EDB's first director, who played key role in Jurong industrialisation, dies

SINGAPORE – The first director of the Economic Development Board (EDB), Mr Lim Ho Hup, died on Sunday night (Nov 22) at age 92.

He is survived by six children and his wife, who took care of him in his last hours.

Mr Lim, born in Malaysia in 1929, was appointed the director of EDB when it was founded in 1961.

Together with then Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee, he succeeded where their predecessors had failed, leading the transformation of Jurong from a crocodile-infested swamp into an industrial town.

To convince local investors who were sceptical about the project, EDB, at the behest of Mr Goh, had to make sure that several factories were opened each week and for each of them to have wide media coverage.

Mr Lim described to the National Heritage Board how he and EDB went about attracting workers to move away from the city centre after 2,000 to 3,000 flats were built there.

“People said, ‘No facilities! No barber!’ But the barber says, ‘There’s nobody!’ So we said, ‘Okay, rent is free for one year.’

“We did a lot of things. We had these open-air cinemas with all these corrugated sheets and all that. Rent-free. We even got a few boats for people to row on the river. Let the workers row there on Sundays for free.”

When he was later seconded to the Ministry of Education (MOE) in 1969, he put his industrial knowledge to good use, setting up and expanding technical institutes that paved the way for the formation of the Institute of Technical Education.

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He said in an oral interview in 2002 for the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) that he thought then that Singapore’s education system was too geared towards academia.

“There was only one narrow path for your future…We did make sure that technical education was something to aim for and not something that you did when you fail your other examinations.”

In 1968, there was only one vocational institute. By 1970, there were eight or nine, including industrial training centres that taught a narrower range of skills, such as welding.

In the 1970s, he entered the private sector, citing disagreements with the people in MOE. In the same oral interview with the NAS, he said that he could not see a long-term career in government.

He also described an interesting dynamic with then Education Minister Ong Pang Boon, who “is a nice fellow but he was my junior” at the University of Malaya.

“He never had a private talk with me during the two years. It makes me sort of uncomfortable.”

Finance minister Dr Goh Keng Swee (centre) and Mr Lim Ho Hup (second from right) addressing a meeting of businessmen affected by Indonesian trade boycott. PHOTO: ST FILE

He set up pioneering ventures such as the Singapore Polymer Corporation, which established the country’s first petrochemical plant, and a family business in building materials.

His eldest daughter, Ms Lim Li-Hsien, recalled her father teaching her and her siblings how to get on and off bicycles that were too high for them – an important skill for him as he came up to only about 1.6m.

She added: “He enjoyed a good joke, and was not afraid to repeat his best ones frequently. His good humour seldom left him, even in his later years when he suffered from Alzheimer’s.

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“The disease peeled away some layers of his intellect, but it also revealed that under all that, he was a simple, happy soul that enjoyed a good meal and the company of his family.”


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