Former Trade and Industry Minister and West Coast MP Lim Hng Kiang retires from politics

Mr Lim Hng Kiang entered politics in the 1991 General Election, contesting Tanjong Pagar GRC. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Perhaps it is a sign of the coronavirus times.

Former Minister of Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang took to social media on Tuesday (June 30) to confirm that he is retiring from politics, after nearly 30 years.

In a Facebook video address to his residents, the long-time MP for West Coast GRC told the residents of his Telok Blangah ward that his desire is for a seamless transition that will "steward Telok Blangah to even greater heights".

"We have done so much together," said 66-year-old Mr Lim, adding that he had especially enjoyed watching the growth and progress of their children and grandchildren.

Replacing him is a political newcomer, Ms Rachel Ong, 47, chief executive of local enterprise Rohei.

"I am confident that Rachel will be a safe person to go to with your concerns and hopes," he said. "She brings competence, passion and empathy in whatever she undertakes."

Mr Lim entered politics in the 1991 General Election, contesting Tanjong Pagar GRC, which was then helmed by founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. He was appointed Minister of State for National Development that same year.

In 1997, he was fielded in West Coast GRC and has since remained there.

As the GRC's anchor minister, he retained his seat in walkovers in the 2001 and 2006 general elections, and led the PAP to victory in the 2015 General Election with 78.57 per cent of the vote, against the Reform Party led by its chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam.

It was a stronger showing compared with 2011, when the PAP garnered 66.6 per cent of the vote against the RP's 33.43 per cent.

Mr Lim is among several veteran People's Action Party MPs who are retiring from politics.They include Emeritus Senior Minister and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, former Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, former Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say.

Saw the country through global financial crisis and Sars

Before becoming the Trade and Industry Minister in 2004 - a portfolio he held for 14 years - Mr Lim rose through the ranks in several ministries.

He was the Acting Minister for National Development in 1994 before being made a full minister a year later.

He took on the health portfolio in 1999, which saw him tackling the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003, which infected 238 people and claimed 33 lives in Singapore.

Tough measures he put in place included the shutting of schools and a strict quarantine regime during the four-month fight to contain the virus.

He then had a stint as Minister in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in 2003.

As chief of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), he worked hard to build trade relationships and negotiated an extensive network of free trade agreements for Singapore.

Known for being unflappable in his approach to thorny economic issues, civil servants who have worked with him say he is an easy-going person to work for.

He most recently represented Singapore in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact signed in 2016, which became the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for TPP (CPTPP) after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of it.

His years in the ministry coincided with a period of rapid growth for Singapore, as it built up key industry clusters in the manufacturing sector, including petrochemicals, semiconductors and life sciences.

He also saw the country through the 2009 global financial crisis that led to a recession.

In a valedictory letter to Mr Lim when he retired from MTI two years ago, PM Lee wrote that when the financial crisis hit, "your calmness and experience were pillars of strength".

"You systematically reviewed the options, and worked out a bold and effective package of measures, including notably the Special Risk-Sharing Initiative and Jobs Credit schemes. This response bolstered confidence, saved jobs, and enabled the Singapore economy to recover swiftly," Mr Lee wrote.

He also praised Mr Lim's handling of the Sars crisis of 2003 as Health Minister.

"Amidst general fear and alarm, you assessed the situation and made sound decisions. After the crisis passed, the World Health Organisation praised Singapore's response to the outbreak."

Since leaving MTI in 2018, Mr Lim has continued to advise the ministry on Singapore's participation and engagement in multilateral trade fora like the World Trade Organisation, as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

In May 2019, he was reappointed a member and deputy chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore's board of directors. He is also a board director of sovereign wealth fund GIC.

Awarded the President's Scholarship and Singapore Armed Forces Scholarship to read Engineering at Cambridge University, he graduated with First Class Honours (Distinction) in 1976, and later, pursued a Masters in Public Administration at the Kennedy School in Harvard University.

The father of two grown-up sons, he was married to Madam Lee Ai Boon, who died from cancer in April 2014.

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