Section 2
Defence and International Security

Section 3
Linking Bridges and Strengthening Ties

Section 4
Building on the Economic Miracle

Section 5
A Healthy Nation, A Thriving Land

Section 6
Housing a Nation: Changing Times, Changin Needs

Section 7
Sports and Culture: The Finer Things in Life

Section 8
Education for All on Different Paths

Section 9
The Next Decade


Building on the Economic Miracle


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4.1 Expansion of Infrastructure in the Next Decade
4.2 The “BEST” in You and Me: Skills Upgrading for Workers
4.3 Do you know? Industrial Relations
4.4 Wage Correction Policy
4.5 Building an International Financial Centre and Improving Local Banking
4.6 Do You Know? Moving the Clock Forward
4.7 Expanding Trade Links
4.8 Strengthening Sea, Air and Land Communications
4.9 Do you know? The Great (MRT) Debate
4.10 A Surprising Tropical Island on Earth
4.11 Birth of the Golden Orchid
4.12 1985: A Watershed Year for Singapore’s Economy

Expansion of Infrastructure in the Next Decade

In Singapore’s first ten years of independence, Jurong had grown from swampy land to become the Republic’s largest industrial estate.  In the second decade, Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) continued to develop the estate with the construction of factories of varying designs to cater to the different needs of industrialists. Minister for Trade and Industry Dr Tony Tan highlighted the important role of JTC at its staff event in October 1982:

“To give an indication of the importance of JTC’s role in the economy of Singapore we need only note that JTC today manages and develops some 10% of the total land area of our Republic spread out over 37 industrial estates. Some 2,600 companies employing nearly 70 % of Singapore’s total manufacturing workforce are located in JTC’s estates. The output from these companies plus that from activities of Jurong Port and the Jurong Marine Base generate about one-fifth of our GDP.”

Source: JTC Flatted Factory Brochure

Flatted factories in Kampong Ubi were among JTC’s high-rise industrial buildings of three to seven storeys to provide companies with the convenience of enjoying quick start-up and minimum capital outlay.

Source: JTC Standard Factory Brochure

Source: JTC Annual Report 1977/1978, courtesy of NAS

Many multinational companies found Singapore an ideal base for their manufacturing industries. This selection of factory signs shows the wide diversity of industries operating here in the second decade.

Beyond managing the Jurong Industrial Estate, JTC’s 1980 master plan detailed its intentions to amalgamate the southern islands of Pulau Sakra and Pulau Bakau through reclamation for industrial use, develop Seletar for aviation-related industries and provide infrastructure for a Science Park which would help stimulate R&D activities by the private sector.

Source: JTC Annual Report 1985/86, courtesy of NAS
The Singapore Science Park developed for R&D.

As part of Singapore’s industrialisation programme, a $2 billion petrochemical complex was built on Pulau Ayer Merbau in 1984. The complex included an upstream plant capable of producing 300,000 tonnes of ethylene and 160,000 tonnes of propylene a year. This was how the whole complex in Jurong Island started.

Source: Singapore 1983, courtesy of NAS

A semi-submersible accommodation platform built by Far East-Levingston Shipbuilding Ltd, a firm which was managed by Keppel Shipyard from 1980. Singapore had an important oil rig construction sector and was the world’s leading builder of jack-up oil rigs in 1981.

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS

Petrochemical Complex at Pulau Ayer Merbau.

It was an era of capital-intensive and high-technology industries.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) identified the manufacturing of personal computers (PC), printed circuit boards and disc drives as important sunrise industries and worked to attract companies in these areas. As a result, Apple Computer started manufacturing PCs in Singapore in 1981, and disc drive manufacture began subsequently by companies including Maxtor Corporation, Tandon Corporation and Seagate Technology.

Source: Singapore 1985, courtesy of NAS

Laser holography, an advanced non-destructive technique to diagnose defects in materials developed by the Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research (SISIR), was an example of quality upgrading through high technology.

Source: Singapore 1984, courtesy of NAS

Winchester disc drives being tested in an ultra-clean room at Tandon Singapore.

Source: Singapore 1982, courtesy of NAS

Inside a computer assembly plant. Factories were set up in Singapore by American and Japanese computer manufacturers.


The “BEST” in You and Me: Skills Upgrading for Workers

As Singapore shifted from a labour-intensive to a capital-intensive economy, more skilled workers were needed. PM Lee reminded Singaporeans at the opening of Philips-Government Training Centre in October 1976:

“To improve our standard of living, we must continually improve the skills of our young. When they are able to perform most demanding jobs to the highest standards, then we can be a centre for precision engineering.”

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Opened in 1976, the Philips-Government Training Centre was established by the EDB and Philips Singapore to increase the number of industrially trained workers. The above two photos show President Benjamin Sheares visiting the Centre on 6 February 1979.

To encourage employers to think long-term rather than focus on maximum short-term gains, the Skills Development Fund (SDF) was set up in 1979 to provide financial assistance for approved training schemes to upgrade skills and expertise of workers. With the SDF, companies benefited with better trained employees while workers could acquire relevant skills to increase their employability in the job market.

In 1979, the Vocational and Industrial Training Board (VITB) was formed through the merger of Industrial Training Board and the Adult Education Board. It worked closely with employers, employer associations, industry groups and the trade unions to ensure workers were trained with the relevant industrial skills.

