Hsu Tse Kwang

Singapore Infopedia

by Chua, Alvin


Hsu Tse Kwang (b. 9 January 1929, Singapore1–d. 1 December 1999, Singapore) served as Singapore’s tax commissioner for 21 years, earning him the nickname “Mr Taxman”. He also played a prominent role in the labour movement as well as the corporate and sports sectors.

Education and early career
Hsu received his education at Raffles Institution2 and then the University of Malaya.3 In the 1940s, he worked as a cub reporter for the Malayan Tribune.4 At the University of Malaya, he was editor of The Cauldron, a newsletter focused on issues such as multiculturalism and the independence movement. Hsu graduated from university in 1954 with an honours degree in economics and subsequently worked as an assistant editor with the newspaper, Tiger Standard.5

Involvement with the labour movement
During the 1960s, strikes were at a postwar record high and militant unions were battling for control of the labour movement. Following a request from the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the government agreed to set up a Labour Research Unit to assist trade unionists in Singapore. Hsu was tasked to form the unit and was appointed the first chairman of its governing board.6 The Labour Research Unit was an ad-hoc body that provided expert assistance to trade unions in the formulation of union claims, in negotiations with employers and in the presentation of union cases before the Industrial Arbitration Court.7

Hsu’s trade union activism made him unpopular with some in the civil service, but his then colleague and future president of Singapore, S. R. Nathan, remarked that the labour movement and NTUC, in particular, owes him a great debt.8 He was a member and chairman of the NTUC board of trustees from 1966 until his death in 1999, and had a hand in the growth of NTUC’s economic ventures such as the FairPrice chain of supermarkets, Comfort taxi cooperatives and other investments. For his contributions to the labour movement, he received four NTUC awards, the last being the Distinguished Service (Star), awarded posthumously in 2000.9

Civil service
Hsu’s friend, Kenneth Byrne, who advocated for the Malayanisation of the civil service and later became a politician, persuaded Hsu to enter the civil service. Hsu quit his assistant editor job and joined the Inland Revenue Department (IRD; now known as the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore) in the 1950s as a tax assessment officer, taking a pay cut of nearly 50 percent.10 By 1965, he had risen to the position of deputy commissioner and also served as acting commissioner.11

Hsu joined the Ministry of Culture as its permanent secretary and the director of broadcasting in 196812 before returning to IRD two years later as commissioner when he was appointed to the post from 1 July 1970. Taking over from N. V. Casey, he was the first local commissioner.13

At the IRD, Hsu gained a reputation for being a no-nonsense and efficient civil servant who pursued tax cheats vigorously.14 In 1971, the IRD collected S$18 million in tax arrears and compounded penalties from tax dodgers, compared to S$4 million the year before.15

Hsu helped formulate tax policies that contributed to Singapore’s economic growth by creating favourable tax conditions for industries that the government was seeking to promote. In addition, he helped boost investment into Singapore by negotiating tax agreements with other countries. Cultivating a wide range of foreign contacts, Hsu also acted as a tax consultant for China.16

He developed the staff of IRD through intensive training of tax officers.17 Hsu was described as a strict boss who extolled the values of integrity and honesty, and cared for the welfare of his staff.18 

In 1984, Hsu reached the civil service retirement age of 55 but his term was extended twice until 1991, when he retired and was succeeded by Koh Yong Guan.19

Corporate sector

Hsu was no stranger to the corporate world. He became a director of Ming Court Hotel in 196920 and subsequently held directorships in other companies and public organisations such as Yeo Hiap Seng, Vickers Ballas, Chemical Industries and Singapore Reinsurance Corporation.21

Having been the chairman of the Sembawang Group since 1987, Hsu took up the role of executive chairman when he retired from the IRD in 1991.22 At Sembawang Group, he helped to diversify its businesses and expand overseas, particularly into the China market. He retired from the board in 1994.23 

Contribution to local sports
In 1991, Hsu was appointed as the new president of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), succeeding Abbas Abu Amin.24

During his term at the FAS, Hsu pushed for the establishment of a professional league, arguing that the local game would not progress without one.25 With the groundwork laid by Hsu, Singapore eventually withdrew from the Malaysian league in 1995 and formed the professional S. League in 1996.26

Another changes led by Hsu included the import of two Australian teams to participate in the local premier league and drawing up the early plans for legalised football betting.27

Hsu was Singapore’s non-resident ambassador to Poland (1991–99) and the Czech Republic (1997–99).28

