Lim Kim San

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Lim Kim San
Born (1916-11-30)30 November 1916
Died 20 July 2006(2006-07-20) (aged 89)[1]
Known for Housing Development Board
Spouse(s) Pang Gek Kim
Children 2 sons, 4 daughters
Parent(s) Lim Choon Huat (father)
Wee Geok Khuan (mother)[2]
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Lim.

Lim Kim San (Chinese: 林金山; pinyin: Lín Jīnshān; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Lîm Kim-san); (30 November 1916 - 20 July 2006) was a Singaporean politician. He was credited for leading the successful public housing program in the Southeast Asian city-state during the early 1960s, which eased the acute housing shortage problem at that time.

Early life[edit]

Born in 1916 in Singapore, Lim was the eldest of six children. He was educated at Oldham Hall School, Anglo-Chinese School and then Raffles College, where he studied economics.[3]

When World War II erupted and Japanese occupied Singapore, Lim was one of many tortured on suspicion of being pro-communist and pro-British. A long time after the war, Lim said that those who survived the horror and the brutality of the Japanese occupation "will never forget them". Mr Lim also said that the experience, while traumatic and humiliating, politicized his generation and made them vow to "never let our fate be decided by others."

After the war ended, Lim was, in his own words, a young man "in a hurry to make a living" to make up for the wasted years. He made his first million at age 36 when he came up with a machine to produce sago pearls cheaply. He took over the operations of a sago business in Kallang that his father-in-law, Pang Cheng Yean, a director in United Chinese Bank, had an interest in and invented a way to mechanise sago pearl production.

Later, he ventured into banking and was a director in the United Chinese Bank (which later became United Overseas Bank).[4]


In 1939, Lim graduated with a Diploma in Arts (Economics) in 1939 from Raffles College.[5]


Civil Service[edit]

In 1959, Lim was appointed to the Public Service Commission and the Housing Board.

Housing Development Board[edit]

In 1960, Lim was appointed the first Chairman of the Housing Development Board. Due to a rapidly increasing population, more than 400,000 people were living in over-crowded conditions in ramshackle “chophouse” buildings or in squatters with substandard living conditions. At this time, Lim was appointed to the Housing Development Board.

He had volunteered for the job and had not been paid for three years. It was in this position that Lim oversaw the massive construction of high-rise, low-cost apartments that will eventually become the main source of housing for Singaporeans.[6]

Housing Plan[edit]

In 1962 to 1969, Lim established low-cost housing units taking the initial steps to eradicate homelessness in Singapore.[4]

Lim was known for his organizing and planning abilities. He forwent a detailed planning stage and instead chose a "rough and ready" approach to work fast using rough estimates of the housing requirement. In the first two year of this crash program, over 2000 units were built, more than what was built in the previous decade.

Lim defied all detractors, in particular those in the Singapore Improvement Trust, who said he could not build 1,000 units a year. A committee was eventually set up under Lim Tay Boh to find out whether the HDB had the capability and the materials to reach the construction goal.

By the time the committee published its report, the HDB had already completed 1,000 units of housing.[3]

In the first Five Year Housing Program, HDB achieved its goal of completing 5000 units of housing by 1965. The largest project at that time was Queenstown, a satellite town of more than 17,500 apartments capable of housing close to 22,000 people. The new neighborhood was built as a self-contained entity, with all amenities and shops built along with the houses, so people will not need to travel to other areas for basic necessities, thereby lowering traffic congestion. This philosophy (which was ultimately extended with the concept of regional centre), is generally accredited by many to have significantly contributed to the lower rate of congestion and burden on the central business district than before.

In May 1961, the Bukit Ho Swee Fire broke out and some 16,000 people became homeless. Under Lim's guidance, the relocation and reconstruction of the lost housing was completed in just over four years, and 1200 housing flats were made available to those who lost their homes in the fire.

The success of the housing project was considered by some to stem mainly from the standardized architectural designs that were used. Another important factor was Lim's decision to use private contractors rather than employing construction workers directly. This allowed the HDB to supervise the contractors to ensure standards, rather than dealing with minute problems. Also, overall cost was kept low by using a large pool of contractors and different sources of building materials.

There are some who said that by solving Singapore's housing problem, Lim saved the PAP in the process. However, Lim himself was more modest, saying the success of the housing programme was also due to government funding, as housing was, and still is, a top priority.

Part of Lim's success at the HDB was that he had the trust of the Prime Minister at the time, Lee Kuan Yew. He also worked closely with the Minister of Finance at the time, Goh Keng Swee. These connections allowed Lim keep the housing program well-funded. Another political factor that allowed the success of the Housing Project was that Lim managed to cut through bureaucratic red tape and rigid regulations that would have otherwise hindered the housing program.

Honours, political career[edit]

In June 1962, Lim was awarded the State's highest honor, the Darjah Utama Temasek (Order of Temasek) and the Ramon Magsaysay Award for his community leadership, which provided a model for the developing world.

