Goh's folly? No, Jurong is Goh's glory

Have you heard of Goh's folly?

To find it, all you have to do is to head for the Jurong Industrial Estate.

It's hard to imagine, but when one of our founding fathers, then-Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee, chose it as the site for factories in 1962, it was all swamp land, something akin to what you'd find in Mandai today.

Hence the name Goh's folly, which is what his critics believed his plan was.

But Dr Goh had the last laugh. By 1968, almost 300 factories had been built there, providing employment for 21,000 people.

If it wasn't for this site, things would have been dire indeed for Singapore when the British armed forces pulled out in 1971, leaving thousands without jobs.

The factories that came up in Jurong absorbed many of them.

It is clear that this founding member of the People's Action Party is a titan in Singapore's history.

In a storied political career spanning more than 20 years, Dr Goh took up various portfolios within the Government, culminating in his appointment as Deputy Prime Minister in 1973.

Between 1959 and 1970, he served two stints as Minister for Finance - a job which fit him like a glove.

With his acute business acumen, he steered the economy out of the doldrums and turned Singapore into one of the Four Asian Tigers.

When he took over as finance minister in 1959, he did not hesitate to implement stringent measures like cutting civil service salaries to lower spending.

By the end of the year, he had turned a $14 million deficit forecast into a $1 million surplus.

He also conceived the idea of setting up Jurong Bird Park in 1968 and when asked why not a zoo instead, he answered: "Birdseed costs less than meat."

But Dr Goh's leadership went beyond a mere dollars-and-cents approach.

During his term as defence minister from 1965 to 1967, he was the foremost proponent of a citizen's army, investing heavily in building up the troops of a newly-independent nation.

He asked the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, independent Singapore's first prime minister: "You are the prime minister but you have no army, how are you going to defend yourself?"


Roping in Israeli defence advisers, he drew the blueprint for National Service, which was introduced in 1967 and still stands strong today.

His unparalleled vision was again on full display in his 1979 Goh Report.

As education minister, he spearheaded a major overhaul of primary and secondary schooling and introduced streaming, a mainstay of the local education system.

His aim was "to produce a Singaporean who is an intelligent, diligent, adaptable and creative person. ... For if he does not have any of these qualities, he will simply vanish from this small speck of Southeast Asia".

Dr Goh died in 2010, but his actions and policies have impacted every Singaporean and will continue to do so for generations to come.


- He loved playing golf and his golfing buddies included the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

- An ardent believer in a free Singapore, he hated being subordinate to the British.

- He decorated the outside of his office with a stuffed Bengal tiger, a gift from the Indian government.

- Growing up, Dr Goh had a close relationship with his father, which was uncommon in the early 20th century.

- Dr Goh is the only person to have been appointed Singapore's Minister for Finance twice.


Dr Goh Keng Swee was insistent on Singapore's separation from Malaysia, even when his fellow party members Mr Lee Kuan Kew, Dr Toh Chin Chye and Mr S. Rajaratnam were opposed to it.

In an interview with writer Melanie Chew, he revealed that he had in his possession a secret file he called "Albatross".

The file recorded Dr Goh's meeting with Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Razak and Home Affairs Minister Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman on July 20, 1965, when he "persuaded them that the only way out was for Singapore to secede completely".

He even read to Ms Chew from the secret file: "It should be done quickly, and before we get more involved in the Solidarity Convention.



This article was first published on Apr 20, 2015.
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