Singapore's founding fathers

On Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in Parliament a new committee that will gather views from the public and conceptualise a memorial for Singapore's founding fathers. He said his father, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, did not act alone and worked alongside others to build the nation.

Godwin Ng and Ling Yuanrong take a look at some of them.

DR GOH KENG SWEE (1918-2010)

Key appointment: Deputy Prime Minister (1973-1984)

Legacy: Dr Goh was the economic architect of Singapore. He established the Economic Development Board (EDB) in 1961 to attract foreign investments and transformed Jurong from swamp land into industrial estates. As the nation's first Defence Minister, he recognised Singapore's vulnerability and pushed for national service (NS). Roping in Israeli defence advisers, Dr Goh drew the blueprint for NS. He once said: "It's a minor miracle that we ever got off the ground."

Fast Fact: His frugality was well known among friends. Former PAP MP Chan Chee Seng once told The Straits Times: "When we stopped for a 10-cent sugarcane drink at a hawker's stall, Dr Goh would pay only for himself. When we drove his old Vauxhall car, we had to pay for the petrol." But the former Finance Minister applied that same thriftiness to the nation's economy, laying the foundations for Singapore's economic prosperity today.

MR S. RAJARATNAM (1915-2006)

Key appointment: Deputy Prime Minister (1980-1985)

Legacy: He wrote the Singapore Pledge, which the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew said was "his most enduring legacy". As foreign minister, he also represented Singapore in the Bangkok Declaration of 1967, which led to the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Fast Fact: Mr Rajaratnam met his Hungarian wife, Ms Piroska Feher, at a book club in London, where he was sent to study law by his father. They were remembered by many here as a generous couple. Their Filipino maid, Ms Cecilia Tandoc, once told The Straits Times: "When I went home to visit my family in the Philippines, Mr Rajaratnam paid for my plane ticket and he doubled my pay. He said it was because I was on holiday."

DR TOH CHIN CHYE (1921-2012)

Key appointment: Deputy Prime Minister (1959-1968)

Legacy: He headed the team that designed our national flag and coat of arms, which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said is the embodiment of the "values, aspirations, spirit and pride of our nascent nation". Majulah Singapura was also chosen by Mr Toh as the National Anthem.

Fast Fact: A man with humble beginnings, he worked as a hawker assistant in his early 20s and grew sweet potato and tapioca during the Japanese Occupation. His passion for politics was ignited after witnessing a starving man die before his very eyes. Dr Toh was also Minister for Health from 1975 to 1981.

MR LIM KIM SAN (1916-2006)

Key appointment: Minister for National Development (1963-1965)

Legacy: He put a roof over our heads. As chairman of the Housing and Development Board (HDB), Mr Lim tackled Singapore's chronic housing shortage by spearheading public housing efforts in the 60s, moving half a million Singaporeans from slums to affordable HBD flats. As of last year, over 80 per cent of the population live in such flats.

Fast Fact: His passion for golf was such that his final wish before his death in 2006 was to have his ashes strewn over a golf course. Dr Lim Kiat Beng, Mr Lim's son, said in his eulogy: "He achieved a handicap of nine in his heyday. He told me that in many a dream, he dreamt that he was Tiger Woods."

MR HON SUI SEN (1916-1983)

Key appointment: Minister for Finance (1970-1983)

Legacy: Singapore's economic success story can be largely credited to Mr Hon, who served as chairman of the Economic Development Board from 1961 to 1968. During his term as finance minister, he doubled Singapore's per capita gross domestic product from $2,462 in 1970 to $5,752 in 1982.

Fast Fact: Mr Hon was a devout Catholic and received his early education at St Xavier's Institution in Penang, Malaya. He was so inspired by his Catholic education that he harboured intentions of joining the Brotherhood.

MR E. W. BARKER (1920-2001)

Key appointment: Minister for Law (1964-1988)

Legacy: In 1965, Mr Barker, who practised law at the Lee & Lee law firm, drafted the Proclamation of Singapore - the document announcing Singapore's separation from Malaysia. He also helped abolish the jury system, leaving the verdict to the judge instead. He said: "Speaking for myself, I feel that this very important aspect of the administration of justice should not be left in the hands of what are, after all, seven laymen, but rather should be left solely in the hands of the professional judges who would, to say the least, be able to dispense justice in a more predictable manner."

Fast Fact: Mr Barker was an outstanding athlete who represented Raffles College (predecessor to the National University of Singapore) in cricket, football, rugby and athletics. He also oversaw the construction of Kallang National Stadium and Toa Payoh Swimming Complex for the 1973 Southeast Asian Peninsular Games, which Singapore hosted.


Key Appointment: Minister for Home Affairs (1959-1963)

Legacy: He led a campaign in 1959 to eradicate elements of "yellow culture", a Chinese term for vice-related activities. He clamped down on pornography, prostitution, secret societies and gambling dens. He also helped reform the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau to eliminate corruption and bribery, especially in the civil service. As Education Minister, he promoted bilingualism by making second language education compulsory in 1965.

Fast Fact: He used to draw $700 monthly for his job in Malaya, but he willingly took a $250 pay cut to join the People's Action Party as its organising secretary. He also helped design the uniform for Singapore's first junior college, National Junior College.

MR DEVAN NAIR (1923-2005)

Key appointment: Helped form and lead the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), President of Singapore (1981-1985)

Legacy: During the industrial strife of the 50s and 60s, Mr Nair frequently convinced workers with his persuasive speeches to stop their strikes. He founded the National Trades Union Congress in 1961. Even after he went on to become President, Mr Nair continued to champion workers' rights and famously settled the 1981 pay dispute between Singapore Airlines pilots and management.

Fast Fact: In the 50s, Mr Nair was detained on St John's Island by the British for anti-colonial activities. He referred to his prison as "St John's University", where he filled exercise books with thoughts on philosophy and religion.


Key appointment: Minister for Social Affairs (1963-1965, 1968-1977)

Legacy: He implemented policies that continue to affect the Malay community today. One of them is the Mosque Building Fund (MBF), in which working Muslims contribute a small sum from their monthly salary to build mosques in new towns. As of 2007, 22 mosques costing $103 million had been built using MBF funding.

Fast Fact: He is a descendant of Orang Laut, a small population of 200 Malay fishing families who were in Singapore when Sir Stamford Raffles landed. Mr Othman, who had a flair for writing, was once offered a reporter position by Mr Yusof Ishak, the then-editor of Utusan Melayu who later became Singapore's first President. He also dabbled in writing fiction and has published several horror books.

This article was first published on April 16, 2015.
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