SINGAPORE: The late Othman Wok was courageous and passionate in championing a multi-racial, multi-religious Singapore and the interests of ordinary people. He channelled his courage and passion into creating a better life for his fellow citizens, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a letter to Mr Othman's wife, Lina Abdullah, on Monday (Apr 17).
Mr Lee's letter is reproduced below:
Please accept my deepest condolences on the passing of your husband, Encik Othman Wok.
Encik Othman was one of Singapore's founding fathers. He was courageous and passionate in championing a multi-racial, multi-religious Singapore and the interests of ordinary people. He channelled his courage and passion into creating a better life for his fellow citizens. Persuaded by Mr Lee Kuan Yew to enter politics, he stood for elections in 1959 in Kampong Kembangan constituency, but lost. Undeterred, he ran again in Pasir Panjang in 1963. This time he was elected, and became Minister for Social Affairs.
Encik Othman was steadfast and unwavering in believing in a multi-racial, multi-religious, meritocratic Singapore. His dedication and courage was most clearly shown during Singapore's turbulent years in the 1960s, when Singapore was part of Malaysia, and then separated from Malaysia to become an independent republic. In a vicious fight against the communalists, Encik Othman faced great pressure and threats on his life for joining the PAP. If he had faltered, history might have taken a different course. But he stood resolutely by his convictions, and that made all the difference for Singapore.
His firm belief that one could build a multi-racial, multi-religious society, based on justice and equality, helped keep the dream alive through those dark days when Singapore was not the master of our destiny. After Separation, Encik Othman's conviction gave heart to Malay Singaporeans, and made it possible for us to remain a multi-racial society. The Singapore we know today could not have existed without Encik Othman and others of our founding generation. Mr Lee remembered the staunch support that Encik Othman had shown, and the great debt that he owed Encik Othman for his loyalty and service to Singapore, when he (Mr Lee) spoke on the occasion of his 75th birthday.
As Minister for Social Affairs and Director of the Malay Affairs Bureau from 1963 to 1981, Encik Othman put in place systems and policies that continue to serve the Malay community today. He set up the Singapore Pilgrimage Office and a system of registration for sheikh hajis and pilgrim brokers in Singapore. This system still remains largely in place, with MUIS acting as a regulator for hajj activities.
Encik Othman will also be remembered for his role in developing an active and vibrant sports scene in Singapore. He took an active interest in the building of the National Stadium, which would become the home of many shared memories for Singaporeans and our sporting heroes. He also promoted motor racing in Singapore years before F1 came to Singapore, when he oversaw the first Singapore Grand Prix held post-independence.
In 1983 Encik Othman was conferred the Order of Nila Utama (2nd Class) for his political, economic and social contributions to Singapore and our nation-building efforts.
Singaporeans will always remember Encik Othman as one of our founding fathers, whose courage and passion helped set Singapore on a path of peace and progress. His passing is a deep loss to the nation.
My thoughts are with you and your family during this time of sorrow.
Lee Hsien Loong
Mr Lee also paid tribute to Mr Othman in a Facebook post on Monday evening. Naming the late Cabinet minister as "one of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's closest comrades", PM Lee said he was deeply saddened by Mr Othman's passing.
"My deepest condolences to the family of Encik Othman Wok. His passing is a deep loss to Singapore," Mr Lee wrote.