Do civil servants really make a difference? Can they shape history? When John Drysdale published one of the first books to put together the political history of independent Singapore, in 1985, George E. Bogaars wrote to his daughter with typical understatement, “I feature in it a bit.”
Bogaars headed the Special Branch at the time of Operation Cold Store. He reported directly to pioneer leaders such as Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Keng Swee, before they became political icons. He started the Singapore Armed Forces from scratch, when he was Permanent Secretary of Interior and Defence (the precursor of Home Affairs and Defence ministries). He was the head of the Civil Service, involved in a dozen or so Government-linked companies attempting to shore up the country’s infrastructure and expand its business portfolio. He held the country’s purse strings when he moved into the Finance ministry before his retirement on 31 October 1981 at age 55. His impressive resume belies a colourful, flamboyant character with a wicked sense of humour.
Written by journalist and blogger Bertha Henson, Not for Circulation tells the story of this Singapore original.
Henson, B. Not For Circulation: The George E. Bogaars Story. NUS Press. 2021.