Ministers’ Wives: Rich or Corrupt?

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Thanks to various readers/netizens for contributing to this post.

Links for verification and additional info below.

Ministers_Wives

1. MINISTER’S WIVES in GIRL GUIDES ASSOCIATION

a) Teo Chee Hean’s wife is Chew Poh Yim (“Mrs. Teo Poh Yim”). Chew Poh Yim was the 10th President of Girl Guides in Singapore.

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Girl Guides newsletter (2007). Source: GirlGuides.org.sg

b) Joy Balakrishnan, wife of Vivian Balakrishnan, is the 11th President of Singapore Girl Guides Association. She is a teacher turned housewife.

In 2015, Vivian Balakrishnan made the following comment (paraphrased):

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“Only Rich or Corrupt people work for free.”

c) Mrs. Christine Dhanabalan, wife of former cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan, received an Honorary Membership to Girl Guides Association from Mrs. Joy Balakrishnan.

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11th Girl Guides Singapore (GGS) president Joy Balakrishnan (in sleeveless white top), at the World Thinking Day 2015 event held at Methodist Girls’ School. Source: AsiaOne

d) According to AsiaOne and GirlGuides.org.sg, Ms Chang Hwee Nee took over from 11th President, Mrs. Joy Balakrishnan, whose term of office ended on 30 May 2015. Chang Hwee Nee is the wife of Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

e) The patron of Girl Guides (in Singapore) has always been the First Lady (wife of the President).

A CAS UK PDF document defines a patron’s role as follows:

“Patrons” generally refers to well known or illustrious individuals who lend their name and support to an organisation.

On 12 November 2011, Mrs S R Nathan, former Patron of Girl Guides Singapore (GGS), received the Asia Pacific Region (APR) Appreciation Award. Mrs Nathan was also presented with the Long Service Award for her 12 years of dedication and invaluable support to the Girl Guiding movement.

Girl Guides Singapore is registered as a Charity with the National Council of Social Services (NCSS).

Girlguiding is a charitable organisation and adult leaders are not paid for their time.

2. MINISTER’S WIVES in BREADLINE GROUP

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Breadline Patrons (Executive Committee Report: 2014/2015).

a) Breadline is run by Richard Lim, with the minimum of overheads – eg no office. Richard dedicates many hours to his work on a voluntary basis.

From the organisation’s website:

The Breadline Group is a community service comprising of volunteers. It was formed because we share a concern for the welfare of the old and needy in Singapore, and want to channel our efforts towards helping them.

b) Patrons are mentioned as Mrs. Jek Yuen Thong, Mrs. S. Dhanabalan, Dr. Sheryn Mah Bow Tan, and Dr. Seetha Shanmugam.

c) Jek Yuen Thong was the former Minister for Labour and Minister for Culture. He was part of the People’s Action Party’s Old Guard of politicians.

d) Christine Tan Khoon Hiap is the wife of former cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan.

e) Dr. Seetha Shanmugam, a Berkeley-educated, Chicago-trained clinical psychologist (not a foreign talent), is the wife of Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam.

Minister K. Shanmugam was previously married to Jothie Rajah, the daughter of K. S. Rajah, former Judicial Commissioner of the Supreme Court of Singapore.

Shanmugam’s marriage to Dr Jothie Rajah failed and they divorced after 15 years, due to “mutual incompatibility.” In 2012, Dr Jothie Rajah wrote Authoritarian Rule Of Law, a critical text which alleges that the rule of law is a subjugating rather than liberalising force in Singapore. Shanmugam said he had not read the book.

In 2012, Shanmugam sent a lawyer’s letter to blogger Alex Au to remove “defamotary comments” with regard to an alleged affair with MP Foo Mee Har. As yet, no lawyer’s letter has been sent to U.S.-based lawyer Gopalan Nair, whose blog post contains a detailed comment on Shanmugam’s “affair with a Chinese colleague” while working in Allen and Gledhill law firm (where Shanmugam was formerly a senior partner).

In 2015, Shanmugam wanted to make a police report over an “inaccurate and seditious” Facebook post.

f) Sheryn Mah, wife of Mah Bow Tan, sits on the board of directors of Compassion Fund and is the president of Mainly I Love Kids (MILK), a non-profit charity organisation providing aid to disadvantaged children.

3. MINISTERS’ WIVES re: NATIONAL KIDNEY FOUNDATION (NKF)

In 2005, Tan Choo Leng (Mrs. Goh Chok Tong) stepped down as the patron of NKF after the T T Durai corruption scandal. She is remembered for describing a S$600,000 annual salary as “peanuts.”

Mrs. Goh Chok Tong had previously supported Durai.

Ms. Ho Ching, the CEO of Temasek Holdings, asked for continued support for the NKF after the scandal broke. On the issue of the CEO’s pay, she said:

“I would not begrudge Mr Durai a proper and well-earned compensation and bonus.”

PAP Relatives: Former and Current MPs

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Thanks to some readers for contributing this list of names. Links below for verification.

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1. FONG SIP CHEE = Father of ARTHUR FONG

Fong Sip Chee is the father of Arthur Fong.

Major Fong Sip Chee was Minister of State (Culture) in the 1980’s.

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Arthur Fong, NLB.

Arthur Fong stepped down from politics in August 2015; he was the Assistant VP of OCBC bank from 1996-2000, and has been an NLB board member since 2011.

2. HO SEE BENG = Father of HO GEOK CHOO

Ho See Beng is the father of Ho Geok Choo.

