Lim Chong Yah


Lim Chong Yah (b. 1932, Malacca, Malaysia–) is an eminent economist and academic best known for serving as chairman of the National Wages Council for 29 years. Lim is professor emeritus at both the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, and was previously the Albert Winsemius chair professor of economics at the latter.

Early life and education
Lim’s father was a shopkeeper, while his mother died when he was eight. In his pre-teen years, Lim farmed rice, tapioca and vegetables to add to the family’s income, and at the age of 14 worked as a bread delivery boy. During the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), Lim saw jobless rubber tappers die of starvation and resolved to move beyond a labourer’s life with the help of education. He excelled academically and was awarded a Malacca Settlement scholarship to study economics at the University of Malaya, then located in Singapore.1


Lim graduated with an honours degree in economics in 1955 and joined the Singapore administrative service, where his posts included assistant financial secretary and second assistant economic adviser.2 Lim was also assistant secretary on a committee chaired by Sydney Caine that helped implement the Central Provident Fund scheme in Singapore.3

He then became a lecturer at the University of Malaya in 1959. In 1962, Lim won a British Commonwealth scholarship to read economics at the University of Oxford, where he studied under Nobel laureate John Hicks, and obtained his doctorate in two years.4

Academic career
Lim returned to the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur as a lecturer and subsequently headed its division of applied economics.5 There was talk of Lim’s potential for a cabinet post in the Malaysian government, but the country suffered from communal tensions in the late 1960s and the University of Singapore offered him a position in 1969.6 Lim’s mentor, Hicks, advised him that he would be better equipped to effect regional change from Singapore, while Lim was also swayed by his time as a student there and the fact that his wife was Singaporean.7


In 1969, Lim joined the University of Singapore as a reader in economics. He was elected dean of the university’s faculty of arts and social sciences, and served in the position from 1971 to 1977.8 He went on to head the department of economics and statistics from 1977 to 1992.9 Under his leadership, the department became the largest economics department in the Asia-Pacific region, and the number of courses increased greatly. More courses were introduced, along with master’s and postdoctoral programmes.10 In 1980, the University of Singapore merged with Nanyang University to form the National University of Singapore (NUS), and Lim then became a senior professor at NUS.

In May 1992, Lim left NUS to become a professor of economics at the Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU’s) school of accountancy and business. He was named professor emeritus at NUS in September 1992.11 The title is the highest academic accolade at NUS and could be retained for life. Lim has also been a visiting professor at a number of universities worldwide, including Ohio University, Kyoto University, Australian National University, Linacre College at the University of Oxford, National Taiwan University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.12

In 1999, a group of employers began fundraising efforts for a professorship in Lim’s name at NUS.13 The Lim Chong Yah Professorship in Arts and Social Sciences was launched in February 2001 with the purpose of engaging eminent professors to lecture and do research at NUS. It was funded with S$1.6 million in donations from companies, unions and individuals.14

Lim has been involved in a number of charitable causes in higher education. In the early 1990s, he set up the Students Emergency Fund at NTU with funds from his speaking engagements and royalties from his books. In 2007, Lim established the Lim Chong Yah Bursary Fund at NTU with a personal donation of S$100,000. This led to the launch of the university’s Campaign for Accessibility to Higher Education, which helps support around 120 financially disadvantaged students each year.15

Lim was appointed the Albert Winsemius chair professor of economics at NTU in 2005, and honoured with the title of emeritus professor by the same university in 2012.16

National Wages Council
In February 1972, Lim was appointed by the Singapore government to chair the National Wages Council (NWC). The NWC is a tripartite body comprising representatives from the unions, employers and the government, which seeks to bring about consensus in wage negotiations. It was used as an instrument of economic restructuring, and adopted a high-wage policy with the aim of easing out labour-intensive, low-paying jobs and economic activities.17


The move to attract jobs with a higher economic value led to the establishment of the Skills Development Fund (SDF), set up to train workers for the demands of the restructured economy.18 Between 1979 and 1982, the SDF advisory council was also chaired by Lim, who is a leading advocate of workers’ training.19

The NWC has been cited as an important factor in avoiding industrial unrest, and the council played an important role during the oil crisis of 1973 to 1974 and the economic recessions of 1985 to 1986 and 1998 to 1999.20 Under Lim’s chairmanship, the NWC has also recommended the extension of the retirement age, a policy of aligning wage adjustments to productivity, the use of part-time and flexible work arrangements to reduce the nation’s reliance on low-income foreign workers and the rejection of a minimum wage. 21