Source: NAS

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
Workers undergoing training for skills upgrading.
Among the many training programmes implemented by VITB was the Basic Education for Skills Training (BEST) programme launched in 1983. As a large proportion of the workforce had less than Primary 6 education, BEST taught them basic English and Mathematics so that they were better able to pursue higher industrial training and upgrade their skills.

Source: Our Home, Apr 1984, courtesy of NAS

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS

Minister of State for Education Dr Tay Eng Soon visiting a BEST class
at F&N Pte Ltd in March 1983

The EDB also played a role in the skills upgrading of our labour force by jointly establishing more training centres with foreign industrial partners to meet the specialised manpower needs of high-technology industries. The decade saw the setting up of the Japan-Singapore Training Centre (JSTC), German-Singapore Institute and French-Singapore Institute.

At the opening of the JSTC on 13 January 1981, Minister for Trade and Industry Goh Chok Tong said:

“Singapore is now actively restructuring its economy. Training of manpower to upgrade skills is an important element of our economic restructuring policy. But skills alone is not sufficient to guarantee success of the restructuring programme. It must be matched by dedication, discipline and team spirit in work. It is in this respect that cooperation with Japan has an added significance. Japan has become a world economic power despite her almost total lack of natural resources because her people work as one and place national and company interests before self-interests. The Japan-Singapore Training Centre will be an additional medium through which we can learn such work and social attitudes from Japan.”

Source: Economic Development Board, courtesy of NAS

Trainees at the JSTC, built at a total cost of $12 million.

Source: EDB, courtesy of NAS

Poster for the 1984 French-Singapore Open House

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS

Minister for Trade and Industry, Dr Tony Tan at the opening of the German-Singapore Institute of Production Technology on 12 September 1983.

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS

BG Lee Hsien Loong, Minister of State for Defence and Trade and Industry, and Jean-Michel Baylet, Secretary of State and Minister of External Relations of the Republic of France, touring the French-Singapore Institute during its opening on 15 February 1985.


Do you know? Industrial Relations

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Wage Correction Policy

As part of the overall strategy to shift our economy from labour-intensive to skill-intensive, the National Wages Council (NWC) adopted a three-year corrective wage policy in 1979 and recommended high wage increases to reflect the scarcity of labour. This policy aimed to encourage higher productivity by relying less on labour and more on automation and mechanism through manpower development and positive work attitude, as explained by Minister for Trade and Industry Goh Chok Tong in his Budget Statement on 6 March 1981:

“We must first break the vicious circle of low wages sustaining too labour-intensive activities, which lead in turn to poor productivity growth, an over-tight labour market and slower economic growth. Corrective wage increases over three years will force employers to save labour. Underemployed labour will be released for more productive employment in the better industries and services. After the transition period of three years of corrective wages to untighten the labour market and bring it back to normal, we must continue to have market-oriented wage increases.”

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS

Established in 1972 and chaired by Professor Lim Chong Yah, the NWC continued to play an active role in setting guidelines for wage adjustments. In 1979, it recommended high-wage increases over a period of three years in tandem with the shift from a labour-intensive to skill-intensive economy.

With the corrective wage policy implemented, firms embarked on more ways to increase productivity, such as product upgrading, reorganisation of labour, mechanisation and skills upgrading through manpower training. The increased efficiency in labour utilisation contributed significantly to the high rate of economic growth, with real GDP growing by 10.2% in 1980.

Source: Sunday Times, 1 Jun 1980, Singapore Press Holdings


Building an International Financial Centre and Improving Local Banking

To sustain economic growth for the second decade and beyond, the Government planned to transform Singapore into an international financial centre – a London or New York of the East. This was an ambitious venture for a young nation, but there were striking factors which made Singapore suitable for the role: strong domestic economy, stable currency and strategic location/time zone that enabled it to conduct business with European and fellow Asian markets.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) adopted a liberal policy in order to stimulate the market for Asian Currency Units (ACU). Tax rates on loans granted to non-residents were slashed from 40% to 10% in 1976. Two years later, the exchange control was completely liberalised – residents were free to borrow and lend in all currencies as well as deal freely in foreign exchange. From April 1983, all income derived from ACUs from loans syndicated in Singapore was exempted from taxation.

As Singapore’s finance sector matured, stock market activity also increased. The Stock Exchange of Singapore (SES) grew from having 269 listed companies in 1975 to 316 by the end of 1985. Some companies which became publicly listed in this period include Boustead (1975), Hotel Grand Central (1978), Keppel Corporation (1980), Neptune Orient Lines (1981) and Singapore Press Holdings (1984).

Source: MAS Annual Reports 1976-1986, courtesy of NAS

By the end of second decade, the value of ACUs in terms of their assets/liabilities increased by more than 12 times, from US$12.6 billion to US$155.4 billion.

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Scences from the trading room of the SES.

Source: MAS Annual Reports 1976-1986, courtesy of NAS

Between 1975 to 1979, the turnover of securities traded annually ranged between 0.6 to 1.5 billion units (valued at between $1.1-$3.4 billion). However, trading activity stepped up in the next six years. With the exception of a large drop in activity in 1982, the turnover of securities from 1980 to 1985 ranged from 2.1 to 3.6 billion units (valued at between $6.3-$13.5 billion).

