Albert Winsemius : biography
Albert Winsemius (1910–1996), a Dutch economist, was Singapore's long-time economic advisor from 1961 to 1984. He led the United Nations Survey Mission to Singapore, and was to play a major role in the formulation of Singapore's national economic development strategy.
In 1960, Dr Winsemius led the United Nations team to examine Singapore’s potential in industrialization. At that time, Singapore had just attained self-government and was facing high unemployment and growing population. He presented a 10-year development plan to transform Singapore from an entrepot trade port into a centre of manufacturing and industrialization.
His first emphasis was on creating jobs and attracting foreign investment. Labour intensive industries, such as the production of shirts and pajamas, were expanded. He also encouraged the large-scale public housing programme, believing that it would bolster the country's image, thus attractive to investors. One of his earliest pieces of advice was not to remove the statue of Stamford Raffles as it was a symbol of public acceptance of the British heritage and could alleviate concerns that investors have toward a new socialist government. With his help, Singapore attracted big oil companies like Shell and Esso to establish refineries here.
During his term as Chief Economic Advisor from 1961 to 1984, Dr Winsemius worked closely with Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee and later with Goh Chok Tong. He visited the country two or three times a year to review economic performance indicators and to discuss macro-economic strategy with government planners.
In the 1970s, Singapore was upgrading its industrial capacity to use higher technological methods, including electronics. He personally went to persuade large Dutch electronics companies like Philips to set up production plants in Singapore. He also proposed that Singapore could be developed as a financial centre, as well as an international centre for air traffic and sea transport. Over the next twenty years, these predictions proved to be accurate.
Dr Winsemius retired as Singapore's economic advisor in December 1983, at the age of 74. He was then quoted saying, "I leave with a saddened heart. It (Singapore) has become part of my life, more or less. It can do without me. It could do without me years ago. But it became part of my life. So I will shed a few tears, imaginary tears." Singapore was a country he regarded almost as home.
For his contributions to Singapore's economic development, he was conferred several honours. In 1967, President Yusof bin Ishak awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal. In 1970, he was conferred an honorary degree by the National University of Singapore. In 1976, he received the National Trades Union Congress' May Day Gold Medal of Honour.
Dr Winsemius died in the Netherlands on December 4, 1996. In a letter of condolences to his family, Lee Kuan Yew wrote: "It was Singapore's good fortune that he (Dr Albert Winsemius) took a deep and personal interest in Singapore's development. Singapore and I personally are indebted to him for the time, energy and development he gave to Singapore. I am proud to have known him and to have been his friend."
When asked about his life as an economist, Dr Winsemius once said, "There is quite a lot of satisfaction, perhaps not like that of, say, an architect who can look at something and say, 'I made it'. But there is that satisfaction in knowing that you have contributed to the well being of people you don't know..."
In 1997, Nanyang Technological University established the Albert Winsemius Professorship as a lasting tribute to Dr Albert Winsemius for his significant contributions to the economic development of Singapore.
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