Sunday 14 July 2024

Official Opening of the Woodlands Health Campus by SM Lee Hsien Loong on 13 July 2024

Providing only what is needed will keep healthcare costs sustainable: Senior Minister Lee
Don't over-treat, over-prescribe and be careful in adopting new treatments, he says
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Jul 2024

Healthcare needs in Singapore will have to be managed not just by building new hospitals, but also through discipline in providing only what is necessary.

Speaking on July 13 at the official opening of the Woodlands Health (WH) campus, the third new general hospital opened in a decade, Senior Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Republic cannot keep building new hospitals to meet the growing needs of a rapidly ageing population.

“At the same time, we must maintain the right mix of government subsidies, medical insurance and individual co-payment, to minimise wrong incentives, perverse incentives, which would lead to unsatisfactory outcomes.”

SM Lee said Singapore will continue to train more competent doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, and improve its healthcare facilities and infrastructure.

But he added that tough decisions and trade-offs are needed for the country to continue delivering high-quality, affordable healthcare to Singaporeans.

“There are too many examples elsewhere of healthcare services practically at breaking point. Populations suffer from poor healthcare delivery and long wait times, or exorbitant medical bills and high insurance premiums.

“And it shows in the outcomes – population health deteriorates, and so does the quality of life, even life expectancy,” said SM Lee.

In comments made on July 12, he said the Ministry of Health (MOH) needs to rein in the unhealthy “buffet syndrome”, which sees patients picking expensive treatments and diagnostic tests because they have insurance to pay for them.

Over the last 10 years, Singapore has built three new hospitals – the 700-bed Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in 2015, the 1,000-bed Sengkang General Hospital in 2018, and now the 1,400-bed WH.

On the cards are another two public general hospitals – in Bedok and Tengah – and possibly also a non-profit private hospital.

In less than five years, the ageing population here has pushed up the average length of hospital stay from six to seven days, which raises demand for hospital beds by 15 per cent.

SM Lee said the healthcare system remains in good shape, with people having access to high-quality and affordable treatments, with reasonable wait times.

But he added: “Do not underestimate the difficulty of keeping the healthcare system working well.”

Former health minister Khaw Boon Wan, who made the decision to build WH, was at the event on July 13.

He had instructed the team in charge of building the hospital to take their time and to study what other countries with older populations are doing.

Dr Jason Cheah, the hospital’s chief executive officer, said it took 10 years to build WH. Public hospitals here generally take seven years to complete.

A major reason for the delay was disruption to work and a shortage of labour as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

By integrating an acute hospital, community hospital and nursing home at a single campus, it makes it easier for WH to provide patients with the correct level of care.

SM Lee said that aside from the full range of hospital services, the hospital will also provide long-term care services including daycare, home care, and nursing home and palliative care.

“This makes it much easier to right-site patients, and also a lot more convenient for patients to transition seamlessly from treatment to convalescence, and receive the appropriate care in one place,” he added.

The hospital also uses technology to raise operational efficiency. It has an automated pharmacy and an automated laboratory for blood specimens, both of which reduce manpower needs and human error.

Patients are also provided with bedside terminals (PBTs) that allow them to engage more fully with their care plan.

Quipped SM Lee: “The PBT also functions like an inflight entertainment system where patients can order their preferred meals or even watch YouTube videos! Presumably, not too exciting ones.”

Thanking Ms Jennie Chua, chairman of the WH campus, Mr Lee noted that some of the touches that make it “a very woke hospital” must have come from her. Meals at the hospital include mutton vindaloo, plant-based mapo tofu and even Irish stew.

Ms Chua previously oversaw the establishment of the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Yishun.

Singaporeans identify items deemed essential for a normal life in Singapore: Household Needs Study by SMU

Singapore residents say smartphones, short holidays, air-con are essential: Study by Singapore Management University
Most Singapore residents prioritise self-reliance for essential needs: Institute of Policy Studies poll
By Shermaine Ang, The Straits Times, 12 Jul 2024

More than nine in 10 Singapore residents polled in a new study said a smartphone with a data plan is essential, while 64 per cent think air-conditioning is a must.

