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Thursday, November 15, 2007

S'poreans owe pioneer civil servants a big debt: PM Lee

Paying his respects, he says those like Sim Kee Boon saw the country change and made change happen
By Peh Shing Huei - ST Nov 11

SINGAPOREANS owe the pioneer generation of public servants such as Mr Sim Kee Boon an 'enormous debt', said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

'There was a certain cut of the people who were of that generation,' he said, after paying his respects to the former civil service head who died on Friday.

'They grew up, they saw the country change, they made the change happen.'

They were 'the last of the Mohicans': a phrase which another former civil service head, the late Mr Howe Yoon Chong, had used to describe himself and Mr Sim, both of whom were among the founding group of top administrators.

'In a way, that's true,' said Mr Lee. 'That generation of public servants, we owe them an enormous debt.' Mr Howe, who was also a Cabinet minister, died three months ago.
Mr Sim was 78 when he lost his 17-year-long battle with stomach cancer on Friday.

After retiring from the civil service in 1984 - which included a five-year tenure as its head - he joined Keppel Corporation as its executive chairman and turned the loss-making outfit into one of Singapore's leading conglomerates.

From 2000, he was also a director of Temasek Holdings.

Mr Lee, who was accompanied by his wife Ms Ho Ching, said Mr Sim was not just doing a job but was sharing his experience, wisdom and perceptiveness as well.

While paying tribute to Mr Sim's work in building Changi Airport, Mr Lee also praised him for setting the tone of the civil service and leading it to achieve many things.

'Not everything was done personally by himself. But the leader's job is not to do everything by yourself. It's your job to enable other people to work and to be productive and he achieved that,' he said.

'He's not a flamboyant person. He doesn't put himself on a high pedestal. He's very easy to get along with, chatty, gregarious, but very sharp mind, very clear what needs to be done.

'And if you are dealing with a touchy situation, not just in Singapore but with our neighbours or with some other countries, you can depend on him to understand what the issue is, what the other side is trying to achieve, how we can get what we need and maintain the relationship.'
Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and several other Cabinet ministers, including Foreign Minister George Yeo and Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean, as well as former deputy prime minister Tony Tan, who is also SPH chairman, were among those at the wake yesterday.

The wake, which continues until Tuesday, is at Mr Sim's home at 114 Watten Estate Road.

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