As trading activity increased, technological upgrades ensured a faster and more reliable stock exchange system. The trading system underwent computerisation in July 1982 with the introduction of electronic trading boards. Later that year, 700 communications systems terminals were installed at the 25 member-companies, enabling direct transmission of information from the trading floor.

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Computers helped speed up operations at the SES.

The Gold Exchange of Singapore (GES) began operation on 22 November 1978, becoming the first gold futures market in the Asian region. In 1983, it was superceded by the Singapore International Monetary Exchange (SIMEX), which formally introduced the trading in financial futures in Singapore.

Source: Singapore 1985, courtesy of NAS

Source: MOC (MICA), courtesy of NAS

SIMEX linked up with the International Monetary Markets of Chicago Mercantile Exchange to offer a near 24-hour trading system.

With rapid growth of Singapore’s reserves in the 1970s, the Government decided that it was prudent to invest the bulk of them in longer term and high-yielding assets. These would be stored as Singapore’s “nest egg and insurance for a rainy day.” In May 1981, the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) was formed as a sovereign wealth fund with assets of several billion Singapore dollars. This has since grown to over US$100 billion dollars in 2008.

“The GIC was set up on 22 May 1981, 25 years ago. In the 1970s, Singapore’s financial reserves grew steadily from public sector surpluses. MAS was investing in these funds mainly in short-term assets. I was then Prime Minister. My deputy, Dr Goh Keng Swee, convinced me that we should have a dedicated institution, separate from MAS, to specialize in managing our foreign reserves. This would allow MAS to concentrate on its central banking functions.”

Extract of speech by Ministor Mentor Lee Kuan Yew at GIC 25th Anniversary Dinner, 11 July 2006

Source: Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, courtesy of NAS

Source: Government of Singapore Investment Corporation,
courtesy of NAS
GIC’s first board of governors.

The second decade saw the expansion of Singapore’s banking sector with a more than threefold increase in the number of offshore banks from 21 to 79. This was encouraged by the liberalisation of offshore licences granted to foreign banks in July 1978, a move which increased competition within the banking sector. In a move to improve customer service and enhance productivity, the Government launched a $250,000 campaign in March 1985 to promote a cashless society in three areas: the direct crediting of worker salaries into their bank accounts, payment of bills by GIRO and payment of retail purchases via Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale (EFTPOS). The reduction in cash transactions would save the Government an estimated $24.5 million in manpower cost a year.

Source: POSB, courtesy of NAS

POSB became a member of Interbank GIRO in May 1985.

Source: Singapore 1982, courtesy of NAS

POSB was the first local bank to launch the ATM service with its Cash-On-Line Teller in December 1979.

Source: Singapore 1982, courtesy of NAS

Automatic cheque clearing system.

Source: MCI (now MICA), courtesy of NAS

This poster was produced as part of the campaign to promote a cashless society.
Before the end of second decade, our financial sector had become the leading growth sector, accounting for approximately 30% of the overall GDP growth in 1983. It was also the fourth largest sector in the economy, after commerce, manufacturing and transport and communication. Regionally, Singapore became the most important financial centre in Asia after Tokyo and Hong Kong. In his 1985 Budget statement, Minister for Finance Dr Tony Tan spelt out the vision for Singapore as an advanced international financial centre:

“Our next stage of development as a financial centre will be the promotion of fee-based financial services. This is a high value-added economic activity which requires high calibre expertise. It can generate spin-offs for the whole range of supporting services such as telecommunications, legal, secretarial, financial, printing, travel and hotel services."


Do You Know?
Moving the Clock Forward

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Expanding Trade Links

As more goods were being manufactured in Singapore, the Government provided financial aid to manufacturers to encourage their participation in overseas trade fairs so that they could find new markets. This financial aid was also given to non-manufacturers such as traders and bankers.

To eliminate double taxation and to provide incentives for the flow of investments, skilled personnel, technology and trade with other countries, Singapore signed Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements with more trading partners, namely, Canada, Korea, Finland and India.

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS

Minister for Finance Hon Sui Sen signed the Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement with Canada’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce Donald Jamieson on 6 March 1976.

Source: MTI

Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement between Singapore and India signed
on 20 April 1981.

In response to strong requests from the business community, the Trade Development Board (TDB) was set up in January 1983. The aim of TDB was to expand Singapore’s international trade through the development of export markets for our goods and services. By 1985, the TDB had 13 overseas offices and five Honorary Trade Representatives in countries such as China, Japan and Italy to look after the trade interests of Singapore. Overseas centres of the TDB also encouraged reputable foreign-owned companies to base their international purchasing operations in Singapore.

Source: Singapore TDB Annual Report 1985/1986

Over a period of nine years, Singapore’s exports grew from $32 billion in 1975 to $112.5 billion in 1984 although these declined in 1985 due to a more difficult global trading environment. However, exports of computers (including peripherals) and printed circuit boards still grew by an encouraging 34% and 27%, respectively, between 1984 and 1985, demonstrating Singapore’s shift to high-tech goods. Singapore’s domestic exports were also growing more rapidly than re-exports, indicating that entrepot trade no longer dominated the economy.

