Comments on article: InfopediaTalk
Suppiah Dhanabalan (b. 8 August 1937, Singapore - ), more familiarly known as S. Dhanabalan, is a banker, former civil servant and former politician. He is currently the chairman of Temasek Holdings.
Early life and education
Dhanabalan was born in 1937, the third child and the eldest son in a Tamil family of three girls and three boys. His father was a construction worker at a naval base, and he grew up in a kampung in Paya Lebar. A good student, he attended the now-defunct Rangoon Road Primary School, an all-boys school and one of the few government schools at the time. Some of his contemporaries at school later became prominent politicians, such as former President of Singapore Devan Nair and former Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs S. Jayakumar.
Dhanabalan went on to complete four years at Victoria School and graduated in 1954. He obtained a teaching bursary from the Ministry of Education to study economics at the University of Malaya, eventually graduating with an Honours degree in 1960. In his final year, the ministry wanted him to switch to studying English literature, and he credits then Minister for Finance Goh Keng Swee with a timely intervention that allowed him to complete the course in economics. After graduation, Dhanabalan joined the civil service.
Career in civil service and politics
Dhanabalan began his career in the civil service as an assistant secretary at the Ministry of Finance. He helped to draft the proposal for the formation of the Economic Development Board (EDB), and was seconded to become its first industrial economist when it was established in 1961. He was at EDB until 1968, when EDB founding chairman and former Minister for Finance Hon Sui Sen recruited him to help establish the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS). He joined the bank as vice president, and was executive vice president from 1970 to 1978.
In 1976, he entered politics and served as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Kallang until 1991. While he had initially been reluctant to enter politics, he was aware of the shortage of candidates for public office, and felt that it would be irresponsible if he did not step forward.
He was Senior Minister of State for National Development (1978-1979) and for Foreign Affairs (1979-1980), and then succeeded S. Rajaratnam as Minister for Foreign Affairs (1980-1988). His tenure as Foreign Minister was dominated by Singapore’s active participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Association’s preoccupation with the Indochina crisis.
During this period, he was also Minister for Culture (1981-1984), and Minister for Community Development (1984-1986). These stints were followed by his appointment as Minister for National Development (1987-1992). In this position, he helped to shape housing and land use policies with the introduction of initiatives such as the Integrated Land Use System in 1990 and the 1991 Concept Plan. During his tenure, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) liberalised ownership rules; introduced more varied designs for public housing through the participation of private sector firms in the Design and Build scheme; and handed over management duties to town councils.
In 1981, opposition member Chiam See Tong sued Dhanabalan for libel over remarks the latter had made about the former at an election rally. Dhanabalan made a public apology and the matter was settled out of court, making Chiam the only opposition member ever to win a libel suit against a People’s Action Party (PAP) politician.
In 1988, Lee Kuan Yew identified Dhanabalan as a possible candidate to succeed him as prime minister but concluded that Singaporeans were not ready for an ethnic Indian prime minister, an assessment with which Dhanabalan later agreed.
In the 1991 General Election, Dhanabalan became one of the MPs for the Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency (GRC). The following month, he announced his intention, together with Cabinet colleague Dr Tony Tan, to retire from politics. In September 1992, he resigned from the Cabinet to pursue a career in the private sector, although Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong persuaded him to return to public office several months later when the serving Minister for Trade and Industry, Lee Hsien Loong, was diagnosed with cancer. Dhanabalan took over the portfolio from Lee during the latter’s treatment for and recovery from cancer, serving as Minister from 1992 to 1994. In a seminar in December 2007, Dhanabalan revealed for the first time that his departure from politics in 1992 had been due to differences of opinion with the government, although he did not elaborate further.
During his years in the civil service and in politics, Dhanabalan was widely respected by both colleagues and staff for his intellect, fairness and integrity. Staff members recalled his consultative style of management, decisive manner, down-to-earth character, and concern for the under-privileged.
Activities outside politics
Dhanabalan’s background in economics and banking has served him well in a number of large corporations. He was director of the Government Investment Corporation from 1981 to 2005. He was chairman of Singapore Airlines (SIA) from 1996 to 1998, during which time he dealt with the aftermath of the crash of SilkAir flight MI185 in December 1997. He was also chairman of DBS Group Holdings from 1999 to 2005.
Over the years, Dhanabalan had a close association with the Singapore labour movement. He was appointed to the board of NTUC Income, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) insurance co-operative in 1970. He received the NTUC Friend of Labour award in 1979 and the NTUC Medal of Honour in 1992 for his contributions to the labour movement in Singapore. He was chairman of the Singapore Labour Foundation from 1993 to 1996, replacing Ong Teng Cheong, who had been elected President of Singapore in August 1993.
A staunch Christian of the Baptist denomination, he has been active in social and voluntary causes. He served as president of the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) from 1996 to 2002. Due to his own experience, he was a strong advocate for education as the key to developing the potential of the Indian community in Singapore.
He is also the patron of the Singapore chapter of Habitat For Humanity, a non-profit Christian organisation that builds housing with the help of volunteers. A regular participant in Habitat building events, he worked with other volunteers in September 2004 to build houses on the Indonesian island of Batam.
