Goh Chok Tong



Goh Chok Tong (b. 20 May 1941, Singapore–) was Singapore’s second prime minister (PM), serving in the office from 28 November 1990 to 11 August 2004. Goh first entered politics as a People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate in the 1976 general election. He was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for the Marine Parade constituency (later reconstituted as a group representation constituency, or GRC, in 1988), which he has continued to represent ever since. Prior to becoming PM, Goh served in various ministerial positions: senior minister of state for finance, minister for trade and industry, minister for health, second minister for defence and first deputy prime minister. After stepping down as PM in 2004, Goh served in his successor PM Lee Hsien Loong’s cabinet as senior minister and was also appointed chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).1 Following the May 2011 general election, Goh stepped down from the cabinet. He was subsequently given the honorary title of Emeritus Senior Minister and appointed as a senior advisor to the MAS.2

Early life and education
Goh, the eldest of four siblings, was born in Singapore on 20 May 1941 to Hokkien parents Goh Kah Choon and Quah Kwee Hwa. Goh’s father passed away when he was nine years old, leaving his mother to support the family on her own as a Chinese schoolteacher. With their mother busy at work, Goh and his siblings were largely raised by their grandmother, an uncle and an aunt.3

After completing his primary education at a neighbourhood school in Pasir Panjang in 1954, Goh went on to study at the Raffles Institution. It was during this period that Goh started to exhibit leadership qualities: He was a troop leader in the Boy Scouts, vice-head prefect, editor of the school magazine, as well as captain of the school’s swimming team.4

In 1961, Goh began his undergraduate studies at the University of Singapore (since renamed National University of Singapore) on a government scholarship. He did well enough in his first year of studies to qualify for direct honours in all three subjects he took – English, economics and geography. Goh eventually decided to read economics out of practical considerations. He graduated with first-class honours in economics in 1964 and successfully applied for a university research scholarship to do a master’s degree with the intention of pursuing a career in academia. Two weeks into his postgraduate studies, Goh was told that he could not continue his studies because the Public Service Commission was unwilling to release him from his five-year government bond.5

Entering the civil service
Goh left his academic pursuits behind and joined the Administrative Service in 1964 as an officer in the Economic Planning Unit (EPU). In 1965, Goh successfully applied for a job with petroleum company Shell and decided to leave the civil service. However, then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee wanted him to remain in the EPU. After much consideration, Goh decided to stay in the civil service.6


In 1966, Goh was awarded a fellowship to study at Williams College in Massachusetts, USA. He graduated top of his class a year later and earned a Master of Arts in development economics.7

In August 1969, Goh was seconded to Neptune Orient Lines – Singapore’s national shipping line – as its planning and projects manager. He was subsequently promoted to financial director and then managing director by the end of 1973.8

Entering into politics
In 1976, then Minister for Finance Hon Sui Sen approached Goh to stand as a PAP candidate in that year’s general election. After some persuasion by Hon, Goh agreed to enter into politics and was successfully elected as MP for Marine Parade, a new single-member constituency at the time.9 As MP, Goh introduced many initiatives to improve the lives of his constituents, such as the establishment of residents’ committees (RCs) in the constituency in 1977. RCs were created for several purposes: to promote neighbourliness and community participation among residents; to highlight residents’ needs to government authorities; to serve as a channel for the government to disseminate official policies and receive feedback from people at the grassroots level; and encourage good citizenship among constituents. RCs were subsequently set up in other constituencies.10


A year later, on top of his MP duties, Goh was entrusted with the role of senior minister of state for finance. This was part of the government’s plan to groom him to become a key member of the next generation of leaders that would take over from the team headed by then PM Lee Kuan Yew. Over the years, Goh was assigned several portfolios – Trade and Industry, Health and Defence – before being promoted to first deputy prime minister in 1985.11

Premiership
On 28 November 1990, Goh was sworn in as the second PM of Singapore following PM Lee’s resignation.


