From the archives

Ex-HDB chief had lived out of rental flat

Hopes to help middle-aged group which has to care for kids and parents

Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui Tuck Yew, 44, was introduced as a PAP candidate in 2006. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Former chief of navy Lui Tuck Yew was introduced as a new candidate from the People's Action Party in 2006. PHOTO: MPA
Then Chief of Navy Lui Tuck Yew at the funeral and wake Navy Specialist Corporal Goh Hui Ling, who was killed in the collision between the RSS Courageous and the ANL Indonesia in 2005. ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN

His mother died when he was six, so Lui Tuck Yew grew up with his bank clerk father and older twin brothers.

For 25 years, home was a Housing Board rental flat in Tiong Bahru.

It was not until some years after he finished university and worked, that the family finally got a flat of their own in Bukit Batok.

Despite his many achievements in life in the years since, he still relishes the thrill of buying that first flat with his father.

"Unless you've stayed all your life in a rental flat, home ownership may be something you take for granted. It was almost beyond our dreams," he said yesterday, when he was introduced as a new candidate of the People's Action Party (PAP).

His is the story of the poor boy made good, and in superlative terms.

He won a Singapore Armed Forces scholarship to Britain's Cambridge University, rose to become a Rear Admiral and chief of the Navy, before moving on to be chief executive first of the Maritime and Port Authority and then of the Housing Board.

Now 44 years old and married with two children, Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui said yesterday: 'I can say that I'm truly grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.

"I can testify to being a beneficiary of Singapore's progress and prosperity."

His family background and experience at the HDB have left him with concerns about middle-aged, middle-income Singaporeans straining under the burden of multiple responsibilities.

They have to put their children through school, look after their parents, and grapple with making sure they keep their jobs as well as rising living and health-care costs.

This is the group he hopes to help if he becomes an MP.

At yesterday's press conference, he also reflected on what 23 years as a military man and working in other organisations had taught him.

"I think it's summed up in three words - listen, learn, lead," he said.

"Really, before we can jump in and take charge and lead, it's worthwhile to go and pay some attention to the experiences of people in the past, learn from them, understand the issues, the situation on the ground," he added.

Asked why Navy chiefs seemed destined for politics - he follows in the footsteps of another Rear-Admiral, Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean - RADM Lui laughed it off as a coincidence.

But he said the military gave him the chance to take on heavy responsibilities at a young age, learn the importance of managing people from a wide cross-section of society and how to do so well.

"It's not about individual competence or even passion, although that's important, but it's about the ability to bring them together to function as an effective team and do great things," he said.

His father died in 1989, and his married brothers work as executives, one in a bank and the other in a computer company.

He now lives in a terrace house in the East Coast area with his wife, Madam Teng Soo Fen, 45, an adjunct teacher in Tanjong Katong Secondary, and their daughters Elaine, 13, and Emily, 10.

The family does not have a maid.

His wife uses their Nissan Prairie car to ferry the girls, and he used to take the MRT to work before he resigned to enter politics.

They have a dog, a Samoyed called Polar, and a regular family activity is taking the dog to visit the mentally handicapped and mentally ill, as pet therapy volunteers.

They chat to the residents who hug and play with Polar.

RADM Lui said he thought hard about whether he needed to enter politics, or if he could serve people in other ways and retain his family's privacy.

"But it's like baptism - maybe not quite necessary, but it's important to make your stand public," said Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui, who became a Christian in 1977.

Rear-Admiral Lui Tuck Yew, 44
Occupation: Former chief executive officer of HDB
Family: He is married to Madam Teng Soo Fen, 45, an adjunct teacher in Tanjong Katong Secondary School. They have two daughters, Elaine, 13, and Emily, 10.
Education: He studied in Anglo-Chinese School and Anglo-Chinese Junior College, before going to Cambridge University on a Singapore Armed Forces Scholarship, and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts. Masters in international relations at Fletcher's School of Law and Diplomacy.
Hobbies: Travelling, reading, and watching sports

What's the proudest moment in your life?
It was when my first baby was born. It was a long process, she came out at 10.1 pounds...huge, natural, not Caesarean. Seeing her come out, being able to hold and cuddle her...that would be the one moment.

What's one thing you would do differently, if you could do it all over again?
If I could take back one or two incidents, it would be the Courageous. These things happen. It ought not to have happened.

If I were a minister, I would...
If I were, say, National Development Minister, I would consider whether there's a need to automatically provide a second loan for downgraders. Today, that loan is given on a case-by-case basis. With support of MND, we do in HDB make a number of exceptions. Going forward, is downgrading going to be something that is a necessity?

If you could have dinner with anyone throughout history, who would it be and why?
Winston Churchill. I've great admiration for him as a wartime leader. He's also the one who said, you make a living by what you get, but you make of your life by what you give.

Has there been any indication that you may hold political office?
Probably a bit too premature at this point.


"Today, you look at it, about 84 per cent of people stay in public housing and more than 90 per cent of those own their own homes. So at the macro level, obviously home ownership is less of a pressing concern.

"But to the individual staying in a rental flat, hoping to buy his first house, it is a pressing concern...Hence, the HDB and the Government have decided that we should expand the spectrum of housing options.

"In the past, we were focusing on building larger flats. (Now) we are putting two-room flats to market ... With the additional housing grant that the Prime Minister has promised, that will make the smaller flats very affordable to the segment of the population earning close to about $1,000."


"The difficulty is that we have limited resources. You can upgrade only a certain number of precincts and blocks every year, who do you give it to?

"Everybody really is clamouring for it. We get direct e-mails from residents, we get MPs appealing to us: Why can't we have more blocks? Why can't we do more precincts? Why are you taking so long over this?

"We had no submissions from the opposition wards. So it is not as if HDB was saying, No, you can't do it.' Not at all. It was that they had no submissions, certainly during the period I was there."


"There is another group that we need to pay some attention to, or more attention to than we've done previously. And this is the group that I would describe as middle-age, middle-income.

"They have to put their children to school. They shoulder responsibilities for parents. They have concerns about the relevance of their job skills, about job security, cost of living, even health matters. And this can sometimes be quite daunting.


Rear-Admiral Lui was Chief of Navy when the navy ship RSS Courageous sank three years ago after a collision, killing four servicewoman on board.

"It was a tremendous setback for both the Navy and myself. For me, there is always that nugget of regret deep inside. In the initial months I would think about the incident quite a lot and it would keep me awake.

But we've got to recognise that the organisation, the individual that succeeds is not the one who holds back fearing failure, or the one that never fails. It's the one that pushes on, perseveres and overcomes the failures. And I know that for me, for many of us, through adversity we have grown stronger."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.