History of Public Service by Mr Ong Teng Cheong


1972 - First contested in General Election (Kim Keat) and secured 10,262 votes. Defeated rival candidates W J Paglar (583) and Seow Khee Leng (3022).

1975 - Appointed as Senior Minister of State for Communications.

1976 - Contested in General Election (Kim Keat) and secured 14,262 votes. Defeated rival candidate Chin Tian Choo (4353).

1977 - Appointed as Acting Minister for Culture (until 1981).

1978 - Appointed as Minister for Communications.

1979 - Initiated the institution of the Cultural Medallion, to give recognition to individuals who have attained artistic excellence in the fields of dance, theatre, music, literature, photography, art and film (as from 1997). This Award is conferred by the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts and is now administered by the Singapore National Arts Council.

1979 - Chairman of the Moral Education Committee. The final report recommended that a new moral education programme be introduced to primary and secondary schools. The previous textbooks for moral education used in schools for primary (Education for Living) and secondary (Civics) students, were replaced by new books titled 'Good Citizen' and 'Being And Becoming' respectively.

1980 - Returned unopposed in General Election (Kim Keat).

1981 - Appointed as Chairman of People's Action Party (until 1993).

1983 - Appointed as NTUC Secretary-General (until 1993) and appointed as Minister without Portfolio (Under his leadership, the union membership rose from 190,000 to 230,000).

1984 - Returned unopposed in General Election (Kim Keat).

1985 - Appointed as Second Deputy Prime Minister in January.

1985/86- As the Secretary-General of NTUC, Mr Ong had to safeguard the interests of the workers during the recession. He played an important role in convincing workers to accept a cut in the Central Provident Fund rate.

1988 - Contested in General Election (Kim Keat) and secured 10,644 votes. Defeated rival candidate Md Shariff bin Yahya (3937).

1989 - As the Chairman of the Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts (set up in 1988), Mr Ong and his committee recognised the importance of culture and the arts as they: (a) 'broaden our minds and deepen our sensitivities', (b) 'improve the general quality of life', (c) 'strengthen our social bond', and (d) 'contribute to our tourist and entertainment sectors'.

Having recognised the social, economic and cultural importance, the committee next examined the current state of arts and culture in Singapore, including the roles played by the government agencies, existing facilities and promotion of cultural events. The subsequent review was that cultural development in Singapore could be impeded by eight factors, namely: (a) a lack of funds from the Government, (b) lack of knowledge and interest by Singaporeans in culture and the arts, (c) an insufficient pool of artistes, arts administrators and other professionals, (d) inadequate publicity given to cultural events, (e) lack of cultural facilities and physical space, (f) lack of higher educational opportunities for arts in Singapore, (g) presence of complicated licensing procedures and applications, and (h) an inadequate co-ordination at the decision making level among the various relevant ministries.

The main objective of the committee is to realise the vision of a culturally-vibrant society (defined as 'one whose people are well-informed, creative, sensitive and gracious') by 1999. Having identified the vision, the current state of cultural progress in Singapore and the possible obstacles to a culturally-vibrant society, the committee next focused on the strategies to realise the vision. 6 key strategies were listed - (a) encourage more people to cultivate an interest in culture and the arts, (b) encourage more people to participate in arts activities, (c) develop more facilities and space for the arts, libraries and museums, (d) to enlarge the pool of artistes, arts administrators and arts-related professionals, (e) increase the level of cultural activities, and (f) encourage and promote more original Singapore works. A list of recommendations was thereafter submitted to the Government.

The four main key recommendations are: organisational improvements (including the formation of a National Arts Council to spearhead the development of the arts, the establishment of a Literature Board to raise the level of literary activities as well as the formation of a National Heritage Trust to co-ordinate the preservation of the various aspects of our heritage), improvements in our educational system (including the improvement to the quality of arts education, recruitment of suitably qualified teachers, the development of a tertiary arts education, provision of more overseas scholarships for talented and proven Singaporeans who aspire towards a professional career in the arts), improvement of cultural facilities (including the construction of a new arts centre at Marina Centre with a range of auditoria to cater to the different art forms, upgrading of existing theatres, building of a modern National Library on Queen Street, the adding of more branch libraries), greater promotional efforts (including the simplifying of bureaucratic licensing procedures, a more pro-active role of the community centres and other civic groups in making the arts more accessible to Singaporeans by organising a wider range of courses and activities, the media's improved coverage of cultural events, commissioning of original Singapore works with grants and incentives and the Government continuing to preserve our man-made environment and our natural environment). Other recommendations of the committee touched on the aspects of heritage (strengthening of heritage collection and preservation), literature and reading (promotion of creative writing in schools, strengthening the book collections at libraries, promotion of literature in tertiary institutions), and visual arts (increase in Government budget to acquire works of art for the National Museum and to encourage more collectors and business corporations to contribute works of art to the National Museum).

