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Goh Keng Swee (6 October 1918 – 14 May 2010) was the second Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore between 1973 and 1984, and a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Kreta Ayer constituency for a quarter of a century. Born in Malacca in the Straits Settlements into a Peranakan family, he came to Singapore at the age of two years. Educated at Raffles College and the London School of Economics and Political Science, his interest in politics began during his time in London where he met fellow students seeking independence for British Malaya, including Abdul Razak, Maurice Baker, Lee Kuan Yew and Toh Chin Chye. From 1945 onwards he worked for the Department of Social Welfare, eventually rising to become its Director. In 1958 he resigned from the Civil Service to work full-time for the People's Action Party (PAP), becoming a key member and later vice-chairman of its Central Executive Committee. The following year he successfully contested the Kreta Ayer seat in the 1959 general election for the Legislative Assembly, and joined the first government of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as Minister for Finance. Upon Singapore's independence on 9 August 1965, Goh became the nation's first Minister for the Interior and Defence. He subsequently served as Finance Minister (1967–1970), Minister for Defence (1970–1979) and Minister for Education (1979–1980, 1981–1984).

Following his retirement from politics, Goh continued to be active in public life, serving as Deputy Chairman of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (1981–1994); Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Institute of East Asian Philosophies (1983–1992) and Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board of Governors of its successor, the Institute of East Asian Political Economy (1992–1995); Economic Adviser to the State Council of the People's Republic of China on coastal development and Adviser on tourism (1985); Deputy Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (1985–1992); Chairman of the Singapore Totalisator Board (1988–1994); adviser to the United Overseas Bank group (from 1993); Chairman of N.M. Rothschild & Sons (Singapore) Ltd. (from 1994); and Vice-Chairman of Hong Leong Asia Ltd. (from 1995).

In 1972, Goh was the recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Services, and was conferred the Order of Sikatuna by the Philippine Government. Following his retirement from politics, in 1985 Goh was awarded the Darjah Utama Temasek (Order of Temasek), First Class, Singapore's highest civilian honour. He was also made the first Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Development Board Society in 1991.

Goh was diagnosed with bladder cancer in September 1983 and he retired from politics in December 1984. He kept a low profile but remained active with various organisations where he served on the board or as an adviser. After he married Phua Swee Liang in 1991, the couple travelled widely to places such as Australia and Hawaii. However, a series of strokes in the late 1990s and early 2000s took a heavy toll on him. He was bedridden in his final years and died on 14 May 2010.

Early years, education and careerEdit

Goh Keng Swee was born in Malacca in the Straits Settlements on 6 October 1918[1] into a middle-income Peranakan family, the fifth of six children.[2] His father Goh Leng Inn was a manager of a rubber plantation, while his mother Tan Swee Eng[3] was from the family that produced the Malaysian politicians Tun Tan Cheng Lock and his son Tun Tan Siew Sin, who would later become Goh's lifelong political opponent.[4][5]

Goh was given the Christian name Robert, which he disliked and refused to respond to. When he was two years old, his family moved from Malacca to Singapore where his maternal grandparents owned several properties. The Gohs later relocated to the Pasir Panjang rubber estate when his father found work there, and became manager in 1933. In common with many Peranakan families, the Gohs spoke both English and Malay at home; church services were held at home on Sundays in Malay.[6] Goh's father Leng Inn and the latter's brothers-in-law Chew Cheng Yong and Goh Hood Keng taught in the Anglo-Chinese School for various periods, and were also involved in the Middle Road Baba Church while Hood Keng was pastor there. Goh himself attended this church as well.[7]

After studying at the Anglo-Chinese Primary School and the Anglo-Chinese Secondary School[2] between 1927 and 1936 where he was second in his class in the Senior Cambridge Examinations, Goh went on to graduate from Raffles College in 1939 with a Class II Diploma in Arts with a special distinction in economics.[3] He then joined the colonial Civil Service as a tax collector with the War Tax Department but, according to his superiors, was not very good at his job and was almost fired.[2] Shortly after the start of World War II, he joined the Singapore Volunteer Corps, a local militia, but returned to his previous work after the fall of Singapore. Goh married Alice Woon, a secretary who was a colleague,[2] in 1942 and they had their only child, Goh Kian Chee, two years later. In 1945 he relocated his young family to Malacca, but they returned to Singapore the following year after the Japanese occupation ended. That year, he joined the Department of Social Welfare, and was active in post-war administration. He became supervisor of the Department's Research Section six months later.[3]

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Goh won a scholarship which enabled him to further his studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). During his time in London, Goh met fellow students seeking independence for British Malaya, including Abdul Razak (later Malaysia's second Prime Minister), Maurice Baker (subsequently Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia), Lee Kuan Yew and Toh Chin Chye. A student discussion group, the Malayan Forum, was organised in 1948 with Goh as the founding chairman.[1][3] Goh graduated with first class honours in economics in 1951, and won the William Farr Prize for achieving the highest marks in statistics.[1] Upon his return to the Department of Social Welfare, he was appointed assistant secretary of its Research Section. In 1952, together with fellow civil servant Kenneth M. Byrne, he formed the Council of Joint Action to lobby against salary and promotion policies that favoured Caucasians over Asians. Byrne later became self-governing Singapore's first Minister for Labour and Minister for Law.[3]