A trip each year to a South-east Asian destination is also essential, said 56 per cent of those polled. And social connections are important too, with 90 per cent saying family bonding is essential.

These were among 40 items and activities that respondents deemed essential in the study on household needs conducted by Singapore Management University (SMU) and funded by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

It polled a nationally representative sample of around 4,000 Singapore residents and comes amid growing public interest in the resources needed to achieve basic living standards.

Respondents were asked how essential they considered a total of 51 items and activities across categories such as household appliances, digital connectivity and social participation.

Essential items were those perceived to be so by at least half the respondents.

The study – which also included respondents taking part in focus group discussions between May 2022 and February 2023 – focused on affordability of essential items and attitudes on poverty.

For example, two-thirds of respondents said they were able to afford all the items deemed essential.

For the remaining one-third, the top essential items they cited being unable to access or afford included emergency savings of at least three months of expenses and an annual overseas vacation in a South-east Asian country.

A separate study done by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) that garnered 2,000 responses collected in June 2024 looked at public perceptions of who should provide for essential needs, be it the Government, the community, the individuals themselves or other parties.

Key findings from both studies were presented on July 12 at the SMU-DBS Foundation Symposium on Essential Household Needs in Singapore.

Director of SMU Centre for Research on Successful Ageing Paulin Straughan, who led the first study, said the hope is to reveal the gaps that may aid efforts to help disadvantaged Singaporeans break out of deprivation, which is defined in the study as being unable to afford items considered essential.

Sharing other insights, she noted that perceptions towards higher expenditure activities and items like holidays and the need for adequate savings differed across income groups.

Households in the lowest income group earned up to $2,499 a month while the top band earned over $17,000 a month.

One in two among the lowest income band see dining at restaurants once a month as essential, compared with over 60 per cent in higher income bands.

And only 49 per cent in the lowest income band see air-con as essential, compared with 70 per cent in the highest income band.

Items deemed unnecessary by respondents included private tuition – considered essential by 49 per cent of respondents – private enrichment classes (30 per cent) and annual staycations (27 per cent).

Respondents thought students can get help from free tuition classes offered by self-help groups rather than more costly private options – such tuition classes were seen by nearly 60 per cent of respondents as essential.

On poverty, the study showed that most believed it is attributable to personal actions and circumstances. Some 80 per cent think people are poor because they face major problems in their lives, while less than a quarter agreed that poverty is due to external factors like bad luck or divine will.

Prof Straughan said: “There’s a lot more consensus on what we can do to help ourselves... it tells us that from an approach perspective, Singaporeans can be helped and they are willing to be helped.”

She said the next run of the study may be done in five years’ time, to see if new interventions introduced can plug the gaps found, such as the lack of emergency savings.

Speaking at the symposium on July 12, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said the studies by SMU and IPS will inform MSF’s ongoing review of its ComCare scheme for low-income families. He cited how ComCare assistance now covers mobile data plans as digital connectivity has become an essential need.

Mr Masagos said the research shows there are differing views on what needs are deemed essential, particularly for items that go beyond subsistence needs.

Implicit in these views is the public’s understanding that social assistance provided by taxpayers must be reasonable and sustainable, he added.

“The studies also show that there is much room for others besides the Government to provide support for low-income and vulnerable families.”

Sunday 23 June 2024

‘When we say we’ll do something, we make sure we deliver it’: PM Lawrence Wong at opening of Thomson-East Coast Line Stage 4

Political stability key to large long-term infrastructure projects: PM Wong
By Esther Loi and Whitney William, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2024

It is easy to take for granted how things get built in Singapore, where the authorities ensure that projects get done and are delivered, said Prime Minister Lawrence Wong at the opening of the fourth stage of the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) on June 21.

We say we want to do something, and eventually it gets done,” said PM Wong at Marine Parade station, one of seven new stops along TEL Stage 4 (TEL4). The others are Tanjong Rhu, Katong Park, Tanjong Katong, Marine Terrace, Siglap and Bayshore.

He noted that in many other countries around the world, including advanced ones, there may be difficulties in completing projects due to funding issues, resistance from residents or people who are inconvenienced.