During the 29 years in which Lim chaired the NWC, real wages grew at an average of 4.6 percent per year.22 He handed over the chairmanship of the council to another academic, Lim Pin, in April 2001.23 In 2003, Lim called for a review of the flexible wage system (recommended by the NWC in 1985) and its efficacy in preventing retrenchments during a recession, as well as a re-examination of government policy on foreign workers and its effects on Singaporeans’ wages.24 In 2012, Lim argued for reforms to raise the salaries of low-wage workers, who were underpaid, according to Lim.25

Publishing and other activities
A prolific author, Lim has published more than 160 refereed journal articles, monographs and books.26 Two of his books, Elements of Economic Theory and Economic Structure and Organisation, are well known in Singapore as ‘A’-Level texts.27 His books have been translated into Chinese, Malay and Japanese.28 Lim also edited the Singapore Economic Review from 1978 to 1991.29


Between 1973 to 1991, Lim was president of the Economic Society of Singapore (ESS), and was made an honorary fellow of the society when he stepped down.30 Through the ESS, he founded the Federation of ASEAN Economic Associations and was its president on three separate occasions.31 In addition, Lim was a consultant to the Mauritian government on wage reforms, an economic consultant to United Nations and World Bank commissions, and a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.32

Lim has also sat on various corporate boards, including those of United Overseas Bank, Commercial and Industrial Bank, Delifrance Asia and the Straits Trading Company, as well as acted as international adviser to NEC (Japan).33

Awards

1976: Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star)34
1983: Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal)35
1985: Meritorious Service Award, National Trades Union Congress
1987: Founder’s Distinguished Award, Federation of ASEAN Economic Associations36
1991: Honorary fellow, Economic Society of Singapore37
1993: John W. Ryan Alumni Award for Distinguished Contribution to International Education, Indiana University, United States of America38
1995: Doctor, honoris causa, Soka University, Japan
1996: Honorary professorship from Hainan University, China39
1999: Distinguished Service Award, National Trades Union Congress40
2000: Darjah Utama Bakti Cemerlang (Distinguished Service Order)41

Selected publications
1967:
 Economic Development of Modern Malaya42

1971: Elements of Economic Theory (with Lee Sheng Yi and Chia Siow Yue)43
1973: Economic Structure and Organisation (with Chia Siow Yue, Bhanoji Rao and Ow Chwee Huay)44
1981: Economic Development in Southeast Asia45
1983: Education and National Development46
1984: Economic Restructuring in Singapore47
1988: Policy Options for the Singapore Economy (with associates)48
1991: Development and Underdevelopment49
1998: Wages and Wages Policies: Tripartism in Singapore (co-editor and contributor)50
2001: Economic Essays by Lim Chong Yah
2001: Southeast Asia: The Long Road Ahead51
2014: Singapore’s National Wages Council: An Insider’s View52

Family
Wife: See Nah Nah53
Daughters: Suet Fern54 and Suet Lynn55
Sons: Suet Wun56 and Suet Ron57



