Lim Kim San DUT (Chinese: 林金山; pinyin: Lín Jīnshān; 30 November 1916 – 20 July 2006) was a Singaporean businessman, civil servant, and politician who served as a Cabinet minister with a variety of portfolios between 1965 and 1981. Prior to his tenure as a member of parliament, Lim was appointed chairman of Singapore's newly created Housing & Development Board (HDB), and he would go on to be recognized for the HDB's success in its resolution of Singapore's housing shortage.[4]

Lim Kim San
Minister for the Environment
In office
1 February 1979 – 6 January 1981
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Preceded byEdmund W. Barker
Succeeded byOng Pang Boon
In office
16 September 1972 – 1 June 1975
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byEdmund W. Barker
Minister for Communications
In office
31 December 1976 – 30 June 1978
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Preceded byYong Nyuk Lin
Succeeded byOng Teng Cheong
Minister for National Development
In office
31 December 1976 – 31 January 1979
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Preceded byEdmund W. Barker
Succeeded byTeh Cheang Wan
In office
19 October 1963 – 8 August 1965
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Preceded byTan Kia Gan
Succeeded byEdmund W. Barker
Minister for Education
In office
11 August 1970 – 15 September 1972
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Preceded byOng Pang Boon
Succeeded byLee Chiaw Meng
Minister for the Interior and Defence
In office
17 August 1967 – 10 August 1970
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Preceded byGoh Keng Swee
Succeeded byGoh Keng Swee
(as Minister for Defence)
Ong Pang Boon
(as Minister for Home Affairs)
Minister for Finance
In office
9 August 1965 – 16 August 1967
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew
Preceded byGoh Keng Swee
Succeeded byGoh Keng Swee
Member of the Singapore Parliament
for Cairnhill
In office
21 September 1963 – 5 December 1980
Preceded byLim Yew Hock
Succeeded byWong Kwei Cheong
Member of the Malaysian Parliament
for Singapore
In office
2 November 1963[1] – 9 August 1965
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Personal details
Lim Kim San

(1916-11-30)30 November 1916
Singapore, Straits Settlements, British Malaya
Died20 July 2006(2006-07-20) (aged 89)[2]
Pang Gek Kim
(m. 1939; died 1994)
Parent(s)Lim Choon Huat (father)
Wee Geok Khuan (mother)[3]
Alma materRaffles College
Known forLeading a successful public housing programme, the Housing Development Board.

Following his elected political career, Lim would go on to hold other positions in Singapore's public sector.

Early life and education


Born in 1916 in Singapore, Lim was the eldest of six children.[5] He was educated at Oldham Hall School and the Anglo-Chinese School before graduating from Raffles College in 1939 with a diploma in economics.[6][7]

During the World War II, Lim was tortured by the Kempeitai, and was labeled as communist and British sympathiser by occupying Japanese forces.[8] Following the war, Lim stated that those who survived the horror and the brutality of the Japanese occupation "will never forget them." He added that the traumatic and humiliating experience politicised his generation of Singaporeans and made them vow to "never let our fate be decided by others."[7]

Civil career


In 1951, Lim was appointed a member of the Public Service Commission and later became its deputy Chairman.[5]

After retiring from politics in 1980, Lim remained active in the public sector.[9] Overseeing reservoir development and expansion, Lim served as Chairman of the Public Utilities Board following appointment in 1970. He was then appointed as Chairman of the Port of Singapore Authority between 1979 and 1994, and from 1981 to 1982, served as the managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.[8][10]

Lim was also Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers between 1992 and 2003.[11][12]

Housing & Development Board


In 1960, Lim was appointed Chairman of the Housing & Development Board. Due to a rapidly increasing population, more than 400,000 people were either living in over-crowded conditions in ramshackle “shophouse” buildings or in squatter settlements with substandard living conditions.

Lim had volunteered for the position and was not paid for his three years of service. During his tenure, he oversaw the construction of high-rise, low-cost apartments that would eventually become the main source of housing for Singaporeans.[13] Defying detraction from former employees of the Singapore Improvement Trust, Lim would forgo a detailed planning stage and instead chose a "rough and ready" approach using rough estimates of the housing requirement. A committee was eventually set up under Lim Tay Boh to find out whether the HDB had the capability and the materials to reach the construction goal.[7]

In the first Five Year Housing Programme, HDB completed 5,000 units of housing by 1965. The largest project at that time was Queenstown, a satellite residential area of more than 17,500 flats, capable of housing close to 22,000 people. The new neighborhood was built as a self-contained entity, with all amenities and shops built along with the houses, so people would not need to travel to other areas for basic necessities. This philosophy—which was ultimately extended into modernity with the planning concept of the New Town was meant to lower the rate of congestion and burden on the central business district.

