Reader pays tribute to late Ong Teng Cheong by portraying the people's president on $2 bill

Highly appropriate partly because he was the president who asked questions about Singapore's reserve.

Belmont Lay| August 10, 05:01 PM

Update, Nov. 2, 2016: A request was made for to remove the illustration of the note.

A reader, Tan Zi Wei, has submitted to us his drawing of the late President Ong Teng Cheong on a $2 bill as a tribute to him this National Day 2015:


This was the photo he used as a reference for his drawing of Ong:


The reader wrote:

"I guess my motivation to create this piece of work is personal.

There is just too much going on surrounding the SG50 activities and I have also seen graphic designs created to honour the architectural and cultural achievements that Singapore has accomplished over the past 50 years.

But we seem to have overlooked this one great man who did his best during his years as the president, Mr Ong Teng Cheong.

Looking after the welfare of the people is what a leader should be doing. That's why I felt we owe it to him.

I spent a day researching and finding the best photo of him and then creating the dollar bill design, close to what we are using now.

I thought that it was apt to commemorate the people's president on a common $2 bill that every ‎Singaporean has, no matter how rich or poor.

I am glad for what our country has achieved but the celebrations are a bit overwhelming. I want us to remember to remain humble and steer our country forward with open eyes.

I think I will just create this one art piece about the person who truly matters to me. There is already so much going on anyway."

Tan Zi Wei, 31, art director.


Here's some context to explain why the late President Ong is so fondly remembered nowadays:

As the fifth president of Singapore who was the first directly elected, Ong served a six-year term from September 1 1993 to August 31 1999.

Initially, Ong, who ran for the presidency under the PAP's endorsement against Chua Kim Yeow, a former accountant general, saw him win marginally after garnering only 952,513 votes while his opponent received 670,358 votes, despite having greater exposure and a more active campaign.

However, when in office, Ong's presidency was marked by the initiating of many charitable projects, the largest of which is the annual President's Star Charity.

He also took his role as the guardian of Singapore's reserve seriously by questioning the type and quantity of assets the government owned. This episode played out as a public dispute between him and the government over the access of information regarding Singapore's financial reserves.

Ong's stand was that he could not carry out his duties if he was unaware of how much reserves Singapore has. He said in an Asiaweek interview that he had a job to do, whether the government liked it or not.

In his later years, he also opposed the sale of POSB (Post Office Savings Bank) to DBS (The Development Bank of Singapore) in 1998 during his last year in office. He felt that the sale was procedurally inappropriate and did not regard the president's significance as the guardian of the reserves. This was due to the fact that POSB at that time was a government statutory board whose reserves came under the president's protection.

Before his death in February 2002 at the age of 66, he had asked to be cremated and for his ashes to be placed at Mandai Columbarium with those of ordinary citizens instead of Kranji State Cemetery, where late dignitaries are usually buried.

Singapore flags flew at half mast on the government buildings, including the Istana, to pay him his last respects. It was the first time in Singapore's history this was ever done.

However, Ong's standing as the people's president was celebrated only after his passing, as his status and achievements have been lionised mostly after his death.

This is perhaps due to the perception that he is the first popularly elected, and possibly, only president so far, who exercised his powers more boldly and fully.


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