Ho See Beng was NTUC’s first president from 1964 to 1966, and described by PM LHL as “the archetypical grassroots MP.”

Ho Geok Choo was elected as a Member of Parliament for the West Coast GRC from 2001 to 2011. A former Vice Chairman of the PAP Women’s Wing, Mdm Ho has close to 30 years of experience in GLCs and the private sector.

3. CHOO WEE KHIANG = Uncle of DESMOND CHOO

Former PAP MP Choo Wee Khiang is the uncle of Desmond Choo Pey Ching, PAP candidate for Tampines GRC.

Choo Wee Khiang was charged with 3 counts of corruption in 2011. A quote by Mr. Choo below.

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“One evening, I drove to Little India and it was pitch dark but not because there was no light, but because there were too many Indians around.”
— Former PAP MP Mr Choo Wee Khiang, in a speech in Parliament in 1992

4. ONG AH HENG = Father of ONG TENG KOON

Ong Ah Heng was the Member of Parliament for Nee Soon Central until 2011. He was appointed a non-executive Director of ComfortDelGro Corporation Limited on 18 February 2003.

Ong Ah Heng is the father of Ong Teng Koon, a commodities trader and MP for Sembawang GRC.

5. LEE YOCK SUAN = Father of DESMOND LEE TI-SENG

Lee Yock Suan is a former cabinet minister and member of Parliament. His son is Desmond Lee Ti-Seng.

6. CYNTHIA PHUA = Sister of DENISE PHUA

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Denise Phua and husband Tay Kiong Hong (right); Denise Phua and younger siblings (left). Source: ST

  • Reader Tip: Mentioned in Chinese newspapers during former elections that Cynthia Phua is the sister of Denise Phua.

7. CHUA SIAN CHIN = Father of CHUA ENG LEONG

Former cabinet minister Chua Sian Chin is the father of Chua Eng Leong.

8. LIM KIM SAN = Uncle of PANG KIM HIN and LIM BOON HENG

Lim Kim San was a former senior cabinet minister and trusted political confidante of Lee Kuan Yew.

Pang Kim Hin is his nephew. A reader says that the Chinese newspapers reported that Lim Boon Heng is a nephew of Lim Kim San as well.

Powerful Siblings in Singapore

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Links and text below for verification. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this post.

Reader Tip:  

“In Russia, they have the oligarchs and China the Princelings. In Singapore, we have the Siblings.”

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// UPDATE (4 Sept 2015):

Will update the bigger image later (Chew siblings; grandchildren of Tan Chin Tuan).

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Grandchildren of Tan Chin Tuan (uncle of President Tony Tan): Chew Gek Khim, Chew Kwee San and Chew Gek Hiang. They are relatives of Kwa Geok Choo through Tan Chin Tuan.

Chew Kwee San is an Advocate and Solicitor of the Supreme Court in Singapore. He is a Member of the Heritage Industry Incentive Program (Hi2P) Approval Committee of the National Heritage Board of Singapore and Member of Audit and Investment Committee of the Boy’s Brigade in Singapore.

Chew Gek Khim sits on the board of Singapore Exchange Limited and is a Member of the Securities Industry Council of Singapore, the SSO Council and Board of Governors of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. She was Chairman of the National Environment Agency Board of Singapore from 2008 to 2015.

Chew Gek Hiang serves on the advisory panel of the GST Review Board.

FIRST COLUMN

1. Alan Chan Heng Loon, Public Service Commission (PSC) Member and former principal private secretary to Lee Kuan Yew, has two “illustrious siblings“: Professor Chan Heng Chee and Chan Heng Wing.

According to Singapore’s Constitution and PSC’s 2012 Annual Report:

The Public Service Commission (PSC)’s constitutional role is to appoint, confirm, promote, transfer, dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over public officers in Singapore.

It considers the suitability of candidates for appointment as Chief Executive Officers of Statutory Boards; it is also responsible for the planning and administration of scholarships provided by the Government of Singapore.

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Kate Middleton, Prince William, PM LHL, and Ho Ching. Source: Getty

2. Ho Ching, wife of PM Lee Hsien Loong, has two brothers and a sister. Her sister is Ho Peng and one of her brothers is Ho Sing.

3. Teo Chee Hean has three sisters by the names of Hee Lian, Chai Lian and Swee Lian.

There is a Teo Swee Lian (director) in Singtel who was formerly a Special Advisor in the Managing Director’s Office at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). There is a Teo Hee Lian who was formerly the Director of Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM). This Teo Hee Lian has had “extensive experience writing cabinet memoranda, parliamentary replies, reports, papers, minutes of meetings, and speeches.”

Will update this section if anyone can verify that these two ladies are Teo Chee Hean’s sisters. Images below from CSCollege and Singtel.

4. Richard Ong and Charles Ong are Chinese-Malaysian brothers. Charles Ong spent 10 years managing investment projects for Temasek Holdings, and was described as the “right-hand man” to Temasek chief Ho Ching.

The last two funds Richard led or co-led (in 2011) raised around $5 billion combined. At a 2 percent management fee — an industry standard — that’s $100 million in annual fees alone.

According to Wikipedia and China Economic Review:

. . .the true reason that the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) denied Goldman permission to name [Richard] Ong to his new position was due to his family ties to Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings and his own role in the money-losing sale of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s Shin Corporation to Temasek.

  • NOTE: Ho Ching’s (CEO of Temasek Holdings since 2004; wife of PM Lee Hsien Loong; on the Forbes Power Woman list every year since 2004) mother, Chan Chiew Ping, was from Taiping, Malaysia.

