Tue, Apr 08, 2008
The New Paper
She was the only one in class with no tuition

WHEN her elder daughter was in Primary 5 at a good school here, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua found out she was the only one in class who did not have any tuition.

Instead of joining the pack, her first instinct was to question whether she had been a negligent parent.

The recently promoted Senior Minister of State for finance and transport said: 'I wanted to allow her the space to have a childhood, grow up and decide for herself what she wanted.'

And her daughter continued without tuition for some time.

Later, Mrs Lim hired tutors when the children asked for it.

This anecdote perhaps best sums up Mrs Lim as a parent and person.

She allows you to be yourself. And nowhere is it truer than in her parenting style, where she has never 'compared her three children against each other, much less against anyone else'.

In an interview with The New Paper on Sunday, Mrs Lim, 49, said she has always allowed her children to find their own way.

'I wanted them to study for themselves and do well for themselves, not for me,' she said.

She said many people thought she was such a relaxed parent because she had brilliant children who didn't need tuition.

'But that was not the case. I wanted them to be individuals. I was more concerned with discipline, with them being responsible,' she said, adding that she did not spare the rod.

Her three children are now on their way to independent adulthood.

Eldest child Daniel, who studied law, is going on 25 and working.

Rebekah, 22, is studying business at the Nanyang Technological University and Rachel, 16, is in junior college.

Perhaps this is a reflection of Mrs Lim's own childhood, a time she remembered as being quite carefree and without parental pressure to do well in school.

'It was a different time and my parents had little education. So they couldn't help me with my homework but placed emphasis on the importance of studying hard,' she said.

She was the youngest girl and third youngest of nine children who grew up in Tiong Bahru, where her family had a Singapore Improvement Trust flat.

'At home, I was surrounded by women. I have five sisters, plus my mother and grandmother. There was always company at home.'

It helped that she had elder sisters to help her in her school work.

But her tea merchant father could not afford to get all his children to further studies.

Many of the older ones stopped at O or A levels to find work.

Mrs Lim said: 'I was fortunate. By the time it came to me, the financial pressure on the family has eased as many of my siblings were working.'

The Crescent Girls and Raffles Institution alumnus aced her examinations and received a government scholarship to study at Cambridge, where she met her husband-to-be, also a government scholar and in his third year then.

'After he graduated and returned to Singapore, we had a long-distance relationship for two years,' she recalled with laughter.

They married when she was 22.


Mr Andy Lim, 50, now an entrepreneur with his own business, is a supportive husband, she said. 'I spare him the functions where I don't think there will be mutual benefit for him and my constituents.'

But she makes sure she keeps in close contact with her husband and children despite her busy schedule, by 'nipping home' whenever she can for dinner, which is about half the time during the week.

She tries to arrange her weekend schedule such that she gets at least one day to spend with her family. But it does not always work out that way.

'All my children are 'late' people like me. I wake up after 7am and go to bed way past midnight. The house comes alive at 8 or 9pm. So even when I get home late, they'll still be up and about and we get to spend some time together,' she said.

The close-knit family - her father-in-law lives with them - takes holidays once or twice a year, a tradition that started when the children were young.

Mrs Lim said: 'Both my husband and I went to University of California, Los Angeles, to do our MBA when our two children were very young. Since that time, we have been great fans of driving holidays.'

They have driven up and down the California coast, the east coast of the US as well as in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

'We have a wonderful time discovering new things together, even though we get into each other's hair and disagree on where to go some of the time,' she said.

She and her husband try to make time for each other by taking short trips once a year.

When her husband went to do his MBA, she had originally planned to just follow him. But he then suggested she do her MBA as well.

'He knows me well,' she said. 'I thought I would just be there to look after our two children. He thought I would get bored out of my mind before long and he was right!'

During those years of no-pay leave, she remembers drawing down both the ordinary account and special account in her Central Provident Fund to pay the mortgage.


'One day, I received a statement that said I had zero amounts in both those accounts,' she said with a laugh.

It was not an issue. She and her husband were heading home to start work again, so 'we were going to be all right'.

'For me, it had always been about studying hard, getting my qualifications and going out and work. Not working never crossed my mind. I realise that nowadays, however, for our children, the equation is somewhat different,' she said candidly.

Mrs Lim, who is chairman of the PAP Women's Wing, first entered politics 11 years ago. From the four women Members of Parliament (MPs) then, the number has increased steadily since.

In 2002, 10 out of the 84 elected MPs were women. In 2004, Mrs Lim and Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon (Community Development, Youth and Sports) were made ministers of state.

Today, there are 17 women MPs out of 84, two senior ministers of state, Mrs Lim and MsGrace Fu (National Development and Education), a minister of state, Mrs Yu-Foo, and a senior parliamentary secretary, Dr Amy Khor.

'From the time I joined, there was always talk of glass ceilings. First it was, can a woman be an MP? Then it was, can a woman MP be an office holder? And now, can there be a full woman minister?

'These glass ceilings have steadily risen over time. I believe that in my lifetime, there will definitely be a woman minister,' she said.

For her, there is still the challenge of getting more women to commit.

'Every one juggles (time) and women are very practical. If there is someone out there who can juggle better and do a good job, they would then say, let that person do it.

'We need enough numbers, motivation and encouragement so that women can truly play a key role in taking care of the future of Singapore,' she said.

She started out as MP 11 years ago

MRS Lim Hwee Hua was elected as an MP in 1997.

She received a Public Service Commission overseas merit scholarship in 1978 to study in Cambridge.

On her return, she served in the administrative service, in the ministries of finance, education and law.

In 1989, she obtained a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of California in Los Angeles, and joined the Swiss Bank Corporation as an investment analyst.

In between, she took three years off to care for her children.

She later moved on to become head of Singapore Research at Jardine Fleming, before joining Temasek Holdings in 2000 as a managing director.

She has served as Minister of State in finance and transport since August 2004 until her promotion to Senior Minister of State last month.

This article was first published in The New Paper on Apr 6, 2008.

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