The committee concluded that a whole-hearted committment is required to achieve the vision, which would 'mean a change in the fundamental attitude of our people to culture and the arts'. Success would be achieved through the joint efforts of the Government, corporate / civic organizations and the public.

Today, the National Arts Council's mission 'is to nurture the arts and make it an integral part of the lives of the people of Singapore'. The National University of Singapore (Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music) now also offers a 4-year Bachelor of Music degree programme. The Esplanade, Theatres on the Bay (which costs $500 million) which opened in October 2002, is a performing arts centre for everyone. It's mission is 'to entertain, engage, educate and inspire'. Its' facilities include a concert hall, theatre, recital studio, rehearsal studio, outdoor theatre, roof terrace, the Waterfront. The National Library Board today has a national library, 2 regional libraries, 20 community libraries and 33 community children's libraries.

1990 - Appointed as Deputy Prime Minister (in Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's Cabinet) in November (until Aug 1993).

1991 - In August, as then Secretary-General of NTUC, Mr Ong mooted the idea of developing a golf and country club for workers which would allow them to have "a fair share of the fruits of Singapore's economic progress" in recognition of their contribution. Mr Ong envisioned a golf and country club that would be affordable to workers as he did not want golf to become a "game for executives only". The Orchid Country Club was completed by the end of December 1994.

1991 - Returned unopposed in General Election (Toa Payoh GRC).

1992 - Chairman of the Chinese Language Review Committee (set up in July 1991), which seeks to review the teaching and learning of the Chinese language in the schools, and the extent to which learning objectives are achieved. The committee would also be tasked to recommend improvements consistent with the role of the Chinese language and the objectives of teaching the language.

The committee's focus was on two key areas - teaching and learning of Chinese in schools and the examination and assessment of Chinese proficiency. Two sub-committees were set up, meetings were held over a period of 9 months, visits to schools were organized, and dialogue sessions and discussions were held with students, teachers, educationists,Chinese intellectuals, community leaders and members of the public.

Findings revealed some key areas of concerns (such as the perception of parents that Chinese is a less important language as compared to English, or that it is difficult and time-consuming language to learn and excel in). Teaching instructional materials, study aids, the welfare of Chinese language teachers and the examinations format were reviewed. The final report outlined 10 key recommendations, namely: (a) The renaming of CL1 and CL2 to Higher Chinese and Chinese Language, (b) New instructional materials should be developed to reflect the current trends in language learning, (c) The existing Chinese character lists should be updated to improve the students' vocabulary and development, (d) Publishers should publish and promote good supplementary Chinese reading materials and books to enable easy accessibility to students, (e) A good language foundation should be laid in the early stages of a child's education (pre-school and kindergarten), (f) Chinese language teachers should be given opportunities for professional upgrading through courses, (g) A language centre is needed to cater to the needs (eg. opportunities for upgrading) of Chinese teachers, (h) Hanyu Pinyin should be taught to students before the current level at Primary 4 and Chinese dictionaries should be allowed to be used by students during the Chinese composition section during the GCE examinations, (i) The examination formats must be revised to provide appropriate emphasis on reading and listening comprehension, which are crucial in helping students to improve their written Chinese ability and interest in learning the language, (j) Past years' PSLE Chinese examination papers should be made available to parents and students, so as to aid their preparation for the exams.

Other suggestions include the encouragement of pupils to read Chinese books, the organising of comprehensive Chinese remedial lessons for the weaker students, and the usage of Chinese audio-visual and computer software by Chinese language teachers to make the learning process more effective and stimulating. The committee also recommended the revising of the textbooks so as to convey Chinese cultural values and heritage (instead of merely teaching the language for utilitarian purposes).

1993 - Resigned from the Cabinet and PAP in August.

1993 - Contested in Presidential Election in Aug and secured 952,513 votes. Defeated rival candidate Chua Kim Yeow (670,358). Subsequently resigned as the Secretary-General of NTUC to assume the Presidency.

1993 - Became Singapore's first Elected President on 1 September.

1999 - Completed the 6-year term as President on 31 Aug 1999.