SECOND COLUMN

1. Ng Chee Meng has two notable brothers: Ng Chee Khern and Ng Chee Peng (both were President’s Scholars). Ng Chee Khern was Chief of Air Force from 2006 – 2009. Ng Chee Peng was Chief of Navy from 2011 – 2014, and was appointed the CEO of CPF in Jan 2015. Former defence chief, Ng Chee Meng, has been touted as a potential office-bearer.

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Ng Brothers | Image by Roy Ngerng

As Roy Ngerng wrote in a FB post:

“Ng Chee Meng is expected to run for the PAP and would be the highest-ranking military officer to run for election. He could even potentially become a prime minister. This means that he could head the government. If so, the Ng family would control the government, the military and our CPF.

2. Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim has a sister, Zuraidah Ibrahim (political deputy editor at The Straits Times, married to Cherian George). Yaacob and Zuraidah have a brother, Ismail Ibrahim, who was the first Malay President’s Scholar in SIngapore. Thanks to The Unseen Singapore for making the original identification.

3.  Kwa Soon Bee, former Permanent Secretary for Health and Director of Medical Services, is a brother of Kwa Geok Choo (Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew). Kwa Soon Chuan was the first local appointed to the Colonial Administration. He is a brother of Kwa Geok Choo.

4. Lee Su Shyan, Money Editor / Business Editor at The Straits Times, is said to be the sister of Lee Yi Shyan. Will update this section if anyone can provide more verification.

THIRD COLUMN

1. Raymond Lim Siang Keat is the brother of Benny Lim, former ISD director.

2. Thio Shen Yi, President of the Law Society (2015), is the brother of Thio Li-Ann.

Thio Li-Ann’s views have been described as “anti-gay.” She described homosexuality as a “gender identity disorder,” said anal sex was akin to “shoving a straw up your nose to drink,” and opposed the repeal of a law in the penal code — known as Section 377A — that criminalizes sex between men.

[youtube.com/watch?v=vscnsmHyGhA&w=420&h=315;feature=youtu.be&]

(YouTube video of Thio Li-Ann in Parliament).

The Thio siblings’ maternal grandfather, Reverend Huang Yang Ying, was the founding Principal of Anglican High School (1956-1958).

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Thio family. Source: BookSG

3. Chua Lee Hoong is the sister of Chua Mui Hoong. According to a reliable offline source, Chua Mui Hoong was a desk officer in the ISD.

4. Chew Men Leong took over from Chew Hock Yong as the chief executive of Land Transport Authority (LTA) in 2014. A reader pointed out that these two could be brothers or relatives.

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Chew twin brothers. Source: Jasmine Tan / FB

5. Lieutenant-Colonel Chew Chun Chau is the identical twin brother of SLTC Chew Chun Liang. Chew Chun Liang is 1.5 hours younger than Chew Chun Chau.

6. Lim Suet Fern, wife of Lee Hsien Yang (brother of PM Lee Hsien Loong), has a brother called Lim Suet Wun, former CEO of Tan Tock Seng hospital.

PAP: Royal Bloodline (Combined Family Tree)

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Verification and some excerpts on “the aristocracy” below.

Presented in 4 sections:

1. Combined PAP Family Tree (image)
2. Excerpts on Meritocracy / Aristocracy
3. Verification (text + links)
4. Additional Info

P.S. Thanks to some hardworking netizens for help with research and fact-checking. Above image of LKY from Facebook.

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2. EXCERPTS on MERITOCRACY / ARISTOCRACY:

1. “Meritocracy means a country picks its best citizens, not the relatives of the ruling class, to run a country.”
— Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (2015)

2. “Without a natural aristocracy. . .society will lose out.”
— Lee Hsien Loong, 2015

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Group photo of founding of OCBC. FRONT ROW: Tan Chin Tuan (Tony Tan’s uncle) is fourth from left. BACK ROW: Kwa Siew Tee (Mrs. LKY’s father) is third from left. Source: NAS / Veritas

3. OCBC has been described as a “clan bank” with “familial ties between the bank’s directors and close networking.”
— The Star, 2011

4. “It is all but impossible to distinguish between legitimate and ill-gotten gains because there is no public disclosure of the wealth of officials and their relatives. Conflict-of-interest laws are weak or nonexistent. The business dealings of the political elite are heavily censored in the state-controlled news media.”
— ‘Princelings’ in China (NYT)

5. The networks of hundreds of GLCs that are popularly referred to as Singapore Inc are not just vehicles for the conduct of business. Collectively they provide an extensive and almost inescapable vehicle of elite patronage and power.

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Chan Heng Chee (left), former political critic, and Lee Kuan Yew during LKY’s visit to the U.S. in 2000.

