Singapore GE2020: Former trade minister Lim Hng Kiang retires from politics

People's Action Party supporters hoisting PAP candidate for West Coast GRC, Mr Lim Hng Kiang, onto their shoulders at the Jurong Junior College nomination centre on April 27, 2011. Mr Lim's team went on to beat the Reform Party at the polls that year
People's Action Party supporters hoisting PAP candidate for West Coast GRC, Mr Lim Hng Kiang, onto their shoulders at the Jurong Junior College nomination centre on April 27, 2011. Mr Lim's team went on to beat the Reform Party at the polls that year to retain the constituency. PHOTO: ST FILE
Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang signing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership in Santiago, Chile, in March 2018.
Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang signing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership in Santiago, Chile, in March 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Incumbent MP for West Coast GRC saw nation through global financial crisis and Sars

After nearly three decades in politics, former minister of trade and industry Lim Hng Kiang took to social media yesterday to formally confirm his retirement.

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.

A political newcomer, Ms Rachel Ong, 47, chief executive of local enterprise Rohei, will replace him.

"I am confident that Rachel will be a safe person to go to with your concerns and hopes," Mr Lim 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 a 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 group representation constituency's anchor minister, he retained his seat in walkovers in the 2001 and 2006 general elections, and led the People's Action Party (PAP) to victory in the 2015 election, with 78.57 per cent of the vote against the Reform Party (RP) led by its chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam.

It was a stronger showing compared with 2011, when the PAP garnered 66.66 per cent of the vote against the RP's 33.34 per cent.

Mr Lim is among several veteran PAP 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.

Before becoming the Trade and Industry Minister in 2004 - a portfolio he held for 14 years - he 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 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 easygoing 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 after United States President Donald Trump pulled his country out of it.

Mr Lim's years in the Trade 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, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong 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 Scheme.

"This response bolstered confidence, saved jobs and enabled the Singapore economy to recover swiftly," PM Lee wrote.

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

"Amid 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, such as for the World Trade Organisation as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

 
 
 

In May last year, 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2020, with the headline 'Former trade minister Lim Hng Kiang retires from politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe