapore from a humble village into a captivating garden city.

Yeo’s also invited individuals to capture a photo of their limited-edition Yeo’s LKY100 package and use the hashtag #YeosLKYCentenary in celebration of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s centenary in September.

This initiative provides an opportunity for all residents of Singapore to join in paying tribute, it said.

The public’s mixed perspectives on commemorative packaging

In a critical assessment, a netizen expressed their dissatisfaction with the concept, suggesting that using the founding father’s image on a perishable item like a packet drink for commemoration may not be the best choice.

They also questioned the judgment MCCY and highlighted the irony of it being distributed for free.

Another netizen questioned the wisdom of using the late Mr Lee’s image on a product to mark his centenary, considering it thoughtless due to the nature of the product being consumable.

They expressed skepticism about the practicality of keeping it as a souvenir and suggested that a notice advising respectful disposal might have been more appropriate.

A subsequent commenter said they acknowledged the importance of commemorating Mr Lee’s centenary but expressed concerns about people potentially discarding the packaging disrespectfully after consuming the drink.

The netizen then expressed discomfort at the idea of cleaners having to sweep such packaging.

A netizen pointed out the practical issue that packet drinks have an expiry date and worries that the packets might be crushed and thrown away since they are not meant to be kept indefinitely.

Conversely, another netizen offered a contrasting perspective by suggesting a solution.

He recommended creating two small holes underneath the packet to drain and consume the drink, then flushing it repeatedly and allowing it to dry.

He propose that this method would enable the packaging to be kept as a keepsake indefinitely.

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As a fitting tribute to this man, and a reminder to those who ignore history, … … his image should adorn and lead all articles available on, … Asian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, … …… … …… … ……

I thought there is law against the use of LKY ‘s imagine.

It is now used in coins and packet drinks. What next?

This is so cheap and dishonourable to LKY. Even if it is for political wins to begin conditioning people’s minds as Tharman’s posters did, it is just too shameful. Please stop it.