There have been scholars who have been critical of the government in their youth, but by the time they have arrived in government, they have always transformed themselves into models of elite solidarity.
— Michael Barr, The Ruling Elite of Singapore

6. It makes it a lot easier to understand Singapore if you [begin] from the premise that it is a Chinese family business, complete with a patriarch, an eldest son, guanxi networks and questions of cross-generational continuity.
— Michael Barr, The Ruling Elite of Singapore

7. Guanxi refers to the benefits gained from social connections and usually extends from extended family, school friends, workmates and members of common clubs or organizations. It is customary for Chinese people to cultivate an intricate web of guanxi relationships, which may expand in a huge number of directions, and includes lifelong relationships. The more you ask of someone the more you owe them. Guanxi can perpetuate a never-ending cycle of favors.
— Wikipedia (Guanxi)

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Chua Kim Teng (LKY’s maternal grandfather – centre row, 4th from left), Leong Ah Soon (centre row, 4th from right) Lee Kuan Yew’s mother Chua Jim Neo (centre row, 2nd from left), and her brother Chua Kheng Hoe (last row, second from left) was also related by marriage to Lee family (Family Photo from Lee Suan Yew)

8. “Family ties develop and strengthen over generations through family, clan, or tribal group activities and ceremonies. This family network can be a source of prestige as well as socioeconomic and political sucess.”
— Encyclopedia of Social Networks (SAGE)

9. “Fundamental change to the political regime will have to await Lee Kuan Yew’s demise. . .any legitimacy that Lee has secured through his personal authority will likely pass with him.”
— Cho Oon Khong, 1995

10. “It may not be imperative for us to know the family history of all the faces that appear in Singapore Tatler. But Singaporeans should at least know more about the roots of those who hold this country’s destiny in their hands.”
— Tan Sai Siong (Straits Times)

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11. “Cling to people you can trust — your family, your clan.”
— Lee Kuan Yew, 1984 National Day Rally (video below)

[youtube.com/watch?v=3ofjSBGmOcY&w=420&h=315;feature=youtu.be&t=10m30s]

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3. VERIFICATION (PAP COMBINED FAMILY TREE)

1. Verification for the right side of the image can be found on this post, re: how Tony Tan is related to PM Lee Hsien Loong.

2. Wee Kim Wee’s mother was Chua Hay Luan. Chua Hay Luan is the sister of Chua Kim Teng (father of Chua Jim Neo, LKY’s mother). Mr. Wee addressed Chua Jim Neo as “cousin” in the preface of a book published in the mid-70s. The preface was mysteriously removed from later publications.

3. This post has some text and links on how Teo Chee Hean is related to PM LHL.

In a 2006 Sunday Times article, Teo Chee Hean paid tribute to Tan Chin Tuan by saying:

‘I remember [TAN Chin Tuan] because he was very kind to my father (Teo Cheng Guan). After the war, he gave my father a job at OCBC and my father worked with him for many years. He was always very kind to our family.’

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Newspaper article about Teo Chee Hean’s great-granduncle.

  • READER TIP: Newspaper article about Teo Chee Hean’s family (mostly about Teo Eng Hock, Teo Chee Hean’s great-granduncle). The man on the right is Teo Chee Hean’s father. The woman in the centre with black cheongsam is Teo Chee Hean’s mother (Mrs. Teo Cheng Guan, or Madam TAN Suang). 张志贤 is Teo Chee Hean’s Chinese name.

4. On Teo Chee Hean’s link to Ivy Lim (sister-in-law of Kwa Geok Choo / Mrs. LKY): Teo Chee Hean’s father and Lim Chong Pang are the same generation. Teo Chee Hean and Ivy Lim Seok Cheng (Lim Chong Pang’s daughter) are the same generation. So they would address each other as 表姐, 表弟. In English, “cousin.” The link is through Teo Chee Hean’s great grand aunt (Teo Choon Lian) and Ivy Lim’s great grandfather (Lim Peng Nguan; spouse of Teo Choon Lian).

5. On Lim Kim San: Lim Chong Pang’s father was Lim Nee Soon. Lim Nee Soon’s daughter, Lim Mui Gek, married Tan Huck Khong. Tan Huck Khong’s uncle is Tan Chong Teck. Tan Chong Teck’s grandson is Pang Kim Hin — Tan Chong Teck’s eldest daughter, Tan Poey Quee, married Pang Leong Chwee and is the mother of Pang Kim Hin (married to Chew Kheng Imm). Pang Leong Chwee’s sister, Pang Gek Kim, is the wife of Lim Kim San. Thus Lim Kim San is the uncle of Pang Kim Hin.

6. On Goh Keng Swee: Lim Chong Pang’s father-in-law was Lee Choon Guan. Lee Choon Guan’s father-in-law was Tan Keong Saik. Tan Keong Siak’s father’s brother had a son named Tan Kiong / Keong Keng, who had a daughter called Tan Siok Kim. Tan Siok Kim was married to Chew Cheng Yong. Chew Cheng Yong’s brother-in-law was Goh Leng Inn, father of Goh Keng Swee.

* Tip: Many of the names mentioned above were the leading pioneers in banking and trading sectors during The Straits Settlements. They also held many leading positions in the municipal commission where they worked closely with the British colonial government in the running of domestics affairs of Singapore.

Hence, they all played influential roles in the politics and economy during that time.

As such, readers are encouraged to do their own reading on these pioneers.

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4. ADDITIONAL INFO:

1. According to several netizens, this is the “main branch” of Singapore’s Royal Bloodline.

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2. This chart shows the intermarriages between Straits Chinese Banking Families in Singapore. Done by Roy Ngerng (originally posted on his blog, TheHeartTruths).

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3. A Feudalism chart showing the 99%’s place in society (image by Amendment Gazette).

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4. Collection of “elitism” quotes by PAP Ministers.

Kwa: Family Tree (Government Positions)

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A Kwa family tree, showing some family members and their titles / positions. Links with verification and additional info below.

Thanks to several diligent netizens for contributing to this post.

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KWA GEOK CHOO:

Kwa Geok Choo (“Mrs. LKY”) was married to Lee Kuan Yew for 63 years.

Kwa was the co-founder of Lee and Lee law firm. She participated in drafting the PAP party’s constitution and gave a speech on radio urging women to vote for the PAP in the upcoming elections.

