Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Singapore Cabinet changes with effect from 13 June 2022

Lawrence Wong promoted to Deputy Prime Minister as part of Singapore Cabinet changes
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2022

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong will be promoted to Deputy Prime Minister from June 13, in a move that cements his standing as the successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He will be the Acting Prime Minister in the absence of PM Lee, 70.

Mr Wong will also continue as Minister for Finance, and assume responsibility for the Strategy Group within the Prime Minister's Office, taking over this role from Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

The Strategy Group oversees key priorities and issues facing Singapore over the medium to long term, such as population and climate change.

Mr Heng, 61, will remain as Deputy Prime Minister.

He will also continue as Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, and oversee the Future Economy Council as well as assist PM Lee in overseeing the National Research Foundation and Productivity Fund Administration Board.

After the announcement, Mr Wong said in a Facebook post that when he was asked by his fellow 4G ministers to lead the team, he knew he would be taking on what would possibly be the biggest responsibility of his life.

Reiterating the commitment he made when he was chosen to lead the team, he said: "As I've said before, I will do my best and give every ounce of my strength to serve Singapore and Singaporeans. In turn, I seek your support, as I take on my latest appointment as DPM, and take another step forward in embracing my new responsibilities.

"I look forward to walking this journey with all of you, and working with everyone - to steer Singapore through the many challenges we are facing today, and to chart our new way forward together for a better tomorrow."

DPM Heng, in a separate Facebook post, pledged to work with Mr Wong.

"We took another important step towards leadership renewal today, with the appointment of Lawrence Wong as DPM," he said.

"Lawrence has our fullest support. I will give my all to help him succeed, while serving alongside him as DPM and as Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies."

The Cabinet changes, announced by the Prime Minister's Office, move Singapore's leadership transition process further along, after it hit a snag when Mr Heng stepped aside as leader of the 4G team in April last year.

The Cabinet has traditionally had two deputy prime minsters since the 1980s, with the exception of a short period in the 1990s when PM Lee was the only DPM on board, and since May 2019, when DPM Heng was the only person holding the post.

Besides Mr Wong's promotion, eight office-holders will be promoted or given new portfolios and responsibilities.

Minister of State for National Development, and Communications and Information Tan Kiat How will be promoted to Senior Minister of State.

Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth and Social and Family Development Eric Chua will be promoted to Senior Parliamentary Secretary.

Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzam will also be promoted to Senior Parliamentary Secretary. She will remain at the Ministry of Health and take up a new appointment in the Ministry of Law, and relinquish her appointment at the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Meanwhile, Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat, who joined the labour movement last year, will relinquish his role as deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress and return to Government full-time. He will be given an additional portfolio in the Ministry of Finance.

Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Health Koh Poh Koon will give up his Health portfolio and join the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment.

Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Education Sun Xueling will relinquish her Education portfolio and join the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Minister of State for Home Affairs and Sustainability and the Environment Desmond Tan will relinquish both portfolios. He will be appointed Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, and take on Mr Chee's role in the labour movement.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng will take on an additional portfolio in the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment.

The latest changes come a year after seven 4G ministers were given new roles in a major reshuffle in May 2021.

At that time, Mr Wong was given the key finance portfolio.

In April this year, PM Lee announced that Mr Wong had been selected as leader of the 4G team by his peers and that Cabinet ministers had affirmed the choice.

The decision was then endorsed by all PAP MPs in a party caucus.

Mr Wong was a senior civil servant before contesting the 2011 General Election, and became minister of state for defence and education. He was acting minister for culture, community and youth in 2012, and promoted to full minister in 2014.

He became national development minister in 2015, took on an additional role as second minister for finance in 2016, and was made education minister after the 2020 General Election. He became finance minister in May last year.

Others in the PAP 4G team also expressed support for Mr Wong.

In a Facebook post, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said: "With promotion certainly comes greater responsibilities, and as a team, we are always ready to lean in and support one another."

