Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dr Albert Winsemius


He was a Dutch Economist who was Singapore's long-time economic advisor for his invaluable contribution to its development. He was a foreigner, who had faith in Singapore and believed strongly in the fact that it had a future, at a time when not many people did.
Dr Winsemius' first impression was anything but hopeful. "It was bewildering," he remembers. "There were strikes about nothing. There were communist-inspired riots almost every day and everywhere. In the beginning one has to very careful about passing any judgement - one does not know the country, one does not know the people, one does not know the men and women who are trying to steer this rudderless ship. But after a couple of months the pessimism within our commission reached appalling heights. We saw how a country can be demolished by unreal antitheses. The general opinion was: Singapore is going down the drain, it is a poor little market in a dark corner of Asia."
Within a year, on 13 June 1961, the Winsemius team offered Singapore a development plan. The final assessment was written by Winsemius personally: 'Expectations and Reality' was his motto. This was permeated with an emotional appeal for unity, a passionate warning that time was running out if Singapore was not to sink away into the mud. The gloom was not completely unrelieved, there was one bright spot on the horizon: "In our opinion", wrote Winsemius, "Singapore has the basic assets for industrialization. Her greatest asset is the high aptitude of her people to work in manufacturing industries. They can be ranked among the best factory workers in the world."

a) During his younger days

He had been a cheese salesman in his younger days and understood the importance of salesmanship and marketing strategy.

b) Contributions to Singapore

He firstly wanted to create jobs and attract foreign investment. Labour intensive industries, such as the production of men’s and women’s wear, were expanded. He encouraged the large-scale public housing programme, as he strongly believed that it would boost the country's image, thus attracting investors. He advised that the Sir Stamford Raffles statue should not be removed, as it was a sign of the British heritage. With his help, big oil companies such as Esso and Shell set up their refineries here in Singapore.

From 1961 to 1984, as a Chief Economic Advisor, Dr Winsemius worked closely with Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee and Goh Chok Tong by visiting the country two to three times a year to check on the economic performance indicators and to discuss macro-economic strategies with the government planners. During the 1970s, Singapore was upgrading its industrial potential to use higher technological methods, including electronics. He personally persuaded Dutch electronics companies such as Philips to set up plants in Singapore. He also considered the fact that Singapore could be developed as a financial and an international centre for air traffic and sea transport. He managed to fulfill those dreams of his, over the next 20 years.


The Separation in 1965 marked the beginning of the second phase. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) started with an enormous building programme, under the leadership of Mr. Howe Yoon Chong. "This was very inspiring, people could see what was being achieved.

On Sundays fathers and mothers showed their children in what kind of new dwellings they would live presently. In that same period the government succeeded in interesting, just as had happened in Holland fifteen years earlier, big oil companies like Shell and Esso in establishing refineries in Singapore.
The third phase was that they started as soon as possible with the upgrading. Singapore became very active in promoting education for technical jobs, especially for the electronics industry. In the beginning it was quite a difficult job for me to convince people at the top of the big Dutch electronics company Philips to set up production plants in Singapore. Doctor Winsemius went to Eindhoven, where the headquarters of Philips are situated, to warn them: you have to hurry, I told them, otherwise there is a very real danger you will be too late and then you will be sure to miss the boat in the growing market of Southeast Asia.
The result is that Philips is now one of the big investors in Singapore and is doing a very fine job here.
The fourth phase was to make Singapore an international financial centre. Formerly the young state was bound to the English pound sterling. I knew a Dutchman who had lived and worked in Singapore; he was an employee of the Bank of America in London at that time. I visited him and told him we wished to transform Singapore into a financial centre for Southeast Asia within ten years. He told me it could be done in three or four years. He took a globe and showed me a gap in the financial market of the world. Trading, he explained, starts at nine o'clock in the morning in Zurich in Switzerland. An hour later London opens. When London closes, New York is already open. After closing time on Wall Street, San Francisco on the American west coast is still active. But as soon as San Francisco closes, there is a gap of a couple of hours. This gap can be filled by Singapore, should the government not shun taking some drastic measures - such as cutting its links with the British pound.

Shaping Singapore

He helped shape Singapore to move away from Entrepot trade into manufacturing and industrialisation, to attain full employment, higher standards of living and to transform itself into a financial centre for Southeast Asia.He also aided Singapore to become an international centre for air traffic and sea transport. And his plans were fulfilled within 20 years.

His later years

Dr. Winsemius was awarded the Distinguished service medal in 1967. In 1970, he was given an honorary degree by the University of Singapore. In 1976, he received the National Trades Union Congress' May Day Gold Medal of Honour.
He retired at the age of 74 in 1983 shedding a few tears, as he regarded Singapore as his own home. He passed away at his home in Holland on 4 December 1996

His Accomplishments

1967- He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal President by Yusof Ishak.

1970 - He was conferred an honorary degree by the University of Singapore.

1976 - He received the National Trades Union Congress' May Day Gold Medal of Honour.

His Retirement

Dr Winsemius passed away in December 1983, at the age of 74.

This is what he said when he left.

"I leave with a saddened heart. It (Singapore) has become part of my life, more or less. It can do without me. It can do without me years ago. But it became part of my life. So I will shed a few tears, imaginary tears.“
He regarded Singapore as his own home.


Information extracted from these following sources:

Done By: Gaayathri Devi.R(28), K.Loshana(31), Kalpana D/O Sivan(32)
Class: 2 Diligence


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