ANTI-CLOCKWISE DIRECTION (from top left corner):

1. Kwa Kim Li is a niece of Kwa Geok Choo. Kwa Kim Li is a director at Mapletree Commercial Trust (a GLC and unit of Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings Pte. Ltd.’s property arm, Mapletree Investments).

2. Kwa Chong Seng, Public Service Commission (PSC) Member and former Temasek Holdings chairman, is a nephew of Kwa Geok Choo.

According to Wikipedia, Singapore’s Constitution, and PSC’s 2012 Annual Report:

The Public Service Commission (PSC) is constituted under Part IX of the Constitution of Singapore and its constitutional role is to appoint, confirm, promote, transfer, dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over public officers in Singapore.

The PSC also retains two key non-constitutional roles. It considers the suitability of candidates for appointment as Chief Executive Officers of Statutory Boards; it is also responsible for the planning and administration of scholarships provided by the Government of Singapore.

3. Kwa Chong Guan, chairman of the National Archives, is a nephew of Kwa Geok Choo. Read more about his influential titles at the end of this post on the National Heritage Board.

4. Kwa Soon Bee, former Permanent Secretary for Health and Director of Medical Services, is a brother of Kwa Geok Choo.

5. Kwa Soon Chuan was the first local appointed to the Colonial Administration. He is a brother of Kwa Geok Choo.

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Kwa Soon Chuan’s titles. Source: ST / NLB, 5 Jan 1977

Kwa Soon Chuan’s spouse is Ivy Lim Seok Cheng (daughter of Lim Chong Pang). Ivy Lim’s link to Teo Chee Hean is through Teo Chee Hean’s great grand aunt (Teo Choon Lian), who was married to Ivy Lim’s great grandfather (Lim Peng Nguan; spouse of Teo Choon Lian). So Ivy Lim and Teo Chee Hean would address each other as 表姐, 表弟. In English, “cousin.”

6. Yong Nyuk Lin, Minister for Education in PAP’s first cabinet, is a brother-in-law of Kwa Geok Choo. His spouse is Kwa Geok Lan, elder sister of Kwa Geok Choo (Mrs. LKY).

7. Earnest Lau was the principal of ACS. His mother was Madam Yong Soong Moy, Headmistress of Geylang Methodist Girls’ School (1930s), and his father was Reverend Edward Sing Lau (Ee Sing), Pastor of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church (1929-1930), Geylang English Methodist Church (1930-1951) and Straits Chinese Methodist Church (1952-1963). Earnest Lau’s spouse is Kwa Geok Lian, sister of Kwa Geok Choo.

8. According to a couple of thorough online comments, Kwa Chong Teck, Senior Advisor at National Dental Centre Singapore, is the brother of Kwa Chong Seng.

ADDITIONAL INFO:

This blog post takes a look at Kwa Geok Choo (the “Dragon Lady”) through the perspective of Peranakan culture.

Mrs. LKY: “The Dragon Lady”

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A look at Kwa Geok Choo (Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew) through the perspective of Peranakan culture.

This post is presented in 12 sections:

1. Peranakan Roots + Family Background
2. The Dragon Lady
3. Kwa Geok Choo’s Gold Coin Necklace
4. Images of Gold Coin Necklace
5. Peranakan Culture: General Info
6. Peranakan Culture: A Hidden Matriarchy
7. Peranakan Culture: Phoenix Symbol
8. Peranakan Culture: Females
9. Lee Kuan Yew on Kwa Geok Choo
10. Kwa Geok Choo: Intellect and Capabilities
11. Kwa Geok Choo: State Funeral
12. Kwa Geok Choo: Political Legacy

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1. PERANAKAN ROOTS + Family Background

1) Madam Kwa and her husband, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, both Peranakans, are featured in the Great Peranakans — Fifty Remarkable Lives exhibition.

Source: The Straits Times (2015)

2) . . .born to a well-to-do family, studied law as a Queen’s Scholar in England’s Cambridge University, [and] remained a deeply private person.

Source: Philly.com

2. THE DRAGON LADY

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Mrs and Mr LKY | Image from HerWorld

“Dragon Lady”: A woman of somewhat sinister glamour often perceived as wielding ruthless or corrupt power. (Dictionary.com)

Kwa Geok Choo was described as a “proverbial dragon lady” by a former senior correspondent for The Straits Times.

Francis Seow also referred to Kwa Geok Choo as a dragon lady (short version below; click here for the full-length interview):

Transcript:

The whole structure of government, from the time [Lee Kuan Yew] took office, to the present day, has been designed in such a way that his son will succeed him. And the son has succeeded him, you know?

Now in order to preserve that legacy that he has passed on now to his son, all the troublemakers have to be run out of town, to use an American expression. Behind all this grand scheme of things is. . .the word I’m looking for is. . .The Dragon Lady.

Lee Kuan Yew’s wife. She’s the one with the overweening ambition for her son to take over. She is the one who has been advising Lee Kuan Yew what to do, how to do it, etc.

Many people don’t know this.

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Dowager Empress Cixi.

But I’m telling you today, the power behind the throne is the dowager. The dragon lady, if you like. And she is very smart! That is why all these guys have to get out of the way, and they had to be ruined. Or like me, driven out of the country. If I were to go back, I would go straight from the aeroplane to jail.

— Interview with Francis Seow (former solicitor-general of Singapore)

3. KWA GEOK CHOO’S GOLD COIN NECKLACE

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Kwa Geok Choo’s gold coin necklace.

