Ex-PAP stalwart Phua Bah Lee dies at 89

Former PAP MP Phua Bah Lee was elected MP for Tampines constituency in 1968. PHOTO: PEOPLE'S ACTION PARTY / FACEBOOK
In 1971, Mr Phua Bah Lee was promoted to senior parliamentary secretary at the Defence Ministry. ST PHOTO: PHUA BAH LEE
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (right) taking a wefie with former PAP MP Phua Bah Lee at the PAP convention at the Singapore Expo, on Nov 10, 2019. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Former People's Action Party MP Phua Bah Lee, a key figure in helping to build a raft of institutions in post-independence Singapore, died on Sunday (Dec 26). He was 89.

Mr Phua was elected MP for Tampines constituency in 1968, the same year he took political office as parliamentary secretary for communications.

In 1971, he was promoted to senior parliamentary secretary at the Defence Ministry. He held the position until 1988, when he stepped down from politics.

Born in 1932, Mr Phua graduated from Nanyang University, or Nantah, in 1959, and joined the civil service in 1960 before entering politics eight years later.

During his 20-year political career, Mr Phua worked closely with key political leaders like former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee.

He also helped to form or helm a diverse group of institutions.

For instance, he was founding president of Safra from 1972 to 1989.

He was also active in sports and the arts. He served as president of the Basketball Association of Singapore from 1973 to 1991, and was also chairman of the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre Management Committee from 1977.

An opera enthusiast, he was also responsible for bringing in top opera stars from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a post on the PAP Facebook page on Monday (Dec 27), said Mr Phua was a dedicated and effective MP on the ground. 

He added that besides witnessing the transformation of Tampines from a rural constituency to a modern HDB township, Mr Phua also helped Dr Goh look after Kreta Ayer.

Mr Phua also stood in for Ulu Pandan MP Chiang Hai Ding when Dr Chiang had to travel overseas, PM Lee said. 

Mr Phua Bah Lee being garlanded and chaired after returning unopposed in Tampines during the 1976 General Election. ST PHOTO: STEVEN LEE

Mr Lee wrote: “Bah Lee was a faithful stalwart of the People’s Action Party. Even after he retired from politics in 1988, he remained actively engaged, loyally supporting party and grassroots events whenever he could. 

“He had done his part to make this a better place, and having passed on the baton to younger leaders, continued to cheer for them and support the national cause.”

For his tireless service to the Labour movement, Mr Phua was awarded the Friend of Labour Medal by NTUC in 1979, said Mr Lee, whose post came with a selfie taken with Mr Phua at the PAP65 Party Convention in 2019.

Senior Minister of State for Defence Zaqy Mohamad, in a Facebook post on Sunday, said he was saddened to hear about the death of Mr Phua, whom he credited with helping to build the iconic Safra club houses in Toa Payoh, Bukit Merah and Tampines - of which two still stand today.

He added that Mr Phua was a strong supporter of national service and advocated new ways to recognise the contributions of servicemen.

Under Mr Phua's leadership, Safra introduced new schemes and initiatives to show appreciation to the NSmen and their families.

Even after his retirement, he continued to actively support Safra activities and attended events regularly.

Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli, who is an MP for Tampines GRC, also paid tribute to Mr Phua in a Facebook post on Monday (Dec 27).

Mr Masagos said Mr Phua, during his time as Tampines MP, helped to resettle villagers who were affected by the construction of Paya Lebar Airport.

And together with his grassroots leaders, he helped to resolve issues affecting resident's livelihood and during their transition to living in Housing Board flats.

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, in a Facebook post on Sunday, said Mr Phua played a key role in setting up the Tampines Chinese Temple to bring together the 13 village temples that had to give way to new developments.

Responding to queries, Ngee Ann Kongsi president James Teo said Mr Phua was a valuable member of Ngee Ann Kongsi and had been a member of the association's management committee from 1973 until his death.

He added that Mr Phua was among the pioneers who contributed significantly to the development of Ngee Ann City.

Mr Teo also said Mr Phua played a key role in inviting some of the best Chinese physicians from China during the early years of the formation of the Ngee Ann Traditional Chinese Medicine Centre.

Mr Phua leaves behind his wife Tan Cheok Tin, 85, and three children.

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