During the past fortnight, many accolades were heaped on the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister, who died on 23 March. Many of the accolades ignored the contributions of others who contributed to the Singapore success story.
Who were some of these people? Mr Lee's fellow cabinet ministers in the 1960s and 1970s such as Dr Goh Keng Swee, Dr Toh Chin Chye, Mr Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, Mr Hon Sui Sen and Mr Lim Kim San.
Unlike Mr Lee who remained at the centre of political power, these men stopped participating in legislative duties and have dropped out of public view, and possibly public consciousness, for more than a quarter of a century. Mr Lee said:
"I'm not a one-man show. You see my picture everywhere; it make it easier for you to symbolise it with one man. Don't believe it is a one-man show. It cannot be done."read more
Toh Chin Chye
Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
Toh was among the founder members of the People's Action Party and the party's Chairman from its formation in 1954 to 1981, save for a brief period in 1957 when leftists, who dominated the common membership in 1957, elected leftist leaders and took over the party leadership. The founding members were restored when many of the leftist leaders were arrested by Lim Yew Hock in his anti-communist crackdown, allowing for the restoration of the original "basement group" of Toh, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Keng Swee, etc to the Central Executive Committee (CEC). Following this, Toh implemented a cadres system to prevent from the newcomer "ordinary members", including leftist sympathisers, from having undue influence over the membership of the CEC. Toh was elected as a PAP member for Rochor in the 1959 Singapore general election.
Toh was a key member of Lee Kuan Yew's faction in their fight against their rivals within the party. Following the PAP's victory at the 1959 elections, the members of the party's Central Executive Committee voted to decide whether Lee, as the party's Secretary-General, or the party's Treasurer, Ong Eng Guan (who served as the Mayor on the City Council from 1957 to 1959), should take up the newly created post of Prime Minister. The vote was tied (6–6), and Toh, as the party's Chairman, used his casting vote in favour of Lee.
Toh was a tenacious fighter in the battle against the Barisan Sosialis party, a splinter group from the PAP. He managed to defeat Barisan Chairman Lee Siew Choh by a mere 89 votes in the 1963 Singapore general election, his narrowest electoral victory.
Goh Keng Swee
2nd Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
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, 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.
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. 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. 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". 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."
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.
Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
In 1954, Rajaratnam cofounded the People's Action Party together with Lee Kuan Yew, Toh Chin Chye, Goh Keng Swee and others. He became popular among his supporters for being able to effectively follow the 'mood of the people'. He thought of a multiracial Singapore and envisioned her to be a 'global city'. He was also actively involved in organising major political campaigns against Singaporean groups on the far left. During his years in parliament, he served as Minister for Culture (1959), Minister for Foreign Affairs (1965–1980), Minister for Labour (1968–1971), Deputy Prime Minister (1980–1985) and was later appointed as Senior Minister until his retirement in 1988. Rajaratnam is remembered for writing the Singapore National Pledge in 1966.