In September 1963, Lim stood for election in the Singapore Legislative Assembly election as a PAP candidate from the Cairnhill constituency. Lim won by a landslide, winning 7,749 votes out of the 11,659 cast. In October, Lim was appointed as Minister for National Development. Also, in recognition of Lim's adept ability of judging a person's merits, he was also brought on board as the PAP's "talent scout".

Post-Independence Career[edit]

After Singapore's independence in 1965, Lim served as Minister of Finance for 2 years, before becoming the Minister of Interior and Defence. He held this position for three years until 1970, when Lim was appointed as Chairman of the Public Utilities Board to oversee the development of new water reservoirs. He would hold the chairmanship from 1971 to 1978.

Other Appointments[edit]

In addition to his careers in the political realm, Lim was Chairman of the Port of Singapore Authority for 15 years until 1994. Under his stewardship, Singapore became the world's number one container port.

Lim also served as Deputy Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore from 1981 to 1982. He also served as the Executive Chairman of Singapore Press Holdings. Under his chairmanship, Lim transformed the company into a corporate giant. Lim was also the Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisors, and was the first Chancellor of the Singapore Management University.


1951 : Director, United Chinese Bank Ltd; Chairman, Batu Pahat Bank Ltd; Chairman, Pacific Bank Ltd
1959-1963 : Deputy Chairman, Public Service Commission, Singapore
1960 - 1963 : Chairman, Housing and Development Board.
1961 - 1963 : Deputy Chairman, Economic and Development Board.
1963 - 1968 : Member of Parliament for Cairnhill.
1963 - 1980 : Member of the Central Executive Committee.
19 Oct 1963 - 8 Aug 1965 : Minister for National Development.
9 Aug 1965 - 16 Aug 1967 : Minister for Finance.
17 Aug 1967 - 15 Apr 1968 : Minister for Interior and Defence.
6 Sep 1970 - 15 Sep 1972 : Minister for Education.
1971 - 1978 : Chairman, Public Utilities Board.
16 Sep 1972 - 1 Jun 1975 : Minister for Environment.
1973 : Chairman, Board of Trustees, NTUC Welcome Consumers' Cooperative Ltd.
1 Aug 1975 - 30 Jun 1978 : Minister for Communications and Information Technology.
2 June 1975 - 31 Jan 1979 : Minister for National Development.
1 Feb 1979 - 5 Jan 1981 : Minister for Environment.
1979 - 1994 : Chairman, Port of Singapore Authority.
1981 - 1982 : Managing Director, Monetary Authority of Singapore.
1988 - 1 Dec 2002 : Executive Chairman, Singapore Press Holding.
1989 : Chairman, Times Publishing.
1992 - 2003: Chairman, Council of Presidential Advisors.
2000 : Chancellor, Singapore Management University.[4]


1962 : First person to be awarded the State's highest honour, Darjah Utama Temasek (The Order of Temasek).
1965 : Received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership for his services in "marshalling talents and resources to provide one-fith of Singapore's population with low-cost housing."
1977 : Medal of Honour, National Trades Union Congress.
1982 : Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws, National University of Singapore.
1990 : Distinguished Service Medal, People's Action Party.
1999 : Honorary Fellow, Singapore Institute of Directors.[4]


Lim quit politics in 1980 but remained active in public life well into the twilight years of his life.[7]

After a long illness, Lim died at approximately 5.30PM SST on 20 July 2006 at his home. Lim left behind five children, 12 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. He was cremated at Mandai.[8] In recognition of Lim's work for the government, the Singaporean state flags on all government buildings were flown at half-mast on the day of his funeral.[9]


  1. ^ "Lim Kim San (Lin Jin Shan)". History of Singapore Pioneers. 30 September 2006. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "Lim Kim San". National Library Board. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b c d
  5. ^
  6. ^ . ISBN 9789812309273 Retrieved 8 January 2015.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ "Lim Kim San – Singapore’s Home-Builder (1916 – 2006)". National Archives of Singapore. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  8. ^ "Mr Lim Kim San laid to rest". Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  9. ^
Political offices
Preceded by
Minister for National Development
1963 - 1965
Succeeded by
Edmund William Barker
Preceded by
Goh Keng Swee
Minister for Finance
1965 - 16 August 1967
Succeeded by
Goh Keng Swee
Preceded by
Minister for Interior and Defence
1967 - 1970
Succeeded by
Goh Keng Swee
Preceded by
Ong Pang Boon
Minister for Education
1970 - 1972
Succeeded by
New ministerial post Minister for the Environment
1972 - 1975
Succeeded by
Edmund William Barker
Preceded by
Minister for National Development
1975 - 1979
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Edmund William Barker
Minister for the Environment
1979 - 1981
Succeeded by
Ong Pang Boon