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Veteran architect was taken off Potong Pasir construction project because he didn’t agree with ex-Cabinet Minister’s idea

"I asked him why. He said why not! He was the boss. I refused and was taken off the job," recalls Tay Kheng Soon

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Veteran architect Tay Kheng Soon – the planner behind iconic structures in Singapore like KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Golden Mile Complex and the People’s Park Complex – recounted how the distinct sloping roofs at Potong Pasir public housing blocks came to be, in a recent social media post.

It was the year 1964 and Mr Tay was a young professional in his twenties. He was assigned by his firm to design People’s Action Party (PAP) member Howe Yoon Chong’s personal block of flats at Pek Hay Road in the Potong Pasir single member ward.

Mr Howe, who was the permanent secretary of the National Development Ministry then, would soon become a prominent Cabinet Minister. Mr Tay recalled that he discovered Mr Howe had a “willful subjective inclination” when he was tasked to work with him.

Revealing that he was taken off the job because he was unwilling to accede to changes Mr Howe wanted to make to his design, Mr Tay recounted: “I designed a straight block. He insisted to bend the block. I asked him why. He said why not! He was the boss. I refused and was taken off the job.”

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Mr Tay wrote on Facebook, today (16 Aug): “Yes, he was a straight forward person. He spoke directly, was decisive and very forthright. I like him for that. When he was MP for Potong Pasir he was known to tell his constituents off when they made an unreasonable request at his meet-the-people-sessions.”

In his post that drew ‘likes’ from over 100 netizens, including opposition politician Paul Tambyah, Mr Tay added: “Howe was a no nonsense guy but when it came to aesthetics he could be really wilfull.”

Mr Howe is perhaps most well know for his jibes against opposition legend Chiam See Tong who contested Potong Pasir for the first time in 1979 – the same year Mr Howe joined politics and was elected in the ward. Mr Howe called Mr Chiam and his opposition colleagues “court jesters” who had come out “to provide comic relief”.

Mr Howe’s political career was relatively short-lived, lasting just one term. After he was elected into Parliament, Mr Howe was made Defence minister before he became Health Minister from 1982 to 1984.

In 1984, Mr Howe became infamous for his controversial proposal to raise the age for the withdrawal of Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings from 55 to 60 years. Although his proposal drew outrage from the people, his report – which took 20 months to finalise – formed the basis of the Government’s minimum sum scheme.

Mr Howe did not contest the 1984 general election and observers said that the ruling party lost 12 per cent of the overall votes in that election due to his contentious report on the CPF scheme. He resigned from politics thereafter.

Mr Chiam finally won Potong Pasir SMC and became Singapore’s second opposition parliamentarian after he defeated new PAP candidate Mah Bow Tan at the polls. Mr Mah would go on to become a prominent Cabinet Minister after he was elected to Parliament at a different ward in the next election while Mr Chiam became one of Singapore’s longest serving opposition MPs, spending 27 years at the service of Potong Pasir residents.

Less than a decade after Mr Howe proposed prolonging the CPF withdrawal age, the government raised the retirement age to 60 in 1993.

Do you know why the HDB blocks in Potong Pasir have steep sloping roof lines? It is because of Howe Yoon Chong the…

Posted by Tay Kheng Soon on Saturday, 15 August 2020

If you cannot read the above:

“Do you know why the HDB blocks in Potong Pasir have steep sloping roof lines? It is because of Howe Yoon Chong the Perm Sec of MND at that time. How I know?
“It is because as a young architect in 1964 I was assigned by the firm i worked in to design his personal block of flats at Pek Hay Road. It was then that I realise that Howe had a willful subjective inclination.
“I designed a straight block. He insisted to bend the block. I asked him why. He said why not! He was the boss. I refused and was taken off the job.
“Yes, he was a straight forward person. He spoke directly, was decisive and very forthright. I like him for that. When he was MP for Potong Pasir he was known to tell his constituents off when they made an unreasonable request at his meet-the-people-sessions. Howe was a no nonsense guy but when it came to aesthetics he could be really wilfull.”
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