Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Dr. Goh Keng Swee - A Singapore Giant
The following is an article by Corporate Observer:
Dr Goh Keng Swee: A S'pore giant
by admin , May 14, 2010, 1000hrs
By Loh Chee Kong
SINGAPORE (May 14, 2010) - The man behind Singapore's stellar economic growth- masterminding its economic and industrial policies, among his endless list of contributions, as the republic came into its own following independence - died today at the age of 91 after a long battle with illness.
Dr Goh Keng Swee (1918 - 2010)
Born in Malacca, Dr Goh Keng Swee - dubbed as the "economics wizard" and an alumni of the London School of Economics - was Singapore's former Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) who also helmed the finance, defence and education ministries in his 25-year political career.
One of the founding fathers of Singapore and widely seen as its economic architect, Dr Goh retired from politics in 1984 and had shied away from the public eye. From the country's early days, Dr Goh saw the economic imperative of the Singapore society - a central tenet of governance until today.
Dr Goh's trenchant thinking on Singapore's economy continues to influence present-day policymakers.
He once noted: "For us in Singapore, the road to greater wealth is through thrift, enterprise and hard work. The road to stability lies in prudence and foresight in prosperity, and patience and fortitude in adversity. In the swinging age of the new economies, all this sounds old fashioned and Victorian. No doubt it is, but I think it is unrealistic to expect that doctrines worked out for developed economies, when foreign trade forms a relatively small part of the GNP, would apply in their entirety to the exceptional situation that is ours."
He was responsible for setting up many of Singapore's key government agencies, including the Economic Development Board and the Defence Science Organisation, and oversaw the creation of the Singapore Armed Forces and the Jurong Industrial Estate. His legacy also includes policies such as compulsory conscription for male Singaporeans above 18 years old; the Gifted Education Programme; and streaming and religious education in schools.
The 1979 "Goh Report" greatly influenced the development of Singapore's education system - Dr Goh's idea of streaming, in particular, was conceptualized to provide different curriculum and rate of teaching to children of different abilities but the implementation on the ground, especially in the later years, had strayed from the vision.
When Dr Goh was appointed chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Board of Commissioner of Currency in 1980, he took measures to promote Singapore as an international financial centre - making amendments to three major financial regulations: the Banking Act, the MAS Act and the Finance Companies Act. During the 1985 recession, he acted to stop the downward slide of the Singapore dollar.
Another former DPM, Dr Tony Tan, paid tribute to Dr Goh in an issued statement. Dr Tan is the executive director of Government Investment Corporation of Singapore (GIC) - which was set up with Dr Goh's "pivotal" inputs and based on his "resolute belief in the need to protect and grow the hard-earned wealth of Singaporeans continues to influence the GIC community", said Dr Tan.
Dr Tan added: "Today, the idea of the Sovereign Wealth Fund seems natural, but Dr Goh's focus on reserve management was rare among countries in his time. Dr Goh's farsightedness and fortitude laid the foundation for the development of GIC as stewards of Singapore's foreign reserves."
Apart from having a keen mind for numbers, Dr Goh also appreciated the value of music and leisure - he set up the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the Jurong Bird Park. Inspired by a free-flight aviary he visited in Rio de Janeiro during a World Bank Meeting, Dr Goh wanted to build the bird park in Jurong - he saw the place as more than an industrial zone - as an outlet for Singapore families to escape from the urban life.
Dr Goh's prudence in maximising Singapore's limited resources was reflected in his personal life in which his legendary parsimony is well-documented.
His wife had previously recounted to this writer how Dr Goh would bring soap flakes and wash his own clothes on official visits overseas. Once, when Dr Goh was hospitalised, he even chided his wife for being a "wastrel" when she took a piece of tissue paper from the box. Dr Goh, his wife said, would carefully tear a piece of tissue paper into half - keeping the other half in his pocket for later use.
A rabid saver himself, Dr Goh was behind the setting up of POSB Bank - which had waived the minimum sum required by other banks - to help lower income Singaporeans build up their savings.
For all his penchant for hard-nosed economics, Dr Goh could never reconcile the idea of paying high salaries for public officers, including ministers. When it was announced that the British forces would withdraw from the Suez Canal in the late 1960s, Dr Goh knew it would impact the thousands of workers working in the British military bases in Singapore. He called the Accountant General into his room and told him, "We have to cut civil service pay, go and work it out, starting with me."
When he was offered the post of deputy chairman of MAS following his retirement from politics, Dr Goh was offered the same pay that he was drawing as DPM. He asked to be paid half the amount.
A firm believer in meritocracy, one of Dr Goh's greatest fears for Singapore is that it could become an "old boys' club".
He once said: "In advanced societies, it is not so much open nepotism which is to be feared but the insidious 'old boy' type whereby no legalities (sic) are committed but in which the pinnacles of power, influence and wealth are the reserve of those born into the right families."
Dr Goh added: "A system may arise in which the dominant minority... arrogate to itself not only the openings to the seats of power, but also the avenues by which individuals can fit themselves out for such positions of power. The dominant minority is thus able to point out those outside of the charmed circle just do not have the necessary qualifications to be admitted to the elite group."
Following his retirement, Dr Goh would find it hard to read the newspapers or watch the news on television - knowing that he no longer had an influence on the nation's affairs.
While some may see it a pity that Dr Goh had voluntarily cut short his political career and retreated from the public eye prematurely - so much so that many younger Singaporeans have not heard of him - his wife reiterated that Dr Goh never sought "money, power or glory or even to be honoured".
In a booklet she published in 2008 in tribute of her husband, after she had set up the Goh Keng Swee Foundation, Mrs Goh wrote that Dr Goh "made all the contributions... for the nation and for Singaporeans".
She added: "The fact that today's political leaders can go round the world to sell the Singapore success story is in itself satisfaction for him. Dr Goh himself mentioned that God has given him a reward for what he has done for Singapore. His pastor, Reverend Macolm Tan has said that his reward is in heaven."
Rest in peace, Dr Goh, and thank you.