Goh Chok Tong

Goh Chok Tong (born 20 May 1941; Chinese: 吴作栋; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Gô͘ Chok-tòng) is a Singaporean politician. A member of the People's Action Party (PAP), he succeeded Lee Kuan Yew as the second Prime Minister of Singapore on 28 November 1990 and served until 12 August 2004, when he stepped down and was succeeded by Lee Hsien Loong. He subsequently served as Senior Minister until May 2011, and as Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). He continues to serve as a Member of Parliament (MP) representing the Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency and holds the honorary title of "Emeritus Senior Minister". In November 2018, he released his autobiography, Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story, which would be the first volume of a two-part biography.[1][2]

Emeritus Senior Minister

Goh Chok Tong
Goh speaking to a reporter outside The Pentagon on 14 June 2001
3rd Senior Minister of Singapore
In office
12 August 2004  21 May 2011
Serving with S. Jayakumar (2009–2011)
PresidentS.R. Nathan
Prime MinisterLee Hsien Loong
Preceded byLee Kuan Yew
Succeeded byTeo Chee Hean
Tharman Shanmugaratnam
2nd Prime Minister of Singapore
In office
28 November 1990  12 August 2004
Preceded byLee Kuan Yew
Succeeded byLee Hsien Loong
2nd Secretary-General of the People's Action Party
In office
1 November 1992  3 December 2004
Preceded byLee Kuan Yew
Succeeded byLee Hsien Loong
Member of Parliament
Assumed office
Preceded byNewly created
Marine Parade SMC
ConstituencyMarine Parade GRC (Marine Parade)
In office
Preceded byNewly created
Succeeded byAbolished
Created Marine Parade GRC
ConstituencyMarine Parade SMC
Personal details
Born (1941-05-20) 20 May 1941
Singapore, Straits Settlements
Political partyPeople's Action Party (1976–present)
Tan Choo Leng (m. 1965)
  • Goh Jin Hian (son)
  • Goh Jin Theng (daughter)
Alma materUniversity of Singapore,
Williams College
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese吴作栋
Traditional Chinese吳作棟

Early life

Goh was born in Singapore in 1941 to Goh Kah Choon and Quah Kwee Hwa, who hailed from the Minnan region of Fujian province in China. He has Chinese Hokkien ancestry.[3][4] Goh studied at Raffles Institution from 1955 to 1960. He was a very competitive swimmer in his younger days and was given the nickname "Bold".

Goh earned a B.A. with first class honours in economics from the University of Singapore and a M.A. in development economics from Williams College in 1967. After his studies, Goh returned to Singapore to work in the government.[5] Goh's dream of getting a Ph.D. was disrupted as the government would not transfer his bursary bond to the university, where he had signed on as a research fellow after graduation. In 2015, Goh was awarded an honorary LL.D. by his alma mater, the National University of Singapore, for his contributions to the country.[6]

Career at Neptune Orient Lines, 1969–1977

In 1969, Goh was seconded to the shipping company Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) as the company's Planning and Projects Manager. His career advanced quickly and by 1973 he was the Managing Director. At NOL, Goh worked under the company's founder, Muhammad Jalaluddin Sayeed, with whom he maintained close ties.[7]

Early political career

In the 1976 general election, Goh, then 35, was elected as Member of Parliament for Marine Parade Single Member Constituency as a People's Action Party (PAP) candidate. He was appointed as a Senior Minister of State for Finance. In 1981, he was promoted to Minister for Trade and Industry and later served in other appointments including Minister for Health and Minister for Defence.[8]

In 1985, Goh became the first Deputy Prime Minister and began to assume the responsibility of the government in a carefully managed leadership transition. According to Lee Kuan Yew, his preferred successor was Tony Tan. However, Goh was selected by the second generation of PAP leaders that included Tony Tan, Suppiah Dhanabalan and Ong Teng Cheong; Lee accepted their decision.[5]

Prime Minister, 1990–2004

On 28 November 1990, Goh succeeded Lee Kuan Yew and became the second Prime Minister of Singapore. Lee remained an influential member of Goh's Cabinet, holding the post of Senior Minister. The 1991 general elections, the first electoral test for Goh, led to the party winning 61% of the popular vote. In 1992, Lee handed over the post of Secretary-General of the People's Action Party (PAP) to Goh, successfully completing the leadership transition.

As Prime Minister, Goh promised a more open-minded and consultative style of leadership than that of his predecessor. This greater openness extended also to the socio-economic spheres of life, for instance, in his support for the rise of "little bohemias" in Singapore, enclaves where more creativity and entrepreneurship could thrive.[9]

Goh's administration introduced several major policies and policy institutions, including:

During the period under Goh's administration, Singapore experienced several crises, such as the 1997 Asian financial crisis, threats of terrorism including the 2001 Singapore embassies attack plot by Jemaah Islamiyah, the 2001–2003 economic recession, and the 2003 SARS outbreak.