“The search for new markets for our products is becoming tougher. industrialised countries, faced with high unemployment and low growth rates, are becoming more protectionist… Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that our business community, our traders and industrialists have been calling for the establishment of a statutory board which would concern itself exclusively with trade promotion and development. The success of establishments like JETRO, KOTRA and similar bodies in Taiwan, Hong Kong also lent credence to the belief that such a statutory board would serve a useful purpose in Singapore.”

Minister for Trade and Industry Dr Tony Tan addressing the Chairman and members of the TDB on 7 January 1983.

Source: Singapore 1985, courtesy of NAS

Source: Singapore 1986, courtesy of NAS

Singapore had established itself as a regional hub for the export of orchids and aquarium fish by the mid-1970s, and these continued to be an important source of income in the second decade. The success could be attributed to the infrastructural facilities and technical expertise that provided strong support for these two export markets. The Sembawang Field Experimental Station, for example, conducted research and trials to cultivate orchid hybrids, while the Sembawang Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory continually improved its techniques for breeding ornamental fish.
  Strengthening Sea, Air and Land Communications

Port Development through Containerisation

The period of 1975-1985 saw the port of Singapore growing in strength despite difficult international economic conditions. The foresight shown by the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) to build a container port at a time when no other Asian country except Japan had gone into this operation, was rewarded by spectacular growth in container cargo in the mid-seventies. This contributed significantly to Singapore’s continued port development. In 1982, when the Container Terminal celebrated its 10th anniversary, its capacity reached 1.04 million containers. That year Singapore overtook Rotterdam to become the world’s busiest port, in terms of shipping tonnage.

Source: Ong Teng Cheong Collection, courtesy of NAS
Minister for Communications and Labour Ong Teng Cheong cutting the celebratory cake at the 10th Anniversary Celebrations of Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal in 1982 as PSA Chairman Lim Kim San (left) and PSA General Manager Wong Hung Khim (right) look on.

Source: PSA Annual Report 1978, courtesy of NAS

Source: PSA Annual Reports 1974-1985, courtesy of NAS

In 1975, the amount of cargo handled dropped by 13.8% due to increased protectionism in global trading after the 1973 oil crisis and 1973-74 stock market crash. However, cargo volume soon returned to positive growth even during the 1979 energy crisis and decline in economic activity in the early 1980s. It took the 1985 economic recession for numbers to dip.

Source: PSA Annual Reports 1975-1985, courtesy of NAS

The period from 1975 to 1985 saw a steady growth of 24% on average in container handling. In 1978, after just six years of operation, Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal became Singapore’s most important shipping gateway, handling 33.1% of total general cargo, compared with Keppel Wharves’ contribution of 25.8%.

Part of the success of Singapore’s Container Terminal must be attributed to its state-of-the-art computerised Container Handling Information System, which pre-assigns a location to a container even as it is making its way to the port, and subsequently monitors it until its departure. By March 1985, the Container Terminal had expanded to nine berths with a total wharf length of 2,900 metres. It proved to be one of the most efficient and cost-effective terminals in the world, requiring only 12 hours to handle 1,000 boxes from a container ship.

Source: PSA Annual Report 1977, courtesy of NAS

Source: Singapore 1978, courtesy of NAS

Source: Singapore 1982, courtesy of NAS

Source: PSA Annual Report 1983, courtesy of NAS
Computerisation greatly transformed the operation of the port of Singapore.

“I must say that looking at the Port today, I think that it has coped extremely well, mainly I think because with containerisation, came computerisation. When you are dealing with loads of 20 tons and 35 tons each, the stability of the ship has to be taken into consideration quite a bit. And when you're loading it, you got to make sure, because although they have standard containers as they say 8 x 4 x 4 or 8 x 8 x 20 or 8 x 8 x 40. You'd always get containers that are 8-foot 3 inches because of modifications or designs or 8-foot 6 inches. And then you've got overheight containers which are loaded over and above and they need special handling. And this means special storage. So the computers then were a very big asset. Because once you feed in information as to where the cargo is stored and every change that is made of its location, is also stored, then the computer has taken over a considerable amount of work by individuals trying to work out mathematically and so forth, the planning of the vessel or the planning of the storage of a vessel.”

Extract of oral history interview in 1984 (Reel 3) with Ronald Milne, former Deputy Director, Staff and Training, PSA.

Learning Journeys to the Port of Singapore: A Must-See for Many Foreign Dignitaries

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Visit by Crown Prince Harald of Norway (Feb 1978).

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Visit by Thai Prime Minister General Kriangsak Chomanan (Feb 1978).

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
Visit by German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (Oct 1978).

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Visit by United Nations Secretary-General Dr Kurt Waldheim and wife (May 1979).

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Visit by Tanzanian Vice-President Aboud Jumbe (Apr 1980).

Source: Ong Teng Cheong Collection, courtesy of NAS
Visit by President Lagumot Harris of Nauru (Apr 1980).

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian (Jan 1985).

Goodbye Paya Lebar, Hello Changi

By early ‘70s, Paya Lebar Airport was getting too small to handle the increasing air traffic and passengers. Due to land limitation, it was not possible to expand existing ground for additional runways. In 1975, the Special Committee on Airport Development, headed by Howe Yoon Chong, Head of the Singapore Civil Service, recommended to the Government that the airport should be moved to Changi as the latter was a superior location with the taking-off and landing over the sea causing less noise pollution and disruption to the area.