Author

Alvin Chua



References
1. Basu, R. (2009, December 5). ‘I owe my life to education’. The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
2. Basu, R. (2009, December 5). ‘I owe my life to education’. The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Nanyang Technological University. (2005, July 26). The Albert Winsemius professorship [Press release]. Retrieved from Nanyang Technological University website: http://www3.ntu.edu.sg/corpcomms2/releases/26%20Jul%2005%20Factsheet_Albert%20Winsemius.pdf
3. Chua, L. H. (2003, October 26). 16% CPF is enough. The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Chng, M. K. (2001, July). Citation on Professor Lim Chong Yah. ECONews, 13. (Call no.: RSING 330 E)
5. Economics don quits Malayan varsity for job in S’pore. (1968, October 11). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Chng, M. K. (2001, July). Citation on Professor Lim Chong Yah. ECONews, 13. (Call no. RSING 330 E); Economics don quits Malayan varsity for job in S’pore. (1968, October 11). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Chng, M. K. (2001, July). Citation on Professor Lim Chong Yah. ECONews, 13. (Call no. RSING 330 E)
8. Prof. Lim is dean of arts faculty. (1971, June 24). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chng, M. K. (2001, July). Citation on Professor Lim Chong Yah. ECONews, 12. (Call no. RSING 330 E)
9. Davie, S and Bungar, J. (1992, September 1). S’pore ‘can reach top of rich nations’ league. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Chng, M. K. (2001, July). Citation on Professor Lim Chong Yah. ECONews, 13. (Call no. RSING 330 E)
11. Davie, S and Bungar, J. (1992, September 1). S’pore ‘can reach top of rich nations’ league. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Lim, C. Y. (1991). Development and underdevelopment. Singapore: Longman Publishers, p. v. (Call no.: RSING 338.9 LIM)
13. $1.5m raised to help set up professorship. (1999, November 23). The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Chair launched at NUS in honour of Lim Chong Yah. (2001, February 3). The Business Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Basu, R. (2009, December 5). ‘I owe my life to education’. The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Nanyang Technological University. (2005, July 26). The Albert Winsemius professorship [Press release]. Retrieved from Nanyang Technological University website: http://www3.ntu.edu.sg/corpcomms2/releases/26%20Jul%2005%20Factsheet_Albert%20Winsemius.pdf; Professor Lim Chong Yah conferred emeritus professor title. (2012, September). ClassAct, p. 114. Retrieved from Nanyang Technological University website: http://enewsletter.ntu.edu.sg/classact/Sep12/Pages/cn10.aspx
17. Lim, C. Y., & Chew, R. (Eds.). (1998). Wages and wages policies: Tripartism in Singapore. Singapore: World Scientific, pp. 51–53. (Call no.: RSING 331.295957 WAG)
18. Tan, A. (1999, November 23). Why SDF remains relevant 20 years on: NWC head. The Business Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Ng, I. (2000, June 9). Mr NWC’s hot seat. The Straits Times, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Wong, A. K. (1982, August 21). Prof Lim resigns from SDF council. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Former NWC chief lauded for his service. (2001, June 22). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ng, I. (1998, November 13). Two implications need to be watched. The Straits Times, p. 64. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Yong, P. A. (1990, May 29). Let built-in pay rise trail productivity growth: NWC. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, C. Y., & Chew, R. (Eds.). (1998). Wages and wages policies: Tripartism in Singapore. Singapore: World Scientific, pp. 61–67. (Call no.: RSING 331.295957 WAG)
22. Former NWC chief lauded for his service. (2001, June 22). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Teh, H. L. (2001, March 30). Lim Pin named chairman of National Wages Council. The Business Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Teo, A. (2003, July 31). Three in four new jobs going to foreigners. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Khin, N. (2005, July 27). S’pore has to tread carefully on foreign labour policy: Prof. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Lin, Y. (2012, April 17). Low-wage workers here ‘underpaid’: Lim Chong Yah. Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
26. Lim, C. Y., & Chew, R. (Eds.). (1998). Wages and wages policies: Tripartism in Singapore. Singapore: World Scientific, p. vii. (Call no.: RSING 331.295957 WAG)
27. Basu, R. (2009, December 5). ‘I owe my life to education’. The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
28. Nanyang Technological University. (2005, July 26). The Albert Winsemius professorship [Press release]. Retrieved from Nanyang Technological University website: http://www3.ntu.edu.sg/corpcomms2/releases/26%20Jul%2005%20Factsheet_Albert%20Winsemius.pdf
29. Lim, C. Y. (1991). Development and underdevelopment. Singapore: Longman Publishers, p. v. (Call no.: RSING 338.9 LIM)
30. James, K. (1991, May 30). Economic Society means business. The Business Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Professor Lim Chong Yah conferred emeritus professor title. (2012, September). ClassAct, 114. Retrieved from Nanyang Technological University website: http://enewsletter.ntu.edu.sg/classact/Sep12/Pages/cn10.aspx