Rajaratnam was Singapore's first foreign minister, following its abrupt independence in 1965. During his tenure as foreign minister, Rajaratnam helped Singapore gain entry into the United Nations and later the Non-Aligned Movement in 1970. He built up the Foreign Service and helped to establish diplomatic links with other countries and secure international recognition of the new nation's sovereignty. He carried out the foreign policy of international self-assertion to establish Singapore's independence during the period when the country faced significant challenges including the Konfrontasi conflict in the 1960s and the withdrawal of British troops in the early 1970s. Rajaratnam was one of the five "founding fathers" of ASEAN in 1967. In this diplomatic arena together with UN he helped to draw international attention to Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1978. Sompong Sucharitkul, an aide of Thailand's then foreign minister Thanat Khoman, conveys Rajaratnam's stance on ASEAN membership for Sri Lanka in 1967:
I remember one was an economics minister. He waited there anxiously for a signal to join the discussion; but it never came. It was Rajaratnam of Singapore who opposed the inclusion of Sri Lanka. He argued the country's domestic situation was unstable and there would be trouble. Not good for a new organisation.During his term as Minister of Labour, he implemented tough labour laws to attempt to restore stability in the Singaporean economy and attracted multinational corporations to invest in Singapore. This important appointment emphasised the trust that the government had in him in overcoming the challenges Singapore faced. Throughout his political career, he played a key role in the successive pragmatic and technocratic People's Action Party governments that radically improved Singapore's economic situation, alongside huge developments in social development on the island with massive expansion of healthcare programmes, pensions, state housing and extremely low unemployment. This is well underlined by his following statement:
Hon Sui Sen
4th Minister for Finance
After graduation, Hon entered the Straits Settlements Civil Service as a Police Court Magistrate. Following this, he assumed responsibilities as a Deputy Collector of Land Revenue prior to the Japanese occupation of Malaya and Singapore. After the War, Hon remained with the Land Office and by 1957 had become Land Commissioner. In 1960, Hon was attached to the World Bank for an economic management course, where he met Albert Winsemius. Dr. Winsemius led the United Nations Survey Mission to Singapore in late 1960, and was to play a major role in the formulation of Singapore's national economic development strategy.
Hon returned to serve from 1961-1968 as the first Chairman of the Economic Development Board, or EDB, and then from 1968-1970 as Chairman of the Development Bank of Singapore, or DBS. He was also a council member of the Singapore Institute of Management from 1965 to 1968. Hon formally retired from the Civil Service in 1965, but his involvement in Singapore's economic development continued unabated. In 1970, Hon succeeded Goh Keng Swee as Minister of Finance and served in that capacity for 13 years until 1983. In 1982, Hon was named the Economic Minister of the Year by the Euromoney magazine.
As Chairman of the EDB (founded August 1, 1961), Hon played a key role in the implementation of Singapore's industrialization strategy, with the Jurong Industrial Estate (JIE) as the first major project. Sited on swamplands in the west of Singapore, the JIE soon became the centrepiece of an industrialization program that stretched from garments and toys to petrochemicals and electronics. The first factory in Jurong, the National Iron and Steel Mill, was opened on August 2, 1963. By 1968, there were about 300 factories employing 21,000 people in Jurong. In conjunction with the development of the industrial estate, satellite towns were built in the west of Singapore, transforming the Jurong area into a centre of both industrial and residential development.
Lim Kim San
The first Chairman of Housing and Development Board (HDB)
In September 1963, Lim stood for election in the Singapore Legislative Assembly election as a PAP candidate from the Cairnhill constituency. Lim won by a landslide, winning 7,749 votes out of the 11,659 cast. In October, Lim was appointed as Minister for National Development. Also, in recognition of Lim's adept ability of judging a person's merits, he was also brought on board as the PAP's "talent scout".
After Singapore's independence in 1965, Lim served as Minister of Finance for 2 years, before becoming the Minister of Interior and Defence. He held this position for three years until 1970, when Lim was appointed as Chairman of the Public Utilities Board to oversee the development of new water reservoirs. He would hold the chairmanship from 1971 to 1978. In addition to his careers in the political realm, Lim was Chairman of the Port of Singapore Authority for 15 years until 1994. Under his stewardship, Singapore became the world's number one container port.
Lim also served as Deputy Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore from 1981 to 1982. He also served as the Executive Chairman of Singapore Press Holdings. Under his chairmanship, Lim transformed the company into a corporate giant. Lim was also the Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisors, and was the first Chancellor of the Singapore Management University.
Ong Pang Boon
Minister for Home Affairs in the first Cabinet of Singapore
His foray into politics began as a polling agent for Lee Kuan Yew in the 1955 legislative assembly election. He entered parliament as a member for Telok Ayer in the 1959 general elections, a seat he retained till his retirement in 1984. He was subsequently appointed Minister for Home Affairs in the first self-government Cabinet and played a key role to eradicating yellow culture and crime in the Singapore society. His cabinet appointment also made him part of the Internal Security Council which sanctioned Operation Coldstore in 1963.
