Of frugality, thrift and poison
In the MediaCorp tribute to Dr Goh Keng Swee broadcast over the its channels yesterday, three words stood out prominently to describe this giant of our founding fathers. He was known to all as an economist and steep in the values of thrift and frugality. He was saving cost everywhere and in everything, even in his own personal ways. He was said to prefer to walk several blocks to save a couple of dollars which people may find it amusing in a time when spending tens of thousands for a cooking class in Paris is just a weekend past time. Maybe the country had underpaid him at a time when money was not easy to earn. Maybe he too did not see it right to pay himself as much as he would want it to be. Maybe when he was around, extravagance was frown upon to the extent that permanent secretaries were spoken highly of for driving around in a small Japanese jalopy. That was the ethos of the years of Goh Keng Swee. He spoke about watching out for poison in investment and economic enterprises. Would he be worried looking at how we invited hedge funds and big investment banks to steam roll into our financial industry, adopting controversial systems that the Americans knew were dangerous and have started to curb these practices? Would he be angry with the poison that the people were fed in the forms of toxic notes and worthless papers called derivatives? Would he allow these to go on through repackaging and not called poison but something else, and let the people have it as long as they know the danger, that the danger is explained to them? With the passing of Goh Keng Swee, would we be bless with another careful thinker to guard our national interests and remove or keep poison out of our system? The unfortunate thing is that history does not throw up great men too often for the benefit of human beans. Often, after the passage of a blazing meteor it is followed by a long interval of darkness. Singapore has the exceptional good fortune of having a cluster of good men during its early years of independence. With the passing of Goh Keng Swee, we have yet to find another equally able and gifted group of individuals of their calibre to sustain our good run into the future.