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin thanked Mr Wong and the other office-holders for "leading and making a difference".

Tan Kiat How, Eric Chua and Rahayu Mahzam to be promoted in latest Cabinet changes
By Lim Min Zhang, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2022

Three junior political office-holders who were appointed after the July 2020 General Election have been promoted in the latest round of changes announced by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on Monday (June 6).

Minister of State Tan Kiat How will be promoted to Senior Minister of State on June 13, and continue in the Communications and Information and National Development ministries.

Mr Tan was among four promotions in the latest changes to Cabinet and other appointments, which were headlined by Finance Minister Lawrence Wong becoming deputy prime minister.

Parliamentary secretaries Eric Chua and Rahayu Mahzam will be promoted to senior parliamentary secretaries, the PMO added.

Mr Chua will continue in his existing portfolios in the Culture, Community and Youth as well as Social and Family Development ministries.

Ms Rahayu will take up a new appointment in the Ministry of Law, and continue in the Ministry of Health. She will relinquish her appointment in the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Mr Tan was previously chief executive at the Infocomm Media Development Authority before he entered politics in 2020 as part of the People's Action Party's East Coast GRC slate. He is also chairman of government feedback unit Reach.

Mr Chua worked in the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Ministry of Home Affairs for 17 years, including as director of the SGSecure Programme Office, before entering politics in 2020.

Ms Rahayu, who is trained as a lawyer and had specialised in family law, is a second-term MP who has served in Jurong GRC since 2015.

Both Mr Chua and Ms Rahayu are deputy chairmen of Reach's supervisory panel.

Other political appointments announced on Monday including Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat taking on a new portfolio at the Ministry of Finance.

He will continue at the Ministry of Transport, and return to the Government full time after leaving the labour movement.

Senior Minister of State Koh Poh Koon will also take on a new portfolio in the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment.

He will continue in the Ministry of Manpower, but relinquish his appointment in the Ministry of Health.

Mr Desmond Tan will be appointed Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office. He will relinquish his appointments in the Home Affairs and the Sustainability and the Environment ministries, enabling him to spend most of his time on labour movement work. He will take over Mr Chee's place in the National Trades Union Congress.

Ms Sun Xueling will be appointed Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs. She will continue at the Ministry of Social and Family Development, but relinquish her appointment at the Ministry of Education.

Mr Baey Yam Keng will be appointed senior parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, and continue in the Ministry of Transport.

Global uncertainty likely determined nature and extent of Cabinet changes, say observers
By Hariz Baharudin and Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2022

Geopolitical uncertainties, including challenges such as inflation, the Ukraine war and regional trade disruptions, likely precluded major changes to the Cabinet, said observers.

The fact that a significant reshuffle was last made just over a year ago also meant that any changes in ministers helming key portfolios could be disruptive.

Political observers said these considerations could have been why the latest Cabinet changes announced on Monday (June 6) included no other movements involving full ministers.

At the same time, the promotion of Finance Minister Lawrence Wong to Deputy Prime Minister eliminates any ambiguity about the political leadership's succession plans, said Dr Woo Jun Jie, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) think-tank.

He said the latest round of Cabinet changes was very much focused on Mr Wong's appointment as DPM, coming on the back of his selection as leader of the People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation team in April.

"For the Government's leadership succession, this serves to further clarify and confirm Mr Wong's position as Singapore's next prime minister," he said.

Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh, who was a backbencher from 1997 to 2015, said: "The key thing right now is to test the 4G (fourth-generation) PM and not so much to test 4G members as ministers. They have already been tested since they came in 2011."

Dr Gillian Koh, deputy director of research at IPS, said it seemed sensible that the key portfolios of defence, foreign affairs and security continue to be helmed by experienced hands, given the current disruptive changes globally.

"Presumably, these are leaders who have close ongoing networks with leaders across the region and globe that will serve Singapore well for the sharing of intelligence and the coordination of responses with the international community," she said.

