Cabinet reshuffle: Chan Chun Sing to be sole MTI Minister; will gain economic experience

Mr Chan Chun Sing will relinquish his role as Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.
Mr Chan Chun Sing will relinquish his role as Minister in the Prime Minister's Office. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mr Chan Chun Sing's appointment to lead the Trade and Industry Ministry (MTI) was one that political analysts had widely expected, as it would give him more exposure to economic issues, as a core member of the fourth-generation team.

With the Cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday (April 24), Mr Chan, 48, will relinquish his role as Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

It also means that MTI will come under one minister when the new appointments take effect on May 1. 

MTI is now led by two ministers - Mr Lim Hng Kiang, who oversees trade, and Mr S. Iswaran, who leads industry.

Analysts who spoke to The Straits Times before Tuesday's announcement noted that Mr Chan, one of the three front runners to be Singapore's next prime minister, has not had experience leading an economics-related portfolio.

An appointment at MTI would help round out his experience, they said.

In a statement he posted on Facebook, Mr Chan said he felt "greatly privileged" to join the MTI team. "In a way, the new role at MTI is an extension of the work in NTUC to ensure that our working people can continue to benefit from good jobs and our businesses can have the opportunities to become more competitive," he said.

"I look forward to working even more closely with the business community and labour movement to write the next chapter of our country's economic development."

Mr Lim, who is retiring after 26 years as an office-holder and 14 years as MTI minister, will  stay on at MTI as a special adviser at Mr Chan's request.

He will provide advice on economic strategy and international trade.

Mr Chan said: "His years of leadership experience in trade negotiations and industrial development are invaluable and I am glad that MTI and I will continue to benefit from his counsel."

Mr Iswaran will be Minister for Communications and Information, but will also stay on at MTI to guide Mr Chan, in the newly created role of Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations.

 
 
 
 

Mr Chan said: "I am also happy that Minister Iswaran will help to oversee various trade negotiations at MTI, given his familiarity with the stakeholders and issues involved."

Mr Chan, who entered politics in 2011 as an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, was previously Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, and Minister for Social and Family Development.

He was also Minister of State for Information, Communication and the Arts and Second Minister for Defence.

The secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is expected to relinquish his labour movement position to focus on his new portfolio at MTI.

Mr Chan has built up a reputation as a strong advocate for blue and white-collar workers in his three years at the helm of the labour movement.

Under his charge, NTUC called on the Government to expand the Employment Act to cover workers of all salary levels, and not just those earning up to $4,500 monthly - a recommendation that the Manpower Ministry accepted.

On Monday, it was announced that Mr Ng Chee Meng, now the Education Minister (Schools), has been co-opted into the labour movement as deputy secretary-general of NTUC, and will serve it full time from May 1 - a strong indication that he will take over Mr Chan's role as labour chief.

Mr Chan will also be taking over responsibility for the Public Service Division from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. 

"DPM Teo Chee Hean has led the civil service for many years and established a strong foundation for our civil service," Mr Chan wrote in his statement.

"I will now build on his foundations and work with the many committed civil servants to keep our civil service as a pillar of our country's progress, serving our nation and Singaporeans with integrity, dedication and distinction."