Albert Winsemius


Dutch economist Albert Winsemius (Dr) (b. 1910, Netherlands–d. 1996, The Hague, Netherlands) was an economic adviser to the Singapore government for 24 years. During that time, he contributed greatly to Singapore’s economic development.1

Early life
Born in 1910 to a father in the cheese wholesale business, the young Winsemius soon became involved in the cheese industry,2 working as a cheese maker after school each day. However, the teenager soon realised that “working with your hands usually doesn’t pay too well”, and moved on to being a cheese salesman. Later, Winsemius decided he needed a university education, and at the age of 26, applied to Leiden University to read law as he thought that it was the easiest subject. However, he discovered he had to pass an examination in Latin, and skipped it, and thus failed to meet the entry criteria. He then applied to Delft University, but was rejected because he was found lacking in his secondary school mathematics. Finally, he applied to Rotterdam University. At the time, in order to make ends meet, Winsemius had a job in The Hague, Netherlands, and so he told the dean of Rotterdam University that he would not be able to attend lectures. Despite having his own reservations, the dean allowed Winsemius to enrol in the school.3


One of his first jobs upon graduation, just before the advent of World War II, was to be the price controller for the Netherlands. His main role was to freeze prices during food shortages. He remained in this job until 1943. After the war, he worked at the Ministry of Finance as the country’s director-general of industrial development. There, his role was to repair the economy, which had been damaged by the war.4 From time to time, he also carried out assignments on behalf of the World Bank. Thus, he began to build his growing reputation in the field of developmental economics.5

Contributions to Singapore
In 1960, a year after Singapore gained internal self-government, Winsemius was asked by the United Nations to visit Singapore as part of the United Nations Development Programme team. They were tasked with conducting a survey to assess Singapore’s potential for industrialisation.6 Winsemius arrived on 5 October 1960,7 and made his first report to the Singapore government the following year, advising them that Singapore’s success was dependent on the elimination of communist elements. He also suggested that the statue of Stamford Raffles remain.8 Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, later wrote in his tribute to Winsemius after the latter’s death that “investors wanted to see what the new socialist government in Singapore was going to do to the statue of Raffles.9 Letting [the statue] remain would be a symbol of public acceptance of the legacy of the British and could have a positive effect”.10

Winsemius served as the chief economic adviser to the Singapore government between 1961 and 1984,11 and during this period he worked closely with Singapore’s politicians including Lee, Goh Keng Swee and Hon Sui Sen. He visited twice a year during his term, staying about three weeks each time, and received regular reports from the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Winsemius was called upon in 1965 when the economy suffered from the aftermath of Singapore’s separation from Malaya, as well as from Malaya’s confrontation with Indonesia (1963–66). During that time, he recommended that Singapore reopen barter trade with Indonesia and share a common market with Malaysia.12 However, the latter proved to be implausible. He also advised that Singapore should get more investment from abroad, and improved its ties with the West so that it would have access to their markets.13 

His advice on industrialisation saw the emergence of high-tech industries such as the production of electrical components by the end of the 1960s. Another significant landmark in Singapore’s industrialisation history is the construction of the industrial town of Jurong. Then in 1970, Winsemius envisioned the next lap for a newly industrialised Singapore – that it would be a fully developed industrialised nation within six to eight years and should hence start preparations for making inroads into exporting brain services. Thus, he advised the government to invest money in a new university or technical institute, instead of using governmental funds to build more factories.14 

Winsemius played the role of adviser for around 24 years until 1984.15 He was credited for Singapore’s establishment as an air and sea transport hub, and the development of Singapore’s public housing and the financial sector. For his contributions, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1966, and in 1976, was bestowed the National Trades Union Congress’s highest award, the May Day Gold Medal of Honour. In 1970, the University of Singapore (now National University of Singapore) also awarded him with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. In 1997, he was posthumously honoured with the establishment of an Albert Winsemius Professorship at Nanyang Technological University.16

Winsemius died of pneumonia on 4 December 1996 at the age of 86 years old in The Hague, the Netherlands. He is survived by two daughters, a son and eight grandchildren.17

Family
Wife: Aly Winsemius-Schreiber18

They had two daughters and a son. One of his daughters, Ankie Averink, also worked for the United Nations. She was once called upon to decipher his handwriting for the survey report that he did on Singapore in 1961.19