Dr Woo cited global inflation, the Ukraine-Russia conflict, regional trade disruptions, and emerging strains of Covid-19 as looming challenges, saying that for Singapore, policy experience and stability are critical to handling such external challenges.

"These global and regional instabilities may have made it difficult to consider more substantial changes."

Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Department of Sociology noted that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently said the next PM should decide how his team should be configured.

"Hence, this reshuffle is, in my view, quite minimalist, except to reinforce the plan that Minister Lawrence Wong is the designated heir apparent," he said.

"The movements among the junior office holders are not very significant, except to facilitate their exposures to different portfolios, but no promotions to full ministerial rank."

Former minister of state Teo Ser Luck, who was an MP from 2006 to 2020, said the 4G team is shaping up slowly.

The latest reshuffle will give Mr Wong some time to assess the individual office holders and form his own team in time to come, he said.

"We need a strong team as there are greater economic and social challenges," he added.

Observers interviewed said at least one more round of Cabinet changes can be expected before the next general election, which is due by November 2025.

IPS' Dr Koh said there seems to be a rhythm of announcing Cabinet changes once a year.

Prof Tan from NUS said a probable line-up of the core team around Mr Wong could emerge in the next round of Cabinet changes.

He added that Mr Wong could be leading the PAP into the next general election, given how there would be a need for the 4G team to spell out its tone and priorities in a post-pandemic and uncertain world.

He said he and his colleagues will engage the labour unions as well as the people and private sector for their thoughts on the economy, healthcare, housing, education and other areas, as part of an exercise to refresh the social compact.

Mr Wong had added: "We will consider what we need to do differently, but also affirm what is being done well and how we can do it even better."

On Monday, Mr Singh said: "I think the real 4G Cabinet will appear just before the next elections. So we should be looking at two years from now for the 4G to almost take over."

By the next election, the future 4G Cabinet will be seeking a mandate together with the 4G prime minister, he added.

Unambiguous promotion for Lawrence Wong, but challenges lie ahead for the new DPM
By Grace Ho, Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2022

Two words describe Monday's (June 6) Cabinet changes: unambiguous and non-disruptive.

It is unambiguous about who the next Prime Minister is, by making Finance Minister Lawrence Wong - named in April this year as the leader of Singapore's fourth-generation (4G) People's Action Party (PAP) team - the Deputy Prime Minister from June 13.

Also driving home Mr Wong's standing as PM Lee Hsien Loong's No. 2 is the announcement that he will be Acting PM when Mr Lee is away, even as Mr Heng Swee Keat remains in place as the other DPM.

It is also non-disruptive, given that the Cabinet changes are on a smaller scale than the last one in April 2021, which saw almost half of the 15 ministries getting new ministers.

PM Lee at the time acknowledged it was a more extensive reshuffle than is usual that early in the term of government, partly because the Finance Minister was changing and since this was a key ministry, it would have many repercussions for other appointments.

That particular change of guard had taken place shortly after DPM Heng's surprise announcement that he would step aside as the 4G leader. He also relinquished the Finance portfolio during that reshuffle.

The passing of the 4G leadership baton in April this year to Mr Wong was largely uneventful. The same could be used to describe this reshuffle, and not in a pejorative sense, because continuity and stability are valued in any political transition.

The lack of other major changes to Cabinet - there are no ministerial-level movements - puts the focus squarely on Mr Wong's consolidated position as No. 2. The other three promotions involving Mr Tan Kiat How, Mr Eric Chua, and Ms Rahayu Mahzam are at the Senior Minister of State and Senior Parliamentary Secretary levels.

In any case, 4G office-holders such as Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Education Minister Chan Chun Sing have been in their ministries only for a short time, and it would be too soon for them to take on new portfolios.

Already in the last round, Messrs Wong and Ong had been moved out of their ministries less than a year into their new roles post-2020 General Election, the latter which Mr Lee described as an "interim set of changes".