1) A nyonya and her jewellery are never apart. . . the display of opulence was not just a statement of wealth but also spoke volumes of their shrewdness and austerity.

Source: A Nyonya and Her Jewellery

2) For the 25th anniversary of Lee & Lee law firm in 1980, the firm’s partners had two gold coins specially made for the two senior partners, Mrs Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Dennis Lee.

Unbeknownst to them, Mrs Lee had a chain made for the coin, and would wear it as a necklace on special occasions and at formal functions.

Long after she left the firm, partners would glimpse the gold coin around her neck when her image appeared on TV or in newspaper pictures.

She was appearing at those formal functions as the wife of Singapore’s founding father. But the gold coin around her neck was a reminder that she was also a trailblazing legal luminary in her own right.

Source: Straits Times

4. IMAGES of KWA GEOK CHOO’s GOLD COIN NECKLACE

5. PERANAKAN CULTURE: General Info

1) The Baba Culture is one that is unique to the early settlers along the Straits of Malacca. Since the 17th Century, Chinese traders arrived and lived along these coastal lands bringing with them their wealth of wares, customs, traditions and religions from the south of China.

The off-springs of these ‘locally born Straits Chinese’ were called Peranakan Baba (or Nyonya for womenfolk).

With the arrival of the Europeans in the 18th Century to this part of the world, the Babas were quick to adapt to the changing environment. They became the compradors or ‘go-betweens’ for the Europeans and the locals. Many Baba men held office and important positions in the Portuguese, Dutch & British governments and they rose in status & stature to become successful businessmen who even took on leadership roles in society.

Source: The Main Wayang Company

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President Yusof Ishak with Mrs. LKY’s Parents, Kwa Siew Tee (left) and Wee Yew Neo (right), 1968. | Image from NAS

  • Note: Kwa Geok Choo’s father, Kwa Siew Tee, had several leadership roles (he was one of the founders of the OCBC Bank which he served as General Manager from 1935 to 1945, the Municipal Commissioner of the Colony of Singapore in 1947 and Public Service Commissioner in 1953). (Source: PDF download)

2) Peranakans were bilingual, speaking English as well as their dialect of Baba Malay, and embraced influences from various religions including Buddhism, Taoism, ancestral worship and Christianity.

Source: Five facts about Asia’s unique Peranakans

6. PERANAKAN CULTURE: “A Hidden Matriarchy”

“Matriarch”: A woman who controls a family, group, or government. (Dictionary.com)

1) “While the males are out working to support the family, it is the females that preside the household. A hidden matriarchy, the Nyonya wives rule the household with an iron fist, managing and directing the day to day activities of the household and also controlling the funds in the family.”

Source: Women in the Peranakan Family

2) As someone who married into a Chinese/Peranakan family, [KMN’s] family does hold fast to one Perankan tradition: a powerful matriarchy. The women plan the gatherings, steer the families, and in my observations, usually have the first (and last) say on many matters of importance.

Source: I Married Into a Matriarchy

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Source: ST

3) Chris reminded me that Peranakan families are ‘outwardly patriarchal and internally matriarchal’. Of course! Look at the Little Nyonya, scheming matrons obviously reigned over the households, pretending to be subservient to weak-minded husbands on the surface. Chris, who is Baba by the way and should be awarded some authority on the subject by way of relation, attests to the *fact* that the average Baba man is weaker than the Nyonya woman.

Source: Baba Bling: The Peranakan Museum

4) The portraits of matriarchs displayed above Peranakan Chinese altars in Malacca indicate the powerful position of the matriarch in ruling over the family. These Nyonyas came across as assertive, even bossy as they rose to the position as matriarchs in charge of running an extended family under one household. A mature Baba with great status and influence in the society would have to submit to an uncompromising mother at home.

Source: China Media Research: Analyzing the Little Nyonya

7. PERANAKAN CULTURE: Phoenix Symbol

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What appears to be a “Phoenix” motif on Mrs. LKY’s cheongsam. The bird has a crest of feathers on its head.

1) [Kelvin Pow] explains that the Peranakan culture is matriarchal, hence the phoenix rather than the dragon is the preferred embellishment in its decorative arts.

“I think it is very important that we retain our heritage. I think it is also important for people, especially younger Singaporeans to understand their culture and where they came from.”

Source: ST Jobs — House of Antiques

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Nyonya porcelain featuring a phoenix motif, at the Peranakan Museum.

2) A typical motif used in nyonya porcelain ware is the Phoenix, a symbol of the matriarchal infrastructure of a Peranakan household.

Source: On the Trail of the Phoenix

3) The images above show the Peranakan traditional wedding costume donned on the bride. The geometric layering around her neck is the phoenix collar to symbolise the power of the feminine phoenix in Peranakan society.

Source: lonelytravelog (Peranakan Museum + Phoenix Collar)

8. PERANAKAN CULTURE: Females

a) Young Women

In contrast to her sheltered teenage years, the married Nyonya was given relatively more freedom. It was as if she had served her time, and was now qualified to manage a household and take care of herself.

As she gained more confidence in her dealings with her neighbours, friends and counterparts, her role was likened to that of the strong-willed managing director of a corporation. She controlled almost everything that happened at home.

In public, however, it was the husband who was seen to be the number one person.

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Image from BBC / Getty

b) Keeping it within the Family

In the early days, the younger members of the community married among themselves. This desire to remain within the community was so strong that it was common for people to marry their relatives, even their cousins. The only restriction imposed involved unions between paternal cousins.

c) Colourful Metaphors

Be warned that Peranakans have a way with words. Eavesdrop on two Nyonyas having an animated conversation, and you will be in for a linguistic experience that is hard to forget.

