Ong Pang Boon


Ong Pang Boon (b. 28 March 1929, Kuala Lumpur, Malaya–) was a politician and a prominent member of the People’s Action Party (PAP). He was appointed the minister for home affairs in the first cabinet of Singapore following the party’s victory in the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election. Ong went on to hold several key ministerial posts during his political career. His other portfolios included education, labour, environment and communications. Ong stepped down from the cabinet in 1984 and was a backbencher until his retirement from politics in 1988.

Early life and education
Ong was born in Kuala Lumpur on 28 March 1929. He received his education at Min Chung Public School, Confucian Middle School and Methodist Boys’ School.1 Thereafter, he attended a technical college in Kuala Lumpur for a few months before joining the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1950 on a scholarship from the Selangor state government.In 1954, Ong graduated with honours in geography.3

Politicisation
Ong’s political awakening came about during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45) when he witnessed Japanese atrocities committed against the local population.4 After the war, he kept up his interest in political issues by reading newspapers and attending political rallies.5 Ong was especially drawn to the ideas of socialism.6

An important milestone in Ong’s political development was his membership in the University of Malaya Socialist Club, where he was the treasurer from 1952 to 1954. Ong also helped raised funds for the defence of the Fajar editorial board, which was charged with sedition for publishing an anti-colonial editorial.During the trial held in August 1954, in which Ong served as a crown witness, he met Lee Kuan Yew who was then representing the defendants.8

Upon his graduation from university, Ong started work at the Federal and Colonial Building Society, later renamed the Malaya Borneo Building Society.9

In 1955, James Puthucheary, a fellow member of the University of Malaya Socialist Club, introduced Ong to PAP’s leaders.10 Ong decided to join the party and started work as an election agent for Lee, who was contesting the Tanjong Pagar seat in the Legislative Assembly General Election held on 2 April 1955.11 As an election agent, Ong did “practically everything which had to do with elections”, including fielding telephone calls, attending meetings, applying for police permits and organising election workers during the campaign.12 

After the election, Ong moved to Kuala Lumpur for his work with the Federal and Colonial Building Society.13 In 1956, Lee wrote to Ong and offered him a job as party organising secretary for the PAP.14 Ong accepted the job offer and in the process took a 35-percent pay reduction, from a monthly salary of $700 to $450.15 Ong became the first fulltime PAP employee and was put in charge of almost all aspects of administrative work, including membership registration, correspondence with members of the public as well as publication of the party newsletter, Petir.16

Ong was a valued PAP member. On top of his organisational skills, Ong served as a bridge between the English-speaking PAP leaders and the largely Chinese-speaking members, given his ability to speak Mandarin and various Chinese dialects.17

In December 1957, Ong was among the PAP candidates elected to the City Council. He was appointed deputy mayor and held the position until April 1959.18


Ministerial positions

In the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election held on 30 May, Ong contested and won the seat for the Telok Ayer constituency.19 He was subsequently appointed minister for home affairs in the first Cabinet of Singapore, a position he held from 1959 to 1963.20 Ong held several other important ministerial positions during his political career, including minister for education (1963–1970), minister for labour (1971–1981), minister for the environment (1981–1984) and minister for communications (1983).21

Campaign against “yellow culture”
During his stint as minister for home affairs, Ong spearheaded the “anti-yellow culture” campaign in June 1959.22 This was a nationwide campaign aimed at eliminating sources of “moral degeneration” in Singapore such as pornography, gambling dens, prostitution and secret societies.23

As part of the campaign to clean up Singapore’s culture, pinball saloons and jukebox dens were closed, and questionable publications had their licenses revoked.24 Mutual-aid clubs and associations found to host gambling activities were shut down.25 In addition, films that portrayed too much violence and sex, or glorified colonialism, were deemed to undermine moral standing and were banned.26 The ban was also extended to films that ridiculed Asians or incited hatred against them.27 

The drive against “yellow culture” was part of a campaign to create a Malayan culture that aimed to “instil a sense of dignity, pride and social responsibility” among the people.28

Fight against crime
As the minister for home affairs, Ong was responsible for reorganising and strengthening the police force to make it more honest, trustworthy and efficient.29 The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) was reorganised in an effort to eradicate corruption and bribery, especially in the civil service.30


Ong also oversaw the introduction of new bills and policies that gave the police and government more powers to deal with secret societies and organised crime.31 As a result, heavier penalties were imposed for gang-related crimes,32 while notorious gangsters were each given an identity card bearing special serial numbers that identified them as such.33

Bilingualism and technical education
As the minister for education, Ong was instrumental in promoting second-language education. In 1968, Ong announced that second language would be made a compulsory subject in the Cambridge School Certificate examination, with the first batch of students sitting this paper in 1969.34 Ong had pushed hard for this policy as he felt that bilingualism was not a matter of compromise but of survival.35 