“Sometimes, political parties change and the new party comes into power, and they shelve the plans from the previous party,” he added.

“So, in many of these places, people talk about wanting to do things, but after a long time, things still cannot get done. Here in Singapore, when we say we will do something, we make sure we deliver it.”

Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and former transport minister Khaw Boon Wan also attended the opening ceremony on June 21.

They were joined by MPs for the various constituencies that TEL4 serves, including Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat (East Coast GRC) and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng (Marine Parade GRC).

PM Wong said the TEL is just a part of the Government’s investment in the public transport system and that “we are certainly not done expanding our rail network”.

He noted that more than 50 new MRT stations will open over the next decade, including those along the new Jurong Region Line and Cross Island Line, which will improve connectivity within Singapore’s west, east and north-east.

New stations and extensions will also open on the North-South, Circle and Downtown lines.

By the 2030s, eight in 10 households will be within a 10-minute walk of an MRT station, said PM Wong.

The seven new stations along TEL4 were opened to the public on June 21 for a preview that drew around 380,000 people, two days before passenger service starts on June 23.

PM Wong recounted his days growing up in Marine Terrace in the 1980s, when he had wished for an MRT station closer to his home.

While he no longer lives in the estate, he said residents along TEL4 can enjoy fast, convenient and affordable public transport.

A direct train ride on the TEL from Marine Parade to Shenton Way, in the heart of the Central Business District, will take 20 minutes, halving commutes for residents who had to take a combination of bus and train before, he noted.

Students stand to benefit, too, with more than 10 schools within walking distance of a TEL4 station, said PM Wong.

The new stretch will also bring the East Coast area, including Joo Chiat and Katong, closer to Singaporeans from other parts of the island, and make it easier to reach East Coast Park.

“If you grew up in the east, there’s always a special place here. You know that there are excellent food options in Joo Chiat, in Katong, and I think some people have even called this TEL4 line the ‘makan’ line,” PM Wong quipped.

“Makan” means to eat in Malay.

The Prime Minister noted that people with special needs were among the passenger groups the authorities had in mind when designing the line.

For instance, station signs have larger fonts and there are more braille texts to aid the visually impaired.

Hearing enhancement systems that minimise background noise for those with hearing aids and allow them to communicate more easily with station staff have also been fitted at passenger service centres in TEL stations.

The stations come with more lifts and entrances, too, making it more convenient for those with mobility challenges, said PM Wong.

The next stage of TEL, comprising Bedok South and Sungei Bedok stations, will be completed by 2026.

Friday 21 June 2024

Singapore’s first underground service reservoir in housing estate to supply water to Bidadari residents

By Shabana Begum, The Straits Times, 19 Jun 2024

Beneath a green field at Bidadari Park, at a depth of about two basement carpark levels, lies an underground reservoir that will supply water to the new neighbourhood from the third quarter of 2024.

Holding three Olympic-size swimming pools’ worth of treated drinking water, the $27 million Bidadari underground service reservoir (USR) – the first of its kind in a housing estate – will boost the main water supply to about 8,800 homes in the estate during peak periods to ensure users enjoy good water pressure.

Like the 10-plus other service reservoirs in Singapore, it also serves as a back-up during emergencies or disruptions to PUB’s main water supply. These service reservoirs are not to be confused with catchment reservoirs such as MacRitchie and Bedok, which are among the 17 scattered across the island to collect rainwater that is subsequently treated.

The Bidadari USR, built by national water agency PUB at the site of the former Mount Vernon Columbarium, has two large underground tanks – each about 6.5m high – to save on surface space and keep the surroundings unmarred.

Just a pumping station above ground, occupying a 700 sq m plot of land, hints at its existence. The USR was designed to be largely unmanned, with an automated control room and five centrally operated pumps.

During off-peak hours when household water demand is not high, the two tanks will be filled with potable water from existing service reservoirs such as Bukit Kalang Service Reservoir.

While other service reservoirs like Fort Canning – built in 1929, it is the only other underground service reservoir – and Mount Faber are sited on high ground to leverage gravity to channel water to homes and offices, Bidadari’s is on low terrain.

