Goh Keng Swee
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Goh Keng Swee (Dr) (b. 6 October 1918, Malacca, Malaysia – d. 14 May 2010, Singapore) has often been called the "economic architect" of Singapore, contributing greatly in shaping the development of Singapore into a prosperous nation as Minister for Finance and Minister of Defence. He held several other key appointments, including Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Education, and chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and various government-led companies.
Born into a middle-income Peranakan family in Malacca, he came to Singapore when he was two years old. His early education was at Anglo-Chinese School (1927–1936) and later at Raffles College (1936–1939).
Armed with a diploma in arts, he entered the colonial civil service in 1939, but his career was interrupted by the Japanese Occupation. He rejoined the civil service in 1946 and his outstanding performance earned him a scholarship to study statistics at the London School of Economics (LSE) in 1947. During his stay in London, he started the Malayan Forum, an anti-colonial political group, with some fellow students including Lee Kuan Yew and Toh Chin Chye. Goh became its first chairman.
In 1951, he graduated from LSE with a first class honours in economics and won the William Farr Prize. He resumed work in the civil service back in Singapore, but later returned to LSE for further studies in 1954 and obtained his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1956.
After the Japanese Occupation, Goh joined the Social Welfare Department, where he attained the position of director in 1958. During his time in the colonial civil service, he formed the Council for Joint Action together with K. M. Byrne to seek equal pay for Asian civil servants.
In 1959, he resigned from the civil service and contested the general elections as a People's Action Party (PAP) candidate. He won the Kreta Ayer seat and represented the constituency in the legislative assembly and later the parliament of Singapore until his retirement from politics in 1984. He led various ministries during critical periods in Singapore's history, introducing bold measures to tackle issues in the economy and in the areas of defence and education.
Appointed Minister for Finance in 1959, he introduced an industrialisation programme with the aim of creating jobs for Singaporeans. Jurong, a swampy wasteland at the time, was transformed into Singapore's first industrial estate. To jumpstart the area’s development, he offered incentives and drew in foreign investments. He also initiated the setting up of the Economic Development Board (EDB), which was established in August 1961 with the purpose of furthering the economic development of Singapore by attracting foreign investments.
When Singapore attained independence on 9 August 1965, he became the first defence minister and saw an urgent need for a strong defence force. To quickly build up the Singapore Armed Forces, he implemented compulsory national service for all male Singaporeans above 18 years old.
During his term as Minister of Education, the importance of curriculum development in the education system prompted him to set up the Curriculum Development Institute. To arrest the high dropout rates, he introduced streaming in 1980 to allow students to learn at their own pace within their own capabilities. He also introduced religious education but this was later dropped from the school curriculum.
When he was appointed chairman of MAS and the Board of Commissioner of Currency in 1980, he took measures to promote Singapore as an international financial centre. To this end, in 1984, amendments were made to three major financial regulations, namely the Banking Act, the Monetary Authority of Singapore Act and the Finance Companies Act. During the 1985 recession, he acted swiftly to stop the downward slide of the Singapore dollar.
In the early years of China’s economic reform programme, the Chinese central government sought his expertise and appointed him as its economic adviser on coastal development and tourism in 1985. He was the first foreigner to be appointed to such a role.
In 1985, the Singapore government awarded him the prestigious Order of Temasek (First Class) for his contributions in the nation’s development. To honour him, the financial community set up the Goh Keng Swee Scholarship Fund in 1992, while the National University of Singapore established the Goh Keng Swee Professorship and Master's Scholarship in Economics in 1996. To preserve his legacy, Goh’s wife Phua Swee Liang set up the Goh Keng Swee Foundation in 2008 to help the disadvantaged.
May 1959 – Sep 1963 : Vice-chairman of PAP.
30 May 1959 – 3 Dec 1984 : Legislative assemblyman and later member of parliament for Kreta Ayer.
5 Jun 1959 – 8 Aug 1965 : Minister for Finance.
9 Aug 1965 – 23 Sep 1965 : Minister of Defence and Security.
24 Sep 1965 – 16 Aug 1967 : Minister of the Interior and Defence.
17 Aug 1967 – 10 Aug 1970 : Minister for Finance.
11 Aug 1970 – 11 Feb 1979 : Minister of Defence.
1 Mar 1973 – 31 May 1980 : Deputy Prime Minister.
12 Feb 1979 – 31 May 1980 : Minister of Education.
1 Jun 1980 – Dec 1984 : First Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of MAS.
1 Jun 1981 – Dec 1984 : Minister of Education.
1981 – 1994 : Deputy chairman, Government of Singapore Investment Corporation.
1983 – 1992 : Chairman, Board of Governors, Institute of East Asian Philosophies (later renamed Institute of East Asian Political Economy or IEAPE).
Dec 1984 : Retired from politics.
1985 – 1992 : Deputy chairman, MAS.
1988 – 1994 : Chairman, Singapore Totalisator Board.
1991 : Director, Gateway Technologies Services Pte Ltd.
1992 – 1995 : Executive chairman and chairman of Board of Governors, IEAPE. Chairman, East Asian Consultancy (S) Pte Ltd.
1994 : Chairman, N. M. Rothschild & Sons (S) Ltd.
1995 : Vice-chairman, Hong Leong Asia Ltd.
1996 – 1997 : Deputy chairman, IEAPE.
1966 : Honorary Fellow of LSE.
1972 : Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Services.
1972 : Order of Sikatuna, Philippines.
1985 : Order of Temasek (First Class), Singapore.
1991 : First Distinguished Fellow, EDB Society, Singapore.
1992 : Honorary member of the Singapore International Monetary Exchange.
1993 : Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Hong Kong.
Father: Goh Leng Inn.
Mother: Tan Swee Eng.
Wife: Alice Woon (married in 1942 but separated in 1986); Phua Swee Liang (married in 1991).
Children: One son, Kian Chee.
Grandchildren: Two grandsons, Ken-Yi and Shaoyi.
Great grandchildren: Three great grandsons, Ethan, Sean Christian and Julien.
Retirement and death
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 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 passed away on 14 May 2010.
Jenny Tien & Valerie Chew
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List of images
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(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we can 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.
Goh, Keng Swee, 1918-2010
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