Goh Keng Swee


Goh Keng Swee (Dr) (b. 6 October 1918, Malacca–d. 14 May 2010, Singapore)1 has often been called the “economic architect” of Singapore for his great contributions to the development of Singapore into a prosperous nation during his terms as minister for finance and defence. He held several other key appointments, including deputy prime minister, minister for education as well as chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and various government-led companies.

Early life
Born into a middle-income Peranakan family in Malacca, Goh came to Singapore when he was two years old. His received his early education at Anglo-Chinese School (1927–36) and went on to Raffles College (1936–39).2


Graduating with a diploma in arts, he entered the colonial civil service in 1939, but his career was interrupted by the Japanese Occupation (1942–45).3 Goh 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 1948.4 During his stay in London, Goh started the Malayan Forum, an anticolonial student group, and became its first chairman.5

In 1951, Goh graduated from LSE with first-class honours in economics and won the William Farr Prize.6 He resumed work in the civil service back in Singapore that year,7 but returned to LSE for further studies in 1954 and obtained his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1956.8

Career
Goh returned to work at the Social Welfare Department as an assistant director. He was promoted to the position of director shortly after, and remained in this job until March 1958.9 During his time in the colonial civil service, he formed the Council for Joint Action together with K. M. Byrne in 1952 to seek equal pay for local civil servants.10


In August 1958, he resigned from the civil service and prepared to contest the 1959 general elections as a People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate.11 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 1984.12

Major accomplishments
Appointed the minister for finance in 1959, Goh introduced an industrialisation programme with the aim of creating jobs for Singaporeans. Jurong, then a swampy wasteland, was transformed into Singapore’s first industrial estate. To jumpstart the area’s development, he offered tax incentives and drew in foreign investments.13 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.14


When Singapore separated from Malaysia and attained independence on 9 August 1965, Goh became the nation’s first defence minister and his most pressing task was to build up a strong local defence force.15 To quickly form the Singapore Armed Forces, he implemented compulsory national service for all male Singaporeans aged 18 and above.16

During Goh’s term as minister for education, the importance of curriculum development in the education system prompted him to set up the Curriculum Development Institute in 1980.17 To tackle the high dropout rates, he introduced the streaming system in 1979 to allow students to learn at their own pace and within their own capabilities.18 He also introduced religious education, but this was later removed from the school curriculum.19

When he was appointed the chairman of MAS and the Board of Commissioners of Currency in 1980,20 he took measures to promote Singapore as an international financial centre. To this end, amendments were made in 1984 to three major financial regulations: the Banking Act, Monetary Authority of Singapore Act and the Finance Companies Act. During the 1985 recession, he acted swiftly to stop the slide of the Singapore dollar.21

In the early years of China’s economic reform programme, the Chinese central government sought Goh’s 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.22

In 1985, the Singapore government awarded him the Order of Temasek (First Class) for his contributions to the nation’s development.23 To honour him, some banks in Singapore 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 1996.24 To preserve his legacy, Goh’s wife Phua Swee Liang set up the Goh Keng Swee Foundation in 2008 to help the disadvantaged.25

Timeline26
May 1959–Sep 1963:
Vice-chairman of PA

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 for defence and security
24 Sep 1965–16 Aug 1967: Minister for the interior and defence
17 Aug 1967–10 Aug 1970: Minister for finance
11 Aug 1970–11 Feb 1979: Minister for defence
1 Mar 1973–31 May 1980: Deputy prime minister
12 Feb 1979–31 May 1980: Minister for education
1 Jun 1980–Dec 1984: First deputy prime minister
Aug 1980–Jan 1985: Chairman, MAS27
1 Jun 1981–Dec 1984: Minister for 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: Retires
1985–1992: Deputy chairman, MAS
1988–1994: Chairman, Singapore Totalisator Board
1991: Director, Gateway Technologies Services Pte Ltd
1992–1995: Executive chairman and chairman, 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

Awards28
1966:
Honorary fellow, LSE

1972: Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, Philippines
1972: Order of Sikatuna, Philippines
1985: Order of Temasek (First Class), Singapore
1991: Distinguished fellow, EDB Society, Singapore
1992: Honorary member, Singapore International Monetary Exchange
1993: Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Hong Kong

