George Edwin Bogaars
George Edwin Bogaars (b. 25 October 1926, Singapore - d. 6 April 1992, Singapore), prominent Dutch-Eurasian, former head of independent Singapore's civil service, taking over from Stanley Stewart, another Eurasian, in 1968. During Bogaars' civil service career, he helped set up a new intelligence unit and a credible army. Bogaars also served as Chairman of the Keppel Shipyard and the National Iron and Steel Mills.
Bogaars' father, George Edwin Bogaars Senior, was the Confidential Secretary to four British Governors, including Sir Shenton Thomas. Before the war, they had their home on St. Patrick's Road at Katong. Bogaars spent a few months of his early education at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in Katong before moving on to St Patrick's School in 1933. There he studied for roughly eight years until 1942, when Singapore fell.
The war disrupted Bogaars' education. They moved to Chancery Lane to be near his father's office at Government House. Bogaars started recording the frequency of Japanese raids until the bombing got so intensified that he could not keep track. They moved out of Chancery Lane and became refugees at the Singapore General Hospital before moving to College Road to stay with his uncle who was a doctor at his doctor quarters. Japanese bombs destroyed the quarters forcing the Bogaars to move again, this time to another uncle's clinic at Sin Chew Hospital in Victoria Street. From here, the family witnessed the Japanese screening of the Chinese and heard the gunfire that followed attempts to run from the Japanese. The Bogaars, as with other Eurasian families, were also called for screening at the Padang. The Eurasians, known for their strict loyalty to the British, became suspects but the Bogaars together with most Europeans survived the screening. The Bogaars moved back to Chancery Lane and had a scare when Bogaars Senior was called up by the Kempeitai. But he outwitted the Japanese into believing that he was just a lowly clerk when in fact he was privy to the correspondence between the Singapore Governor and London. To stay clear of the Japanese radar, the family moved to Bogaars' grandfather's house at St. Francis Road.
The news that a Catholic community settlement was opened up at Bahau Negri Sembilan inspired the family to pack their belongings, expecting a better life away from the Japanese. But life was hard in Bahau as the family struggled to build a house and grow food for themselves. Hunger was a constant battle and so was malaria. Without sheer determination and spirit, the harshness of Bahau would have broken any city folk from Singapore. The day the Allied Forces landed on the Settlement and told them that the Japanese were leaving Malaya and they could return to Singapore, the Settlement danced in celebration.
Education and Career
Two months after the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, the Bogaars arrived in Singapore from Bahau. His family went back to their home at 1A Chancery Lane. He continued his education at Joseph's Institution and then went to Raffles College where he got his general degree in 1950. He earned his BA (Honours) in History and Masters from the University of Malaya in 1951 and 1952 respectively. He would have gone on to get a higher degree at the London School of Oriental and African Studies and become an academic if not for his father's wishes for the younger Bogaars to pursue a career in the administrative service.
In 1952 immediately after graduating, Bogaars joined the government. It was the start of the Malayanisation of the civil service as the British were recruiting locals into the Administrative Service, making Bogaars one of the pioneers. He was assigned to several departments starting with Department of Commerce and Industry and followed by the Finance Department. By 1955, he was acting Deputy Secretary in the Treasury. When Singapore obtained self-rule in 1959, he was approached to reorganise the Special Branch, becoming the first Singaporean to head it. He later ran "Operation Coldstore" on 2 February 1963, which rounded up 114 left-wingers.
When Singapore gained independence in 1965, Bogaars was made Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Interior and Defence where he served under Dr Goh Keng Swee to build up the infant Singapore Armed Forces. He also contributed to the set up of Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute, SAFTI. In 1968, Bogaars became head of civil service and held that appointment until 1975. In 1970, he left the defence ministry to join the Ministry of Finance as Permanent Secretary (Economic Development). This was followed by a stint as Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was then posted back to the Ministry of Finance in 1975 as Permanent Secretary, a post he held until his retirement in 1981.
In 1970, apart from his civil service duties, Bogaars also became the Chairman of Keppel Shipyard, which used to be the dockyard department of the Singapore Harbour Board, the predecessor of the Port Authority of Singapore. This was the time when Singapore was in her early stages of industrialisation and few were keen to invest. The Government set up several industries and nominated senior civil servants to top appointments when they found it hard to find people to run them.
During Bogaars' tenure at Keppel, the company was involved in the Sentosa cable car disaster of January 1983. In 1983, while Bogaars was at the helm, Keppel also acquired 82% of Straits Steamship, paying $408 million in cash. This was then the biggest corporate takeover in Singapore's history. The acquisition was part of Bogaars' plan to diversify Keppel's interest, including in property development. The acquisition was ill timed as Singapore was facing a severe downturn in shiprepair and property. As a result, Keppel paid a big price; a huge debt of nearly $845 million and interest burdens of about $75 million a year. Some criticised the government-linked company for overpaying to acquire Straits Steamship. Bogaars left Keppel in May 1984. His replacement, Sim Kee Boon, another head of civil service, was entrusted with the unenviable task of turning Keppel around. Despite the setback, Bogaars was attributed to turning Keppel from a single shiprepair company to the biggest Singapore-incorporated industrial group.
After leaving Keppel, Bogaars joined National Iron and Steel Mills as chairman but retired the following year. His health had suffered, beginning in December 1984 when he had the first of three strokes, the second in February 1985 and the last in October 1985, with the latest leaving him incapable of walking and speaking. It took him 15 long months in hospital to recover before being discharged.
He lived out his retirement alone with a maid to take care of him, spending much time in physiotherapy. He died of heart failure in 1992. He was 65.
Bogaars was a divorcee with two daughters and one son. He had one younger brother.
Father : George Edwin Bogaars, Colonial Secretarys Office
Sister : Patricia Bogaars
1945-50 : Raffles College Scholar
1952 : Shell Research Fellow
1962 : Meritorious Service Medal
1965 : Pingat Malaysia (Malaysia Medal)
1967 : Distinguished Service Medal
1972 : Honorary Doctor of Letters (University of Singapore)
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The information in this article is valid as at 2008 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.