The Bidadari USR is currently undergoing testing and commissioning, and is expected to be operational in the third quarter of 2024.

The completion of the Bidadari USR was announced by Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu on June 19 at the joint opening of the biennial Singapore International Water Week and CleanEnviro Summit Singapore conferences.

“It will help fortify water supply to meet the water demand of present and future Bidadari residents,” she said, at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

The Bidadari estate will have about 10,000 homes comprising both public and private housing. As at February, more than 70 per cent of the 8,872 Housing Board flats there have been handed over to their owners, while the remaining flats are on track to be completed by 2025.

The concept of piloting a reservoir that optimises land use and is integrated with a park in the estate was announced in 2013.

“This approach has enabled PUB to save about 1,500 sq m of space by integrating the land above the water tanks with the adjacent Bidadari Park,” the agency said.

Saturday 15 June 2024

What the West can learn from Singapore

Data shows that in key areas, Singapore is better at governing than the US and Britain.

When asked whether the US government works, most Americans say no. According to recent polling by Ipsos, more than two-thirds of adults in the United States think the country is going in the wrong direction. Gallup reports that only 26 per cent have confidence in major US institutions, such as the presidency, the Supreme Court and Congress. Nearly half of Americans aged 18 to 25 say that they believe either that democracy or dictatorship “makes no difference” or that “dictatorship could be good in certain circumstances”. As a recent Economist cover story put it: “After victory in the Cold War, the American model seemed unassailable. A generation on, Americans themselves are losing confidence in it.”

Most Singaporeans have a very different outlook on their government, a managed political system that has elections but nonetheless facilitates the dominance of one party, the People’s Action Party. According to a Pew Research Centre report, three-quarters of Singaporeans are satisfied with how democracy is working in their country. Moreover, 80 per cent think their country is heading in the right direction – the highest number in any of the 29 countries surveyed in the May Ipsos poll.

In 2024, both the United States and Singapore are facing one of the most challenging tests of any system of government: the transfer of power from one leader to the next. Textbooks on government identify this as an arena in which democratic systems have the greatest advantage over authoritarian or managed alternatives. Yet, as 2024 shows, that isn’t always the case.

In May, as then Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong passed the baton to his chosen successor, Mr Lawrence Wong, Singaporeans almost unanimously applauded the orderly, peaceful transition. In contrast, Americans’ sense of gloom is growing as they approach a presidential election in which voters will have to choose between two candidates who claim that the other’s victory would mean the end of US democracy. According to an April Reuters/Ipsos poll, ttwo-thirds of US voters believe that neither candidate should be running.

These comparisons invite the question: Is Singapore simply better at governing than other countries?

To answer this, consider the following three Report Cards, which use data from international organisations to assess Singapore alongside two countries holding major elections in 2024: the United States and Britain. Each report card grades the countries on how well they have fulfilled the requirements that Singapore’s founder and first prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew – the father of Mr Lee Hsien Loong – believed were the functions of government: to “improve the standard of living for the majority of its people, plus enabling the maximum of personal freedoms compatible with the freedoms of others in society”.

The first Report Card considers citizens’ well-being, which we’ve assessed based on categories for which there is ample data, such as income, health, safety and sense of security.

The second Report Card covers what the World Bank calls “governance”, or a government’s effectiveness in facing issues, making policy choices, executing policy and preventing corruption.

The third Report Card, which considers both individual rights and citizens’ satisfaction with their government, is more difficult to interpret. It includes the judgments made both by international organisations and by polls that gauge how citizens feel about their democracy.

It’s worth reflecting on nine takeaways related to these Report Cards. First, Mr Lee Hsien Loong left to his successor a population that is now wealthier than Americans – and almost twice as wealthy as their former British colonial overlords.

When he took office in 2004, the so-called Singapore miracle had already happened: Singapore’s economy had soared since the 1960s, taking the country from poverty to having a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita that was approximately three-quarters of that of the United States, where many analysts thought it would remain. Yet 20 years later, Singapore’s GDP per capita is more than 4 per cent higher than that in the United States: $88,500 compared with $85,000.

