PM Lee Hsien Loong's crisis Cabinet a mix of continuity and change

Senior leaders stay on; 6 ministries to have new leaders; 7 new MPs appointed to office

PM Lee reiterated his pledge to see the country through the crisis at the Cabinet announcement on July 25, 2020.
PM Lee reiterated his pledge to see the country through the crisis at the Cabinet announcement on July 25, 2020.PHOTO: MCI

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced his new Cabinet yesterday, which sought to strike a balance between continuity provided by his senior colleagues, exposure for younger ministers and leadership renewal, as Singapore navigates its worst crisis since independence.

The new line-up will see six of the 15 ministries having a change in minister. Seven of the PAP's new faces have also been appointed political office-holders, with the oldest among them - Dr Tan See Leng, 55 - made a full minister.

Most older ministers - including Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam - will stay on to provide continuity amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's role overseeing the nation's economy has been cemented. Apart from continuing as Finance Minister, he will take on an additional role as Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.

This formalises the role Mr Heng was playing in the last term, said PM Lee. Mr Heng chairs the Future Economy Council as well as the National Research Foundation.

Noting that having experienced leaders at the helm was especially important to tackle the ongoing crisis, PM Lee said at a virtual press conference held at the Istana: "We need experienced ministers to provide steady hands, and also to mentor the younger ministers.

"And in this crisis, this need is even greater. We are in the thick of a grave crisis, dealing with a fast moving uncertain situation... And this puts a premium on experience and a sure touch."

That was why most ministers of this Cabinet had the experience of serving at least one term as political office-holders, he added.

The reshuffle also exposes younger ministers to different portfolios and brings in fresh faces as part of the renewal process.

In total, the new Cabinet will have 37 office-holders - the same number as in the previous one.

Said PM Lee: "It is a team with experience and depth, with senior members tempered by the challenges that they have gone through together, reinforced with younger members who will bring different perspectives to bear, and fresh ideas and energy to take us forward."

Mr Lawrence Wong will helm the Education Ministry, while Mr Desmond Lee will move from the Ministry for Social and Family Development to succeed him at the National Development Ministry.

Mr Ong Ye Kung will move from the Education Ministry to head the Transport Ministry, which was formerly helmed by Mr Khaw Boon Wan, who has retired from politics.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources has been renamed as the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, to better reflect its future role as sustainability has become an increasingly important part of the national agenda. It will be headed by Ms Grace Fu.

Mr Masagos Zulkifli will leave that ministry and move to head the Ministry of Social and Family Development. He will remain the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

 
 
 
 

Two senior ministers of state have been promoted. Mr Edwin Tong succeeds Ms Fu as Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, while Dr Maliki Osman is Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

PM Lee, 68, reiterated his pledge to see the country through the crisis. He had previously stated his hope to retire from politics by his 70th birthday, which is in 2022.

"But I do not determine the path of the Covid-19 pandemic, and a lot will depend on how events unfold," he said. "And all I can say is, I will see this through, and I'll hand over in good shape as soon as possible to the next team, and into good hands."

The Cabinet and other office-holders will be formally sworn in tomorrow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2020, with the headline 'PM's crisis Cabinet a mix of continuity and change'. Subscribe