Saturday 9 September 2023

Richard Hu, Singapore’s longest-serving finance minister, dies at 96

The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2023

Former Cabinet minister and Singapore’s longest-serving finance minister Richard Hu Tsu Tau died on Friday. He was 96.

His death was disclosed in a Facebook post on Friday night by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.

Mr Wong noted that Dr Hu was Singapore’s longest-serving finance minister. Dr Hu had held the post from 1985 to 2001.

“He stewarded our finances well, and provided a steady hand to steer our economy through the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis,” he said.

He noted that Dr Hu served as a director on the boards of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and GIC when they were formed, and had provided exceptional service to both organisations.

He also recounted that he joined the Ministry of Finance (MOF) in 1999 and had worked with Dr Hu, who was then finance minister, on a Budget.

Mr Wong wrote: “(He) asked us to get information on the prices of some key essential items at the wet market so as to get a better feel of the cost of living pressures that people were experiencing then.”

He added: “That is what I remember of Dr Hu – not just thinking about policies in abstract, but making sure that policies led to tangible improvements in people’s lives.

“In his quiet and humble way, he has served Singaporeans with distinction, and made Singapore a better place for us all!”

On Friday night, MOF also posted on Facebook a condolence message to Dr Hu’s family. “We will remember Dr Hu for his many valuable contributions,” the ministry said.

People’s Action Party member Lee Hong Chuang, an IT manager who contested unsuccessfully in the Workers’ Party Hougang stronghold in the 2015 and 2020 general elections, uploaded a photo after attending Dr Hu’s wake on Friday.

He wrote: “I remember the late Dr Richard Hu when I was growing up as a real stalwart of our economy... May you rest in peace.”

Dr Hu was a senior Shell executive before he entered politics in 1984.

He was the director of marketing of Shell Singapore and general manager of Shell West Malaysia – the first Asian to be appointed director in the Shell Group – before he was promoted to chairman of Shell Malaysia in 1974 and Shell Singapore in 1977.

He was a board member of MAS for 26 years, from 1971 to 1997, and was appointed its managing director in 1983 after he retired from Shell.

In 1984, Dr Hu was elected MP for Kreta Ayer constituency and was immediately made trade and industry minister, making him among the few MPs since independence to be appointed to the Cabinet right after winning an election.

He went on to spend 17 years in politics, retiring in 2001 as finance minister.

Dr Hu was associated with several key policies during his term.

He oversaw the reform of Singapore’s financial and banking sectors, which included privatising the Post Office Savings Bank and selling it to DBS Bank.

In 1993, he introduced the goods and services tax (GST) in Parliament to reduce the Government’s dependence on direct taxation as a revenue source.

He was credited with the smooth implementation of GST on April 1, 1994, at the rate of 3 per cent.

In the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, Dr Hu oversaw the introduction of two off-Budget stimulus packages totalling $12.5 billion to help companies and families affected by the downturn.

This was repeated in 2001 in response to another recession, when an $11.3 billion off-Budget package was drawn up.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a Facebook post that Dr Hu played an instrumental role in transforming Singapore into a leading financial hub.

“His wisdom and foresight shaped our key policies, including the GST, which created a more resilient tax base for Singapore and boosted our international competitiveness,” he wrote.

MAS, which Dr Hu chaired from 1985 to 1997, said in a statement that he upheld a strong commitment to sound monetary policy and prudent currency management.

“This conviction underpinned price stability and confidence in the Singapore dollar during much of the 1980s and 1990s,” it added.

The agency noted that Dr Hu emphasised the high standards of financial regulation and supervision that Singapore is known for.

“He firmly believed that high prudential standards and close supervision were critical for the long-term competitiveness and growth of Singapore’s financial sector.

“He oversaw the overhaul of the securities regulatory framework which facilitated the subsequent development of Singapore’s capital markets,” it said.

“Many of the older staff in MAS fondly remember Dr Hu for his wise and steady leadership,” added MAS.

Besides being Singapore’s longest-serving finance minister, Dr Hu also held other key appointments during his years in the Cabinet, including the ministerial portfolios of health and national development.

After retiring from politics in 2001, he continued to serve on the board of GIC until 2009, and remained an adviser until 2012.

A private funeral for Dr Hu will be held on Sunday at the Mandai Crematorium, Lianhe Zaobao reported.

Singapore leaders express condolences after death of Republic’s longest-serving Finance Minister Richard Hu
By Ang Qing, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2023

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.

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.

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.

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