PM’s new Cabinet

Heng to helm Finance, MTI to have 2 ministers

Mr Heng Swee Keat, 54, will leave his education portfolio to take over the Finance Ministry.
Mr Heng Swee Keat, 54, will leave his education portfolio to take over the Finance Ministry. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat is leaving his portfolio and returning to his roots in finance.

As part of Cabinet changes, Mr Heng, a former managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), has been named Minister of Finance.

He takes over from Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who - in addition to maintaining his role as Deputy Prime Minister - is now Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies.

Finance professionals who spoke to The Straits Times said Mr Heng, 54, was a natural choice for finance minister. He led the MAS from June 2005 to April 2011 and has been credited with helping steer Singapore through several financial crises. He was also a key player in Singapore's development into an international financial centre.

In his announcement of the new Cabinet line-up yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Mr Heng "will oversee our national finances, allocate resources to implement our agenda, work closely with economic ministries to continue creating opportunities and jobs, make sure that we spend within our means".

To give Mr Heng time to "decide on his priorities" within his new role, PM Lee said the annual Budget - usually unveiled in February - will be announced later than usual next year.

Barclays economist Leong Wai Ho said Mr Heng certainly has his work cut out for him.

"He will have to follow through on the Government's productivity drive and its push to boost innovation, while balancing that with its plans to increase social spending as it unveils MediShield Life and plans to build more healthcare facilities," he said.

DBS chairman Peter Seah said Mr Heng is well-suited to the task. "The financial crisis reinforced how closely interlinked the real economy and financial sector are, and thanks to Swee Keat's leadership, Singapore emerged from it quickly and relatively unscathed."

Over at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), the task of raising productivity while negotiating multilateral trade deals amid an economic downturn will no longer be Mr Lim Hng Kiang's duty alone.

There will now be two Ministers for Trade and Industry - Mr Lim, to focus on trade, and Mr S. Iswaran, who takes charge of industry.

Mr Lee said the move reflects the MTI's expanding responsibilities over the years.

In his redefined role, Mr Lim, 61, will oversee Singapore's trade negotiations, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is in its final stages of talks, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. He will also be in charge of the Economic Development Board, JTC Corporation, the Department of Statistics and the Competition Commission of Singapore.

Mr Iswaran, 53, formerly the Second Minister for Trade and Industry, will relinquish his role as Second Minister for Home Affairs. He will focus on economic restructuring and creating a vibrant domestic economy, Mr Lee said.

He will also oversee MTI's other statutory boards.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said having these two "seasoned hands" at the helm will reassure Singaporean households and businesses amid an uncertain economic outlook.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline Heng to helm Finance, MTI to have 2 ministers. Subscribe