Comrade Ong Pang Boon turns 93 years young today

Comrade Ong Pang Boon, who helmed several key portfolios like Home Affairs, Education, Labour and Environment, turns 93 years old today (Mar 28, 2022).

An Old Guard leader of Singapore’s first Cabinet, he became the Party’s first organising secretary and its first full-time employee in 1956, after accepting founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s job offer. Prior to that, he started out as a volunteer – an election agent for Mr Lee at the 1955 Legislative Assembly elections.

Here are several things you should know about Mr Ong.

He took a pay cut to join the Party

In 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at Mr Ong’s 90th birthday celebration, honouring his contributions to Singapore. PM Lee also shared that Mr Ong actually took a pay cut to join the Party.

After the 1955 Legislative Assembly Elections, Mr Ong went back to his hometown in Kuala Lumpur and had a good job that paid, as PM Lee put it, a “princely sum” of $700. While, Mr Lee Kuan Yew could only offer him $450, Mr Ong still decided to join the Party.


“But like the other pioneer leaders, he had witnessed the brutality of the Japanese Occupation and the chaos of the post-war years. He firmly believed in the PAP’s vision of an independent, multiracial Malaya, and a fair and just society where Malayans of all races would be masters of their own destiny. So he decided to accept Mr Lee’s offer,” PM Lee explained.

He was only 30 when he first became minister


In his political career spanning nearly three decades, he held several key portfolios: Home Affairs (1959-63), Education (1963-1970), Labour (1970-1980) and Environment (1980-1984).

As Home Affairs Minister, he was instrumental in fighting crime, especially against secret societies, imposing heavier penalties for gang-related offences.

One of his biggest contributions to Singapore was to promote bilingualism as he felt that it was a matter of survival. In 1968, he made the second language compulsory in the Cambridge School Certificate examination.

LKY would be a “deaf and dumb” secretary-general without Mr Ong

In the same 2019 speech, PM Lee also paid tribute to Mr Ong’s ability to connect people because of his language prowess. He was one of the few PAP leaders effectively multilingual, fluent in Mandarin Hokkien and Cantonese.

“He played a crucial role, bridging the non-communist PAP leaders, who were mostly English-educated, with the Chinese-speaking masses, who had become the voting majority from the 1955 elections onward,” added PM Lee.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew even wrote in his memoirs that without Mr Ong, he would be a “deaf and dumb” secretary-general.

His language prowess also helped Mr Ong in pushing bilingualism.

“But for the fact that he himself was effectively bilingual and well-respected by the Chinese-speaking community, this move would have faced much greater resistance,” said PM Lee.

He also signed the Independence of Singapore Agreement

Mr Ong was among the 10 ministers who signed the Independence of Singapore Agreement in 1965.

Source: AGC

The news of the separation came as a huge shock to Mr Ong as he was born in Malaya and still had family there. But he did not look back and poured heart and soul into the survival of Singapore.

His late wife was pioneering campaigner for women’s rights, Chan Choy Siong

Ms Chan Choy Siong served as the MP for Delta SMC from 1959 to 1970 and worked with Ms Ho Puay Choo and Ms Oh Siew Chen to form the Women’s League (today’s Women’s Wing).

She joined the PAP at 20, at a time when women were mocked for going into politics. She fought for equal treatment for women, and for the Women’s Charter, which was passed in 1961.

She was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame in 2013.

Ms Chan was also the auntie of current Fengshan SMC MP Cheryl Chan.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal

For his contributions to Singapore and the party, Mr Ong was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal during the 2019 Party Convention.

In his speech, thanking Mr Ong, PM Lee said: “It is a privilege to thank Comrade Ong again for his sterling service to the PAP, and to Singapore.”

He published Petir

As the first full-time employee of the Party, he did almost everything from membership registration to correspondence with the public. He even oversaw the publication of the party newsletter, Petir.


Happy birthday, Comrade Ong!