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Mr S R Nathan: Contributions To Singapore We Might Have Forgotten

A tribute to the People’s President


“I’ve done the best I can. If it’s good enough for some people, fine. If it’s not good enough for some people, and there will always be noise in the environment, you can’t stop it. You don’t do it because you want to leave a legacy. You do the best you can.” – S. R. Nathan

Anyone who has read a copy of his memoirs would have realised that Singapore’s sixth and longest-serving Head of State is a go-getter.

Mr S R Nathan did not grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father was a lawyer’s clerk for a firm that serviced rubber plantations. However, the Great Depression and rubber slump landed his father in huge amounts of debt, and he eventually committed suicide when Mr Nathan was still a child.

With discipline and determination, he eventually completed his secondary education through self-study while working at the same time.

Mr S R Nathan was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal

Mr S R Nathan rose to be the Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, 5 years after he was transferred to the Foreign Ministry in February 1966. He eventually moved to take up the appointment of Director of the Security and Intelligence Division in 1971.

In 1974, armed terrorists from the Japanese Red Army and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine attacked oil storage tank facilities on Pulau Bukom in an attempt to disrupt oil supply to other countries. They later took five crew members of a ferry hostage, as bargaining chips for safe passage to the Middle East.

Mr Nathan was one of the civil servants who offered to accompany the hijackers to Kuwait in exchange for the freedom of the hostages. The whole incident lasted for 7 and a half days. For that, he awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.

Mr S R Nathan started the President’s Challenge initiatives

In 2000, Mr S R Nathan started the President’s Challenge to raise funds for the less fortunate. There are currently 58 organisations benefiting from funds raised from the President’s Challenge. Till date, it is said that the initiative has raised SG$160 million for charity.

Mr S R Nathan and the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown

In 2009, for the first time ever, the Singapore Government requested for approval to dip into past reserves to help cover Budget expenditure.

The money was proposed to implement measures which include funding the Jobs Credit Scheme, subsidising wages to keep workers employed, and an initiative to help firms in need to get credit. All these were done in an attempt to help boost the recovery of Singapore’s economy from the Global Financial Meltdown.

Mr S R Nathan approved the government’s use of SG$4.9 billion from national reserves to help the government’s measure in economy recovery. Ultimately, only SG$4 billion was utilised, and this amount was paid for in 2011 after the economy recovered.


There is no doubt that Mr Nathan had contributed to Singapore throughout his life and his time as a President to help built Singapore into a modern, prosperous and stable nation.

We mourn the loss of a great leader today, someone whom Singapore’s late Founding Father Lee Kuan Yew described as the “indispensable man for all season”. But more importantly, Singaporeans should carry with them the kind of spirit Mr Nathan had, and pass on his legacy to inspire all the generations to come.


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