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Former POSB chairman Tan Chok Kian dies at age 84

TAN Chok Kian, a former chairman of the beloved Post Office Savings Bank (POSB), died on Sunday. He was 84.

Mr Tan, a senior civil servant, had served in many ministries and on statutory boards in the seventies and eighties. He was acting deputy secretary for Finance (1963); permanent secretary for National Development (1970-1971); permanent secretary for Finance (1972-1973) and Social Affairs (1977). He retired from the civil service in 1986.

Mr Tan was sent by Singapore's first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, to Nanyang University (Nantah) in 1977 to help push the Chinese-language university to become bilingual as its graduates were falling behind their University of Singapore peers.

In his book My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore's Bilingual Journey, Mr Lee said he decided that the solution to Nantah's woes was for the university to conduct joint courses at the University of Singapore's Bukit Timah campus.

If you cannot create an English-speaking environment in Nantah, you bring Nantah to an English-speaking environment, Mr Lee said. I sent Tan Chok Kian, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs, to be Nantah's director-general and his task was to push a joint curriculum in the joint campus, Mr Lee said. Mr Tan was at Nantah from 1977 to 1980.

He was also deputy chairman of the Singapore Sports Council (1975-1977); chairman of the board of directors of POSB (January 1972-February 1986), the Central Provident Fund Board (October 1980-February 1986) and Acma Electrical Industries Limited (1973-1989); executive chairman of the Stock Exchange of Singapore (November 1986-1989); trade representative to Taipei, Taiwan (1988-1989); and director of the National Maritime Board (1977). He was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 1963 and the Public Administration Medal (Gold) in 1980.

"He belonged to a generation of civil servants who helped build the foundations of the civil service today," said Peter Seah, DBS Group Holdings chairman.

"I knew him best as chair of POSB," said Mr Seah. "As chairman of POSB, he saw its transformation from a postal organisation into a bank that provided the largest portfolio of housing loans. Under his chairmanship, POSB was transformed, rebranded and became an important player in the financial system."

DBS acquired POSB in 1998.

"Under his visionary leadership, POSB was the first local bank to computerise savings accounts records and also the first to introduce an ATM network, making banking more convenient for Singaporeans," said Sim S Lim, DBS Singapore country head.

During his retirement, Mr Tan liked to play golf. Golf buddy FF Wong said he reckoned they played golf for about 10 years before Mr Tan stopped a few years ago.

"He was a great gentleman, very philosophical. He was kind, gentle, I never saw him raise his voice," said Mr Wong who is also executive chairman of Boustead Singapore.

"He was fun to be with and tended to crack jokes, the academic sort; when he delivered his punchline . . . it was very subtle, you continued to think about it after and would smile later," said Mr Wong.

Mr Tan is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.