Chua Kim Yeow, Singapore's first local accountant-general, dies at age of 90

Presidential candidate Chua Kim Yeow (left) and his wife, Madam Seah Sok Meng, at Pei Hwa School to cast their votes on Aug 28, 1993.
Presidential candidate Chua Kim Yeow (left) and his wife, Madam Seah Sok Meng, at Pei Hwa School to cast their votes on Aug 28, 1993. PHOTO: ST FILE
Chua Kim Yeow (centre) being surrounded by the media, after losing to his rival, Mr Ong Teng Cheong, during Singapore's first presidential election in 1993.
Chua Kim Yeow (centre) being surrounded by the media, after losing to his rival, Mr Ong Teng Cheong, during Singapore's first presidential election in 1993. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mr Chua Kim Yeow, a former accountant-general who was a candidate in Singapore's first presidential election, died of pneumonia in the early hours of Sunday morning (Aug 21). He was 90.

He had been hospitalised in Singapore General Hospital after falling critically ill in early August, 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 recalled her father's humble beginnings. She added that he was a cautious and careful person as well - traits that were valuable to the country in its early days of independence.

In 1961, Mr Chua became the first local to take up the post of accountant-general, succeeding a British accountant.

It was quite the accomplishment for someone who did not complete his secondary school education.

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

Although the late Mr Chua was a top student in primary school and made it into Raffles Institution, his studies came to an end two years later due to the Japanese Occupation.

After the war, he was able to pass the examination for the Association of Certified Accountants in 1954 by enrolling in a correspondence course with the UK School of Accountancy.

This professional qualification enabled him to secure an executive job at the Income Tax Department in the same year.

Mr Chua was accountant-general for 18 years, and was awarded the silver and gold Public Administration Medals in 1964 and 1975 respectively.

After retiring from the civil service in 1979, he joined DBS Bank as its president. He then moved to POSB as its executive chairman from 1986 to 1993.

That year, just months after his retirement from banking, Cabinet ministers - including then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong - urged Mr Chua to run in the country's first presidential election in 1993 so as to give voters a choice of candidates.

He agreed, but openly acknowledged his reluctance to do so, calling his opponent, then Deputy Prime Minister Ong Teng Cheong, "a far superior candidate".

He also did not have any posters, pamphlets, rallies, or most other materials and events usually associated with elections. Instead, he limited his campaigning to two 10-minute television broadcasts, and later relented to give a media interview.

"What made me hesitate a long time was that I would be standing against Mr Ong Teng Cheong, 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 performance that political observers said was better than expected given that he was going up against a minister with a much higher public profile.

After his brief foray into the public eye, he withdrew from the spotlight as quickly as he entered it.

In the years after, he was chairman of the Singapore Stock Exchange until 2000 and later re-appointed as chairman of Stamford Tyres.

Ms Dawn Wee, executive director of Stamford Tyres, who visited Mr Chua in the weeks before his death, remembers him for his instrumental role during Singapore's separation from Malaysia.

A few days before he was hospitalised in August, she said, while chatting with him, he recounted how the country had sent four planes to Kuala Lumpur to recover its gold reserves after the separation.

"He was really a part of our history," she said.

She added that Mr Chua hailed from a humble background. His father had been a labourer, she said, and as a boy, he would collect some $5 for the family's living expenses each week. One time, she added, he recalled losing the money and not knowing how to account to his mother.

"Nowadays, Singapore is so affluent and we don't often think about what people have gone through (to come this far)," she said.

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

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

Said Dr Chua: "Their marriage was very strong and her passing devastated him in many ways."