During his stint in the Ministry of Education, Ong gave more emphasis to technical and vocational education.36 This resulted in an increase in the number of technical schools and student enrolment in these schools. Certain components of technical education were also incorporated into the curriculum of mainstream secondary schools.37

Retirement
By the 1970s, the PAP had co-opted several second-generation leaders into government positions. The first-generation leaders gradually began taking a backseat.38 This move resulted in tensions between the old guard and the new leaders.39 In a speech made at a Bukit Panjang constituency dinner held on 4 October 1980 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the PAP, Ong expressed his disappointment at the replacement of the old guard.40

Ong said that while leadership renewal was necessary, he cautioned the audience – which included then Minister for Trade and Industry Goh Chok Tong and then Minister for Education Tony Tan, both of whom are second-generation leaders – not to forget the contributions of the old guard, who still had a role to play in the development of Singapore.41 

Ong stepped down from the cabinet in 198442 and was a backbencher until his retirement from politics in 1988.43 Upon leaving the cabinet, Ong joined Hong Leong Finance as director until he formally retired from the post in 2001.44 He was admitted to the Order of Nila Utama (First Class) in 1990.45

Family
On 29 May 1961, Ong married Chan Choy Siong, whom he had met during the 1955 general election.46 Chan was the first woman member in the PAP Central Executive Committee, a position she held from 1957 to 1963.47 Chan went on to become a PAP city councillor, legislative assemblywoman and member of Parliament for the Delta constituency,48 and was instrumental in starting the PAP Women’s League.49 Chan was killed in a car accident in February 1981.50 The couple have three children.51 

Timeline
28 March 1929: Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya.

1950–1954: Attends the University of Malaya in Singapore.
1955: Joins the PAP.
1956: Appointed first fulltime organising secretary of the PAP.
Dec 1957– Apr 1959: Deputy mayor of Singapore.
1959–1963: Minister for home affairs.
29 May 1961: Marries Chan Choy Siong.
1963–1970: Minister for education.
1970–1971: Minister without portfolio.52
1971–1981: Minister for labour.
1981–1984: Minister for the environment.
1983: Minister for communications.
1984: Steps down from cabinet.
1984–1988: PAP backbencher.
1990: Conferred Order of Nila Utama (First Class).



