By Dr Wong Wee Nam
The name Albert Winsemius should be known to Singaporeans who are interested in Singapore’s economic growth. Without him, we might not be as developed or as prosperous as we are today. The Dutch economist was Singapore’s long-time economic advisor from 1961 to 1984.
In 1960, Singapore had just attained self-government. There was high unemployment and the population was growing rapidly. It was Dr Winsemius who proposed a 10-year development plan to transform Singapore from an entrepot trade port into a centre of manufacturing and industrialization.
His first emphasis was on creating jobs and attracting foreign investment. He rightly introduced labour-intensive industries and encouraged the large-scale public housing programme to address the unemployment and growing population problems. These help to raise the image of Singapore and, made it attractive to investors. With his help, Singapore attracted big oil companies like Shell and Esso to establish refineries here.
Later on, as Singapore upgraded its industries to high-tech manufacturing and electronics, he personally went to persuade large Dutch electronics companies like Philips to set up production plants in Singapore. The idea of Singapore as a financial centre, as well as an international centre for air traffic and sea transport was also proposed by him.
Dr Winsemius’ ideas and advice were so crucial to Singapore’s development that when he died in the Netherlands on December 4, 1996 of pneumonia. Lee Kuan Yew, In a letter of condolences to his family, wrote: “It was Singapore’s good fortune that he (Dr Albert Winsemius) took a deep and personal interest in Singapore’s development. Singapore and I personally are indebted to him for the time, energy and development he gave to Singapore. I am proud to have known him and to have been his friend.”
For his contributions he was rightly given many, awards and conferred numerous honours. One of these honours was to have a road named after him in 2009.
Albert Winsemius Lane is a short lane tucked in an obscure part of Singapore. I lived in the neighbourhood for so many years and it was only the end of last year that I stumbled upon it. It is that insignificant!
The road is off Sunset Lane but it could really be just an extension of the latter that has been lopped off and given its name. If you had not look at the road sign, you would think it is a driveway leading to the East Lodge Hostel or the NEA depot where they used to park rubbish trucks.
What an honour! The road is very much shorter than the road that I have taken my name after. For his contributions, the lane is really an understatement of his achievements.
By Dr Wong Wee Nam