At the Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony for the Passenger Terminal Building on 25 August 1979, Minister for Communications Ong Teng Cheong said:

“Development of the new Changi Airport has generated numerous economic benefits for Singapore. Airport construction has increased construction activities at a time when such activities were slack. By providing convenient and direct access to and from the rest of the world, Changi Airport will have considerable impact on tourism and trade in Singapore. This will create a favourable chain reaction on other sectors of the economy. In addition, the Airport will create additional employment in medium and high-skilled activities and stimulate development in airport-related industries.”

Source: STPB (now STB), courtesy of NAS
A view of the Control Tower at Changi Airport in the 1980s.

Source: NAS
Aerial view of Paya Lebar Airport.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
On 26 October 1977, less than two years after the supersonic Concorde – an icon world aviation history – entered into service, Singapore Airlines (SIA) and British Airways (BA) announced an agreement for a thrice weekly service between London and Singapore via Bahrain - a very early form of code share/alliance among airlines that is common today. Paya Lebar became the region's first airport to receive this inaugural Concorde flight on 9 December 1977. The Concorde (pictured) assigned to the Singapore route was registered as G-BOAD. The technical crew and operations were supplied by BA while the flight attendants were equally shared out by BA and SIA. The plane was painted with BA’s livery on one side and SIA’s on the other. The journey time was cut from an average of 14 hours to a mere 9 hours but passengers had to pay a princely sum of S$12,000 to fly at twice the speed of sound. It was a marketing triumph for our national carrier – SIA was one of four airlines in the world to have used the super plane, notwithstanding that the service ended on 1 Nov 1980 due to high operating costs and low loads, making the service not profitable as expected.

The newly-completed Changi Airport started operation in 1981 with only one terminal and in that first year, handled 8.1 million passengers, 193,000 tons of air freight and 65,054 aircraft movements – a considerable increase compared to the Paya Lebar Airport, which was operating at a maximum capacity of four million passengers a year.

Towards the end of the second decade, reflecting the emphasis given to improving customer service, more than 90% of arriving passengers cleared immigration, collected their baggage and cleared Customs within 30 minutes of their landing. For the convenience of passengers, more than 95% of flights were allocated to the 22 fixed gate parking stands so that passengers could be served by aerobridges. With computerisation, features such as automated ticketing, fares display and hotel reservations were also introduced.

Growth in passenger traffic necessitated the construction of a second terminal. With piling works commencing in February 1985, Changi Airport continued to expand, securing its reputation as a world class airport through the continuous pursuit for quality and innovation. The decision to move to Changi, in which the Government had to write-off the $800 million Paya Lebar Airport, was described in 2009 by MM Lee Kuan Yew as “one of the best investments” that Singapore had ever made.

Source: CAAS, courtesy of NAS

Baggage presentation times were closely monitored in order to improve handling procedures, so that more flights could meet first and last baggage target times of 12 and 25 minutes respectively.

The Secret Formula of Changi Airport’s Success

Source: CAAS, courtesy of NAS
The SATS Inflight Catering Centre produced a total of five million meals a year during the early 1980s, which worked out to about 13,700 meals a day. By the end of the second decade, the Inflight Catering Centre had expanded with the establishment of a Japanese kitchen.

Source: CAAS, courtesy of NAS
The Cargo Complex operated round the clock throughout the year to deliver goods with speed and efficiency, providing the answer for exporters, importers and manufacturers who needed to reach world markets quickly with their goods.

Source: CAAS, courtesy of NAS
The monitoring of airport mechanical and electrical systems was handled by the Building Automation System, which tracked performance and adjusted the operation of plant and equipment to meet actual needs and provide warning of impending breakdowns. Regular maintenance was carried out continuously to keep the airport in excellent condition.

Source: CAAS, courtesy of NAS
An in-house television system – the first of its kind in the region then – was installed inside the departure lounges and transit areas to keep passengers entertained while waiting to catch their flights. Other features such as automated ticketing, fares display and hotel reservations were also available at the new airport.

Source: CAAS, courtesy of NAS
With the attractive pricing and wide range of merchandise, complemented by attentive and friendly service, shopping was a popular activity for air travellers. The Duty-Free Shop was one of the many well-designed, informally clustered, open-front shops in Changi Airport.

Moving Towards a Comprehensive Land Transport System

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Improvements were made to public transport to make it a more attractive alternative. As backbone of the public transport system, Singapore Bus Service (1978) Ltd was listed on the Stock Exchange in April 1978. Singaporeans were able to buy shares with their CPF money and as shareholders, enjoy travel concessions on buses. The public offering allowed the company to raise necessary funds to finance capital expenditure. SBS increased its fleet from 2,200 buses in 1975 to more than 3,400 in 1985. New interchanges were also completed, including Jurong (1978), Bedok (1979), Clementi (1980), Bukit Merah (1980) and Woodlands (1981). As an ongoing drive to improve efficiency, buses were increasingly converted to One-Man Operation (OMO), thus saving manpower costs.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
As more buses converted to OMO (right) throughout the second decade, bus conductors (left) became an increasingly rarer sight. SBS conducted training programmes to redeploy conductors as drivers.