In 1954, Goh was able to return to LSE for doctoral studies with the help of a University of London scholarship. He completed his PhD in Economics in 1956,[8] and returned to the Department of Social Welfare, where he served as Assistant Director and then Director. In 1958 he was made Director of the Social and Economic Research Division in the Chief Minister's Office. He resigned from the civil service in August that year to work full-time for the People's Action Party (PAP).[3]

Political careerEdit

Goh was a key member of the PAP's Central Executive Committee, and later became its vice-chairman. Goh successfully contested the Kreta Ayer seat in the 1959 general election, was elected to the Legislative Assembly on 30 May,[9] and joined the first government of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as Minister for Finance. In this role, he assumed stewardship of Singapore's economy. As a budget deficit of S$14 million was forecast that year, he introduced stringent fiscal discipline which including cutting civil service salaries. As a result of these measures, he was able to announce at the end of the year when delivering the budget that the Government had achieved a surplus of $1 million.[10] He initiated the setting up of the Economic Development Board which was established in August 1961 to attract foreign multinational corporations to invest in Singapore.[1][11] The next year, he started the development of the Jurong industrial estate on the western end of the island which was then a swamp, offering incentives to local and foreign business to locate there.[1][3] According to former Permanent Secretary Sim Kee Boon, Goh admitted that the Jurong project was "an act of faith and he himself jokingly said that this could prove to be Goh's folly".[11] Nonetheless, Goh also felt strongly that "the only way to avoid making mistakes is not to do anything. And that ... will be the ultimate mistake."[12]

In the 1960s, there were great pressures from communist agitators working through Chinese-medium schools and trade unions. Divisions existed within the PAP as well, with a pro-Communist faction working to wrest control of the party from the moderate wing, of which Goh and Lee Kuan Yew were key members. A key source of division was the issue of merger with Malaya to form a new state of Malaysia. Goh and his fellow moderates believed this was a necessary condition for Singapore's economic development because Malaya was a key economic hinterland; merger would also provide an alternate vision against Communism for Singapore's Chinese majority. In July 1961, 16 members of the pro-Communist faction broke away from the PAP to form the Barisan Sosialis, and captured control of the main trade unions.Template:Citation needed

The Singaporean government won approval from Tunku Abdul Rahman for a merger in 1961, with the Tunku being motivated by a desire to stabilise the security situation in Singapore, and notably to neutralise the perceived communist threat. Singapore merged with Malaya and the British Borneo states in 1963 to form the Federation of Malaysia. Merger, however, proved to be problematic for the Singaporean leaders. There was a clash of fundamental principles, both political and economic, notably on the issue of Malay dominance. Communitarian violence in 1964 was inflamed in Singapore by Malay and Chinese activists. According to Lee Kuan Yew, Goh fought to protect Singapore's interests against the Federal Minister of Finance, his cousin Tan Siew Sin, "who was out to spite Singapore". Goh played a crucial role in orchestrating the subsequent secession of Singapore from the Federation on 9 August 1965. After two difficult years, Lee asked him to negotiate with the Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak and Minister for External Affairs Tun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman in July 1965 for Singapore to have a looser arrangement with Malaysia within the Federation. However, following the discussions, Goh decided on his own that it would be better for Malaysia and Singapore to have a clean break.[13] He would later claim this was the "best thing that ever happened to Singapore".Template:Citation needed

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Upon independence in 1965, Goh relinquished his finance portfolio and became Minister for the Interior and Defence until 16 August 1967, assuming responsibilities for strengthening Singapore's military and domestic security capabilities. A key policy was the creation of National Service, a mandatory conscription system for able-bodied young males. He was again Finance Minister between 17 August 1967 and 10 August 1970,[1][3] during which time he declined to allow the central bank to issue currency, favouring instead a currency board system as this would signal to citizens, academics and the financial world that governments cannot "spend their way to prosperity". Subsequently, in 1981, he expressed the view that the central bank need not hold large amounts of cash in reserve to defend the currency, proposing that the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) be established to invest excess reserves. At the time, it was unprecedented for a non-commodity-based economy to have such a sovereign wealth fund.[14]

Goh encouraged the establishment of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in 1968, and on 11 August 1970 he was reappointed Minister for Defence.[1][3] In 1971, he put together the Electronic Warfare Study Group, a team of newly graduated engineers who had excelled in their university studies which was headed by Dr. Tay Eng Soon, then a university lecturer. The group worked on Project Magpie, a secret project to develop Singapore's defence technology capabilities. In 1977, the group was renamed the Defence Science Organisation (DSO). Originally part of the Ministry of Defence, in 1997 the organization became a non-profit corporation called DSO National Laboratories.[15]

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Goh was also responsible for projects that sought to improve Singaporeans' cultural and leisure life, such as the Jurong Bird Park, the Singapore Zoo and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.[16] He backed the construction of the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre in his constituency as a venue for Chinese opera performances.[17] He was also instrumental in introducing rugby in the Singapore Armed Forces and later in schools. In recognition of his role in promoting the sport, the Schools "C" Division Cup is named after him.[18] Impressed by an oceanarium in the Bahamas, he contacted the Sentosa Development Corporation and convinced them to have one.[2] Underwater World Singapore opened in 1991.