As Secretary-General, Goh led the PAP to three general election victories in 1991, 1997, and 2001, in which the party won 61%, 65% and 75% of the votes respectively. After the 2001 general election, Goh indicated that he would step down as Prime Minister after leading the country out of the recession.[5]

During an interview with Time magazine in July 2003, Goh surprised Singaporeans by announcing that his government was openly employing homosexuals, even in sensitive jobs, despite homosexual acts remaining illegal under Section 377A of the Penal Code.[10] Although his announcement drew a strong backlash from conservatives, it nevertheless reinforced his image as an open-minded leader.

Senior Minister, 2004–2011

On 12 August 2004, Goh stepped down as Prime Minister and held a new position as Senior Minister in the Cabinet of his successor, Lee Hsien Loong. On 20 August 2004, Goh assumed the position of Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.[11] After a number of threats of terrorism in Singapore, Goh met local Islamic religious leaders in 2004 and made a visit to Iran, where he met Iranian president Mohammad Khatami and visited local mosques.

Goh subsequently visited other Middle Eastern countries as Senior Minister, with a view to improving diplomatic relationships and thus gaining wider opportunities for Singaporean businesses, especially in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait.

On 1 February 2005, Goh was appointed an honorary Companion of the Order of Australia, Australia's highest civilian honour, "for eminent service to Australia-Singapore relations".[12]

On 19 May 2005, Goh signed a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with Israel's Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a visit to Israel, superseding the agreement signed in 1971. Improvements in the agreement include enhancements to the withholding tax rate on interest income, which was reduced from 15% to 7%. This would benefit Singaporean businessmen with investments in Israel and vice versa, by ensuring they are not taxed twice.

Goh is a patron for the Institute of Policy Studies, a government think tank.

In the 2006 general election, Goh was tasked to help the PAP win back the two opposition wards of Hougang and Potong Pasir.[13] However, he was unsuccessful in this task, as Low Thia Khiang and Chiam See Tong retained their respective wards.

In 2006, Goh was briefly considered for the job of United Nations Secretary-General [14] but he lost out and the job eventually went to Ban Ki-moon.[11]

In 2008, Goh was invited to join the InterAction Council of Former Heads of State and Government, an independent international organisation of former world leaders.

On 24 January 2011, Goh announced that he would continue to seek re-election to Parliament at the 2011 general election. Over the following months, he progressively released snippets prior to the election on the importance of grooming a successor who could be part of the fourth generation PAP leadership to helm Marine Parade GRC in the long run.

Emeritus Senior Minister, 2011–present

After the 2011 general election, in which the opposition made unprecedented gains by winning a group representative constituency (Aljunied), Goh and Lee Kuan Yew announced that they were retiring from the Cabinet in order to give Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the rest of his team a clean slate from which they can make a fresh start in the new parliamentary term.[15]

On 18 May 2011, Lee Hsien Loong announced that Goh was to be appointed a senior adviser to the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and would be given the honorary title of "Emeritus Senior Minister".[16]

On 24 June 2011, Goh was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government.[17]

On 4 May 2012, Goh was appointed as Patron for Advancement of the Singapore University of Technology and Design.[18]

On October 2014, the Madame Tussauds Singapore museum unveiled a wax figure of Goh. At its opening, Goh posed for pictures with his statue.[19]

On 2 August 2018, Goh stated that ministerial pay is not enough and it will adversely impact the ability to attract competent people to join the government in the future. He also dismissed the idea of reducing the minister's salary as a populist move, a move that sparked controversy and public disapproval [20][21]

In an interview in 2019, Goh stated that he believed a 75% to 80% majority in Parliament, in the future, would constitute a 'strong mandate' for the Singapore government. In the same interview, he noted that he does not believe the electoral system needed any further tweaking.[22]

On 4 August 2019, Goh made a Facebook post stating that he felt saddened by how his long-time friend, former PAP politician Tan Cheng Bock, had "lost his way" by forming a new political party, Progress Singapore Party (PSP), to contest in the next general election.[23]


Goh is married to Tan Choo Leng and they have a son and a daughter, who are twins. Their son, Goh Jin Hian, is a physician and their daughter, Goh Jin Theng, lives in London with her husband, Lee Craven.