Second, while rapid economic growth often produces greater income disparity, over the past two decades, Singapore has reduced inequality significantly – from 0.47 to 0.37 (as measured by the Gini coefficient, a measure by which 0 equals complete equality and 1 represents complete inequality) – while the United States has remained around 0.47. (For comparison, China’s Gini coefficient is 0.46, and the country with the highest level of inequality is South Africa, with 0.63.)

Third, Singaporeans are generally healthier and live longer than their counterparts in the United States and Britain. Just 20 years ago, life expectancy in all three countries was approximately the same. Today, the life expectancy in Singapore is longer (83 years) than that in the United States (76 years) and Britain (81 years). Singapore’s infant mortality has fallen from 27 deaths per 1,000 births in 1965, to 4 in 2004, to 1.8 today – considerably lower than both other countries. Furthermore, 93 per cent of Singaporeans express satisfaction with their healthcare system, in contrast to 75 per cent of Americans and 77 per cent of Britons.

Fourth, Singapore was clearly best prepared for a major public health crisis. Because the Covid-19 pandemic struck all countries around the same time, it provided a clear test of their response systems. On a per capita basis, around 10 Americans or Britons have died from Covid-19 for every one of their counterparts in Singapore.

Saturday 8 June 2024

Construction of Founders’ Memorial begins, opening slated for 2028

A memorial that honours Singapore’s founders and keeps alive their ideals in our nation-building journey
By Ng Keng Gene, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2024

Construction of the Founders’ Memorial – dedicated to Singapore’s pioneers and the values they exemplified – has officially started, and it is scheduled to open in 2028.

The memorial at Gardens by the Bay’s Bay East Garden will offer visitors an “integrated gallery and gardens experience”, said the National Heritage Board (NHB).

Within its two two-storey buildings, which will be connected by a common basement, will be a viewing gallery that overlooks Singapore’s city skyline, exhibition galleries, and multi-purpose rooms for workshops and programmes.

NHB said multiple paths will extend from the memorial into the larger Bay East Garden, with the memorial itself designed to depict a path – a symbol of the nation-building journey that Singapore’s founding generation and its leaders undertook.

The ground-breaking ceremony was held at Bay East Garden on June 5, and officiated by Senior Minister Lee Hsien Loong. It was on June 5, 1959, that the first Cabinet of self-governing Singapore was sworn into office.

At a reception held at Gardens by the Bay’s Flower Field Hall after the ceremony, SM Lee said the memorial will tell of how the nation’s founding leaders “overcame the odds to build a strong, united, and independent Singapore”. Stories will capture “how they led the people of Singapore through successive battles”, he said.

“First against colonialism, then communism, and finally communalism; and how they then built a nation based on the values and ideals embodied in the pledge, launching us on the journey that has led to the Singapore that we see today.”

He was joined at the ceremony by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, Minister for National Development Desmond Lee and Founders’ Memorial Committee co-chairs Lee Tzu Yang and Tan Tai Yong, as well as community representatives including students, memorial volunteers and donors.

Those who participated in the ground-breaking planted saplings that were grafted from trees planted by Singapore’s leaders during the early years of the nation’s greening journey.

Species planted included the yellow flame (Peltophorum pterocarpum), a native species that was planted by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1971 at Tanjong Pagar Community Club; a sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera), planted by Dr Goh Keng Swee in 1975 at Labrador Park; and a sea apple (Syzygium grande), which Mr S. Rajaratnam planted in 1980 at Block 12 North Bridge Road.

The saplings planted on June 5 will be featured in the Founders’ Memorial’s landscaping in the future, said NHB.

The memorial – mooted in 2015 following Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death – was previously slated to be completed in 2027, but its construction timeline was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its design by Japanese architecture firm Kengo Kuma & Associates, working in collaboration with Singapore firm K2LD Architects, was announced in March 2020 following an international competition launched in January 2019.

NHB said the memorial “aims to inspire Singaporeans to commit themselves towards a better future, as it will serve as a space to capture the spirit of our nation and unify Singaporeans”.

Between June and December in 2024, a mural titled Our Memorial, Our Singapore by local illustration studio 8EyedSpud will be displayed at Bay South Garden, near the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome.

