A politician may point the way, but without competent and dedicated civil servants to do the work, not much gets done. This gets truer the more adventurous the politician’s goals are. So, when Dr Lim Chong Eu envisaged Penang as the production base for international electronic firms in 1970, he was fortunate that the man he had to lead the industrialising of the state was Chet Singh.
Any penangite born less than 40 years ago will not have known a Penang that was not a hub for the world’s electronics industry. Before the 1970s, the state’s economy depended on traditional sectors such as shipping and the entrepot trade. The state lost its free port status in 1967 and by the end of the 1960s, its per capita income was as low as 12% under the national average.
The state was locked in a deep recession and unemployment was punishingly high. Needless to say, the general mood was rebellious.
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