  1. hermesauto (8 November 2018). "ESM Goh Chok Tong on why he decided to have his memoir written". The Straits Times. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  2. hermesauto (7 September 2018). "ESM Goh Chok Tong to release first volume of biography in November". The Straits Times. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  3. 闽籍华侨华人社团 Archived 22 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  4. "吴作栋] 新加坡前总理吴作栋盛赞千岛湖开元".
  5. Mauzy, Diane K. and R.S. Milne (2002). Singapore Politics Under the People's Action Party. Routledge ISBN 0-415-24653-9
  6. hermesauto (6 July 2015). "NUS confers honorary degrees on ESM Goh, Prof Saw and Sir Richard Sykes". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 6 July 2018. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  7. "Sayeed of Singapore, By Ardeshir Cowasjee, Dawn newspaper, 25 September 2005". Archived from the original on 5 March 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2011.
  8. Goh Chok Tong Archived 22 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine, Cabinet of Singapore
  9. Quoted in "Singapore can become an entrepreneurial society" by Eugene Low, The Business Times, 19 August 2002, and analysed in Brand Singapore: How Nation Branding Built Asia's Leading Global City by Koh Buck Song, Marshall Cavendish 2011, page 160.
  10. "Singapore letting gays halfway out of the closet - smh.com.au". www.smh.com.au. 5 July 2003. Archived from the original on 10 February 2009. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  11. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 October 2006. Retrieved 24 October 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. "Transcript 21592 - PM Transcripts". pmtranscripts.pmc.gov.au. Archived from the original on 11 April 2018. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  13. "SM Goh to help PAP candidates win back Hougang, Potong Pasir seats". Archived from the original on 21 March 2006.
  14. "Candidates for UN Secretary General". UNSG.org. Archived from the original on 11 December 2007. Retrieved 24 November 2007.
  15. "SM Goh, MM Lee to leave Cabinet". Channel NewsAsia. Singapore. 14 May 2011. Archived from the original on 15 May 2011. Retrieved 14 May 2011.
  16. "PM Lee announces sweeping changes to Cabinet". Channel NewsAsia. Singapore. 18 May 2011. Archived from the original on 28 May 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  17. "Goh Chok Tong to receive award from Japanese emperor". ChannelNewsAsia. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
  18. "ESM Goh appointed Patron for Advancement of SUTD". ChannelNewsAsia. Archived from the original on 5 May 2012. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
  19. "PM Lee, ESM Goh to have wax figures at Madame Tussauds Singapore". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times. 22 October 2014. Archived from the original on 27 October 2014. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  20. hermesauto (7 August 2018). "ESM Goh: Ministers not paid enough; harder to attract people to government in the future". The Straits Times.
  21. "'Salaries is not our starting point in looking for ministers': Goh Chok Tong responds to criticism of comments on pay". Channel NewsAsia. Archived from the original on 9 August 2018. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  22. hermes (27 May 2019). "Singapore must have strong ruling party with clear majority: Goh Chok Tong". The Straits Times. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  23. "'It saddens me to see how Tan Cheng Bock has lost his way': ESM Goh". Channel Newsasia. 4 August 2019. Retrieved 5 August 2019.


  • Impressions of the Goh Chok Tong Years in Singapore by Bridget Welsh, James Chin, Arun Mahizhnan and Tan Tarn How (Editors), Singapore: NUS Press, 2009.
  • Brand Singapore: How Nation Branding Built Asia's Leading Global City by Koh, Buck Song. Marshall Cavendish, Singapore, 2011. ISBN 978-981-4328-15-9.
  • Article on civil society in the Goh Chok Tong era – "What plants will grow under the tembusu tree?" by Koh Buck Song, The Straits Times 9 May 1998.
  • Tall Order by Shing Huei Peh, Singapore: World Scientific, 2018.
Political offices
Preceded by
Senior Minister of State for Finance
Succeeded by
S. Dhanabalan
Preceded by
new post
Minister for Trade and Industry
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Toh Chin Chye
Minister for Health
Succeeded by
Howe Yoon Chong
Preceded by
Howe Yoon Chong
Minister for Defence
Succeeded by
Yeo Ning Hong
Preceded by
Goh Keng Swee
Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
Succeeded by
Lee Hsien Loong
Preceded by
Lee Kuan Yew
Prime Minister of Singapore
28 November 1990 – 12 August 2004
Senior Minister
12 August 2004 – 2011
Position abolished
Parliament of Singapore
New constituency Member of Parliament for Marine Parade
Constituency abolished
Member of Parliament for Marine Parade GRC
Party political offices
Preceded by
Lee Kuan Yew
Secretary General of People's Action Party
Succeeded by
Lee Hsien Loong
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Corazon Aquino
Chairperson of ASEAN
Succeeded by
Banharn Silpa-archa
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