By scanning a QR code that accompanies the mural, people can select activities they are most keen to engage in at the memorial and Bay East Garden – “a continuation of the memorial’s public engagement journey”, said NHB.

They may also leave well-wishes, which may be part of future hoardings for the memorial during its construction.

Mr Lee Tzu Yang said the committee will continue to engage Singaporeans “because the Founders’ Memorial is envisioned as a space owned by every generation, including future generations of Singaporeans”.

Public workshops and a pilot exhibition – titled Semangat Yang Baru: Forging A New Singapore Spirit – have been held to gather feedback for the upcoming memorial.

More than 900 stories and artefacts have been received for the memorial thus far following a public call, and over 140,000 people attended the exhibition, Mr Lee Tzu Yang said.

A Project Citizens campaign will be launched as part of the engagement to invite Singaporeans to contribute stories about the country’s founding history.

Commemorating the nation-building journey

SM Lee said that besides focusing on key leaders in Singapore’s first two decades of nation-building, the memorial’s project team is curating an installation specially to commemorate the founding generation.

“Through their words and deeds, the memorial will bring alive the values and ideals these pioneers exemplified, championed, and inculcated into Singaporeans,” he added.

Citing the backdrop to Singapore’s independence in August 1965 – the race riots of 1964 and Indonesia’s Konfrontasi – SM Lee said that unlike the independence of other post-colonial nations, the mood in the Republic was sombre.

The founding leaders rallied the population, and Singaporeans, whatever their previous political allegiances, united behind them, said SM Lee, adding that they witnessed various milestones, such as the withdrawal of British forces and the development of the Singapore Armed Forces, as well as housing and educating the people.

Even more importantly, they established fundamental values and ideals that set the country’s long-term direction: democracy, justice and equality, meritocracy and a drive for excellence, an unwavering commitment to honest, clean government and, above all, a multiracial society, SM Lee said.

He added that while the founding leaders did not get everything right, they made the right choices on the most important issues and Singapore succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Singapore’s origin story is unique, he said, noting that in the post-war era, many former colonies became independent countries like the Republic.

“But not many successfully shifted from the independence struggle to nation-building, from rousing revolutionary mobilisation to the patient slog of improving people’s lives. Singapore did,” he said.

He added that while Singapore has several memorials that mark significant events in its modern history – the Civilian War Memorial and Kranji War Memorial, for instance – “we do not yet have a memorial to commemorate our nation-building journey”.

“Now, almost 60 years after Separation, and 80 years after the Second World War, the time has come for us to build one,” said SM Lee.

He added: “I hope this Founders’ Memorial will become a space where Singaporeans reflect on our ongoing nation-building journey; appreciate our precious inheritance from the founding generation; and resolve to continue building a harmonious and successful Singapore, based on our foundational values and ideals, for generations to come.”

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Lawrence Wong sworn in as Singapore’s fourth Prime Minister on 15 May 2024

PM Lawrence Wong to Singaporeans: ‘Join me and my team in our journey forward’
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 May 2024

Prime Minister Lawrence Wong called on Singaporeans to join him in the ambitious goal of building a society where everyone matters “and a Singapore that matters to all Singaporeans”.

There will be no easy formulas to apply, and no models to follow in this task, he said on May 15 after being sworn in as Singapore’s fourth prime minister at the Istana.

But he and his fourth-generation political leaders, together with the help of Singaporeans, will experiment to discover fresh solutions and blaze new paths.

“Everyone will have a stake in our nation’s progress. Everyone will play a key role in shaping our future,” he said in his inauguration speech.

Addressing Singaporeans for the first time as their prime minister, he promised to serve with all his heart, to never settle for the status quo, and to “always seek better ways to make tomorrow better than today”.

“So that we can reach even greater heights. So that we can be a beacon of hope and unity for ourselves and our children,” he added.

Laying out his plans to take Singapore forward amid a more challenging world, PM Wong said there will be those who doubt Singapore’s ability to go further.

But he was sure they would be proven wrong as they have been in the past.

“When the going gets tough, we do not crumble. We press on, with faith in our fellow citizens and in Singapore’s future. We strive harder, reach further, and prove that with determination and hard work, there is no challenge we cannot overcome,” he said.