Author

Jaime Koh



References
1. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 392. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Ministry of Culture. (1977). Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RSING 328.59570922 BIO)
2. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 392. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 174. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
3. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 392. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Sai, S. M., & Huang, J. L. (1999). The ‘Chinese-educated’ political vanguards: Ong Pang Boon, Lee Khoon Choy & Jek Yeun Thong. In P. E. Lam & K. Y. L. Tan (Eds.), Lee’s lieutenants: Singapore’s old guard (pp. 132–168). New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, p. 133. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 LEE); Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 115. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
4. Sai, S. M., & Huang, J. L. (1999). The ‘Chinese-educated’ political vanguards: Ong Pang Boon, Lee Khoon Choy & Jek Yeun Thong. In P. E. Lam. & K. Y. L. Tan. (Eds.), Lee’s lieutenants: Singapore’s old guard (pp. 132–168). New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, p. 137. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 LEE)
5. Sai, S. M., & Huang, J. L. (1999). The ‘Chinese-educated’ political vanguards: Ong Pang Boon, Lee Khoon Choy & Jek Yeun Thong. In P. E. Lam & K. Y. L. Tan. (Eds.) Lee’s lieutenants: Singapore’s old guard. New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, pp. 132–168 at p. 137. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 LEE)
6. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 115. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
7. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, pp. 392-393. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Tan, J. Q. (2010). Background and impact of the Fajar sedition trial. In S. K. Poh, J. Q. Tan & K. Y. Koh (Eds.), The Fajar generation: The University Socialist Club and the politics of postwar Malaya and Singapore (pp. 119–147). Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, pp. 122–124. (Call no.: RSING 378.5957 FAJ)
8. Tan, J. Q. (2010). Background and impact of the Fajar sedition trial. In S. K. Poh, J. Q. Tan & K. Y. Koh (Eds.), The Fajar generation: The University Socialist Club and the politics of postwar Malaya and Singapore. Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, pp. 122–124. (Call no.: RSING 378.5957 FAJ); Sai, S. M., & Huang, J. L. (1999). The ‘Chinese-educated’ political vanguards: Ong Pang Boon, Lee Khoon Choy & Jek Yeun Thong. In P. E. Lam & K. Y. L. Tan (Eds.), Lee’s lieutenants: Singapore’s old guard (pp. 132–168). New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, p. 137. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 LEE)
9. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP); Singapore: The first ten years of independence, 1965 to 1975. (2007). Singapore: National Library Board and National Archives of Singapore, p. 242. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 SIN-[HIS])
10. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
11. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p 393. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
12. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
13. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 113. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
14. Lee, K. Y. (2000). The Singapore story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: Federal Publications, p. 241. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE-[HIS])
15. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
16. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, pp. 116, 169 (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP); Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 393. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
17. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP); Thank you, thank you. (1984, December 30). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lee, K. Y. (2000). The Singapore story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: Federal Publications, p. 241. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE-[HIS])
18. Singapore: The first ten years of independence, 1965 to 1975. (2007). Singapore: National Library Board and National Archives of Singapore, p. 242. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 SIN-[HIS]); Ministry of Culture. (1977). Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RSING 328.59570922 BIO)
19. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p 393. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Singapore: The first ten years of independence, 1965 to 1975. (2007). Singapore: National Library Board and National Archives of Singapore, p. 242. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 SIN-[HIS])
20. Singapore: The first ten years of independence, 1965 to 1975. (2007). Singapore: National Library Board and National Archives of Singapore, p. 242. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 SIN-[HIS]); PM says ‘thank you’ to Pang Boon. (1984, December 30). Singapore Monitor, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Singapore: The first ten years of independence, 1965 to 1975. (2007). Singapore: National Library Board and National Archives of Singapore, p. 242. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 SIN-[HIS])
22. Lee, K. Y. (2000). The Singapore story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: Federal Publications, p. 236. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE -[HIS])
23. Sai, S. M., & Huang, J. L. (1999). The ‘Chinese-educated’ political vanguards: Ong Pang Boon, Lee Khoon Choy & Jek Yeun Thong”. In P. E. Lam & K. Y. L. Tan (Eds.), Lee’s lieutenants: Singapore’s old guard (pp 132–168). New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, p. 142–143. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 LEE)
24. Juke-box ban and after. (1959, June 26). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; ‘Ban will affect thousands’ claim. (1959, June 16). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Permits of eight papers withdrawn. (1959, June 9). The Straits Times, p.1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG;
25. Govt closes eight clubs: ‘They were used by gamblers’. (1959, August 14). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Seven films banned. (1959, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ban on ‘colonial’ films. (1959, July 5). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Ban on ‘colonial’ films. (1959, July 5). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Peril of pin-table culture – by Home Minister. (1959, June, 25). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Ong has new plan for a stronger police force. (1959, August 1). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Sam, J. (1959, September 18). Minister orders major changes among top police officersThe Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Govt. to train more men for anti-corruption campaign in Singapore. (1960, June 28). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Beat the gangs bill in Singapore. (1959, August 11). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; It's all-out war against gangs. (1959, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Minister: All-out war on gangsters. (1959, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Special number on i-card will tell man is a gangster. (1959, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 34 secret society men set free – with special cards. (1959, November 21). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Sai, S. M., & Huang, J. L. (1999). The ‘Chinese-educated’ political vanguards: Ong Pang Boon, Lee Khoon Choy & Jek Yeun Thong. In P. E. Lam & K. Y. L. Tan (Eds.), Lee’s lieutenants: Singapore’s old guard (pp. 132–168). New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, p. 149. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 LEE); Second tongue compulsory as from 1969. (1968, May 15). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Second tongue compulsory as from 1969. (1968, May 15). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Second tongue compulsory as from 1969. (1968, May 15). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. The four fold emphasis in Singapore's education plan. (1965, December 21). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, pp. 358–361. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
39. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, pp. 360–361. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
40. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 361. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP); Ngoo, I. (1980, October 5). Treat the old guard with dignity: Pang BoonThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Ngoo, I. (1980, October 5). Treat the old guard with dignity: Pang BoonThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p 393. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
43. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 176. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 CHE)
44. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p 393. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
45. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p 393. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Lee, S. (1990, August 9). First generation ministers top honours rollThe Business Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Day honours list 1990. (1990, August 9). The Straits Timesp. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Minister Ong Pang Boon marries his colleague. (1961, May 30). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 125. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
47. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 177. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 CHE)
48. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 125. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
49. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 177. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 CHE)
50. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 125. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
51. Jacob, P. (1981, June 29). Album of Madam Chan – by Pang BoonThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
52. Singapore: The first ten years of independence, 1965 to1975. (2007). Singapore: National Library Board and National Archives of Singapore, p. 242. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 SIN-[HIS])



Further Resources
Govt bans a Malay magazine. (1959, July 10). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Light on yellow. (1959, June 25). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 

Sex and gang films flayed. (1959, August 14). The Singapore Free Press, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

So sorry, but the minister is too busy. (1959, June 17). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Twice wedding was put off because of party work. (1961, May 30). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 15 September 2014 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
Politics and Government
Politicians
Ong, Pang Boon, 1929-
Personalities
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders
Politicians--Singapore--Biography
Law and government>>Public administration>>Ministries of state
Law and government>>Political process>>Leadership

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