In May 1961, the Bukit Ho Swee Fire broke out and some 16,000 people became homeless. Under Lim's guidance, the HDB took four years to complete the relocation and reconstruction of the lost housing, and 1,200 housing flats were made available to those who lost their homes in the fire.

The housing project used standardised architectural designs. Lim also opted for private contractors rather than employing construction workers directly. This had allowed the HDB to supervise the contractors to ensure standards, rather than dealing with minute problems. The overall cost was also kept low by employing a large pool of contractors and sourcing building materials from a variety of vendors.

Lim's HDB worked closely with Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and the Minister for Finance Goh Keng Swee. These connections kept the housing programme well-funded, and in addition to Lim's centralization of the HDB also allowed the housing programme to cut through rigid regulations that would have otherwise hindered progress.[8]

Political career


Following convincing from Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Lim contested in the Cairnhill constituency as a PAP candidate during the 1963 general election and won 7,749 out of the 11,659 votes.[14] He was subsequently appointed Minister for National Development.

Lim was also appointed as the PAP's "talent scout".[15]

Following Singapore's independence in 1965, Lim served as Minister of Finance between until 1967[5] and then Minister of Interior and Defence between 1967 and 1970.[8]

Thereafter, he returned to the Cabinet and served as Minister for Environment between 1972 and 1975 and again between 1979 and 1981, Minister for Communications between 1975 and 1978, and Minister for National Development between 1978 and 1979.[8]

Business career


Lim made his first million when 36 years old, using a machine to produce sago pearls cheaply.[6]

At the same time as his venture into the sago pearl and sago flour business, Lim would enter finance, becoming the director of two banks.[8]

In 1988, Lim was appointed Executive Chairman of the Board of Singapore Press Holdings,[4] but only accepted on the condition that he was given executive powers. He restructured the company and upgraded the printing presses with full color capabilities and a new press centre.

Personal life


Lim married Pang Gek Kim in 1939 and they had five children.[16] Pang died in 1994.[5]

One of his nephews is Luke O’Nien, an English-Singaporean professional association football player.

Lim died at approximately 5:30pm Singapore Standard Time (UTC+08:00) on 20 July 2006 at his home after prolonged illness. He was cremated at Mandai Crematorium. As a mark of respect for Lim's contributions to the country, State flags at all Government buildings were flown at half-mast on the day of his funeral.[17]



In June 1962, Lim was awarded the Order of Temasek (First Class), Singapore's highest civilian honour for his service in the Housing Development Board.[18]

In August 1965, he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for his community leadership.[19]


  2. ^ "Lim Kim San (Lin Jin Shan)". History of Singapore Pioneers. 30 September 2006. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
  3. ^ "Lim Kim San". National Library Board. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Lim Kim San to take over as SPH executive chairman". Retrieved 22 October 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d "The man who moves mountains". The Straits Times. 16 October 2000. p. 32.
  6. ^ a b "Lim Kim San | Infopedia". Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  7. ^ a b c "Former Cabinet Minister Lim Kim San dies at age 89". Channel NewsAsia. 3 February 2016. Archived from the original on 10 January 2008. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "From the archives: The man who helped to house a generation". The Straits Times. 21 July 2006. ISSN 0585-3923. Retrieved 28 December 2023.
  9. ^ "Lim Kim San – Singapore's Home-Builder (1916 – 2006)". National Archives of Singapore. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
  10. ^ Lim Kim San: a builder of Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. 2009. ISBN 978-9812309280.
  11. ^ "Plaque presented to Mr Lim Kim San in appreciation of his services as Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers". Singapore Government. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  12. ^ Asad Latif (2009), Lim Kim San: A Builder of Singapore, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISBN 978-981-230-928-0
  13. ^ "Lim Kim San: A Builder Of Singapore (Select Books: The Asian Book Specialist - Bookseller, Publisher and Distributor)". Select Books. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  14. ^ "THE MAN WHO MOVES MOUNTAINS". Retrieved 22 October 2021.
  15. ^ "Lim Kim San", Leaders of Singapore, WORLD SCIENTIFIC, pp. 159–172, 17 June 2015, doi:10.1142/9789814719445_0020, ISBN 978-981-4719-44-5, retrieved 30 December 2022
  16. ^ "Mr Lim Kim San laid to rest". Retrieved 8 January 2015.
  17. ^ "State flags to be flown at half-mast for Lim Kim San's funeral". Channel NewsAsia. 3 February 2016. Archived from the original on 1 October 2007. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  18. ^ "Lim Kim San to take over as SPH executive chairman". Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  19. ^ "HDB's mastermind now takes it easy". Retrieved 11 August 2021.
Government offices
Preceded by
Tan Kia Gan
Minister for National Development
1963 - 1965
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Finance
1965 - 1967
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Interior and Defence
1967 - 1970
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Education
1970 - 1972
Succeeded by
New ministerial post Minister for the Environment
1972 - 1975
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for National Development
1975 - 1979
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for the Environment
1979 - 1981
Succeeded by