Dr Goh Keng Swee

By Tien, Mui Mun written on 2002-10-08
National Library Board Singapore

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Goh Keng Swee (Dr) (b. 6 October 1918, Malacca, Malaysia -) a Peranakan, 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
His early education was at 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. In 1956, he graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of London.

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. Goh became its first Chairman.

When Goh returned to Singapore, he 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, 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 the 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 compulsory 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.

When he was appointed Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Board of Commissioner of Currency (BCC) in 1980, 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.

In 1985, he was awarded the prestigious Order of Temask (First Class) for his contributions in the development of Singapore. In 1992, the Goh Keng Swee Scholarship Fund was set up to honour his contributions to the economic development of Singapore. The Goh Keng Swee Professorship and Master's Scholarships in Economics were established by the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1998.

May 1959 - Sep 1963 : Vice-Chairman of People's Action Party. Member of Parliament for Kreta Ayer.
5 Jun 1959 - 8 Aug 1965 : Minister of Finance.
1963-1966 : Member of the Governing Council, Asian Institute for Economic Development and Planning, Bangkok, Thailand. Re-appointed at the 22nd session of ECAFE at New Delhi for a further three years. Member of Board of Management, People's Association, Singapore. Member of Board of Governors, National Youth Leadership Training Institute, Singapore. Represented Singapore at innumerable International Conferences.
9 Aug 1965 - 16 Aug 1967 : Minister of Defence. (previously Ministry of Defence and Security and Ministry of the Interior and Defence)
17 Aug 1967 - 10 Aug 1970 : Re-appointed Minister of Finance.
11 Aug 1970 - 11 Feb 1979 : Re-appointed Minister of Defence.
Mar 1973 : Appointed Deputy Prime Minister
12 Feb 1979 - 31 May 1980 : Minister of Education
1 Jun 1981 - 1 Jan 1985 : Re-appointed Minister of Education
1 Jun 1980 - 1984 : First Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman, Monetary Authority of Singapore.
1981 - 1994 : Deputy Chairman, Government of Singapore Investment Corporation.
1983 - 1992 : Chairman, Board of Governors, Institute of East Philosophies.
1984 : Retired from politics.
1985 - 31 May 1992 : Deputy Chairman, Monetary Authority of Singapore.
1985 : Economic Adviser to the State Council of the People's Republic of China on coastal development and Advisor on tourism.
1988 - 1994 : Chairman, Singapore Totalisator Board.
1991 : Director, Gateway Technologies Services Pte Ltd.
1992 - 1995 : Executive Chairman and Chairman, Board of Governors, Institute of East Asian Political Economy. Chairman, East Asian Consultancy (S) Pte Ltd.
1 Jan 1993 : Adviser, UOB Bank Group.
1994 : Chairman, N.M. Rothschild & Sons (S) Ltd
1995 : Vice-Chairman, Hong Leong Asia Ltd.

1966 : Honorary Fellow of the London School of Economics and Political Science.
1972 : Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Services
1972 : Order of Sikatuna, Philippines.
1985 : Order of Temasek (1st Class).
1991 : First Dinstinguished Fellow, EDB Society.

The practice of economic growth. (1995). Singapore: Federal Publications.
(Call no.: RSING 330.95957 GOH)

The economic of modernisation. (1995). Singapore: Federal Publications.
(Call no.: RSING 330.95957 GOH)

Wealth of East Asian nations: Speeches and writings. (1995). Singapore: Federal Publications.
(Call no.: RSING 330.95957 GOH)

Father: Goh Leng Inn.
Mother: Tan Swee.
Wife: Alice Woon (m. 1942), Phua Swee Liang (m. 1985).
Children: One son.

Jenny Tien

Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore (pp. 141-150). Singapore: Resource Press.
(Call no.: RSING 920.05957 CHE)

Low, K. C., & Dunlop, P. K. G. (Eds.). (2000). Who's who in Singapore (pp. 72-73). Singapore: Who's Who Publishing.
(Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)

Lam, P. Er., & Tan, Y. L. K. (Eds.). (1999). Lee's lieutenants: Singapore's old guard. (pp. 24-69). Australia: Allen & Unwin.
(Call no.: RSING 320.95957 LEE)

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)

Singapore Chronicles: A special commemorative history of Singapore (p. 36). (1995). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)

Shoeb Kagda. (1992, May 20). Mr Fix-It, the architect of S'pore's economic success. The Business Times, Singapore, p. 9

Financial community sets up $4m Goh Keng Swee scholarship fund. (1992, November 28). The Straits Times, p. 44.

Low, C. S. J. (1999). Goh Keng Swee. Retrieved October 23, 2002, from Knowlegenet: Singapore Web site: www.knowledgenet.com.sg/singapore/SG/BI/BIGKS001.asp?next=0 

The information in this article is valid as at 2002 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.

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