PM Lee: Cabinet changes among my most difficult responsibilities as PM

(From left) Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with retired ministers former Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, former Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim and former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say.
(From left) Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with retired ministers former Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, former Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim and former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
This latest reshuffle was "particularly difficult" for PM Lee on an emotional level because of the retirement of the three ministers.
This latest reshuffle was "particularly difficult" for PM Lee on an emotional level because of the retirement of the three ministers. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Revealing his thinking on political renewal and Cabinet reshuffles on Wednesday night (May 30), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said they involve striking a fine balance.

On the one hand, the Government has to avoid abrupt discontinuities. On the other, it cannot risk drifting out of touch by keeping the status quo for too long.

Speaking at an appreciation dinner for three ministers who retired as part of a Cabinet reshuffle last month, he added that Cabinet changes were one of his "most difficult - but important - responsibilities as Prime Minister".

The retired ministers are former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, 63, former Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, 62, and former Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, 64.

"I take stock every year - whom to bring in to political office, whom to promote, and who should move on," Mr Lee, 66, said.

"A single round of Cabinet changes is often incremental. But over time, these regular adjustments add up, and substantially alter the shape and composition of the Cabinet."

This latest reshuffle, which also saw more of the fourth-generation ministers taking up leadership roles, was "particularly difficult" for him on an emotional level because of the retirement of the three ministers, Mr Lee said.

"I have known them and worked with them over many years - nearly 20 years for Yaacob, and 40 plus years in the cases of Hng Kiang and Swee Say," he said.

"In terms of ministerial experience, we are losing 70 years of solid, battle-tested experience."

Mr Lee paid tribute to each minister in turn.

As Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, Dr Yaacob played a key role in maintaining racial and religious harmony in Singapore with his "principled and sensitive approach", he said.

Dr Yaacob, who also spoke at the dinner, thanked various groups of people he had met throughout his career, including civil servants and Cabinet colleagues.

 
 
 
 

He made special mention of fellow Malay MPs, who worked with him to "bring the Malay community forward", as well as his Jalan Besar GRC teammates.

On Mr Lim Swee Say, Mr Lee highlighted how he played a crucial role in strengthening the relationship between the Government, employers and workers, especially during the financial crisis of 2008.

In his remarks, Mr Lim Swee Say reflected on his career, saying he was grateful to have been able to spend the first 20 years of his working life contributing to Singapore's economic competitiveness, and the next 22 - in politics - working for the people.

"Now I'm very happy to contribute to the third pillar of Singapore's success (which is political renewal), by being replaced by fourth-generation ministers."

Mr Lim Hng Kiang was described by Mr Lee as a "steady, absolutely reliable hand overseeing our economy" who revitalised the manufacturing sector, strengthened small and medium enterprises and sealed free trade deals for Singapore.

When it was his turn to speak, Mr Lim Hng Kiang confined his remarks to economic issues, urging his successors in the room to remember that when it comes to the economy, "size counts".

"We should grow the economy gradually in keeping with our potential. There are those who think we ought to slow down - this would be a big mistake," he said.

While the three still have much to contribute, they "graciously agreed to retire, so that younger Ministers can take over their responsibilities, and we can make progress on leadership renewal", Mr Lee said.

He noted that most of the third-generation ministers, including himself, are already into their sixties. "We are still largely in good health, touch wood. We can carry on for one more term, at most two."

But they must renew the team while they are still vigorous and on top of their game, he said.

"Our duty is not only to look after the country well during our time in office," he said.

"It is also to ensure that the country, and its future, stay in good hands after we leave office."

The reshuffle prepares a new generation that will build on the work of their predecessors, he added.

"Their success will be our success too. This is stewardship."