Family29
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. 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 2010.30




Authors

Jenny Tien & Valerie Chew




References
1. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN); Chew, E., & Kwa, C. G. (2012). Goh Keng Swee: A legacy of public service. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing; S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, p. vii. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092)

2. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 27, 29, 34–38 (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
3. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didiet Millet, pp. 38–40. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
4. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 50, 56. (Call no.: RSING959.5704092 TAN); Chew, E., & Kwa, C. G. (2012). Goh Keng Swee: A legacy of public service. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing; S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, p. 75. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092)
5. Chew, E., & Kwa C. G. (2012). Goh Keng Swee: A legacy of public service. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing; S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, p. 76. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 GOH)
6. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p.65. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
7. Chew, E., & Kwa, C. G. (2012). Goh Keng Swee: A legacy of public service. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing; S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, p. 78. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 GOH)
8. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 74–75, 79. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
9. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 79. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
10. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 78. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN); Chew, E., & Kwa, C.G. (2012). Goh Keng Swee: A legacy of public service. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing; S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, p. 55. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 GOH)
11. Chew, E., & Kwa, C.G. (2012). Goh Keng Swee: A legacy of public service. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing; S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, p. 56. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 GOH)
12. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 83. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
13. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 78, 93–95. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN); National Archives of Singapore. (2008). 10 years that shaped a nation: An exhibition catalogue. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, pp. 66, 70. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 TEN)
14. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 91. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
15. Chew, E., & Kwa, C. G. (2012). Goh Keng Swee: A legacy of public service. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing; S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, pp. 134–140. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 GOH)
16. National Archives of Singapore. (2008). 10 years that shaped a nation: An exhibition catalogue. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, p. 60. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 TEN); Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 209. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
17. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 159. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
18. Chew, E., & Kwa, C. G. (2012). Goh Keng Swee: A legacy of public service. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing; S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, pp. 206, 212. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 GOH); Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 141. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
19. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet p. 158. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
20. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 159. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
21. Kagda, S. (1992, May 20). Mr Fix-It, the architect of S’pore’s economic success. The Business Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 166–167. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
23. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet p. 166. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
24. Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 158. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO); Financial community sets up $4m Goh Keng Swee scholarship fund. (1992, November 28). The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
25. Nur Dianah Suhaimi. (2010, May 16). His work was his passion. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
26. Desker, B,, & Kwa, C. G. (Eds). (2012). Goh Keng Swee: A public career remembered. Singapore: World Scientific; S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, p. xxvi. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 GOH)
27. Monetary Authority of Singapore. (2014, September 3). Overview. Retrieved from MAS website: http://www.mas.gov.sg/about-mas/overview.aspx
28. Desker, B., & Kwa, C. G. (Eds). (2012). Goh Keng Swee: A public career remembered. Singapore: World Scientific; S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, p. xxvii. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 GOH)
29. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 16–17, 169. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)
30. Tan, S. S. (2007). Goh Keng Swee: A portrait. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 165–166, 169. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704092 TAN)



Further resources
Ooi, K. B. (2010). In lieu of ideology: The intellectual biography of Goh Keng Swee. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

(Call no.: RSING 959.570509 OOI)

Goodbye: Goh Keng Swee, 1918–2010. (2010, May/June). Petir. Singapore: People’s Action Party.
(Call no.: RSING 329.95957 P)

In memory of Dr Goh Keng Swee: architect of Singapore's of Singapore's economic, defence and education policies. (2010, July–September). BeMuse. Singapore: Education and Outreach Division of the National Heritage Board, pp. 92–103.
(Call no.: RSING 950 B)

Playing a key role. (2010, May 15). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.

Subject
Politicians
Goh, Keng Swee, 1918-2010
Cabinet officers--Singapore--Biography
Pioneers
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders
Law and government>>Public administration>>Cabinet (Government Councils)
Politicians--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Pioneers
Law and government>>Political process>>Leadership

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