PM Lee's condolence letter to wife of Mr Ho See Beng
Sat, Dec 06, 2008

Please accept my heart-felt condolences on the passing away of your husband, Mr Ho See Beng.

See Beng served Singapore with loyalty and distinction. He made invaluable contributions as a Member of Parliament and Union leader.

His comrades of the same vintage, a dwindling band, remember him with fondness and respect. He had no airs and made others comfortable with his sense of humour. He was an unflinching and resolute fighter, committed to improving the lot of workers and the plight of marginalised groups.

See Beng's convictions, motivations, and understanding of the common folk were forged through personal hardship. Born in China, he was brought to Singapore at the age of 6 by his father who came here to work.

After his father passed away, See Beng left school at 17 because he did not want to be a burden to his mother, who was working as a washerwoman to support the family. He started working as a lorry attendant, and took on different jobs over the years. After he married, he sometimes held two jobs so that he could support his wife and four children. One of these jobs was as a proof reader at The Straits Times.

Despite his humble beginnings, See Beng made signal contributions in his public service. He was first elected MP in 1963 for Bras Basah constituency where he served till 1976, when he was elected MP for Khe Bong constituency. He retired from Parliament in 1984, after 21 years of faithful service to his residents.

See Beng was the archetypical grassroots MP. He was effectively bilingual in English and Mandarin, and also spoke several dialects, including Hainanese, which was the most common dialect in the Bras Basah area in the 60s, even though he was a Hokkien himself. This helped him to bond with his residents.

See Beng's efforts as a labour activist contributed to the harmonious industrial relations we enjoy today. He was one of the pioneers who founded the National Trades Union Congress in 1961. In the fight to wrest control of the unions from the Communists, he was stalwart and unwavering.

See Beng was Chairman of the National Trades Union Congress from 1962 to 1964, its President from 1964 to 1966 and Secretary-General from 1966 to 1967. He worked with the late Seah Mui Kok and others, under the leadership of the late Devan Nair, to transform the atmosphere of distrust and confrontation between unions, employers and Government into the harmonious tripartite relationship that continues to this day.

He fought for better wages and conditions for workers, but took an enlightened view and never obstructed progress. He rallied the workers to create a conducive climate to secure investments, and to create more jobs so that there would be greater economic benefits to be shared by workers. He spoke up on the need to help pirate taxi drivers find legitimate employment. This paved the way for Comfort, a NTUC Co-operative to be set up a few years later.

In Parliament, See Beng was an outspoken backbencher championing the wellbeing and job prospects of workers as Singapore rapidly industrialised in the 60s and 70s. He contributed especially to key legislative changes such as the Employment Act and laws that governed and promoted union-related activities.

For his many contributions, he was awarded the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Lintang), the Public Service Star (Bar) in 1990.

Ho See Beng, age 90, has lived a full and meaningful life. He was not given much but rose to a position of leadership and used it to fight for the common man.

His life has made a difference to Singapore.


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