This is the spirit he will bring to his new role, he added.

In a ceremony before an audience which he said embodied the “rich fabric of our nation”, he solemnly took his affirmation of allegiance and of due execution of office.

Led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, he swore to bear faith and allegiance to Singapore and to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. He also swore to faithfully discharge his duties according to law to the best of his knowledge and ability, and without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

Watching on at the Istana lawn were students, teachers, unionists, business leaders, athletes, artists, community volunteers and the front-liners PM Wong had thanked tearily in Parliament in 2020 for their contributions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

When he was done, he was handed a scroll, the instrument of appointment, by President Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Then, in order of seniority, Mr Lee Hsien Loong was sworn in as senior minister, Mr Gan Kim Yong and Mr Heng Swee Keat as deputy prime ministers, and Mr Teo Chee Hean as senior minister.

This was followed by 14 ministers, nine senior ministers of state and five ministers of state.

PM Wong, who has been taking classes in Malay and Mandarin, spoke first in the two languages before moving on to English.

The ceremony, held at the Istana at night after a heavy afternoon downpour, marked not just a change in leadership but also in generations.

Citing this, he said his generation have been shaped by their experiences, having seen the vital importance of good leadership, political stability and long-term planning, and have also benefited from the imaginative policies of Singapore’s founding fathers.

Their leadership style will differ from previous generations’, he said.

“We will lead in our own way. We will continue to think boldly and to think far,” he added.

He also pledged to build on the foundations laid by the earlier generations, acknowledging that he and his team stood on “the shoulders of giants”, such as Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his team who led the country through independence and established the key pillars of governance; and second prime minister Goh Chok Tong and his team who took the country through the next lap, and nurtured a kinder and gentler society.

For his predecessor, SM Lee, PM Wong reserved a special tribute.

He thanked the outgoing prime minister for his guidance and mentorship, and on behalf of the nation, for his devotion to the service of the country and people, and his stewardship of Singapore.

“Mr Lee spoke often of the need to keep Singapore exceptional. He was exceptional himself – in his devotion, his selflessness, and his dedication to serve,” said PM Wong.

A smiling SM Lee leaned forward in a bow in his front-row seat, to applause from the audience.

President Tharman, in a speech before the swearing-in ceremony, said much could be recalled about SM Lee’s leadership in areas from foreign to security policies. “But it is above all the norms and standards that Mr Lee upheld and reinforced – the intangibles of political leadership – that define his most important legacy,” he added.

“His selflessness and personal integrity, and the expectations of high standards of conduct that he set for those in political office. His making time to listen to people from all walks of life, and different points of view, in making decisions that are fair and in the best interests of Singaporeans. His resolve to tackle difficult issues early, never leaving them to future leaders to resolve, even if it means paying an immediate political price.”

Singapore should never let slide these expectations of integrity, incorruptibility and conduct that SM Lee and his predecessors have established, as there will be no going back when standards slide, said Mr Tharman.

Even as he started out in his new role, PM Wong, who had emerged as the front runner for the role of prime minister in 2022 after the 4G’s earlier choice, DPM Heng, stepped down, had succession on his mind.

One of his key priorities is to identify and persuade younger Singaporeans, men and women in the 30s and 40s, to join his team, he said.

“So I call out tonight to all my fellow citizens: Help me to provide Singaporeans with the government they deserve. Let us make a difference, and serve our nation together,” he said.

Later in the night, PM Wong arrived to an enthusiastic reception in Yew Tee where more than 1,000 people had gathered to watch his swearing-in ceremony.

PM Wong, who has been an MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC since 2015, said to them: “The best days of Singapore are still ahead of us, the best chapters of our Singapore story lie ahead – let’s work together to build a better Singapore together.”

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Singapore’s next Prime Minister Lawrence Wong announces changes to Cabinet on 13 May 2024

Gan Kim Yong promoted to DPM in Lawrence Wong’s Cabinet; minimal changes to line-up
By Wong Pei Ting, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 May 2024

Singapore’s next prime minister Lawrence Wong unveiled his Cabinet on May 13, with Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong to be appointed as deputy prime minister.

