“Because I think my effectiveness depends on whether I can make a contribution in terms of analysing a problem and telling them that these are the priorities or that is the way of doing it, or whatever. If they accept it, and they find me useful, okay, I carry on. If after some time they say, 'Look, what you are saying is absolute rubbish,' then you just hang up your gloves and call it a day.” – Dr Goh Keng Swee (1982)
This could be one of the reasons why Dr Goh did not defend his constituency in Kreta Ayer in 1984. A constituency consisting of a majority of poor Cantonese servants and labourers, which he won with a 73.3% margin in the 1959 General Elections, a constituency where he won the majority (65.5%) against a Barisan Socialis candidate in the 1963 elections, and the constituency which he won through walkovers in the next 4 General Elections.
It was also probable that he did not stand for elections in 1984 because of his ill health (he was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1983) and also because he did not want his personal life to become an elections issue, which could be exploited by the opposition. For by then, there were talks of Dr Goh being seen increasingly in the company of Dr Phua Swee Liang, who then headed the Gifted Education Programme in the Ministry of Education.
For Dr Goh, not standing for the General Elections did not mean being non-active in public life. Even after his retirement from active politics in 1984, Dr Goh, continued to serve as Deputy Chairman of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (1981 – 1994), as Deputy Chairman on the Monetary Authority of Singapore (1985 – 1992), and as Chairman of the Singapore Totalisator Board (1988 – 1994).
According to Mr Goh's daughter-in-law’s book, “Goh Keng Swee: A Portrait”, Dr Goh suffered a series of mild strokes in the late 1990s, including one in 2000 which affected his eyesight and this caused him to withdraw and become extremely quiet.
Like most public figures, Dr Goh had a fair share of controversies surrounding him. The most notable was Mr Allan Ng, the former Deputy Chairman of United Overseas Bank’s accusation of Dr Goh being corrupt. The allegations by Mr Ng were supposedly so severe that it had to be quashed in parliament by the then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
“So long as they felt that you had done your best, they were content even if you failed to help them at times.”
These were the very words of Dr Goh, describing how his poor constituents in Kreta Ayer viewed him.
Despite his shortfalls and the controversies that surrounded him, Dr Goh driven by his firm belief in the dignity of the human spirit continued to do whatever he could to uplift the masses from poverty. And he did it to his best.
This is what Dr Goh will be most remembered for - for doing his best for Singapore.
I convey my deepest condolences to the family of Dr Goh Keng Swee.