Source: Singapore Bus Service (1978) Ltd Annual Report 1982, courtesy of NAS

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
SBS introduced double-decker buses to serve large HDB estates. The first double-decker Service 86 ran from Tampines Way Terminal to Shenton Way and was launched on 13 June 1977 by Senior Minister for State for Communications Ong Teng Cheong.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS

“Today, seven years after its formation, I can say with confidence that SBS has proven itself equal to the task of providing the backbone of public transport in Singapore. This it has done quite admirably. The average breakdown of its buses on the road, for example, has fallen from about 55 per cent in 1974 to five per cent today. This is despite the fact that about 900 more buses have been added since then, and that daily ridership has increased from 1.5 million to 2.2 million today.”

Minister for Communications Ong Teng Cheong at the opening of SBS Headquarters Complex at Braddell Road on 19 July 1980

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS

In 1981, the Government allowed the formation of a second major bus company, Singapore Shuttle Bus (SSB). It ran the Trans-Island Bus Services (TIBS), which began operations on 3 April 1983. The Government’s idea of allowing this second bus company was to provide competition and bring about a better level of service for commuters.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS

The City Shuttle Service (CSS), operated by SSB, was first introduced in May 1975 under the Government’s Park and Ride scheme. When the scheme was discontinued the following year due to low usage, the service focused on ferrying commuters from the housing estates like Bedok, St Michael’s, Queenstown, Bukit Merah and Sin Ming to the CBD. CSS finally stopped operation in April 2007 as a result of low ridership.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS

While bus companies continued to improve their bus services, the Government continued to upgrade public transport infrastructure such as bus shelters. This picture shows a modern mushroom-shaped bus shelter along Orchard Road in 1984.

Do you know that in August 1982, SBS launched a “Use Singapore Currency Only” Campaign to stop the growing number of passengers paying their fares in foreign currency, resulting in a potential loss of $1.6 million in revenue?

With the Government’s continued efforts to curb the car population, taxis became a popular door-to-door service. To meet rising demand, more taxi operators were granted licences. By the end of 1983, there were five taxi operators in Singapore – SBS, Singapore Commuter, NTUC COMFORT, Singapore Airport Bus Service and the “Yellow-Top” group. The number of taxis doubled from 5,200 in 1975 to more than 11,000 in 1985.

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS

NTUC Transport Co-operative promoted self-ownership of taxis and aided
drivers in achieving this.

“Taxis have become an accepted mode of public transport instead of being used only by the privileged few as in the past. This has been brought about largely by growing affluence and higher expectations of the people. The use of taxis by visitors has also risen as a result of Singapore becoming increasingly attractive as a tourist destination.”

Senior Minister of State for Communications Ong Teng Cheong at the NTUC-COMFORT Taxi Allocation Ceremony on 5 March 1977

By 1984, all taxis were fitted with electronic meters, 98% were air-conditioned and 11% equipped with radio phones which made booking by telephone possible. Taxi owners had also been allowed to install radios since February 1982, although passengers had a right to request that radios be switched off.

The second decade saw many infrastructural improvements to the land transport system. A new and larger Woodlands Immigration Checkpoint began operation in May 1977, facilitating road travel between Singapore and Malaysia. The first two expressways in Singapore - the 35.5-km Pan Island Expressway and 19.5-km East Coast Parkway were completed in 1981, improving island-wide access, including a direct link from the city centre to the newly opened Changi Airport. By the end of second decade, the 11-km Bukit Timah Expressway was fully operational, in addition to 2,644 km of public roads, 79 km of expressways and 49 flyovers. 3/4 of all streets in the CBD had become one-way with road widths standardised to improve traffic flow.

Source: Singapore 1982, courtesy of NAS

Source: Singapore 1978, courtesy of NAS

The new $13 million Woodlands Immigration Checkpoint was built to cope with the projected increase of traffic in the next 10 years.

“I always remember one of my first project was the Pan Island Expressway. In those days there were no flyovers. The first flyover you remember was Oxley Rise, the second one was Toa Payoh-Braddell Road. Those were the only flyovers – small ones. So we came with this project from PWD (Public Works Department) where we have a PIE stretching from Changi all the way from Bukit Timah and we got five or six flyovers… How to justify flyovers? So finally we put up one and surprise of surprises Dr Goh (Keng Swee) agreed to the whole thing except one… a flyover next to the Island Club… Dr Goh said, ‘How many people play golf? Why would you need such a big flyover there, forget about it, cut it out.’ But later on we managed to reinstate it and it was called the Adam Road flyover.

And my regret at that time was that we approved only a two-lane rather than a three-lane. I think we didn’t anticipate the traffic but at least we got the road reserved. So the first Pan Island Expressway I remember was two lanes all the way. Two lanes on each side. Now it’s three lanes, four lanes. But for this we got to reserve the land. That was a satisfying project. Without the PIE, I don’t know where we would be…”

Extract of oral history interview with Bernard Chen Tien Lap, 2001, Reel 5. Mr Chen was involved in the construction of the PIE while in the Budget Development Division of the Ministry of Finance.

Source: Singapore 1978, courtesy of NAS

This flyover straddling across Braddell Road and leading towards Toa Payoh town helped facilitate traffic flow.

Source: STPB
Benjamin Sheares Bridge (above left), the longest in Singapore (1,855 m) opened to traffic in September 1981. Named after the Republic’s second President who passed away four months earlier, it linked the newly built East Coast Parkway (above right) from Tanjong Rhu to the reclaimed lands where Marina Centre and Marina South would be fully developed in the third decade.

