Goh Keng Swee once trolled MINDEF with a fake document to prove a point. They fell for it.


Guan Zhen Tan | June 27, 05:00 pm


The late Goh Keng Swee was the second deputy prime minister of Singapore.

He also held other key appointments, such as leading the finance ministry twice, chairing the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and creating the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) within seven months.

Anecdote within a book

His contributions were chronicled in the book, Goh Keng Swee: A Legacy of Public Service, outlining instances of his wit, smarts and lack of tolerance for pretence.

Memedef, a Facebook page that carries memes relating to National Service, posted this one particular passage from the book on June 26.

The caption read, “Goh Keng Swee, mad genius”.

In case you can’t see it:

Image may contain: text
Photo via Memedef’s Facebook post

Sent a falsified circular to prove a point

Goh was essentially ” frustrated that directives from headquarters to the units were having so little effect”, according to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s eulogy at his state funeral in 2010.

Apparently, Goh decided to conduct an experiment. He issued a falsified general circular that was pretty much lifted off the passage regarding the story of Noah’s Ark from the Bible.

A few army personnel who received the document realised there was something strange about it, but continued to forward the document to their subordinates and Navy officers.

Some officers thought that the lines “you shall bring two of every sort into the ark” and “the rain was on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights” meant that they had to instruct two representatives from each company to assemble 40 days later.

Ultimately, only one officer asked: “What on Earth is the circular about, and who sent it?”

Goh’s findings from the experiment were later compiled into a paper, “Noah’s Ark progresses through the SAF”.

Goh noted soldiers should not be working all at once to “impress the minister”

In the book, another anecdote shared by PM Lee also demonstrated Goh’s eye for detail.

PM Lee once followed Goh to a field engineer defence exercise. During the exercise, Goh remarked that all soldiers should not be working at once, and especially not to impress the minister.

Screenshot via Google Books

But wait, there’s more.

In his maiden budget speech in 1967, he also pretty much dissed the previous budget speech for being overly inundated with statistics.

Goh said:

I have long suspected that nobody pays the slightest attention either in this House or when they read the proceedings in tomorrow’s newspapers or in Hansard nobody pays the slightest attention to the interminable series of figures involved in an exposition of this kind. The average human mind unfortunately does not have a high degree of perceptivity in respect of numbers, and I am afraid that it is the misfortune of Finance Ministers in their Budget presentation to labour under the misapprehension that their audiences are eagerly and intelligently digesting the outpouring of numerical data. I have come to the conclusion that this is a waste of time both on my part and on the part of honourable Members.

Way to Goh.

Goh Keng Swee told Parliament in sassy 1967 Budget: Nobody pays attention to numbers

Top image via National Archives of Singapore


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About Guan Zhen Tan

Guan Zhen misses a time when the McDonald's at White Sands had two floors. If not listening to visual kei bands and doodling, she's probably thinking about how Ra is rowing his sun boat into the darkness of the night.

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