SG50 Special #43: Albert Winsemius, The Genius Behind Singapore’s Modern Economy

Dear Editors,

People always praise Singapore for our economic strength, progress and foresight but little people know that besides the efforts of our pioneer generation, there is an Ang Moh who helped us make all of this possible. It is the Dutch economist Albert Winsemius who played a crucial role in the formulation of Singapore's national economic development strategy. 

After Singapore's independence, Winsemius was tasked by the United Nations to visit Singapore as part of the United Nations Development Programme team to assess Singapore's potential for industrialisation. It was he who recommended the industrialisation of high-technological industries such as the production of electrical components and that resulted in the the construction of Jurong Industrial Town.

Later, Winsemius advised the next step for industrialized Singapore and started preparations for Singapore to become a knowledge-based economy. He astutely advised the government to invest money in new universities or technical institutes, rather than build more factories to future proof Singapore's economic growth. However, he did warn of the Communist influence in Singapore which he believed would have made any economic progress impossible if left unchecked. 

Winsemius famously told Lee Kuan Yew in 1961 that it was imperative that Lee eliminated the communists who at the time through the Communist United Front and their proxy trade unions were at the height of their powers. He believed that if the Communist threat was unresolved, Singapore had little chance of success with any economic reform and growth despite having the best plans in place. 

Throughout his tenure as Economic Advisor to Singapore, he was instrumental in attracting international MNCs like Shell and Esso into Singapore which helped propelled Singapore ahead of her South East Asian neighbours and helped pushed Singapore into First World Territory. 

I believe we need to appreciate the unsung heroes in Singapore's short but exciting history and the economist Albert Winsemius is definitely one such person. If Lee Kuan Yew was the founding father of modern Singapore, Albert Winsemius was the brains who made modern Singapore possible.

Jacintha Liew   

All Singapore Stuff's SG50 Series is a reader driven effort to celebrate 50 years of being Singaporean. Based on recommendations suggested by you our readers, for every week up till Singapore's 50th birthday, we will feature one Singaporean hero who has left an indelible mark on our Little Red Dot. Know of any deserving Singaporean that you believe must be featured? Send your nominations to [email protected] or private message A.S.S on Facebook and tell us why they are your Singaporean hero! Majulah Singapura!

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