On 9 August 2007, he was awarded the nation’s highest honour, the Order of Temasek (Second Class) for distinguished service to the country, an award that placed him in the company of other distinguished recipients such as former President of Singapore Wee Kim Wee and Goh Keng Swee.
In July 2009, he joined the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School Advisory Board. In November the same year, he received the NUS Eminent Alumni Award, the university’s highest honour for alumni who have distinguished themselves nationally or internationally through their contributions and achievements.
He is currently chairman of Temasek Holdings, a position that he assumed on 1 October 1996. During his tenure, he presided over the introduction of greater transparency at Temasek, including the publication of the company’s first-ever annual report in 2004, as well as the updating of the company’s charter to emphasise its commercial nature and downplay its government links. He currently sits on the Council of Presidential Advisors, and is a permanent member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.
1960 : Graduated from university and joined the civil service.
1961-1968 : Economist with Economic Development Board.
1968-1978 : Helped to establish the Development Bank of Singapore.
1976-1991 : Member of Parliament for Kallang.
1980-1988 : Minister for Foreign Affairs.
1981-1984 : Minister for Culture.
1981-2005 : Director of Government Investment Corporation.
1984-1986 : Minister for Community Development.
1987-1992 : Minister for National Development.
1992 : Retired from politics.
1992-1993 : Returned to government as Minister for Trade and Industry.
1993-1996 : Chairman of Singapore Labour Foundation.
1996-1998 : Chairman of Singapore Airlines.
1996-present : Chairman of Temasek Holdings.
1998 : Appointed a permanent member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.
1999-2005 : Chairman of DBS Group Holdings.
2004-present : Member of the Council of Presidential Advisors.
2007 : Received the Order of Temasek (Second Class).
Father: Arumugam Suppiah (d. 24 May 1987).
Mother: Gunaretnam Suppiah (b. 1909 – d. 29 December 1984).
Wife: Christine Tan Khoon Hiap.
Joanna HS Tan
Au Yong, J. (2007, December 12). Reluctant politician reveals why he entered the fray. The Straits Times. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
BG Lee to oversee MTI and Mindef in new Cabinet. (1993, December 22). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Chairman of presidential council retires. (2004, January 3). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved on September 26, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Chiam withdraws suit against Dhana. (1981, April 10). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Chua, G. (2007, August 9). Dhanabalan conferred Order of Temasek award. Business Times. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from Factiva.
Chua, M. H. (2007, November 23). S'poreans not ready for non-Chinese PM. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Dhana returns to Cabinet on Monday. (1992, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Dhanabalan honoured by EDB Society. (1999, March 27). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Dhanabalan: How Dr Goh changed my life. (2010, May 24). TODAY. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from Factiva.
Dhanabalan launches land use information system. (1990, November 28). Business Times. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from Factiva.
Dhanabalan receives Medal of Honour. (1992, May 1). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Dhanabalan steps down as SLF chairman. (1996, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved on September 26, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Dhana resigns as Minister of National Development. (1992, August 25). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Dhana tests jeweller's claim. (1990, June 16). The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Doraisamy, S. (1999, July 6). From village boy to bank chairman. Tamil Murasu. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from http://groups.yahoo.com/group/beritamalaysia/message/11060
Henson, B. (1991, September 7). Decision to step down not a hasty one, says Dhana. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
How S'pore wooed the world. (2007, November 23). The Straits Times. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from Factiva.
Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1991, September 7). Dhana's open and consultative style will be missed. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: the encyclopedia (p. 160). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in assoc. with National Heritage Board.
(Call no.: 959.57003 SIN -[HIS])
Lee, C. W. (2004, September 10). Giving…with their sweat. TODAY. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from Factiva.
Lee, B. 3 reasons for publishing Temasek's annual report. (2004, November 3). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Lee, H. S. (1992, August 31). Dhanabalan ends career as minister - no new job lined up. Business Times. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from Factiva.
Lee, S. S. (2007, August 9). A prime mover in nation's economic success. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Nine presented NTUC awards. (1979, May 2). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved on September 26, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Raj, C. (1996, October 1). Dhanabalan appointed Temasek Hldgs chairman. Business Times. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from Factiva.
Tan, C. (2009, August 26). Updated charter underscores Temasek's makeover. Business Times. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from Factiva.
Tan, S. A kind boss and a man of vision under the stern demeanour. (1992, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Tan, T. & Lee, S. S. (2007, August 9). Dhanabalan heads National Day honours list. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Teachers' Day treat for former Rangoon staff. (2009, August 30). The Straits Times. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from Factiva.
Temasek chair and SGX chief to guide NUS business school. (2009, July 1). TODAY. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from Factiva.
3 more sworn into minority rights council. (1998, July 2). The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved on September 26, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
2 ministers among nine who will be honoured. (1979, May 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved on September 26, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Wong, K. (2005, October 6). Dhana to retire as DBS chairman. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved on November 20, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Yap, S. Y. (2004, September 10). Take a brick, build a house for the poor. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved on September 26, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Dhanabalan S., 1937-
Business, finance and industry>>Finance>>Banking
Law and government>>Political process>>Leadership