Condolence letter on the passing of Professor Emeritus Lim Chong Yah

SM Lee Hsien Loong | 9 July 2023

PM Lee Hsien Loong wrote to Mdm See Nah Nah to express condolences on the passing of her husband, Professor Emeritus Lim Chong Yah, on 9 July 2023.


Dear Nah Nah,

Ho Ching and I are deeply saddened by the passing of your beloved husband, Professor Emeritus Lim Chong Yah. Please accept our heartfelt condolences.

I have known Professor Lim personally for many years since I was a young man. He tutored me in economics for a year in 1970, when I was studying the subject for my A-Level examinations. He was a patient and caring teacher, as his many generations of students will attest. He would set me an essay topic each week, which I would research and write up before discussing it with him at the next tutorial. It was an active, intense and effective way to master the basics of the subject, which have remained with me and proven invaluable all my life.

Ever since then, we have kept in touch. After I entered politics, we had more reason to engage, as I was in the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), and he was the Chairman of the National Wages Council (NWC). He had become the founding Chairman in 1972, when the Government set up the NWC to guide wage negotiations nationally. He went on to serve for almost three decades until 2001.

In that role, Professor Lim made a major contribution to our nation’s economic take off. Those were critical years in our economic development. The NWC’s annual negotiations and recommendations paved the way for smooth industrial relations and progressive wage adjustments. The process helped maintain industrial peace, ensured workers enjoyed a fair share of the fruits of growth, and strengthened the tripartite partnership between unions, employers, and government. Under Prof Lim’s stewardship, the NWC grew into a crucial institution unique to Singapore and trusted by all parties, that continues to serve us well till this day.

I remember particularly the NWC negotiations in 1986. We had had a severe economic downturn the year before, our worst since independence. We were not yet at all certain that the economy was on the path to recovery. The Economic Committee which I chaired had just published its report, and I had just been appointed Acting Minister in MTI. The Committee recommended cutting the CPF contribution rate from 50% to 35%, and maintaining severe wage restraint to cut business costs and restore Singapore’s competitiveness vis-à-vis our competitors, especially the other Newly Industrialising Economies – South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong – as we were then called.

These were drastic recommendations. It was crucial that both employers and unions understood the national imperative, and the strategy was not derailed by over-generous and unrealistic wage settlements. MTI worked closely with Prof Lim during the NWC negotiations. He helped ensure our overriding considerations were accurately translated into clear, workable and fair recommendations. Under Prof Lim’s guidance, this was done, and the economy revived faster than we had dared to expect.

Over the years, as the NWC matured and the economy developed, fresh issues arose, and the NWC expanded its focus beyond the quantum of wage settlements to other areas. It promoted flexible wages, which helped employers to better manage wage costs and provided employees greater job security during challenging times. It paid attention to Lower-Wage Workers, crafting recommendations to make sure they received meaningful wage increases and were not left behind as wages generally went up.

As early as 1979, the NWC was involved in setting up the Skills Development Fund (SDF), to encourage workers to upgrade their skills as Singapore transitioned from a labour-intensive economy to a skills-intensive one. Decades later, our journey continues, as we expand continuing education and lifelong learning to encompass the entire population. We continue to benefit from the principles and foundations that Prof Lim established.

For his outstanding contributions to Singapore’s economic and national development, Professor Lim was conferred the Public Service Star in 1976, the Meritorious Service Medal in 1983, and the Distinguished Service Order in 2000.

Professor Lim will be deeply missed. I hope you will find comfort in knowing that his memory and legacy will live on through his many lasting contributions to Singapore and their impact on generations of Singaporeans.

Ho Ching and and I extend our deepest sympathies to you and your family in this time of loss and grief.

Yours sincerely,