31. Chng, M. K. (2001, July). Citation on Professor Lim Chong Yah. ECONews, 14. (Call no. RSING 330 E)
32. Nanyang Technological University. (2005, July 26). The Albert Winsemius professorship [Press release]. Retrieved from Nanyang Technological University website: http://www3.ntu.edu.sg/corpcomms2/releases/26%20Jul%2005%20Factsheet_Albert%20Winsemius.pdf
33. Nanyang Technological University. (2005, July 26). The Albert Winsemius professorship [Press release]. Retrieved from Nanyang Technological University website: http://www3.ntu.edu.sg/corpcomms2/releases/26%20Jul%2005%20Factsheet_Albert%20Winsemius.pdf
34. Lim, C. Y. (1991). Development and underdevelopment. Singapore: Longman Publishers, p. v. (Call no.: RSING 338.9 LIM)
35. Honours to Chong Yah and I-Tong. (1983, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Lim, C. Y. (1991). Development and underdevelopment. Singapore: Longman Publishers, p. v. (Call no.: RSING 338.9 LIM)
37. James, K. (1991, May 30). Economic Society means business. The Business Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Professor Lim Chong Yah conferred emeritus professor title. (2012, September). ClassAct, 114. Retrieved from Nanyang Technological University website: http://enewsletter.ntu.edu.sg/classact/Sep12/Pages/cn10.aspx
38. Professor receives US award. (1993, July 5). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Lim, J., & Lew, Z. J. (2012, August) The human face of economics. Horizon, 3, 13. Retrieved from Nanyang Technological University website: http://www.hss.ntu.edu.sg/Documents/HSS%20Horizon%20Issue%203.pdf
40. Lim, C. Y. (2009). Southeast Asia: The long road ahead. Singapore: World Scientific, p. viii. (Call no.: RSING 330.959 LIM)
41. National day awards 2000. (2000, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Lim, C.-Y. (1967). Economic development of modern Malaya. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. (Call no.: RSING 330.9595 LIM)
43. Lim, C.-Y., Lee, S.-Y., & Chia, S.-Y. (1975). Elements of economic theory. Singapore Oxford University Press. (Call no.: RSING 330.1 LIM)
44. Lim, C. Y., et al. (1985). Economic structure and organisation. Singapore: Oxford University Press. (Call no.: RSING 330.9595 LIM)
45. Lim, C.-Y. (1981). Economic development in Southeast Asia. Singapore: Federal Publications. (Call no.: RSING 330.959 LIM)
46. Lim, C. Y. (1983). Education and national development. Singapore: Federal Publications. (Call no.: RSING 378.5957 LIM)
47. Lim, C.-Y. (1984). Economic restructuring in Singapore. Kuala Lumpur; Singapore: Federal Publications.(Call no.: RSING 338.06095957 LIM)
48. Lim, C. Y., et al. (1988). Policy options for the Singapore economy. Singapore: McGraw-Hill Book Co. (Call no.: RSING 330. 95957 POL)
49. Lim, C. Y. (1991). Development and underdevelopment. Singapore: Longman Publishers. (Call no.: RSING 338.9 LIM)
50. Lim, C. Y., & Chew, R. (Eds.). (1998). Wages and wages policies: Tripartism in Singapore. Singapore: World Scientific. (Call no.: RSING 331.295957 WAG)
51. Lim, C. Y. (2009). Southeast Asia: The long road ahead. Singapore: World Scientific. (Call no.: RSING 330.959 LIM)
52. Lim, C. Y. (2014). Singapore’s National Wages Council: An insider’s view. Singapore: World Scientific. (Call no.: RSING 331.295957 LIM)
53. Lim, J., & Lew, Z. J. (2012, August) The human face of economics. Horizon, 3, 13. Retrieved from Nanyang Technological University website: http://www.hss.ntu.edu.sg/Documents/HSS%20Horizon%20Issue%203.pdf
54. Lee, A. (2014, March 25) Giving her all is part of the package, part of the fun. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Nanyang Technological University. (2016, January 18). Mrs Lee Suet Fern. Retrieved from Nanyang Technological University website: http://www.ntu.edu.sg/AboutNTU/organisation/Pages/LeeSuetFern.aspx
55. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 198. (Call no.: RSING RSING920.059597 CHE)
56. Parkway Pantai Limited (2016). Management. Retrieved from Parkway Pantai website: http://www.parkwaypantai.com/about_parkway_pantai/management/
57. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 198. (Call no.: RSING RSING920.059597 CHE)



Further resources
Ahmad Osman. (1998, March 7). What goes on behind closed doors during NWC talks. The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Ahmad Osman. (1998, November 12). NWC – Cut wages by 5-8%. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Tan, M. (2012, April 10). Professor’s ‘shock therapy’ to revamp wages. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.

Teh, S. N. (2012, April 11). Rationale behind Lim Chong Yah's wage shock therapy. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.

Yeo, J. (1972, February 12). 5-year pay rise control? The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2015 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
Law and government>>Public finance
Education
Politics and Government>>Education
Government economists--Singapore--Biography
Personalities
Personalities>>Biographies
Business, finance and industry>>Economics
Commerce and Industry
Trade and industry
Singapore--Economic policy
Lim, Chong-Yah, 1932-
Economy

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