Most of Asia's
democratically oriented countries are burdened with values borrowed from affluent
societies in the West and Japan. Concerned with liberty, they also emphasize
egalitarianism and welfare state concepts. Yet at this stage these developing countries
usually lack adequate economic productivity to afford such programs. Recognizing this
quandary, GOH KENG SWEE treats with iconoclastic courage and skepticism "all books on
economics published since World War II." Instead, he emphasizes that in developing
countries no amount of foreign loans can compensate for cultivation of those virtues
propounded by that 19th century Scottish essayist, Samuel Smiles: "thrift, industry,
ambition, honesty, perseverance...."
The thinker who helped Singapore's Peoples Action Party (PAP) make of these hard
necessities a compelling political program was born 54 years ago in Malacca. A career
civil servant for much of two decades, he also took time out to earn a doctorate at the
London School of Economics. In 1958 he resigned from government service to join in
building the PAP. The next year, when the PAP won the general election and control of the
Singapore Government, GOH was elected a member of parliament and named Minister of
As keeper of the public purse, GOH's task was unenviable; government finances were in a
sorry state, reflecting dwindling trade and rising unemployment. By austere
economics, including salary cuts for ministers and civil servants alike, he balanced the
budget within the first year. From such savings were mustered funds to initiate, in 1960,
Singapore's massive public housing, expansion of education, construction of community
centers and the start of the industrialization spurred by the new Economic Development
Despite such dedicated leadership, Singapore's survival was repeatedly threatened.
Local leftists collaborated with Indonesia's late President Sukarno in his konfrontasi
to sabotage and militarily destroy the Federation of Malaysia that Singapore joined in
founding in 1963. Separation from the Federation in 1965 left Singapore precariously
isolated; a vulnerability compounded by the drastic reduction in Britain's defense forces
and expenditures "east of Suez."
Throughout these vicissitudes, GOH, alternately Defense and Finance Minister, worked
with rising young, government technocrats to realize the national dream of an
industrialized, trading city-state. Jurong Town Corporation symbolizes this new Singapore.
Covering 17,000 acres, it is being reclaimed from mangrove swamp, hills and prawn ponds.
Already completed are a deepwater port and town pier, a railway, and roads and
servicesincluding water, drainage and electricityfor the rapidly rising
factories and apartments. Also included are a 50-acre bird park, a town center with a 700
acre recreation area containing Chinese and Japanese gardens of world class, restaurants
and other popular attractions.
With full employment and over one billion U.S. dollars in foreign reserves, Singapore's
economy continues to burgeon. Orchids and ornamental fish are airfreighted to Europe and
Japan, large-scale poultry and swine growing now are complemented by hydroponic gardening,
while the world's supertankers are refitted nearby and industrial exports become more
sophisticated. All are visible proof of a philosopher-official's sound planning.
In electing GOH KENG SWEE to receive the 1972 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government
Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes him as chief economic architect in transforming
Singapore during the 1960s into Southeast Asia's most industrially and socially vibrant
state, where all benefit from prosperity.