Singapore’s 1982 New Year was a little special, as it arrived earlier at 11:30pm on 31 December 1981.
To meet the correct time, Singapore’s government bodies, organisations, companies and people had to adjust their clocks and watches by 30 minutes earlier. The move was to synchronise with the time adjustment in Malaysia, which had their time advanced by half an hour on 1 January 1982. With the synchronisation, both countries’ time were fixed at UTC+08:00 (UTC refers to the Coordinated Universal Time).
Singapore had gone through many time adjustments in history. Until 31 Dec 1900, the British Malayan Mean Time was the standard time in Peninsula Malaya and Singapore. The time was set at GMT+06:46:46, which means the time at both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore then was 6 hours, 46 minutes and 46 seconds ahead of the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
GMT was the international standard of civil time between 1884 and 1972. Although GMT and UTC share the same current time, GMT is a time zone, whereas UTC, officially adopted since 1963, is a time standard that serves as the basis for civil time and time zones in the world.
The Singapore Mean Time was adopted between 1 January 1901 and 31 May 1905. It was adjusted to GMT+06:55:25 for the convenience of the railway, telegraph and postal services and schedules, which were becoming increasingly important by the turn of the 20th century. The Singapore Mean Time was referenced as Singapore was the Straits Settlements’ administrative centre back then.
The previous British Malaya Mean Time and Singapore Mean Time were awkward and confusing due to the minutes and seconds. On 1 June 1905, the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States switched to the 105th meridian time zone (meridian 105° east of Greenwich), where the time in Malaya and Singapore became a standardised GMT+07:00.
In 1920, the Legislative Council proposed a bill to incorporate daylight saving time like the United Kingdoms, in order to allow staff and workers more leisure time after work. The bill, recommending a forward adjustment of 30 minutes, did not manage to pass, but it was brought up for debate again in 1932. This time, a 20-minute forward adjustment was accepted and the bill, termed as the daylight saving time Ordnance, was passed. The time in British Malaya was adjusted to GMT+07:20 with effect from 1 January 1933.
The daylight saving time was eventually extended from 20 minutes to 30 minutes and the ordnance was amended on 1 September 1941 to adjust the time to GMT+07:30. This change, however, lasted only a couple of months as Japan invaded and annexed Malaya and Singapore between late 1941 and early 1942. During the Japanese Occupation, Singapore had to follow the Tokyo Standard Time, which was GMT+09:00. It was one and a half hour forward as compared to the previous time.
After the war, the time was reverted to GMT+07:30 as the Malaya Standard Time (or Malaysia Standard Time after 1963). This continued for almost four decades, before Malaysia decided to adjust the time in 1981. This was because Malaysia and Singapore had been stuck “in between” the standard time zones, resulting in both places not reflected in the time zone settings of the increasingly important digital technologies such as computers and watches.
In December 1981, the delegation led by Malaysia Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad visited and met Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to discuss on various bilateral matters, one of which was the coordinated time adjustment. The Malaysian parliament had passed the Malaysian Standard Time Bill 1981 in December to give Peninsula Malaysia and East Malaysia one standard time.
Singapore agreed to synchronise the time with Malaysia as it would improve the close ties between the two nations and benefitted the convenience for the businessmen, workers and travellers on both sides. There was no major impact observed for the local sectors in aviation, shipping, finance, commodity, stock trading and others.
Published: 31 December 2022
Updated: 5 January 2023