From the archives: Finance Minister Hu steps down after 16 years

This article was first published in The Straits Times print edition on Oct 26, 2001.

After keeping reporters wondering if he would contest in Holland-Bukit Panjang GRC, it was clear to all yesterday that Dr Richard Hu, Singapore's Finance Minister since 1985, is stepping down.

Dr Hu, who will celebrate his 75th birthday in five days' time, declined to speak to reporters yesterday.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said he had "some people in mind" to fill Dr Hu's shoes, but declined to give details. The Second Minister for Finance is Mr Lim Hng Kiang, who was returned unopposed in West Coast GRC yesterday.

Before he entered politics as MP for Kreta Ayer, Dr Hu was the chairman and chief executive of Shell. He has worn two other hats, Trade and Industry Minister and Health Minister, but it is as Finance Minister that he has carved his legacy.

Praise came thick and fast for the man who saw through the smooth introduction of the Goods and Services Tax in 1994 and presided over numerous changes to the financial sector, including the liberalisation of the banking sector.

He presented the Budget with his trademark dry wit, announcing surpluses every year, save the recession years of 1987 and 1998.

Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan noted that under DrHu's stewardship, the Government's finances were in "very good shape".

Dr Tan, who held the finance portfolio before Dr Hu took over, said: "Dr Hu has rendered exceptional service to Singapore. The growth of the country's economy during these last 16 years has been due to the fact the Finance Ministry has been managed well."

Both DBS chief executive Philippe Paillart and OCBC vice-chairman and chief executive officer Alex Au noted Dr Hu's role in building Singapore as a financial hub.

Added Mr Au: "Through prudent financial management and sound policy-making, he has helped to strengthen Singapore's robust banking and financial system."

While bankers complimented his strategic mind, others who worked with him at the grassroots said they would miss the fatherly figure, the second-oldest Cabinet minister after Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who is 78.

Mr Seow Chin Thia, 70, a vice-chairman of Kreta Ayer Zone C Residents' Committee, said: "We felt so sad. We realised that he had retired only when we didn't see him at the nomination centre."

Dr Hu is among six political office-holders and 17 PAP Backbenchers who will not be standing in this election.

The other political office-holders are: Senior Minister of State (Environment) Sidek Saniff, 63; Senior Minister of State (Education) Aline Wong, 60; Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Trade and Industry) Tang Guan Seng, 53; Senior Minister of State (Trade and Industry) Peter Chen, 63; and Minister of State (Foreign Affairs) Ow Chin Hock, 58.