SINGAPORE: Former diplomat Lee Chiong Giam was an “indefatigable leader” and will be remembered for his many contributions to Singapore, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Mar 12).
In a condolence letter to Mr Lee Chiong Giam’s wife Mdm Png, the Prime Minister said: “Chiong Giam will be deeply missed. I hope you find peace and comfort in knowing that he was greatly respected and will long be remembered for his many important contributions to Singapore.
“Our thoughts are with you and your family during this time of grief.”
Mr Lee Chiong Giam belonged to the first generation of civil servants who “served Singapore with distinction”, having entered service in 1967, soon after the nation’s independence, said the Prime Minister.
He highlighted the various posts that Mr Lee Chiong Giam held, including in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), where he “worked to expand the diplomatic and economic footprint of a young nation”.
He was also appointed chief executive director of the People’s Association (PA) in 1982, a position he held for 17 years.
BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER
“He led the PA through a period of rapid economic growth for Singapore, supporting the Government to strengthen our social policies and community infrastructure to match the growing aspirations of our population,” said the Prime Minister.
Mr Lee Chiong Giam led many national initiatives that improved lives and brought Singapore’s society closer together.
During his tenure, the Citizens’ Consultative Committees and Residents’ Committees were brought under the PA. He also set up Neighbourhood Committees for private estates and helped set up Community Development Councils.
Under his leadership, the PA set up Malay and Indian Activity Groups and established the Joint Social Service Centre, now known as OnePeople.SG, to house self-help groups on PA premises, so as to promote racial harmony and social cohesion.
“As a strong supporter of the arts, he nurtured local talent through PA’s arts and cultural groups, including the PA Chinese Orchestra which went on to become today’s Singapore Chinese Orchestra,” said the Prime Minister.
MODESTY AND KINDNESS
Mr Lee Chiong Giam formally returned to the MFA after stepping down from the PA, even though “he had not really left”, said the Prime Minister.
Even while at the PA, Mr Lee Chiong Giam had concurrently been the Non-Resident High Commissioner (NRHC) to Papua New Guinea.
He was subsequently appointed NRHC to Fiji and Pakistan, and Non-Resident Ambassador to Timor-Leste. As Deputy Secretary in the MFA, he oversaw efforts to persuade countries to resume travel from Singapore after the SARS epidemic in 2003.
“Today, as we recover from COVID-19 and re-open our borders, we are drawing from that experience,” said the Prime Minister.
“Chiong Giam’s colleagues remember him warmly not only for his dedication to Singapore and his public service, but also for his modesty and kindness. Senior MFA officers speak about how Chiong Giam had mentored and quietly helped them, without any expectation of recognition or payback.
“He was a straight-talker, his sharp comments often tempered by a characteristic humour that allowed him to speak his mind and provide candid counsel to others.”
SERVED SINGAPORE WITH DISTINCTION
In a Facebook post on Friday evening, former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said Mr Lee served Singapore with distinction, adding that he was shocked and saddened to learn of his passing.
“I knew Chiong Giam well as PA’s chief executive director, both as grassroots adviser of Marine Parade and when I was chairman of PA,” Mr Goh wrote.
“In PA, he fostered social cohesion through an array of programmes at the constituency and national levels. He encapsulated the ethos of a public servant – dedicated, patient, polite, helpful and humble,” he added.
“Chiong Giam has served Singapore with distinction. My deepest condolences to Chiong Giam’s family during this difficult time.”