Style of governance
Although Goh stressed on continuity in his inaugural speech as PM, he also made it clear that he would be adopting his own style of leadership that would be different from that of his predecessor.12 Goh’s style of governance would later be described as consultative and consensual as compared with his Lee’s no-nonsense authoritarian approach.13


Goh’s more relaxed and affable personality combined with the setting up of consultative units such as the Feedback Unit in March 1985 and the Institute of Policy Studies in December 1987 gave the impression that there was indeed a softening of government rule during his tenure as PM.14 However, Goh’s critics saw the introduction of the Nominated Member of Parliament scheme in 1990 as an attempt to entrench PAP rule.15 There were also limits to Goh’s consultative approach, as out-of-bounds markers were established in the realm of political participation. This was apparent when Goh gave a strongly worded response to writer Catherine Lim’s newspaper articles pertaining to what she saw as a “great affective divide” between the government and the people and a return to a more authoritative style of governance.16

Contributions, policies and schemes
Economy

Goh led the country through trying times such as the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and the economic downturn caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.17 During his premiership, Singapore’s economy grew by an average of 6.4 percent.18 Singapore’s manufacturing sector moved up the value chain, and as part of a regionalisation policy of creating an “external wing” to the economy, emphasis shifted towards investing abroad.19 Major fiscal reforms were introduced in the form of goods and services tax, which provided the government with a broader tax base. Yet, the economic growth that came with Goh’s economic policies also resulted in rising income inequality: The Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality) rose from 0.436 in 1990 to 0.517 in 2004.20

Tackling income inequality
To manage income inequality, Goh focused on improving the education levels of Singaporeans to ensure that they had the relevant skills in a knowledge-based economy, as well as retraining current workers for better employability.21

In 1993, the Edusave scheme was started to motivate students to perform well in school by awarding various grants and scholarships, as well as to level the playing field for students.22 Other programmes launched in the 1990s included the Skills Redevelopment Programme in 1996, which enables workers to upgrade their skills, and PRIME (Programme for Rebuilding and Improving Existing Schools) in 1999 to improve the infrastructure of schools and the quality of education in Singapore.23

In 2003, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency was established to enhance the competitiveness and employability of the workforce. The following year, Goh rolled out the Home Ownership Plus Education scheme, which provides grants for housing, education, and skills training.24


On the housing front, Goh launched measures like the sale of subsidised HDB flats, provision of discounted housing loans and upgrading schemes for older public-housing estates.25 Other means that Goh employed to ensure the redistribution of wealth to the low-income groups included regular CPF top-ups to help citizens with their retirement savings, and the setting up of endowment funds to assist specific groups of people in need. For example, the ElderCare Fund was established to provide financial support to nursing homes, the Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund for low-skilled workers, and Medifund for those with insufficient savings in their Medisave accounts.26 Public funding was also given to community self-help groups such as the Chinese Development Assistance Council, Council on Education for Muslim Children, Singapore Indian Development Association and the Association of Muslim Professionals.27 

Goh announced the New Singapore Shares scheme in 2001 – a means to share with Singaporeans, especially the low-income groups, government budget surpluses during years of good economic growth by issuing special shares.28

Nation-building

Goh was concerned with maintaining the social fabric of the nation, particularly in the face of perceived decadent Western values.29 He embarked on four major nation-building exercises: Shared Values in 1991, National Education initiative in 1997, Singapore 21 vision in 1999 and the Remaking Singapore exercise in 2002.30 Grassroots organisations such as Inter-Racial Confidence Circles, Inter-Religious Harmony Circles and community development councils were also created during his tenure as PM to promote social bonding and cohesion among the different racial and religious communities.31

