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Former finance minister Richard Hu dies at 96

Felicia Tan
Felicia Tan • 5 min read
Former finance minister Richard Hu dies at 96
Former finance minister Richard Hu. Photo: The Edge Singapore
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Dr Richard Hu, Singapore's longest-serving finance minister, has passed away at 96 years old on Sept 8, reported Zaobao, citing an unnamed source from the People’s Action Party (PAP).

PAP member Lee Hong Chuang, who is the party's representative in Hougang SMC (single member constituency) said in a Facebook post that Hu had passed away "earlier this morning".

"I remember the late Dr Richard Hu when I was growing up as a real stalwart of our economy," he wrote. "I take the opportunity to express my deepest condolences to the late Dr Hu's family. Thank you sir for all that you have done for Singapore."

Hu's career began in the Royal Dutch Shell Group of Companies in 1960 before becoming its chairman and CEO in Singapore from 1977 to 1983.

He then became the managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and sovereign wealth fund, GIC, in 1983. He was then chairman of the MAS from 1985 to 1997.

One of Singapore's longest-serving ministers, Hu was Singapore’s Minister for Finance between 1985 to 2001 and was Singapore’s Minister for Health from 1985 to 1987. He also served as Minister for National Development from 1992 to 1993. During his term as finance minister, Hu introduced the goods and services tax (GST) in 1993 citing a reduction of the government's reliance on direct taxation as a source of revenue. He also oversaw the acquisition of Post Office Savings Bank (POSB) by the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS), which took place in July 1998.

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During the 1984 General Elections, Hu became the Member of Parliament (MP) for Kreta Ayer SMC and served as its MP between 1984 and 1997 and Kreta-Ayer Tanglin GRC (or group representation constituency) from 1997 to 2001.

After retiring from politics in 2001, Hu was on the boards of several companies including CapitaLand. He was also a senior advisor at Fraser and Neave (F&N). From July 2002 to August 2010, Hu was the chancellor of the Singapore Management University (SMU).

"The management and staff of the MAS are saddened to learn of the passing of Dr Richard Hu, MAS’ third and longest-serving Chairman. MAS conveys its deepest condolences to the family of the late Dr Hu," said the central bank in a statement issued on Sept 8.

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"Dr Hu helmed the MAS during a period of rapid economic growth and financial sector development. He upheld a strong commitment to sound monetary policy and prudent currency management. This conviction underpinned price stability and confidence in the Singapore dollar during much of the 1980s and 1990s," it added. "Dr Hu emphasised the high standards of financial regulation and supervision that Singapore is known for. He firmly believed that high prudential standards and close supervision were critical for the long-term competitiveness and growth of Singapore’s financial sector. He oversaw the overhaul of the securities regulatory framework which facilitated the subsequent development of Singapore’s capital markets."

Further to its statement, MAS noted that many of its "older staff" remember Hu for his "wise and steady leadership".

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also paid tribute to Hu, saying he was "deeply saddened" by his passing.

"Richard was a close colleague and friend for many years. We entered politics in the same year — 1984. From the beginning we worked closely together, in MTI (the Ministry of Trade and Industry) and MOF (Ministry of Finance), managing the Singapore economy and the nation's finances. I will always warmly remember his wise counsel, strong sense of stewardship, and deep concern for Singaporeans," Lee wrote in his social media posts, which also mentioned Hu's long list of achievements.

"Richard left a lasting legacy in the field of finance. He joined the GIC Board when it was first formed in 1981 and was its first private sector member. When GIC's real estate arm, GIC RE, was corporatised into a separate entity in 1999, he was concurrently appointed its Chairman. With him at the helm, the GIC real estate team made its first foray into the region, and has since grown into a global real estate institutional investor," Lee added.

"Richard was also Singapore's longest-serving Finance Minister, having tabled in Parliament a record 16 budgets, overseeing a period of high growth and substantial budget surpluses. Under his prudent management, these surpluses steadily accumulated in our reserves, to become the unique resource that Singapore can now rely upon, both for routine budget spending, and in crises with the permission of the President," he continued.

Finally, Lee noted that Singapore owed Hu its gratitude" for his "lifetime of contribution and service to the nation", adding that he will be "deeply missed".

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Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong expressed his condolences to Hu's family, noting that he had "stewarded [Singapore's] finances well, and provided a steady hand to steer [the country's] economy through the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis".

"He had served as a director on the boards of both the MAS and GIC when they were formed. Over many years, he provided exceptional service to the two organisations, always fulfilling his duties with professionalism and grace," Wong wrote.

He added: "He was the Finance Minister when I joined MOF in 1999. I remember working on a Budget where he asked us to get information on the prices of some key essential items at the wet market, so as to get a better feel of the cost of living pressures that people were experiencing then. That’s what I remember of Dr Hu — not just thinking about policies in [the] abstract, but making sure that policies led to tangible improvements in people's lives. In his quiet and humble way, he has served Singaporeans with distinction, and made Singapore a better place for us all!"

Hu will be cremated in a private family funeral on Sept 10, according to Zaobao.

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