Dr Goh Keng Swee, sidelined since December 1984 after being bitterly forced to make way for the next generation of PAP political appointees, probably carried many untold tales to his final resting place. He died early Friday morning after battling a long illness.
For most of us, 9th August is just another occasion to retell the narrative of Singapore born as a fledging nation after being unceremoniously expelled from Malaysia; the materially successful transition from vulnerable reject to accomplished cosmopolitan city-state, marshalled single handedly by modern founding father Lee Kuan Yew.
The story of expulsion romanticizes Lee as a strongman capable of steering the nation to overcome and exceed the difficulties of the early years. The mythology has Singapore, vulnerable and reluctantly thrust into independence, finding inspiration and courage in Lee, and Lee alone.
In Melanie Chew’s Leaders of Singapore, pages 146 on, an interview with Dr Goh Keng Swee reveals two stark truths that goes against the grain of the mainstream narrative:
1) that the separation was negotiated, and that
2) the governance of Singapore in the immediate months post-independence was at best in a state of constitutional abeyance.
Divulging a hitherto state secret, Goh Keng Swee recited from a file codenamed Albatross:
“It should be done quickly, and before we get more involved in the Solidarity Convention.”
‘It’ referred to the separation of Singapore from the Federation of Malaysia. Goh said that:
… on the 20th of July 1965, I met Tun Razak and Dr Ismail. Now this is the 20th July, 1965. [emphasis his] I persuaded him that the only way out was for Singapore to secede, completely.
… I said, “You want to get Singapore out, and it must be done very quickly. And very quietly, and presented as fait accompli.”
According to Goh, Tun Razak and Dr Ismail ‘were in agreement with the idea’. A second meeting took place on the 26th of July. He admitted later that secession ‘was not’ foisted on Singapore.
With this revelation, of which there is no official disclosure as of yet, and will never be, not at least when the senior Lee or his son is still alive, it will be nebulous to suggest that Singapore on the 9th of August was an independent nation thrust unwillingly into a dystopia of gloom and doom. Instead, Goh, a principal architect of modern Singapore’s finance, defence and education bureaucracy, was able to visualize a Singapore independent of a Malaysian hinterland on the 20th of July 1965, and provided hope and optimism – however embryonic – for a new nation in need of true leadership. This has been unfortunately obfuscated in the official spiel, and Goh remains unrewarded with the millions his less worthy successors have been helping themselves to.