“Benjamin Sheares Bridge is a very high level bridge. There was a controversy then when we were trying to build this bridge because the thing was there was a lot of ship repair yards in Tanjong Rhu. At that time we had Vosper Thornycroft and a few others in Tanjong Rhu. So we have to make sure that the boats can go in and out. If you build a bridge, it cannot pass. So we’re looking at the design of the bridge. We thought high level bridge, one, then we thought of bascule bridge, like (Tower) Bridge of London – bridge opening. So I remember it was discussed even at cabinet level, what’s the bridge to have? And finally decided on a high level bridge, because you see an opening bridge, when it open, the traffic all has to stop....

But the irony of it is that the moment we awarded the contract and started building a bridge, decision was made that all the shipyards have to move out. So actually the bridge was not needed….

But my understanding is that after this bridge is in place for adequate number of years, we may demolish it and build a low level or even an underground one, because the high level bridge blocks the view of the city. You know, you have the city here; the bridge is here. From here it blocks the view. So that was one of the things I remember, and I remember we awarded this contract to the Japanese contractor and we called for tender. All the tenders came in at 250 million upwards. This Japanese contractor came in and offered 160 million – 90 million cheaper you know? So we were shocked. So we had a discussion with them, “Are you sure you understood what we want?” And this contactor is new, first time he’s in Singapore, but he told us, “I want to come here, establish myself, so I need a big job.” So he got the job and he built a very good bridge.”

Extract of oral interview with James Koh Cher Siang, 2008, reel 3.

Even with improving bus and taxi services, the Government projected that the capacity of the existing transport system would not be able to meet the demand of the ‘90s and therefore decided in May 1982 to build a mass rapid transit system, first conceptualised in the 1965 revised Master Plan. Work first began on the north-south line, which would stretch from Yio Chu Kang to the CBD through Orchard.


Do You Know?
The Great (MRT) Debate

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A Surprising Tropical Island on Earth

Tourism was becoming increasingly important in the second decade of nation building with its substantial contribution to Singapore’s economic growth, as envisioned by Dr Winsemius, Singapore’s long-time economic advisor (1960-1984):

“We wanted really to have four feet to stand on: manufacturing industry, tourism, banking and services, etc. Tourism I think it was already developing somewhat. I developed the theory which turned out to be true that Singapore, because it has little to show the tourists, should find a sort of niche in increasing tourism in the world by being an entrepot for tourists. I suggested, let’s make and give some incentives and have good hotels in every price group.”

Tourists who visited Singapore doubled from 1,324,312 in 1975 to 3,030,970 in 1985. This was a considerable achievement, given the fact that in 1964, the year the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB) was established, Singapore only received 91,000 visitors.

To position Singapore as a preferred tourist destination, STPB actively produced promotional posters and audio-visual shows in different languages for distribution overseas. These publicity materials showcased Singapore as a garden city of many races and cultures, and promoted its excellent food, shopping, tourist facilities, as well as its clean and green environment.

Despite the sluggish world economy in 1985, foreign exchange earnings from tourism still amounted to $2,173 million, with tourism industry contributing 5.3% to the GDP.

Souce: STPB Annual Report 1975/76, courtesy of NAS

Source: STB, courtesy of NAS

Source: STB, courtesy of NAS

Source: STB, courtesy of NAS
Opened in 1976, the Singapore Handicraft Centre promoted the souvenir industry as well as local and regional artists. Renowned local Chinese painter Chen Wen Hsi’s gallery was set up there. Apart from enjoying on-the-spot demonstrations of traditional skills by local and foreign craftsmen, visitors could also purchase tourist souvenirs to remind them of their visit to Singapore.

Source: Singapore 1978, courtesy of NAS

Source: Singapore 1978, courtesy of NAS

Source: STB (courtesy of NAS)

Source: STPB (now STB), courtesy of NAS
No Singapore experience is complete without a taste of local food.  In 1978, the Rasa Singapura Food Centre was opened with some of the best hawker stalls around Singapore. Conveniently located in Tanglin for tourists, the Singapore Handicraft Centre and Rasa Singapura were also well patronised by locals.

Source: STPB Annual Report 1981/82, courtesy of NAS

Source: Singapore 1984, courtesy of NAS

Source: STPB Annual Report 1981/82, courtesy of NAS
More tourist attractions like the $16 million electric monorail system and the $3.2 million Musical Fountain were added in Sentosa. With the introduction of ‘Breakfast with an Orang Utan’ programme in 1982, visitors could enjoy an unforgettable dining experience with Ah Meng – the celebrity orang utan.

Source: STB
Younger generation Singaporeans might not have known of the Van Kleef Aquarium – a popular attraction among Singaporeans, as well as tourists. Visitorship peaked at over 400,000 in 1979. As more attractions came onboard, especially the opening of Sentosa’s state-of-the-art Underwater World Aquarium in 1991, it was difficult for the old aquarium to compete. The Van Kleef Aquarium closed down in the same year due to declining visitor interest.
The STPB also continued to promote Singapore as a convention city.  With Singapore’s reputation growing as a convention centre, the number of international conventions and exhibitions held in Singapore went up from 114 in 1976 to 376 in 1984. In the following year, Singapore won the distinction of being Asia’s top convention city for the third consecutive year.

