BEIJING - Incoming Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will carry greater political responsibilities as Singapore's No. 2, and that would involve setting the agenda, setting out the Government's position and policies to the people and building his team.
These are his key tasks, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at an interview with Singapore reporters in Beijing on Monday (April 29), when asked if Mr Heng would take on more leading roles, including in the General Election that has to be held by April 2021.
Mr Heng, the finance minister, will be Singapore's sole DPM from May 1.
He told reporters on Sunday that as DPM, he would assist PM Lee in reviewing longer-term policies on issues such as the ageing population and economic restructuring.
PM Lee told the reporters that Mr Heng had "understated" his responsibilities.
"He is taking on as DPM. He is not just a minister, but also carrying more of the political responsibilities. And that means setting the agenda, pitching the Government's stance and policies to the public, building the younger team, and being ready in all respects to take over from me and my older ministers as soon as possible."
The Prime Minister's Office had announced the widely anticipated reshuffle of the Cabinet last Tuesday (April 23), that saw Mr Heng promoted to DPM.
Both current DPMs Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam will then become Senior Ministers.
During the wrap-up interview of his working visit to China, PM Lee said it was a "natural follow-up" for Mr Heng to be the DPM as he had already been appointed first assistant secretary-general of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) at its party conference last November.
He was picked by the 4G leaders to lead them, and these younger ministers have also endorsed his choice of deputy, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, said the PM.
It is a "strong position" to be in, he added.
Observers have noted that by appointing Mr Heng as the sole DPM, the Government was sending a clear signal he is the heir apparent.
Asked why there was only one DPM when the prime minister typically has two deputies, PM Lee said across Singapore's history there were times when the country had either one or two DPMs.
Singapore used to have one DPM until 1980, when Dr Goh Keng Swee was the deputy of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Mr S. Rajaratnam was appointed second DPM in June that year, alongside Dr Goh.
Since then, there have been two DPMs in Cabinet apart from a two-year stretch from September 1993, when former DPM Ong Teng Cheong became president.
PM Lee also said on Monday (Apr 29) that having one Deputy PM was a natural progression from recent changes to the party leadership.
“Sometimes we have had two, sometimes we have had one. Most of the time, we have had two,” he said.
“Right now, we have one. So it is a natural progression from the party leadership adjustments last year, but it is not the final position and we will make further adjustments as we go along.”
But that would not happen this year, which means there would be no second deputy prime minister before the year end.
"I usually make Cabinet adjustments or reshuffles every year so I don't think I will change it again by the end of this year," he said.
But he hopes the leadership transition will be settled before the next General Election, reiterating his intention to hand over his post to his successor by the time he turns 70 in 2022.
"Within the next term, by the time I'm 70, I hope to have handed over to my successor. I'm working to that timeline," he said.