SINGAPORE - Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, 67, will retire from politics and not contest the upcoming general election, ending a near two-decade-long political career.
Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, entered politics in 2001, and is well known for having tackled thorny issues across various ministries.
In a valedictory letter to Mr Khaw, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the veteran politician has helped Singapore overcome challenges spanning healthcare, housing and transport.
“In your quiet, unassuming way, you have made huge and lasting contribution, and strengthened Singaporeans’ faith that this Government can and will solve their problems and improve their lives,” wrote PM Lee.
As Senior Minister of State for Health during the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003, Mr Khaw was on the front line checking on arrangements and encouraging hospital staff, he said.
He also instituted new processes that were applied when Covid-19 struck this year, said PM Lee.
In 2010, Mr Khaw had a heart bypass when he was Health Minister. He paid $8 out-of-pocket for the surgery, thanks to MediShield and Medisave, and used the incident to highlight the importance of health insurance, and how government policies kept healthcare costs low for Singaporeans.
After the 2011 General Election, Mr Khaw helmed the National Development Ministry. Housing affordability was a hot-button issue that year.
Mr Khaw “ramped up the HDB building programme”, bringing down waiting times and enabling young Singaporeans to own their first homes earlier through various policies, said PM Lee.
One of the biggest challenges Mr Khaw took on was to improve the MRT system, said PM Lee.
In 2015, when he was appointed Transport Minister, Singapore’s MRT trains travelled an average of 133,000km between delays of more than five minutes - known as mean km between failure (MKBF).
Mr Khaw set a target of one million MKBF, and many thought this was “unrealistic”, but this target has since been surpassed, said PM Lee. In the first quarter of this year, the MRT system hit 1.4 million MKBF.
“This dramatic achievement is the product of a huge amount of hard work, your encouragement for the regulator and rail operators to work together as one team, your strengthening of rail engineering capabilities, and your emphasis on the crucial but often unnoticed work of continuous system maintenance and timely asset renewal,” said PM Lee.
The Prime Minister called Mr Khaw, who has been in his Cabinet since he became PM in 2004, “one of my most reliable lieutenants” and thanked him for his personal advice and friendship.
He pointed out that Mr Khaw had also made crucial contributions to the People’s Action Party. After the party’s “disappointing results” in the 2011 General Election, Mr Khaw led introspective efforts to identify where it had fallen short, and “set the party on a fresh course”.
“This contributed much to our decisive win in the 2015 GE,” said PM Lee.
“For the younger ministers, you have been a role model and a source of sage advice. They look to you to learn not only how to solve difficult problems, but also your seemingly effortless way of explaining nettlesome issues to Singaporeans.”
In a Facebook post on Friday (June 26), Mr Khaw thanked his constituents, civil servants, colleagues in Parliament and the Cabinet.
“After 42 years of public service. It is a week of high emotion for me. Gratitude fills me to the brim!” said Mr Khaw.
The former Colombo plan scholar had been in public service since he graduated, and at one point served as principal private secretary to Mr Goh Chok Tong when he was prime minister.
Mr Khaw also worked as Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry before entering politics in 2001.
“Throughout this journey, my wife stands with me, as my strongest anchor. Our children and grandchildren remind me of the joys of family life, and the larger purpose of nation building: it is to secure future generations of Singaporeans an even better life,” wrote Mr Khaw.
Mr Khaw was an MP in Sembawang GRC before Parliament was dissolved on Tuesday.
He is expected to be replaced by PAP newcomer Ms Poh Li San, Changi Airport Group’s vice-president for Terminal 5 Planning, as the candidate contesting the Sembawang ward.
She was officially introduced by the party on June 25.
“Ten years after my heart bypass, it’s time to say farewell and disembark at the next station, confident that the next crew will take Singapore to newer heights,” said Mr Khaw.