Veteran MPs step down to make way for new blood

Mah Bow Tan, Hawazi Daipi and Irene Ng announce decisions at constituency events

From left: Sembawang GRC anchor minister Khaw Boon Wan, Mr Hawazi Daipi, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob and Mr Hawazi's wife, Madam Essah Hussain, at the Marsiling National Day dinner yesterda
From left: Sembawang GRC anchor minister Khaw Boon Wan, Mr Hawazi Daipi, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob and Mr Hawazi's wife, Madam Essah Hussain, at the Marsiling National Day dinner yesterday.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Three long-serving MPs, including former minister Mah Bow Tan, are retiring to make way for new blood at the next general election.

Announcements that the veterans will not contest came separately at events where they were lauded for their contributions to the country and the constituencies and residents they had served.

The two making way in Tampines GRC are Mr Mah Bow Tan, 66, who has been an MP since 1988, and Ms Irene Ng, 51, an MP since 2001. The other is Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education Hawazi Daipi, 61, an MP for Sembawang GRC.

Mr Mah, who broke the news at his Tampines East ward's National Day dinner, recounted how he had seen Tampines develop from a place of kampungs and sand quarries into a bustling modern town.

"But my most wonderful memory over the last 27 years has been to see so many of you grow up in Tampines. I've seen you (grow) from crying babies to mature, confident young men and women, and I've seen some of you become proud parents, with babies of your own. Or even grandparents, with grandchildren of your own."

While Singapore had grown, he warned of an uncertain future, citing developments in Malaysia, Greece, elsewhere in Europe and the Middle East. At home, there are challenges including an ageing population and a divide between the rich and poor.

Education Minister and GRC anchor minister Heng Swee Keat spoke of Mr Mah's pioneering work there - developing a 3-in-1 kindergarten, student care and eldercare centre, for instance, and putting Tampines town on the global map when it won the United Nations' World Habitat Award in 1992.

Mr Mah, a Colombo Plan Scholar and President's Scholar, handled many demanding portfolios.

As Communications Minister from 1991 to 1999, he oversaw the implementation of the controversial Certificate of Entitlement and Electronic Road Pricing schemes. He was concurrently Environment Minister between 1993 and 1995.

But it is as National Development Minister from 1999 to 2011 that he is most widely known. Housing was a hot-button issue at the 2011 General Election and Mr Mah left the Cabinet after his re-election.

While Mr Mah did not talk about succession, Ms Cheng Li Hui, 38, deputy chief executive of engineering firm Hai Leck Holdings, is thought to have been lined up as his replacement.

Earlier, Ms Ng announced that she would be stepping down. The MP for the GRC's Tampines Changkat ward said she had asked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last year if she could step down.

"It was not an easy decision to make as I have come to be very close to this community, and all of you have become like family," she said at a National Day Family Carnival, adding that it was a "joy and honour" to have served them.

Widely tipped to step in is National Trades Union Congress deputy director Desmond Choo.

Mr Heng, who was with Ms Ng at the carnival, said she had served Tampines with distinction and noted that she pushed passionately to make it the first cycling town here.

"It is a legacy that Irene has built for all of us, and we will build on that and we will make Tampines an even better cycling town," he said.

Last night, Mr Hawazi's stepping down after four terms was announced at a National Day dinner by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who anchors Sembawang GRC.

Mr Hawazi's Marsiling ward will be in the new Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC at the next election. It is widely expected that Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob will move there from Jurong GRC.

Speaking at the dinner, Mr Khaw said: "In Marsiling, I know it's an understatement, we will all miss you. I myself will miss you a lot.

"But we took comfort that a strong team with Minister Lawrence Wong and our Speaker, Madam Halimah, and together with Mr Ong Teng Koon, will continue the very good work started by Mr Hawazi 20 years ago. They will now be supported by Mr Alex Yam on the Yew Tee side of the new GRC."

Madam Halimah and Mr Wong, who is Culture, Community and Youth Minister, were at the dinner.

Mr Khaw paid a heartfelt tribute to his fellow GRC MP, who had mentored him when he moved to Sembawang GRC from Tanjong Pagar GRC. He noted, for instance, that Mr Hawazi had helped mosque leaders add more prayer spaces to the An-Nur Mosque, and started the annual Bazaar Raya Utara.

Mr Hawazi later told him on stage: "Minister, I hope you appreciate that this is not all sacrifices... I derive great satisfaction doing what I've been doing for the past 18 years."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'Veteran MPs step down to make way for new blood'. Subscribe