Singapore leaders express condolences after death of Republic’s longest-serving Finance Minister
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and President-elect Tharman Shanmugaratnam offered their condolences to the family of Singapore’s longest-serving finance minister Richard Hu, who died on Friday at 96.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, PM Lee said he was “deeply saddened” by the passing of “a close colleague and friend for many years” and paid tribute to Dr Hu, who was finance minister from 1985 to 2001.
PM Lee said: “We entered politics in the same year – 1984. From the beginning we worked closely together, in MTI (Ministry of Trade and Industry) and MOF (Ministry of Finance), managing the Singapore economy and the nation’s finances.
“I will always warmly remember his wise counsel, strong sense of stewardship and deep concern for Singaporeans.”
In 1984, Dr Hu was elected MP for Kreta Ayer while PM Lee was elected as MP for Teck Ghee. Dr Hu was made trade and industry minister, while PM Lee was appointed as minister of state for trade and industry as well as defence.
PM Lee said Dr Hu left a lasting legacy in finance.
He added: “He joined the GIC Board when it was first formed in 1981 and was its first private sector member. When GIC’s real estate arm, GIC RE, was corporatised into a separate entity in 1999, he was concurrently appointed its chairman.
“With him at the helm, the GIC real estate team made its first foray into the region, and has since grown into a global real estate institutional investor.”
In 1983, Dr Hu retired from global energy and petrochemical company Shell and joined the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) as its managing director. Two years later, he became MAS chairman.
Under Dr Hu’s leadership, MAS established its credentials for stringent supervision and regulation of the financial sector, and sound monetary policy, said PM Lee.
He said: “The 1980s and 1990s saw episodes of volatility in international financial markets.
“Throughout, MAS steadfastly maintained its exchange rate-centred monetary policy, emphasising the role of a stable Singapore dollar in preserving the purchasing power of Singaporean households, and saw off a few speculative attacks on the exchange rate.
“(Dr Hu) also oversaw the overhaul of our securities regulatory framework, which facilitated the subsequent development of our capital markets and laid the foundation for Singapore to become a thriving global financial hub.”
As Singapore’s longest-serving finance minister, Dr Hu tabled in Parliament a record 16 Budgets, overseeing a period of high growth and substantial Budget surpluses, said PM Lee.
He added: “Under his prudent management, these surpluses steadily accumulated in our reserves, to become the unique resource that Singapore can now rely upon, both for routine Budget spending, and in crises with the permission of the president.”
A key policy overseen by Dr Hu was the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) in 1994, added PM Lee.
PM Lee said the policy enabled Singapore to lower income and corporate taxes at a time when many other countries were doing the same, challenging the nation’s international competitiveness.
He also credited the policy for becoming a resilient source of revenue, which became increasingly important as the Government’s spending needs grew.
PM Lee said: “But Richard did not just push through the GST. He introduced a comprehensive package of support and offset to help businesses and households cope. This was the model for many subsequent assistance packages from the Government that have benefited generations of Singaporeans.”
He concluded: “Singapore owes Richard our gratitude for a lifetime of contribution and service to nation. I offer my deepest condolences to his family in this time of loss and grief. He will be deeply missed.”
On Saturday, ESM Goh also paid tribute to Dr Hu, whose post as finance minister had spanned almost the entire time ESM Goh was Singapore’s prime minister between 1990 and 2004.
In a Facebook post, ESM Goh said Dr Hu was a key member of Singapore’s 2G leadership team. A different “G” is used to label different prime ministers’ Cabinets, indicating a distinct generational change.
ESM Goh said: “I am indebted to Dr Hu for agreeing to join the (People’s Action Party) to help the 2G team. It took me not one, not two but three meetings to persuade him to do so.”
He added that Dr Hu had just retired from Shell and was already serving the Government as MAS’ managing director, and both Dr Hu and his family preferred a quiet life away from the public glare.
But ESM Goh was determined to get Dr Hu on his team, as Dr Hu’s private sector experience added depth and breadth, and the latter eventually relented.
He said: “Thank you, Richard, for your selfless service to the nation. My deepest condolences to Richard’s wife, Irene, and his family.”
President-elect Tharman also posted a tribute on Saturday, saying Singapore owes “a permanent debt of gratitude” to Dr Hu.
He said Dr Hu contributed greatly to the nation through his various appointments and “strengthened our foundations in each area”.
This benefited Singaporeans at the time and also brought lasting benefits for the future, he added.
“I enjoyed working under him for over a decade when he was chairman of the MAS, and I was a professional economist there, in the 1980s/90s. He had the most gentle and calm demeanour,” said Mr Tharman.
He also noted that even though Dr Hu did not have much background knowledge on monetary and financial matters when he came into government, he “more than made up for it” by being a good and discerning listener, and by making sound decisions.
Dr Hu leaves behind his wife Irene and their two children. A private funeral for him will be held on Sunday at Mandai Crematorium.