The Economic Architect of Singapore Passes Away

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 5/22/2010 10:50:00 PM
It is with sadness that I report the passing of one of the great men who built the country that is now the envy of the rest of Southeast Asia and, indeed, much of the developing world. Although many Westerners do not know him, the great man Goh Keng Swee who recently passed away last Friday, 14 May, is widely considered to be the driving force of Singapore's economic rise. While Lee Kuan Yew's name is now synonymous with a brand of "benevolent authoritarianism" that has caught the eye of the Western media, it is the lesser-known Goh Keng Swee who takes just as much if not more credit in engineering the amazing growth story that is this modern city-state.

Here is a brief biography of Goh Keng Swee from the LSE alumni website. What is notable about him is that his expertise did not lie just in economics, he served as a central banker, defence minister, and, underlining the importance of teaching to national development, education minister. It is to his credit that Singapore boasts an education system that is the pride of Asia. (Indeed, it has even been held up as an example for the decrepit American primary and secondary public education system):
The late Goh Keng Swee (Dr) passed away on Friday, 14 May 2010.

Goh Keng Swee (Dr) was born on 6 October 1918 to parents of Chinese ancestry in Malacca, Malaysia. He is the "Economic Architect" of Singapore, contributing greatly in shaping the development of Singapore into a prosperous nation as the first Finance Minister in 1959 and later as the Defence Minister of an independent Singapore. He held several key appointments as the First Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Education and Chairman of Monetary Authority of Singapore and Chairman of several government-led companies.

Early life
Dr. Goh was educated at the Anglo-Chinese School in Singapore and later at Raffles College. After the Japanese occupation, he joined the Civil Service. His outstanding performance earned him a scholarship to study at the London School of Economics where he obtained a first-class honours in Economics and won the William Farr Prize in 1951. With the help of a University of London scholarship, he graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy in Economics from the University of London in 1956.
During his stay in London, he started the Malayan Forum with a group of fellow students which included Lee Kuan Yew and Dr. Toh Chin Chye. Dr. Goh became its first Chairman.

Upon his return to Singapore, Dr. Goh worked at the Social Welfare Department and attained the position of Director. During his colonial civil service, together with K. M. Byrne, he formed the Council for Joint Action to seek for equal pay for Asian civil servants.

In 1959, he resigned from the civil service and joined the People's Action Party as its Vice-Chairman and represented the Kreta Ayer constituency as its Member of Parliament until his retirement from politics in 1984. He led various Ministries especially at critical period in Singapore's history introducing bold measures.

As Minister of Finance in 1959, he 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. He offered incentives and invited foreign investments in the areas. He initiated the setting up of the Economic Development Board which was established on August 1961 with the purpose of overseeing the economic development of Singapore. When Singapore attained independence on 9 August 1965, he became the first Minister of Defence. With the withdrawal of the British troops from Singapore, he saw an urgent need for a strong defence force. He established the setting up of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) with the implementation of conscript national service for all male Singaporeans above eighteen years old.

As Minister of Education, the importance of curriculum development in the education system prompted him to set up the Curriculum Development Institute. He introduced streaming in 1980 to allow students to learn at their own pace within their own capabilities. He also introduced religious education, which was however later dropped from school curriculum.

In 1980, he was appointed Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Board of Commissioner of Currency (BCC). He took measures to promote Singapore as an international financial centre. To this end, in 1984, amendments were made to three major financial regulations, namely the Banking Act, the Monetary Authority of Singapore Act, and Finance Companies Act. During the 1985 recession, he acted to stop the downward slide of the Singapore dollar. That same year, he was awarded the prestigious Order of Temasek (First Class) for his contributions in the development of Singapore.
I was utterly bemused as to why The Economist chose entertainer Lena Horne to appear in its obituary instead of Goh Keng Swee. Needless to say, it's an absolute disgrace. Unfortunately, much mainstream media and broad swathes of the blogosphere besides are so blatantly Western-centric as to ignore the achievements of one of the contemporary age's greatest practitioners of economics.

However, Singaporeans--people who know better--do remember and are extremely grateful. Tomorrow is a day of national mourning there and a state funeral will be held in his honour. Us Southeast Asians will also pay tribute to Goh Keng Swee--someone who has made an immense difference in his lifetime for the greater good and set the highest standard for public service.