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Othman Wok, member of Singapore's first Cabinet, dies at 92

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Othman Wok, one of the earliest proponents of multi-racialism in Singapore, passed away peacefully on April 17, 2017. He was 92.

FORMER Cabinet minister Othman Wok, one of the earliest proponents of multi-racialism in Singapore, passed away peacefully on April 17, 2017. He was 92.

In a statement, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said Mr Othman passed away at Singapore General Hospital at 12.21pm on Monday.

"The Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues are sad to learn of the passing of Mr Othman Bin Wok and wish to convey their deepest condolences to his family."

In a Facebook post earlier, the People's Action Party (PAP) said Mr Othman was an integral member of Singapore's first Cabinet formed by founding prime minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew.

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on his Facebook post after attending Mr Othman's 91st birthday in 2015 that the latter was "one of the multi-racial team of founding leaders who built Singapore".

Mr Othman, who was born on Oct 8, 1924, was among 10 leaders who signed the Independence of Singapore Agreement on Aug 9, 1965.

He was a key member of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's Cabinet, during the critical period when Singapore was in Malaysia, and then separated from Malaysia to become an independent republic. He supported Mr Lee in the fight for a multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore, and became one of Mr Lee's closest comrades, the PMO said in its release.

"Mr Othman played a crucial role in building a harmonious multi-racial Singapore. He stepped in swiftly to suggest a curfew during the 1964 race riots, and accompanied then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to speak to community leaders to form committees to mend relations. Mr Othman's tireless work on this front help to lay a strong foundation for the peaceful Singapore that we live in today,'' Minister for Social and Family Development, Tan Chuan-Jin, said in his tribute.

Born in Singapore to a Malay-language-teacher father and a housewife mum, Mr Othman attended Sekolah Melayu Telok Saga and Raffles Institution.

He was a prominent journalist at daily Malay newspaper Utusan Melayu before he became part of Singapore's first Cabinet.

"I didn't want to be a politician, I wanted to be a journalist," he once told My Paper in an interview in 2012.

He served as the Minister for Culture and Social Affairs Minister between 1963 and 1977, before becoming Singapore's ambassador to Indonesia.

As Minister for Social Affairs from 1963 to 1977, he laid the foundation for the administration of Muslim affairs in Singapore while developing the national policies and infrastructure for culture and social welfare for a young nation, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, or Muis, said.

"His greatest legacy was the development of the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) together with the late Prof Ahmad Ibrahim. It was AMLA that made the establishment of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), Syariah Court and Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM) possible. This was a manifestation of his foresight in building institutions which would build and serve the community,'' Muis said.

He also played a big role in establishing the Mosque Building Fund, which has seen the building of 26 new multi-function mosques as well as the upgrading of old mosques. He was also responsible for the setting up of the Singapore Pilgrimage Office, Singapore's first formal system of registration for haj activities that ensures a smooth journey for the Singapore Haj pilgrims.

Mr Othman will be buried at Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery on Tuesday. The government will accord him the honour of being borne on the ceremonial gun carriage for his final journey from Sultan Mosque to Pusara Abadi at the Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery.

A memorial service will be organised by OnePeople.sg on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. The government has ordered the state flag on all government buildings to be flown at half-mast till the completion of the memorial service.

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