Source: Asiapac Books (Gateway to Peranakan Culture)

d) Cooking + Sewing

“Peranakan families are matriarchal, though the nonya’s role is often seen as supportive to the husband – women are often expected to cook and sew well.”

Source: FRV Bali: Peranakan Museum SG

“She was a skilful knitter, and knitted us sweaters to stay warm, one after another.”

Source: Lee Hsien Loong on Mrs Lee Kuan Yew

9. LEE KUAN YEW on KWA GEOK CHOO

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1) “Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life.”
Lee Kuan Yew

2) “. . .a discerning judge of character. She would tell me whether she would trust that man or not. And often she is right.”

Source: Straits Times

3) “My great advantage was I have a wife who could be a sole breadwinner and bring the children up. That was my insurance policy.”

Source: LKY: The Man and His Ideas, Page 235

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Lee Kuan Yew and Kwa Geok Choo. Image: ST

4) “. . .[she’s my] tower of strength.”

Source: Philly.com

5) “Over the years I’ve been a kept man. My wife keeps the family.”

Source: Lee Kuan Yew in Parliament, 1985

6) Lee Kuan Yew discussed the possibility of euthanasia with his doctors and family in his final years as he struggled with illness and mourned the death of his wife.

Associate professor Michael Barr, who has studied and published on Singapore, said Lee had been left lost and distraught following the death of his wife, Kwa Geok Choo, in 2010, to whom he had been married for 60 years.

Source: South China Morning Post

10. KWA GEOK CHOO’S INTELLECT and CAPABILITIES

1) The late Madam Kwa, wife of Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was undoubtedly an excellent Peranakan woman, steel clothed in velvet, as Peranakan women were known to be!

Source: Passage Magazine by FOM.sg (PDF download)

2) Mrs Lee Kuan Yew was the firm’s ‘intellectual mind‘, while Mr Dennis Lee took care of the business side of things.

Mrs Lee’s personality, according to one prominent lawyer who declined to be named, is best summed up in the way she always dressed impeccably in a cheongsam to work, but would change into rubber flip-flops once there.

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White cheongsam worn by Kwa Geok Choo. Image: Peranakan Museum.

‘When we heard her walk around in the flip-flops, I would joke that that is power,’ he said. ‘Power in rubber flip-flops.’

Source: Straits Times

3) In 1940, Geok Choo entered Raffles College where, to Kuan Yew’s consternation, she beat him in the English and Economics examinations.

They married while in Cambridge, and graduated together with first class honours degrees in 1949. Geok Choo did it in two years; he in three. She was the first woman in Malaya to get a first class honours law degree.

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Lee Kuan Yew and his wife, Kwa Geok Choo in 1968. Photo: Benson Lo

Though she opted to stay in the political background and play the role of supportive wife, she was a founding member of the People’s Action Party (PAP). She was highly skilled in legal draftmanship, helping to draft the PAP Constitution, and later the crucial provisions that guaranteed Singapore’s continued water supply when Singapore separated from Malaysia.

Source: Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame

4) Standing proudly atop its box on the third floor of the Peranakan Museum, the barrister’s wig that belonged to the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo (21 December 1920 – 2 October 2010) is very much a tribute not only to its erstwhile owner, but also to the era’s fledgling coterie of able Peranakan women.

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Kwa Geok Choo’s barrister’s wig.

Source: Passage Magazine by FOM.sg (PDF download)

5) Known for her attention to detail, Kwa Geok Choo once interrupted the taping of an interview to touch up [Lee Kuan Yew’s] hair and makeup.

kwa_makeup

Source: Straits Times

11. KWA GEOK CHOO: STATE FUNERAL

From the Press Statement from the PM’s office on the passing of Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew:

The family requests that no obituaries and no wreaths or flowers to be sent. All donations will go to the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) Health Research Endowment Fund.

Kwa Geok Choo was given a heroine’s funeral:

The glass-encased brown coffin of Kwa Geok Choo, who died aged 89 on Saturday after a long illness, was transported to a suburban crematorium on a ceremonial gun carriage normally reserved for state and military funerals.

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Casket of Mrs. LKY

The government said the usage of a ceremonial gun carriage “is in recognition of her exceptional and unique contributions to Singapore for more than five decades, beginning before Singapore became independent.”

12. KWA GEOK CHOO: POLITICAL LEGACY

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Mr. and Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew. Image: CNA

Her political legacy runs deep.

In 1959, she delivered her first and only party political broadcast during the general election that year, urging women to vote for the PAP. She was the only English-speaking woman in the party who had the requisite firmness and conviction for the broadcast.

‘I have been proof-reading and sometimes correcting [Lee Kuan Yew’s] speeches from his earliest 1950 speech to the Malayan Forum in London,’ she told The Straits Times in 1998.

The early history of the People’s Action Party (PAP) also bears the stamp of her involvement.

‘Who else would have drafted that Constitution for them?’ she said. ‘My husband doesn’t draft things. He was an advocate; he was a court lawyer.’

Drafting the rules of a society, by contrast, was her speciality.

Source: Straits Times

MORE INFO:

This blog post has a family tree of Kwa Geok Choo’s relatives holding government positions in Singapore.

National Heritage Board

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1. STOLEN ARTIFACTS?

The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) is one of the National Museums of Singapore under the National Heritage Board.