Foreign policy

During Goh’s time as PM, bilateral relations generally improved between Singapore and its regional neighbours. In the international scene, Goh proposed the creation of a forum initially consisting of 15 member countries of the European Union, seven ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members, China, Japan and Korea. This idea culminated in the launch of the first Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in 1996. Singapore established formal diplomatic relations with China on 3 October 1990. He also sought to engage India with ASEAN and was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in July 2004. Relations with the United States (US) temporarily deteriorated with the caning of American citizen Michael Fay for vandalism in 1994, but Goh managed to rebuild relations. In May 2003, he signed the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement with then US president George W. Bush.32

Medisave
One of the key healthcare implementations that Goh introduced during his term as second minister for health is Medisave – a compulsory national savings scheme that enables Singaporeans to use their own savings to support their hospitalisation expenses.33 The scheme, which rolled out on 1 April 1984, requires Singaporeans to make a monthly contribution of a percentage of their wages to their Medisave accounts.34


Population
Faced with a declining birth rate in the 1980s as a result of the “Two is enough” campaign introduced in the 1970s, Goh announced a pro-natalist “Have three (children), or more if you can afford it” policy on 1 March 1987.35 Two years later, Goh relaxed the immigration policy, lowering the eligibility criteria for foreigners to gain permanent residency. In 2004, the government announced that children born overseas to Singaporean women could be given Singapore citizenship; previously, only those born overseas to Singaporean fathers were eligible for citizenship.36

Defence

During his time as minister for defence, Goh oversaw the development of the Singapore Armed Forces into the most sophisticated and technologically advanced military force in the region. The development of Singapore’s defence capabilities continued during his PM years.37

Stepping down as PM
In July 2004, Goh indicated that he would resign as PM on 12 August 2004 and Lee Hsien Loong would take over the reins.38 At the National Day Parade 2004, a tribute was paid to Goh for his 14 years of contribution as PM.39 Goh tendered his resignation to then president S. R. Nathan on 10 August 2004, and Lee Hsien Loong succeeded Goh as prime minister on 12 August 2004.40


Beyond the PM years
In the new cabinet lineup, Goh assumed the role of senior minister. He was also charged with the responsibility of heading the MAS as chairman.41


In his capacity as senior minister, Goh travelled extensively, cultivating diplomatic ties with other countries. He was instrumental in establishing economic ties between Singapore and the Middle East by establishing networking platforms such as the Asia-Middle East Dialogue, which was first hosted in Singapore in June 2005.42 For his contributions in establishing good relations between Singapore and Australia, he was awarded the Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia on 1 February 2005.43 He was conferred the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun in June 2011 for strengthening ties between Japan and Singapore.44

After the 2011 general election, Goh, along with then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, announced that they would leave the cabinet to allow PM Lee Hsien Loong and his new cabinet to start on a “fresh clean slate”.45 Goh was subsequently given the honorary title of Emeritus Senior Minister and appointed as a senior advisor to the MAS.46

Family
Goh married Tan Choo Leng, whom he has known since his Raffles Institution days, in July 1965. They are parents to a pair of twins: son Jin Hian and daughter Jin Theng.47

Timeline48
20 May 1941: Born to Goh Kah Choon and Quah Kwee Hwa.

1949–1954: Attended primary school in Pasir Panjang.
1955–1960: Attended the Raffles Institution.
1961–1964: Studied at the University of Singapore and graduated with first-class honours in economics.
1964: Joined the Administrative Service as an officer in the Economic Planning Unit.
Jul 1965: Married Tan Choo Leng.
1966–1967: Received a Master of Arts in development economics, Williams College, Massachusetts, USA.
1969–1977: Seconded to Neptune Orient Lines as planning and projects manager, rising to become financial director and eventually managing director.
23 Dec 1976–present: Member of Parliament for Marine Parade constituency.
1 Sep 1977–14 Mar 1979: Senior Minister of State for Finance.
15 Mar 1979–5 Jan 1981: Minister for Trade and Industry.
6 Jan 1981–31 May 1981: Minister for Trade and Industry and Minister for Health.
1 Jun 1981–31 May 1982: Minister for Health and Second Minister for Defence.
1 Jun 1982–1 Jan 1985: Minister for Defence and Second Minister for Health.
2 Jan 1985–27 Nov 1990: First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence.
28 Nov 1990–30 Jun 1991: Prime Minister and Minister for Defence.
1 Jul 1991–12 Aug 2004: Prime Minister.
12 Aug 2004–20 May 2011: Senior Minister.
20 Aug 2004–20 May 2011: Chairman of MAS.
21 May 2011–present: Emeritus Senior Minister and senior advisor to MAS.

