More tributes pour in for prominent businessman Kwek Leng Joo

President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave tribute to the late Mr Kwek Leng Joo, who died in his sleep on Monday.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave tribute to the late Mr Kwek Leng Joo, who died in his sleep on Monday.PHOTO: GLOBAL COMPACT NETWORK SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - The legacy of prominent business leader Kwek Leng Joo will endure, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his condolence letter to the family, released Tuesday (Nov 17) evening.

In his letter addressed to Mr Kwek's widow Alice, Mr Lee said that "Leng Joo left us suddenly when he had so much more to give. Singapore has lost a champion of the environment, leader of corporate social responsibility, and a fine photographer with a big heart."

PM Lee said that he last met Mr Kwek only two weeks ago, at the latter's exhibition with Mr Lin Lu Zai at the National Museum of Singapore. He also noted that Mr Kwek contributed photographs used in the bid to have the Botanic Gardens declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. "I am glad that he lived to see the success of the bid. We could not have done it without him".

Mr Lee also wrote: "Leng Joo's legacy will endure. We hope you and your family will be comforted by the many seeds that he has planted, which will help keep Singapore green and eco-friendly for many years to come."

President Tony Tan Keng Yam said he was deeply saddened by the sudden death of the City Developments deputy chairman, aged 62, who died in his sleep after suffering a heart attack on Monday.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Dr Tan said Mr Kwek had made lifelong contributions to Singapore's economic, environmental and social development. "It was only last month that I had the pleasure of presenting Leng Joo with the President's Award for the Environment for his dedication and contributions to the pursuit of environmental excellence."

The local business community led by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) paid tribute to Mr Kwek in a statement released on Tuesday.

"The business community has lost a respectable business leader, but Mr Kwek's pioneering and leadership spirit will be remembered," said SBF.

The Federation said that Mr Kwek played an instrumental role in its founding in 2002. In 1998, amid the growing trend of globalisation, the Singapore Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (SFCCI) was asked to examine how it could restructure itself, not just to enhance its effectiveness, but also to better promote Singapore's national interests.

Mr Kwek, who was president of both the Chambers and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry at that time, proposed to set up SBF.

It was not an easy task creating an apex business chamber among existing business organisations, which have strong roots, size and financial strength, said the Federation.

With leadership and conviction, Mr Kwek rallied support of the constituent members of the SFCCI, and provided strong backing to SBF. He was the vice chairman of the SBF council from its inception in 2002 to June 2008.

Cabinet Ministers also took to Facebook to remember Mr Kwek and his various philanthropic works.

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, who previously helmed the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), said: "I have known Leng Joo well since my Environment days. It was sad to hear of his sudden passing.

"Leng Joo was a friend, and more well-known as a friend of the environment. At MEWR, we knew him as a champion for green practices to be adopted by businesses.

"As a property developer and a nature lover, he believed that the real estate industry could contribute towards sustainable development.

"As a philanthropist, Leng Joo gave back to society by partnering City Developments Limited (CDL) with worthy causes and giving a helping hand to the less fortunate."

Minister Yaacob also pointed out that when Mr Kwek was president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Chamber collaborated with Mendaki to award scholarships to Malay/Muslim undergraduates from local universities.

He recalled opening the world's first green library for children with Mr Kwek, at the Central Public Library in 2013.

"It was a happy occasion when Leng Joo and I opened the library for the children. Because of him and CDL's corporate social responsibility efforts, our children now know more about the environment," said Minister Yaacob.

"Leng Joo's impact to society will live on, and he will be sorely missed."

Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu singled out Mr Kwek's contributions to the local cultural and arts scene, calling him a "passionate advocate".

"As an avid photographer, Leng Joo took many beautiful pictures of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The Gardens was his source of inspiration and energy, and he visited it almost every week," she said.

She posted a photo of Mr Kwek posing with his own photo of one of his favourite heritage trees in the Gardens on Facebook.

Mr Kwek's photos of the Gardens were submitted as part of Singapore's successful bid to have it named a Unesco World Heritage Site.

"Leng Joo has truly left an indelible mark in our arts, heritage and cultural sector," she said.

Other than championing green causes and engaging the community through his photographs, Mr Kwek also worked actively with young people, especially in sports.

The Football Association of Singapore and the S-League remembered how he was part of the team that "worked relentlessly" to establish Singapore's first professional league in 1996.

"As the chairman of the board of directors (of the S-League), Mr Kwek played a leading role in establishing a strong foundation for a new professional league, the S -League, which is now about to conclude its 20th season," said the association in a statement late Monday evening.

This is the full text of the letter from PM Lee:

Mrs Alice Kwek

Please accept my heartfelt condolences to you and your family on the passing of your husband, Mr Kwek Leng Joo.

Ho Ching and I were shocked and deeply saddened to hear of his passing when we were in Turkey. We had visited his latest exhibition with Mr Lin Lu Zai at the National Museum of Singapore barely a fortnight ago. Leng Joo and Mr Lin showed us around. The pieces were beautiful in their simplicity and power.  

Leng Joo left us suddenly when he had so much more to give. Singapore has lost a champion of the environment, leader of corporate socialresponsibility, and a fine photographer with a big heart. He put his talent in photography to good use, raising funds for charities and causes. He also created awards to help develop young photographers and was a strong supporter of the Singapore International Photography Festival.  

In CDL, Leng Joo directed the company’s corporate social responsibility and sustainability initiatives. He also helped other companies with their CSR. He was President of the Singapore Compact for CSR, a national CSR society and country focal point for the United Nations Global Compact in Singapore. 

Being a passionate nature lover, he often made nature the subject of his photography. The Singapore Botanic Gardens was a particular favourite location. He told me he visited it several times a week, always with a camera. When Singapore launched its bid to make the Botanic Gardens a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Leng Joo and his CDL team provided valuable support. Leng Joo contributed photographs to the “Heritage in Green” exhibition in 2013, which we used in the dossier we submitted to UNESCO. After the bid succeeded, Leng Joo published them in a book titled “Embrace”. I am glad that he lived to see the success of the bid. We could not have done it without him.

Leng Joo was committed to environment sustainability and green building innovation. Among Leng Joo’s many environmental projects, two were first of their kind: My Tree House – the World’s 1st Green Library for Kids (in collaboration with National Library Board); and CDL Green Gallery @ Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Museum – Singapore’s 1st Zero Energy Green Gallery (in collaboration with National Parks Board). For his contributions to the green movement, Leng Joo received the President’s Award for the Environment this year.

Leng Joo also served as the President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, for four terms between 1993 and 2005. Under his leadership the SCCCI made significant changes, including amending the Chamber constitution to abolish clan‐based elections; bringing in female council members; redeveloping the Sun Yat Sen Villa and re‐establishing it as the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. He was instrumental in setting up the Chinese Language and Culture Fund together with the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA), and led SCCCI to partner with MENDAKI to offer scholarships to Malay/Muslim undergraduates from local universities.

In recognition of his services to the nation, Leng Joo was awarded the Public Service Medal (2000) and the Public Service Star (2005). 

Leng Joo’s legacy will endure. We hope you and your family will be comforted by the many seeds that he has planted, which will help keep Singapore green and eco‐friendly for many years to come.