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A photo of the 1,000-year-old bronze sculpture of Uma Parmeshvari stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu and sold to the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore. Source: The Hindu

On 6 December 2013, TRE broke the news that a 1,000-year idol stolen from India was in the possession of ACM.

“The 1,000-year-old Uma Parmeshvari bronze sculpture was stolen from a temple in the Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu in 2005 or 2006 before being smuggled to Art Of The Past, owned by disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor. Kapoor sold the idol to ACM for US$650,000 in February 2007.

According to chasingaphrodite.com, a blog dedicated to the hunt for looted antiquities in the world’s museums, Kapoor’s contact in Singapore is ACM’s senior curator Dr Gauri Krishnan. The blog is written and maintained by Jason Felch, an award-winning investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times.”
23PrincessRoad

“Singapore’s Asian Civilizations Museum bought more than $1 million of art from disgraced Manhattan antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, according to business records from Kapoor’s Art of the Past gallery.”
Chasing Aphrodite

2. ART AND MONEY LAUNDERING

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Art dealer Yves Bouvier, a Singapore permanent resident. Source: ST

Prominent Swiss businessman and art dealer Yves Bouvier, who is under investigation in Monaco for fraud and money laundering, is a Singapore permanent resident. He was accused by Russian billionaire and art collector Dmitry Rybolovlev of inflating the prices of works by master artists such as Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh.

Bouvier owns a company that ships and stores art for the wealthy, and has majority stakes in freeports — warehouses for the rich to store art and other valuables — including one in Singapore.

Lawyers and art dealers familiar with the discussions say the case could expand well beyond Bouvier and reach into the top galleries and billionaire collectors in New York, London and Hong Kong. It could widen to involve not only undisclosed mark-ups by dealers, but also tax fraud, global money laundering and possible bribery. 

“This is just the beginning,” said one prominent art lawyer in New York who asked not to be named. “There will be a lot of big dealers and collectors involved.”

3. PAMELIA LEE and Tang Dynasty Ship / Shipwreck Treasure

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Pamelia Lee; sister-in-law of LKY. Image from Challenge.gov.sg

In 2004, as Senior Consultant to the Singapore Tourism Board, Mrs Pamelia Lee (a sister-in-law of Lee Kuan Yew) handled the acquisition of a 9th Century shipwreck treasure of over 53,000 artifacts, known as the “Tang Shipwreck Treasures: Singapore’s Maritime Collection.”

Trafficking Culture, a website run by the University of Glasgow, focuses on understanding the international trade in illicit cultural objects.

From a 2012 article on Trafficking Culture:

. . .the Indonesian government turned to commercial salvaging company Seabed Explorations, led by German director Tilman Walterfang.

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Tilman Walterfang, founder and owner of Seabed Explorations NZ Ltd. with Mrs. Pamelia Lee during one of her many visits to Seabed Explorations New Zealand.

Walterfang sold the collection for $32 million USD in 2005 to the Sentosa Leisure Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Sentosa Development Corporation, an entity established by the government of Singapore. The Sentosa Development Corporation established a long-term loan agreement with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and that same year, the STB teamed up with the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore to display highlights from the collection in an exhibition titled, ‘Tang Treasures from the Sea’.

In 2007, the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer/Sackler Galleries was approached by Singapore Tourism Board’s Pamelia Lee about organizing an exhibition of the shipwreck and putting together a book.

. . .This news sparked an internal debate within the Smithsonian, [when] archaeologists in other museum departments heard that an exhibition of unscientifically excavated, commercially exploited artefact was so far along.

Source: Trafficking Culture

This screenshot mentions some financial numbers re: the Tang Shipwreck Treasure.

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Financial Statements, Notes (2013). Source: NHB.

Last paragraph: “During the current financial year, 53,227 heritage materials of the Tang Shipwreck Treasure were transferred from the Singapore Tourism Board to the Board. The heritage materials were valued by an external valuer on a class basis and was valued at SGD$75,020,166  (US$60,392,985) in June 2012. These are recorded as part of heritage capital reserve.”

  • Reader Tip: I remember those days, lots of rumours Pamelia Lee made a lot of comission from this. I noticed a lot of the Lee or Kwa family members used to be ex-directors in the National Heritage Board too.

4. BOARD MEMBERS in NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD

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NHB Board Members (PDF; 2013)

I. Some board members include (from 2013 document):

II. Mini FAMILY TREE Image

NHB_Relatives

5. NOTE ABOUT MR. KWA CHONG GUAN:

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Kwa Chong Guan; a nephew of Kwa Geok Choo (Mrs. LKY)

Kwa Chong Guan, a nephew of the late Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew, is a Member of the National Heritage Board and current chairman of the National Archives Advisory Committee. He is also a board member of the National Library Board, and chairs the Acquisition Sub-committee of the Asian Civilisations Board.

From the website of The National Archives of Singapore:

“The National Archives of Singapore (NAS) is the keeper of records of national or historical significance. The records acquired by NAS come from both public agencies and private sources. Records in various mediums and formats are safeguarded and preserved.

The immensely rich collection continues to grow as NAS fulfils its mission to actively acquire records that will serve as the corporate memory of the Government and the social memory of our people. This memory allows current and future generations of Singaporeans to understand our different cultures, explore our common heritage and appreciate who we are and how we became a nation.”
National Archives of Singapore (Our Roles)

With academics warning of the “power of the Singapore state in constraining [history],” one wonders just how much of the National Archives is made to keep in line with “the well-rehearsed official state narrative.”