On 1 March 1973,[9] Goh was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore concurrently with his other Cabinet portfolio.[3] On 12 February 1979, Goh moved on from the Defence Ministry to the Ministry of Education, where his Goh Report[19] greatly influenced the development of Singapore's education system. He himself was described as both a key political and strategic leader responsible for the transformation of the system over thirty years from "fair" to "great", according to a November 2010 McKinsey report.[20] He set up the Curriculum Development Institute, and introduced key policies such as religious education (subsequently discontinued) and, in 1980, the channelling of students into different programmes of study according to their learning abilities, known as "streaming". Goh served two terms as Education Minister, his first ending on 31 May 1980, and his second following the 1980 general election from 1 June 1981 till his retirement. From 1 June 1980 he was redesignated First Deputy Prime Minister upon S. Rajaratnam being made Second Deputy Prime Minister, and served as Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) until he stepped down from Parliament on 3 December 1984 at the age of 66 years.[1][3][9] In a tribute to mark the occasion, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote: "A whole generation of Singaporeans take their present standard of living for granted because you had laid the foundations of the economy of modern Singapore."[21]

Later lifeEdit

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After retirement from politics, Goh continued to be active in public life, serving as Deputy Chairman of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (1981–1994), Economic Adviser to the State Council of the People's Republic of China on coastal development and Adviser on tourism (1985), Deputy Chairman of the MAS (1985 – 31 May 1992), Chairman of the Singapore Totalisator Board (1988–1994), a Director of Gateway Technologies Services Pte. Ltd. (from 1991), adviser to the United Overseas Bank group (from 1 January 1993), Chairman of N.M. Rothschild & Sons (Singapore) Ltd. (from 1994), and Vice-Chairman of Hong Leong Asia Ltd. (from 1995).[1] Between 1983 and 1992, he was Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Institute of East Asian Philosophies, which was originally founded to study Confucianism. The Institute later turned its focus on China's political and economic development, renaming itself the Institute of East Asian Political Economy, and Goh continued as its Executive Chairman and the Chairman of its Board of Governors until 1995.[3] In April 1997, the Institute was reconstituted as the East Asian Institute, an autonomous research organization under the auspices of the National University of Singapore.[22]

In 1986, Goh separated from his first wife Alice. He married his former Ministry of Education colleague Dr. Phua Swee Liang in 1991.[2][3] He suffered his first stroke in 1999 and another one in 2000 which affected the vision in his right eye.[23] According to Goh's daughter-in-law, Tan Siok Sun, this caused him to withdraw and become extremely quiet. In July 2007 Tan published a biography titled Goh Keng Swee: A Portrait. Goh's second wife issued a statement claiming that Goh had not been consulted on the book and had indicated to her that he did not want any book to be written about him. "Therefore, the publication of this book is contrary to his wishes, and is a show of disregard and utmost disrespect to him." In an interview with The Straits Times, Tan said she did not start the dispute between Mrs. Goh and herself, nor did she wish to prolong it.[24]

Goh died in the early morning of 14 May 2010 at the age of 91, leaving behind his wife, his son, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.[25] His body lay in state at Parliament House from 20 to 22 May,[26] and there was a state funeral on 23 May 2010 at the Singapore Conference Hall followed by a private ceremony for family members at the Mandai Crematorium.[27] The latter was conducted by the pastor-in-charge of Barker Road Methodist Church, with a message delivered by the Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore, Dr. Robert M. Solomon.[7] As a mark of respect, the State flag was flown at half-staff from all Government buildings between 20 and 23 May.[28]

Awards and honoursEdit

In 1966, Goh was made an Honorary Fellow of the LSE. In 1972 he was the recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Services, which is often regarded as Asia's Nobel Prize.[29] It is awarded to people who have demonstrated integrity in government, courageous service to the people, and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society. The same year, the Philippine Government conferred upon him the Order of Sikatuna, which is given to diplomats, officials and nationals of foreign states who have rendered conspicuous services in fostering, developing and strengthening relations between their country and the Philippines.[1]

Following his retirement from politics, in 1985 Goh was awarded the Darjah Utama Temasek (Order of Temasek), First Class, Singapore's highest civilian honour. He was also presented with the LSE's Distinguished Alumnus Award on 21 January 1989,[30] and made the first Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Development Board Society in 1991.[1]

At the National Day Rally on 29 August 2010, the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the Singapore Command and Staff College, where senior officers of the Singapore Armed Forces receive training; and a complex to be constructed at the Ministry of Education's North Buona Vista Road headquarters for specialist teacher training academies in English language, physical education, sports and the arts would be respectively named the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College and the Goh Keng Swee Centre for Education.[31]

WorksEdit

NotesEdit

ReferencesEdit

Further readingEdit

BooksEdit

Eulogies at the state funeralEdit

Letters of condolenceEdit

News reportsEdit

External linksEdit

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