Awards and honorary doctorate degrees
1995: Honorary doctorate, Williams College, Massachusetts, USA.49
9 Jul 2004: Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding, India.50
1 Feb 2005: Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia.51
2005: Honorary doctorate, University of New South Wales, Australia.52
2008: Honorary doctorate in Business Administration, University of Pretoria, South Africa.53
24 Jun 2011: Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, Japan.54
4 May 2012: Patron for Advancement of the Singapore University of Technology and Design.55



Author
Koh Qi Rui Vincent



References
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44. Ramesh, S. (2011, June 19). Goh Chok Tong to receive award from Japanese emperor. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
45. Zuraidah Ibrahim. (2011, May 15). Lee Kuan Yew steps down. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
46. Zakir Hussein. (2011, May 19). New cabinet; PM accepts MM, SM’s offer to step down. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
47. Chong, A. (1991). Goh Chok Tong: Singapore’s new premier. Petaling Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications (M), pp. 38–39. (Call no.: RSING 959.57092 CHO-[HIS]);  Saat. A. Rahman (Ed). (2005). Goh Chok Tong, portrait of a leader: A tribute from the Malay/Muslim community of Singapore. Singapore: Tribute to Mr Goh Chok Tong Organising Committee, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING q959.5705 GOH-[HIS])
48. Chong, A. (1991). Goh Chok Tong: Singapore’s new premier. Petaling Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications (M), pp. 29–39. (Call no.: RSING 959.57092 CHO-[HIS]); Lim, A. (Ed.). (2004). Tribute to Goh Chok Tong: Prime minister of Singapore 1990–2004. Singapore: Lim Siew Ming (Pte) Ltd, pp. 8–12. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 TRI-[HIS]); Parliament of Singapore. (2014, September 24). Member’s CV: Mr Goh Chok Tong. Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: http://www.parliament.gov.sg/mp/goh-chok-tong?viewcv=Goh Chok Tong
49. PM returns from Canada, US. (1995, September 20). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
50. Indian Council for Cultural Relations. (n.d.) List of recipients of the Jawaharlal Nehru Award. Retrieved from Indian Council for Cultural Relations website: http://www.iccrindia.net/jnawardlist.html; Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (2004, July 9). Speech by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at the acceptance of the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding at Rashtrapati Bhavan, 9 July 2004, 9.00 pm. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
51. Australian Government. It’s an honour. Retrieved from Australian Government website: http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/honours/honour_roll/search.cfm?aus_award_id=1129364&search_type=simple&showInd=true
52. Kor, K. B. (2008, October 21). Want growth? Get good leaders first. Retrieved from AsiaOne website: http://news.asiaone.com/News/Education/Story/A1Story20081020-94964.html
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54. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (2011, June 22). MFA press statement: Visit by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong to Tokyo, Japan, 22–25 June 2011. Retrieved from Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: http://www.mynewsdesk.com/sg/ministry-of-foreign-affairs/pressreleases/mfa-press-statement-visit-by-emeritus-senior-minister-goh-chok-tong-to-tokyo-japan-22-25-june-2011-653747
55. Channel NewsAsia. (2012, May 5). ESM Goh appointed Patron for Advancement of SUTD. Retrieved from Factiva.




The information in this article is valid as at 17 October 2014 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
Politics and Government
Politicians
Prime ministers--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders
Law and government>>Public administration>>Cabinet (Government Councils)
Personalities
Law and government>>Political process>>Leadership
Goh, Chok Tong, 1941-

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