Chua Kim Yeow, candidate in Singapore's first presidential election, dies

Family friends and relatives at the wake of Mr Chua Kim Yeow at his home yesterday. Mr Chua, who stood against former deputy prime minister Ong Teng Cheong in Singapore's first presidential election in 1993, was also Singapore's first local accountan
Family friends and relatives at the wake of Mr Chua Kim Yeow at his home yesterday. Mr Chua, who stood against former deputy prime minister Ong Teng Cheong in Singapore's first presidential election in 1993, was also Singapore's first local accountant-general in 1961.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Former accountant-general Chua Kim Yeow was 90 and died of pneumonia yesterday

Singapore's first local accountant-general, Mr Chua Kim Yeow, who reluctantly stood against former deputy prime minister Ong Teng Cheong in Singapore's first presidential election, died of pneumonia yesterday morning. He was 90.

He had been hospitalised at Singapore General Hospital after falling critically ill early this month, said his second daughter, Dr Chua Hui Ling, who is in her 50s.

"He was an honest, committed man with integrity in the things that he did," said Dr Chua, who recounted her father's humble beginnings. He was a cautious and careful person as well - valuable traits in Singapore's early days of independence, she added.

In 1961, Mr Chua became the first Singaporean to be appointed accountant-general, succeeding a British accountant.

Said Dr Chua: "It's no mean feat to achieve that - he was not born with a silver spoon (in his mouth). A lot of people called him a self-made man."

A top pupil in primary school, he moved on to Raffles Institution but his studies came to an end two years later owing to the Japanese Occupation. After the war, he passed the examination of the Association of Certified Accountants in 1954 by enrolling in a correspondence course with the United Kingdom School of Accountancy.

The professional qualification got him an executive job at the Income Tax Department in the same year. Mr Chua was Singapore's accountant-general for 18 years.He received the Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 1964 and the gold medal in 1975.

After retiring from the civil service in 1979, he joined DBS Bank as its president. He moved to POSB in 1986 to be its executive chairman for seven years .

In 1993, just months after his retirement from banking, Cabinet ministers, including then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who is now Emeritus Senior Minister, urged Mr Chua to run in the country's first presidential election to give voters a choice of candidates. He agreed, but openly acknowledged his reluctance to do so, calling his opponent Mr Ong "a far superior candidate".

He did not have any posters, pamphlets, rallies or do anything usually associated with elections. Instead, his campaigning was kept to two 10-minute television broadcasts. Later, he relented and gave a media interview.

"What made me hesitate a long time was that I would be standing against Mr Ong, who has an outstanding record of public service. In the end I agreed to stand, as I said before, as an act of public duty," he said in the first of his two television broadcasts.

Mr Chua received 41.3 per cent, or 670,358, of valid votes, a better-than-expected performance in the eyes of political observers who pointed out that he was going up against a minister with a much higher public profile. After the election, he withdrew from the public eye as quickly as he entered it.

He returned to the corporate world and took up various appointments, including chairman of Singapore's stock exchange from 1994 to 2000 and chairman of Stamford Tyres from 2000 to 2013.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam said in a Facebook post on Monday (Aug 22) that he and his wife are deeply saddened by the passing of Mr Chua.

"Singapore has lost a selfless and committed man in Mr Chua. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time," wrote Dr Tan.

Ms Dawn Wee, executive director of Stamford Tyres, said that when she visited Mr Chua in the weeks before his death, he recounted how the country had sent four planes to Kuala Lumpur to recover its gold reserves after the separation from Malaysia. "He was certainly a part of Singapore's history."

Former top civil servant J. Y. Pillay, who knew Mr Chua from his early days in the civil service in 1961, said he was reliable and trusted by Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr Hon Sui Sen and others who were finance minister during Mr Chua's long years as the accountant-general.

Mr Pillay added: "Mr Chua was a conscientious, hard-working and well-regarded civil servant and DBS president."

Mr Eric Ang, senior executive adviser of DBS Bank, remembers Mr Chua as a man who prevailed against all odds and was very humble. As a young officer in DBS in the 1980s, he remembers Mr Chua as a caring boss. "When we submitted papers, he would come to our desks to ask us to explain it to him, instead of calling us to his office," said Mr Ang, who saw Mr Chua the afternoon before he died.

"He was a fighter," he added.

Mr Chua is survived by four daughters, three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. His wife, former school teacher Seah Sok Meng, died four years ago.

"Their marriage was very strong and her passing devastated him," said Dr Chua.

Her sisters remember him as a caring and witty father who encouraged them to work hard and be wise with their investments.

Ms Chua Hui Jin, also in her 50s, said her father always told her that "hard work never killed anyone", to always try her best and not shirk from duties.

Referring to his contributions alongside others in founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's time, his daughter, Dr Chua, said: "Everybody wanted to do something good for the country... This is what we need to pass on to the future generations."

Mr Chua's wake is being held at his home in Hua Guan Avenue, off Dunearn Road. He will be cremated on Wednesday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline 'Candidate in S'pore's first presidential election dies'. Print Edition | Subscribe