Charissa Yong

Fourth generation political leadership taking shape

Yesterday's round of Cabinet promotions has essentially confirmed the outline of Singapore's fourth generation of political leaders.

Acting ministers Tan Chuan- Jin (Manpower) and Lawrence Wong (Culture, Community and Youth) will be full ministers from tomorrow, just shy of three years since they were first elected to Parliament.

They join Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, who made the grade earlier.

That makes four full ministers from the batch of 24 new faces Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong inducted in 2011.

That is not a bad haul, compared to previous batches.

Take the 2001 cohort, for example. It was touted to include a constellation of stars known as the "Super Seven", all of whom were appointed to political office after being elected that year.

Today, four of the Super Seven remain on the frontbench. They are: Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

Their peers include former transport minister Raymond Lim, who stepped down from the frontbench after the 2011 polls, Mr Cedric Foo, who left political office for the private sector in 2005, and former senior minister of state Balaji Sadasivan, who died in 2010.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong was also from the 2001 batch, but joined the Cabinet later than the other seven.

As for the 2006 cohort, it yielded three Cabinet ministers - Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew and Ministers in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu and S. Iswaran.

Rounding out the 2011 batch of high fliers is Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information Sim Ann, the youngest at age 39.

The firming up of the fourth-generation line-up confirms what Mr Lee told regional media editors at a dialogue last month.

He said attention was being paid to succession planning and making sure there was a new team ready, with new leaders capable of taking charge.

With the Prime Minister's vote of confidence, it seems clear that the 2011 quartet is set to go far, and that leadership renewal continues in typical Singapore fashion, that is, slowly but steadily.

In any case, mid-term Cabinet changes tend to be incremental, and yesterday's was no exception.

It lacked any major portfolio swops, which is perhaps unsurprising given the "epochal" Cabinet shake-up of May 2011 when new ministers were put at the helm of 11 of the 14 ministries.

That radical reshuffle after a watershed general election also saw Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan and Mr Lim retire from office. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong also stepped down to give the new team a fresh start.

This time, instead of seismic shifts, Mr Lee has opted for gradual change and targeted appointments to make sure major policy innovations in health and the social sectors, especially for the elderly, are delivered well.

For this, he has redistributed the work among Cabinet members and brought two more ministers of state on board.

Dr Lam Pin Min has been roped in to help with the Health Ministry, which has the Pioneer Generation Package and the upcoming MediShield Life to carry through.

He has also given newly appointed Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Sam Tan the task of helping to coordinate social policies across ministries and implement them.

The appointments make clear the priority being accorded to social policies as Singapore embarks on what Mr Lee has called a new way forward, promising more government and community support for individuals, especially those who are vulnerable.

As with the infusion of young blood into Singapore's highest echelons, that, too, offers a glimpse of the shape of things to come.