Wednesday, 4 October 2023

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Renowned economist and wage policy pioneer, Prof Lim Chong Yah, passes away at 91

SINGAPORE — Esteemed economist and wage policy pioneer, Emeritus Professor Lim Chong Yah, passed away on Saturday morning at the age of 91.

Born in Malacca to a shopkeeper father, Prof Lim’s journey from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of Singapore’s academic and economic world has left an indelible mark on the nation’s development.

Having been awarded a scholarship to study economics at the University of Malaya, later he joined the Singapore administrative service, shaping his career and the future of Singapore’s economy.

Professor Lim served as the chairman of the National Wages Council for 29 years, a role that allowed him to significantly contribute to the economic progress of Singapore.

He also held the title of Emeritus Professor at both the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the highest academic accolade.

In addition to his outstanding contributions to wage policies, Prof Lim was instrumental in establishing the Skills Development Fund Advisory Council, which was aimed at training workers for Singapore’s evolving economy.

His efforts played a crucial role in transitioning the nation from labour-intensive, low-paying jobs to higher economic value roles.

A prolific author, Prof Lim published more than 160 journal articles, monographs and books throughout his career, with two of his books being used as A-level texts in Singapore.

Outside of his professional achievements, Prof Lim was a beloved father to two daughters and two sons. His eldest child, Lee Suet Fern, is a prominent lawyer married to Mr Lee Hsien Yang, the younger son of first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Among those who mourn the loss of Prof Lim are colleagues and peers who were deeply influenced by his work and mentorship.

Professor Euston Quah, Albert Winsemius Chair Professor of Economics and director of NTU’s Economic Growth Centre, and Professor Joseph Liow, Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, both spoke highly of Prof Lim’s dedication to his field, his mentorship, and his invaluable contribution to Singapore’s growth.

Speaking to Straits Times, Prof Liow said, “Prof Lim was a true Singapore son, and rightfully proud of his small part in the Singapore story. He still had a very sharp mind right to the end, and his powers of analysis were as solid as ever. I will miss those lunches very much.”

Tributes also poured in from Singapore’s political community. Manpower Minister Tan See Leng expressed his deep sadness and lauded Prof Lim’s unceasing concern for lower-wage workers.

Peoples Voice chief, Lim Tean wrote in a statement, “Prof Lim was an academic giant and a renown economist who led the National Wage Council for 29 years. He was a most consequential figure in the development of Singapore and students would have been familiar with his book on economics which became the standard text for aspiring economists.”

Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Seng Kang GRC, Associate Professor Jamus Lim who is also an economist, honoured Prof Lim’s work in his statement on Facebook.

“He had led the national consensus on wages between the 1972 and 2001, and near the end of his life, had been a proponent of a mandatory minimum wage.”

And indeed, despite his numerous accomplishments, Prof Lim never lost sight of the importance of supporting Singapore’s lower-wage workers.

He proposed introducing a compulsory minimum wage scheme and suggested requiring companies to increase their Central Provident Fund payouts to low-wage workers. His dedication to these causes serves as a testament to his enduring commitment to Singapore’s socio-economic development.

Professor Lim’s life and work leave a lasting legacy, shaping not only the academic discourse but also the economic reality of Singapore. His loss will be deeply felt across the nation, particularly in the academic and economic communities.

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