Hsu died of a heart attack on 1 December 1999. He was survived by his wife, Hsu Kong Wah.29

Bintang Bakti Masharakat (Public Service Star)30

1963: Gold Medal, NTUC31
1965: Gold Medal, Singapore Printing Employees’ Union32
1973: Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal)33
1983: Meritorious Service Medal, NTUC34
1991: Distinguished Service Award, NTUC35
2000: Distinguished Service (Star), NTUC


Alvin Chua

1. Who’s who in Malaysia & Singapore 1983–4 (Vol. 1). (1983). Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Who’s Who Publications, p. 118. (Call no.: RSING 920.0595 WWM)
2. Raffles Institution. (1942). 2nd Raffles senior troop of Raffles Institution [Photograph accession no.: 54965]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
3. Koh, B. S. (1991, March 16). No more Mr Taxman, but Hsu still the ‘no-nonsense’ tough guy. The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. The new FAS president. (1991, March 25). The New Paper, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Koh, B. S. (1991, March 16). No more Mr Taxman, but Hsu still the ‘no-nonsense’ tough guy. The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Koh, B. S. (1991, March 16). No more Mr Taxman, but Hsu still the ‘no-nonsense’ tough guy. The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Trade unions to have a research centre. (1962, December 3). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Former tax chief Hsu dies. (1999, December 3). The Straits Times, p. 83. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Ex-income-tax chief honoured. (2000, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Koh, B. S. (1991, March 16). No more Mr Taxman, but Hsu still the ‘no-nonsense’ tough guy. The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. New tax chief for S’pore. (1965, March 29). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Mr Hsu now permanent secretary to Culture Ministry. (1968, May 4). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Lee, S. S. (2008). The IRAS story: 60 years of tax administration in Singapore, 1948-2008. Singapore: Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, pp. 30, 37. (Call no.: RSING 336.20095957 LEE-[SRN])
14. Ex-income tax chief ‘chased tax dodgers’. (1999, December 9). The Straits Times, p. 57. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Campbell, W. (1972, March 19). Crackdown on tax dodgers raises collection to $300 million. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Ong, C. (1992, February 6). Sembawang perseveres on in the Chinese market. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Yap, C. T. (1970, September 7). Tax dept plans better service. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Lee, S. S. (2008). The IRAS story: 60 years of tax administration in Singapore, 1948–2008. Singapore: Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, p. 38. (Call no.: RSING 336.20095957 LEE-[SRN])
19. Mr Taxman to serve for five more years. (1983, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 40; Hsu Tse Kwang is now Sembawang’s executive chairman. (1991, January 17). The Business Times, p. 2; Ex-HDB chief posted to Finance Ministry. (1991, January 23). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. 4,000 will be told of the tourists’ paradise. (1969, September 14). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Dr Hsu kini bersama YHS. (1996, January 27). Berita Harian, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
22. De Silva, G. (1991, January 17). Hsu Tse-Kwang to become exec chairman of Sembawang. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. De Silva, G. (1993, July 28). Hsu Tse-Kwang to retire from Sembawang Shipyard board. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Hsu Tse-Kwang is new football chief. (1991, March 25). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. FAS boss wants pro soccer within 5 years. (1992, March 28). The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Tay, C. K. (1997, July 18). CEO Moore: I’m a field man, not an administrator. The Straits Times, p. 56. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. FAS ‘yes’ to two Aussie clubs. (1993, May 26). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 242. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
29. Lim, L. (1999, December 3). Former income-tax commissioner dies. The Straits Times, p. 83; 850 deaths. (1999, December 3). The Straits Times, p. 109. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Who’s who in Malaysia, 1982 & profiles of Singapore. (1981). (Vol. 2). Kuala Lumpur: Who’s Who Publications, p. 48. (Call no.: RSING 920.0595 WWM)
31. Former tax chief Hsu dies. (1999, December 3). The Straits Times, p. 83. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Morais, J. V. (Ed.). (1981). Who’s who in Malaysia, 1982 & profiles of Singapore (Vol. 2). Kuala Lumpur: Who’s Who Publications, p. 48. (Call no.: RSING 920.0595 WWM)
33. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 242. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
34. Who’s who in Malaysia & Singapore 1983–4. (1983). (Vol. 1). Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Who's Who Publications, p. 118. (Call no.: RSING 920.0595 WWM)
35. Ahmad Osman & Henson, B. (1991, May 1). Award is better than a big bonus, says former taxman. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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