Source: STPB Annual Report 1982/83
The conference held at the Shangri-La Hotel by the International Federation of Consulting Engineers in June 1982 attracted almost 400 participants from 45 countries. This was one of the many successful conventions and exhibitions held to boost Singapore’s reputation as a Convention Centre of the East.

Source: STPB Annual Report 1975/76, courtesy of NAS
There were some major convention activities held in Singapore during the period 1975 to 1976.

Do You Know?
Birth of the Golden Orchid

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1985: A Watershed Year for Singapore’s Economy

In 1985, Singapore’s real GDP contracted by 1.8%, the Republic’s first recession since independence. It caught many by surprise because Singapore’s economy had been growing at an average annual rate of 8.5% in the 1970s and 8.9% between 1980 and 1984.

As Mr J Y Pillay, former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance recalled in his 1995 oral history interview: “Even when we were into the recession, we were not aware of it. Not only were the leading indicators defective but the coincident indicators also did not reveal the magnitude of the problem with the sudden change. It was I think only after the middle of the year that we recognised that we were in a pickle.”

GDP by Industry (at 1968 factor cost)


1983 ($’000 million)

1984 ($’000 million)

1985 ($’000 million)

% of 1985 growth
















Transport & Communications





Financial & Business Services





Other Sectors





Less Imputed Bank Charges










Source: Economic Survey of Singapore 1985

The construction sector suffered a steep drop after the large but unsustainable property boom enjoyed in the preceding years. Key manufacturing industries such as shipbuilding, ship repairs and oil refining also contracted because of a dip in global demand and increasing regional competition. Singapore had become less cost competitive as a result of rising wages.

“By 1982 [the wage adjustment] operation was over… But unfortunately, because of the buoyant economy, demand for labour far exceeded supply and because of the economic restructuring period proper, some people still expected a fairly high wage increase. So… actual wage increase often were much higher then what we recommended… By 1984, we could not stop employers from paying their workers much more. They wanted to compete for labour. So in competing for labour they were prepared to pay much more.”

Oral history interview with founding Chairman (1972-2001) of the National Wages Council, Professor Lim Chong Yah, 1995, Reel 11

“The big anxiety was that Singapore was losing its competitiveness [in] mass production manufacturing… Our neighbours were getting more competitive… China had not yet become a major factor but it was also visible… So, I think, in '85 in re-examining our situation, the conclusion… was that we cannot expect to compete with all these emerging rivals on the same basis as they were doing of cheap labour… 20 years before that, we did that to the Japanese, Europeans and Americans. So, now what do we do? We are not able to protect our jobs, so the main thing we needed to do was to upgrade.”

Oral history interview with Chairman (1982-86), Economic Development Board, Hwang Peng Yuan, 2003, Reel 13

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS

Minister of State for Trade and Industry, BG Lee Hsien Loong led an Economic Committee in April 1985 to address the deteriorating economic conditions. Based on the committee’s recommendations, the Singapore Government took the following steps:

  • Employers’ CPF contribution was reduced from 25% to 10%.
  • A two-year wage restraint was imposed.
  • Corporate and personal tax rates were reduced from 40% to 33%.

"One day I ran into Dr Goh. 'Dr Goh, have you read these speeches? Is CPF really a sacred cow?' He turned around to me, 'Ngiam, in politics there are no sacred cows.' That was a cue for me. That means, if you put this to them very firmly, then they will consider. Then BG Lee one morning called me - I was his Permanent Secretary – I said, ‘Look, they have asked for this and I think that's the right thing to do. Because we have overpriced ourselves, we should cut our wages.’ In fact, it's quite painless because all that it means is that your CPF savings are less. But your take home pay still remains the same. I don’t know whether he remembers the conversation or not. But to my very pleasant surprise, a week later, he recommended to the Cabinet. In fact, the Cabinet went even further than what we recommended. Once they were convinced, they were prepared to go all the way. They reduced the employer's [contribution] down to [10 per cent].”

Extract of oral history interview (1995, Reel 7) with Ngiam Tong Dow, who was a member of the Economic Committee tasked to reform economic policy during the recession.

“The main role NWC played [during the recession] was to advocate a wage restraint policy, a severe wage restraint policy and support the government on the cutting down of CPF rates, and the restructuring cess, the Skills Development cess and I think we avoided the word “freeze”. Actually wages were frozen for two years although the word was not used. When we supported this policy, or advocated this policy of severe wage restraint as part of the overall government policy, workers accepted that policy. There was not a single protest on the part of our workers because they could understand the need for it… So we had wage restraint, very successful wage restraint in 1985 and ’86. And that kept our costs low, or low enough to rebound and to regain our competitiveness in terms of cost.”

Oral history interview with Professor Lim Chong Yah, 1995, Reel 12

The Government’s swift response helped reverse the declining economy and prevent the hardship that a lengthy recession could have brought. In 1986, Singapore’s GDP grew modestly by 1.8% before returning to high growth rates: 8.8% in 1987 and 11% in 1988. Singapore had survived its first major economic crisis as an independent nation.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS

The Straits Times published an info-graphic spread titled “Recession & You” and “Bringing back the good times” to explain to Singaporeans the economic situation that we were facing and what steps had to be taken to overcome it.

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