Government Releasing “Albatross File”, a Classified Document About the Separation of S’pore from M’sia


Last Updated on 2023-05-14 , 1:10 pm

On 28 February 2023, Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State for Communications and Information, announced that the Government has agreed to declassify and release documents in the “Albatross file”. 

The file was kept by late deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee, containing documents in the lead-up to Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in August 1965.

Here’s all you need to know.

What Is The Albatross File?

The Albatross file, according to the National Archives, is a previously-classified file that offers insight into the discussions and negotiations that preceded the 1965 separation from Malaysia.

These high-profile negotiations involved Lee Kuan Yew and former Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, and ended with the decision of separation, after a two-year-long merger. 

The file’s existence was revealed in a 1980 interview with former DPM Goh, where he stated that the word “Albatross” referred to Malaysia. 

“By that time, the great expectation that we foolishly had—that Malaysia would bring prosperity, common market, peace, harmony, all that—we were quickly disillusioned. And it became an albatross round our necks,” Goh said. 

If you’re too lazy to Google what “albatross” means in common English (other than the bird), it basically refers to a burden that impedes action or progress. 

So Why Does This Matter?

The separation happened long enough ago that most of us recall it only from Social Studies or History classes in school.

It’s also fondly remembered as the time the seemingly-invincible founding PM Lee Kuan Yew famously cried on national TV. 

Obviously, the file is an important record of one of the most monumental parts of Singapore’s history, but the insight it offers is crucial. 

The file details that Singapore leaders themselves played a part in proposing and facilitating the separation in cooperation with Malaysian leaders. This offers a more comprehensive and nuanced look into the separation that was once widely thought to be one-sided, showing it to be more mutual than it actually seemed. 

This contradicts the popular idea that Singapore was expelled by Malaysia—maybe one that the Malaysian boys who got arrested over complaining about their exam also held. 

Parts of the file were previously made available—in 2015, selections of it were showcased at the National Museum for a period of time. 

Declassification Of The File

Dr Puthucheary said that the declassification process had started some time ago, but took some time “given the complexity of the material”.


He added that a larger set of the declassified documents would be released later this year, in a book about the separation that will be published. 

He stated that upwards of 7,000 government records had been reviewed for declassification since 2016, in response to more than 2,130 requests by members of the public. 

Currently, metadata of more than 780,000 records can be accessed online by the public through archives, and this number is set to increase. 

Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh praised this move, citing the importance of releasing these documents for “nation building”.