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Getting to know: Dr Goh Keng Swee

18 Jul 2019 2 min read

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The PAP formed Singapore’s first elected government after its landslide victory in the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election. It won 43 out of 51 seats. Its nine-member Cabinet was sworn in at City Hall on 3 June 1959. A key figure among them was 40-year old Dr Goh Keng Swee, former civil servant, who was appointed Minister for Finance. 

Though born in Malacca in 1918, Dr Goh and his family settled in Singapore in 1920. A Raffles College graduate, he won a scholarship to study at the London School of Economics and Political Science in Britain. He then set up the Malayan Forum, a political discussion group for students seeking independence for British Malaya, where he got to know Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Dr Toh Chin Chye. 

In 1958, Dr Goh resigned from the Civil Service to work full-time for the PAP and in 1959 he contested and won the Kreta Ayer constituency. 

Often referred to as the “economic architect” of Singapore, Dr Goh introduced the industrialisation programme to create jobs for Singaporeans. Jurong was then transformed from a mangrove swamp into Singapore’s first industrial estate under his watch. The Economic Development Board was also formed to boost Singapore’s economy and to attract foreign investments.

Dr Goh’s other appointments were also crucial to Singapore’s long-term nation-building efforts. As Minister for Interior and Defence between August 1965 and August 1967, Dr Goh introduced the idea of National Service to quickly build up Singapore’s defence forces. 

Dr Goh, who had second innings as Defence Minister (1970-1979) and Finance Minister (1967-1970) helped to shape the attitudes of Singaporeans and justified the need for Singapore to be a credible defence force in order to provide a stable and secure environment for economic growth. 

As Education Minister, between 1979 and 1984, he overhauled the education system. Dr Goh, who was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in 1973, retired from politics in 1984. To mark Dr Goh’s retirement, then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote: “A whole generation of Singaporeans take their present standard of living for granted because you had laid the foundations of the economy of modern Singapore.”

Post-retirement, Dr Goh continued to stay active in public life and served on many public and private boards. He died on 14 May 2010.