Ong later took on the highly sensitive Education ministerial portfolio from 1963 to 1970 at a time when Chinese language culture and education issues were highly politicized. By increasing the teaching of English in Chinese schools and vice versa, he was instrumental in laying the foundation for the bilingual policy of which Singapore is famed for. Ong Pang Boon became Labour Minister in 1970. Finally he took over as the Environment Minister in 1980. He retired from politics in 1984 to make way for younger leaders. However, he displayed some unhappiness at the pace and manner of how he was sidelined from the political scene. Lee recognised Ong's displeasure in a public letter of appreciation:
“... I agree with you. You also had misgivings (about some newcomers), as had the late Dr Toh Chin Chye, over the speed of self-renewal and the effect it was having on the morale of the old guard MPs.”Ong is considered as one of the 'Old Guard' - the first generation of leaders of independent Singapore. He is one of its remaining living members, outliving Lee Kuan Yew, along others like Othman Wok, Jek Yeun Thong and Chor Yeok Eng.
Yong Nyuk Lin
Minister of Education
Yong Nyuk Lin (simplified Chinese: 杨玉麟; traditional Chinese: 楊玉麟; pinyin: Yáng Yùlín; 24 June 1918-29 June 2012) was a Singaporean politician. He was born in Seremban, Negri Sembilan, Malaysia and studied in Singapore.
He was the general manager of Overseas Assurance Company when he resigned to stand for elections in 1959. He became the Member of Parliament for Geylang West.
He was in Singapore's first cabinet and served as a minister from 1959 to 1976. His portfolios included Education, Health and Communications.
Chua Sian Chin
Appointed the Minister of Health in April 1968 at the age of 34, making him then the youngest cabinet minister in Singapore’s history
Chua Sian Chin (November 26, 1933 – February 26, 2014) was a government Minister in Singapore. He held the Ministerial portfolios of Health, Education and Home Affairs. He was 34 years of age when appointed in Health Minister in 1968, by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, which made him the youngest minister in Singapore.
Chua was also the Member of Parliament for MacPherson Single Member Constituency from its creation in 1968 until he retired in 1991.
In February 26, 2014, Chua died at the age of 81 after suffering from heart failure.
Tuan Haji Othman bin Wok
Minister for Social Affairs
Othman Wok grew up in a humble family. In the first four years of his life, Othman lived with his Uncle, together with his grandparents and parents, in a kampong area dominated by Malays. He recounted that as a boy, different races lived together harmoniously, and he would have Chinese and Indian playmates whom he conversed with in Bahasa Malay. In his mid-twenties, Othman Wok went to London to receive further education in a polytechnic.
Othman is married with four children. His hobbies include reading and writing ghost stories, one of his books being Malayan Horror: Macabre Tales of Singapore and Malaysia in the 50s, a compilation of stories written by him. Othman has also penned a biography titled: “ Never in my Wildest Dreams”, as a memoir of his life experiences.
Othman is considered as one of the 'Old Guard' - the first generation of leaders of independent Singapore. He is one of its remaining living members, outliving Lee Kuan Yew, along others like Ong Pang Boon, Jek Yeun Thong and Chor Yeok Eng.
Ong Teng Cheong
5th President of Singapore
Ong's political career spanned 21 years. He was a member of parliament (MP), Cabinet Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, before he resigned to become the first elected President of Singapore in 1993.
Ong began his political career through his involvement in grassroots activities in Seletar. He was then introduced to Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
The People's Action Party (PAP) soon fielded him as a candidate in Kim Keat in the 1972 General Election. His first political appointment came just three years later when he was made Senior Minister of State for Communications. At that time, Ong pushed for the development of the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRT), the largest construction project in Singapore's history. During his tenure as the Minister of National Development, Ong was a proponent and advocate of the Mass Rapid Transit system. He later became the Second Deputy Prime Minister in 1985.