Deputy Prime Minister Wong, 51, who will be sworn in as Singapore’s fourth prime minister on May 15, will continue as Finance Minister, a role he has taken on since May 2021.

Outgoing PM Lee Hsien Loong had remained finance minister for three years after he became prime minister in 2004.

At a press conference, DPM Wong – flanked by Mr Gan and DPM Heng Swee Keat – said he sought to balance the need for continuity and renewal in assembling his Cabinet.

DPM Wong said of Mr Gan, who co-chaired the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 alongside him: “Through the course of working together, we’ve come to get to know each other’s working styles better, and in this period of increased geopolitical tensions, his experience in international economics will also help us navigate a more contested global environment.”

Mr Gan, 65, said he was grateful and humbled to be given the opportunity to step up, although he is “not quite” part of the People’s Action Party fourth-generation team.

Mr Gan will continue as Minister for Trade and Industry, a position he has filled since May 2021. At the press conference, he also said he would continue to focus on economic issues in this role.

Mr Heng, 63, will remain as Deputy Prime Minister, but Mr Gan will be the acting PM in the PM’s absence, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a separate statement. Mr Gan will also assume responsibility for the Strategy Group within the PMO, which coordinates policies and plans across the Government.

DPM Wong said Mr Heng and Mr Gan are experienced ministers and will provide a steady hand in this initial period of transition. “I will be able to tap their views and expertise as I take on my new responsibility, and they will also help me to mentor our younger office-holder colleagues,” he said.

If his government is re-elected, DPM Wong said he plans to rotate the younger 4G ministers in different portfolios and give them wider exposure and experience. “Amongst them, I’m sure some will be able to step up and take over from their senior colleagues in due course,” he said.

Nevertheless, DPM Wong said more “fresh blood” is needed as some of the older ministers are likely to retire either at the end of this term or shortly after.

Pointing out that he is actively looking for new candidates with the potential to be office-holders at the moment, he said he aims to further renew and strengthen the team with new members, especially men and women in their 30s and 40s.

“There is no higher priority for me and that is to form the best possible team to serve Singapore and Singaporeans,” he added. He said that there will be a few among the junior office-holders who will be able to take on larger responsibilities as well.

The PMO also announced that Mr Gan will replace DPM Wong as chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

The new line-up – announced after DPM Wong accepted President Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s invitation to form the next government – also provided confirmation that PM Lee, 72, will stay on in the Cabinet as senior minister. PM Lee will also remain chairman of the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council.

Meanwhile, two ministers of state – Ms Low Yen Ling, 49, and Mr Desmond Tan, 54 – are to be promoted to senior ministers of state. They will serve in the new role in their existing portfolios, under the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth for Ms Low, and under the PMO for Mr Tan.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzam, 43, will be promoted to minister of state. With the promotion, she will relinquish her appointment in the Ministry of Law, but continue to serve in the Health Ministry as she takes up a new appointment in the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Meanwhile, two backbenchers have been brought in to strengthen the team. They are Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai, 56, and Jurong GRC MP Shawn Huang, 41, who served as a fighter pilot before entering politics and is director for enterprise development at Temasek.

Mr Huang will be appointed senior parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance, while Mr Murali, who is a lawyer, will step into a larger role as minister of state in the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Transport.

The appointment holders will be sworn in on May 15, with the exception of Mr Murali, who will be appointed and sworn in on July 1, and the senior parliamentary secretaries, who will be sworn in on May 24.

Earlier in the day, Mr Tharman exchanged letters with both PM Lee and DPM Wong, in which the President thanked the outgoing PM for his “selfless service” in government, and said he has “every confidence” that the incoming PM will lead Singapore with honour.

In a Facebook post that followed, President Tharman said he saw first-hand PM Lee’s sense of duty to Singapore and his ability to inspire over the years he had spent working with him as a Cabinet minister before he resigned in 2023 to stand for the presidency.

The President also said he had watched DPM Wong “grow as a leader”, having known him for over two decades. “I have the highest regard for him,” he said. “He will in my view make an excellent PM for Singapore in the changing times to come.”