Author
Christopher Ong




References
1. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, pp. 589–590. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Corfield, S., & Corfield, R. S. (2006). Encyclopedia of Singapore. Singapore: Talisman Publishing Pte Ltd, pp. 238–239. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 COR-[HIS]); Chua, L. H. (1996, December 7). He believed in Singapore’s future. The Straits Times, p. 54; Tamboer, K. (1996, September 23). Dr Albert Winsemius – Singapore’s economic engineerThe Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Chua, L. H. (1996, December 7). He believed in Singapore’s futureThe Straits Times, p. 54; Tan, S. (1996, December 7). Singapores trusted guideThe Straits Times, p. 54. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
3. Foo, F. C., & Thomas, M. (1984, March 4). ‘I had a dream 12 yrs ago’. Singapore Monitor, p. 24; Tan, S. (1996, December 7). Singapores trusted guide. The Straits Times, p. 54. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Foo, F. C., & Thomas, M. (1984, March 4). ‘I had a dream 12 yrs ago’. Singapore Monitor, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Foo, F. C., Thomas, M. (1984, February 26). Dutchman behind Singapore Inc. Singapore Monitor, p. 16; Tan, S. (1996, December 7). Singapore’s trusted guideThe Straits Times, p. 54. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
6. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, pp. 589–590. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Corfield, S., & Corfield, R. S. (2006). Encyclopedia of Singapore. Singapore: Talisman Publishing Pte Ltd, pp. 238–239. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 COR-[HIS]); Ghesquiere, H. (2007). Singapore’s success: Engineering economic growth. Singapore: Thomson Learning, p. 93. (Call no.: RSING 338.95957 GHE); George, T. J. S. (1984). Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, pp. 96–99. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 GEO-[HIS]); Chua, L. H. (1996, December 7). He believed in Singapore’s future. The Straits Times, p. 54; Tamboer, K. (1996, September 23). Dr Albert Winsemius – Singapore’s economic engineer. The Straits Times, p. 34; Albert Winsemius dies of pneumonia. (1996, December 6). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Tan, S. (1996, December 7). Singapore’s trusted guideThe Straits Times, p. 54; UN experts to help S’pore. (1960, October 4). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, pp. 589–590. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Corfield, S., & Corfield, R. S. (2006). Encyclopedia of Singapore. Singapore: Talisman Publishing Pte Ltd, pp. 238–239. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 COR-[HIS])
9. Corfield, S., & Corfield, R. S. (2006). Encyclopedia of Singapore. Singapore: Talisman Publishing Pte Ltd, pp. 238–239. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 COR-[HIS])
10. Lee, K. Y. (1996, December 10). Singapore is indebted to Winsemius: SM. The Straits Times, p. 32; Foo, F. C., & Thomas, M. (1984, February 26). Dutchman behind Singapore Inc. Singapore Monitor, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
11. Lee, E. (2008). Singapore: The unexpected nation. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, p. 269. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE)
12. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, pp. 589–590. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
13. Lee, K. Y. (1996, December 10). Singapore is indebted to Winsemius: SM. The Straits Times, p. 32; Tamboer, K. (1996, September 23). Dr Albert Winsemius – Singapore’s economic engineer. The Straits Times, p. 34; Foo, F. C., & Thomas, M. (1984, February 26). Dutchman behind Singapore Inc. Singapore Monitor, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Corfield, S., & Corfield, R. S. (2006). Encyclopedia of Singapore. Singapore: Talisman Publishing Pte Ltd, pp. 238–239. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 COR-[HIS])
14. Tamboer, K. (1996, September 23). Dr Albert Winsemius – Singapore’s economic engineer. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; George, T. J. S. (1984). Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, pp. 96–99. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 GEO-[HIS])
15. ‘Singapore has become part of my life’. (1984, March 9). Singapore Monitor, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Tan, S. (1996, December 7). Singapore’s trusted guide. The Straits Times, p. 54; National Day honours for 200 in S’pore. (1966, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, pp. 589–590. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Corfield, S., & Corfield, R. S. (2006). Encyclopedia of Singapore. Singapore: Talisman Publishing Pte Ltd, pp. 238–239. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 COR-[HIS])
17. Albert Winsemius dies of pneumonia. (1996, December 6). The Straits Times, p. 1; SM Lee, wife send condolences to Dr Winsemius. (1993, September 21). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. SM Lee, wife send condolences to Dr Winsemius. (1993, September 21). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
19.
Tan, R. (1997, March 20). Proven wrong by a fish. The New Paper, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Further resource
Winsemius, A. (1984, June 19). The dynamics of a developing nation: Singapore. Singapore: Unpublished material.

(Call no.: RSING q330.95957 WIN)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.

Subject
Winsemius, Albert, 1910-1996
Government economists--Singapore--Biography
Pioneers
Law and government>>Trade (Commerce)>>Economic planning
Law and government>>National development
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Personalities>>Biographies>>Pioneers
Singapore--Economic policy