"Unfortunately it can't be helped, I think it's a bit disruptive for the ministries," Mr Lee had said following the last reshuffle. "But I hope that after this adjustment, the new ministers in those two posts will be able to settle down for some time."

And so they will.

The retention of Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam also shows that both still have key roles to play in supporting and guiding the 4G leaders as they take over from the third-generation team.

It continues the tradition of having senior ministers to ensure continuity and allow the younger ministers to tap their experience.

There have been four other senior ministers to-date - former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, and former deputy prime ministers S. Rajaratnam and S. Jayakumar. Professor Jayakumar and Mr Goh retired from the Cabinet in 2011, with Mr Goh given the honorary title of Emeritus Senior Minister.

Some members of the public may still have a few questions.

One, the 4G ministers' supposed lack of foreign policy exposure. But these arguments stand on loose sand. Every minister's portfolio covers foreign policy issues, even if they are specific to the finance, health, education or some other track.

Some tracks may deal with less complex international negotiations than others. But it's not as if each ministry is hermetically sealed, and there have always been mechanisms for politicians and agencies to come together and engage in cross-cutting deliberations.

Moreover, each of the 4G ministers has been rotated through multiple portfolios throughout their careers, ensuring their wide exposure across different tracks. Some are seasoned trade negotiators.

Two, why there are two DPMs and not one, if the aim is to make it clear that Mr Wong is next in line to be PM.

The Cabinet has traditionally had two deputy PMs since the 1980s, and since Singapore's independence, there have been only four periods when the country had only one DPM.

They were from June 1959 to August 1968, when the DPM was Dr Toh Chin Chye; between March 1973 and June 1980, when the second-in-command was Dr Goh Keng Swee; from September 1993 to August 1995, when Mr Lee Hsien Loong was DPM; and most recently since May 2019, when DPM Heng was the only person holding the post.

As for having two DPMs concurrently, past examples include Mr S. Rajaratnam being appointed second deputy prime minister in June 1980, alongside Dr Goh who was redesignated first deputy prime minister.

After stepping down in December 1991 to return to the private sector, Dr Tony Tan returned to Cabinet in August 1995 and was appointed DPM alongside then DPM Lee Hsien Loong.

What is important now is to look ahead. Mr Wong said during the May Day Rally that the ruling party's next generation of leaders will soon draw up a road map for Singapore in a bid to "refresh (our) social compact", by engaging stakeholders from different fields to hear their thoughts on the economy, healthcare, housing, education and other areas.

This, he added, would be used to develop a "Forward Singapore" agenda which will set out the road map for the next decade and beyond. One looks forward to the formal launch of the agenda and more details.

As the 4G team carries out these engagements, one is reminded of the Latin motto written on the walls of the city hall of Gouda in the Netherlands: "Audite et alteram partem" (listen even to the other side). The team has stated clearly its intent to listen to the other side, but even then, it has a steep hill to climb to build a fairer, greener and more inclusive Singapore - a key theme of Mr Wong's maiden Budget, which he delivered in February.

There are a host of near-term challenges to deal with, from rising inflation and keeping the costs of public goods and services down, to coping with the economic and political fallout from the pandemic, the Ukraine crisis and their knock-on effects on business certainty and supply chains.

We live in a world where hope and pessimism coexist. For now, they form the double helix of not just the Singaporean, but also the global, psyche.

Citizenship is not a spectator sport; it is not principally about noticing what is bad, but also building what is good. How will Mr Wong and his team bring everyone on board, and instil in Singaporeans a sense of hope as well as responsibility to make the next chapter more just and inclusive?

Monday's announcement cements the succession question most clearly, and the ball is now in the 4G team's court to win the ground and the next general election which is due by November 2025.

As Mr Wong himself said, every general election from now on will be about which party will form the Government, not just how many seats the opposition wins or what percentage of the votes the ruling party gets. Time to get cracking.


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