4G leaders to helm 10 of 16 ministries in major reshuffle

Three veteran ministers to retire; Indranee to be full minister, the third woman in Cabinet

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted a photo of the current members of his Cabinet on Facebook after the reshuffle announcement on April 24, 2018.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted a photo of the current members of his Cabinet on Facebook after the reshuffle announcement on April 24, 2018.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has announced the biggest shake-up of his Cabinet in recent years, involving all ministries but one.

The fourth-generation ministers will come to the fore, with two-thirds of ministries - 10 of the 16 - to be helmed by them.

This is up from eight previously.

Three veterans with a collective experience of 66 years on the front bench will retire from the Cabinet: Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang, 64; Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say, 63; and Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, 62.

Their successors are, respectively, labour chief Chan Chun Sing, 48; Second Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, 49; and Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, 55.

The change of guard at these ministries, which takes effect next Tuesday, underscores what PM Lee described as a leadership transition that is "well under way".

He noted in a Facebook post yesterday that this year's reshuffle - the third since the 2015 General Election - is more extensive than usual.

Giving some insight into his thinking behind the changes, he said he decided to stretch the younger leaders, giving many of them two ministries and additional responsibilities. "The younger ministers will progressively take over more responsibility for governing Singapore."

Among them are Ms Indranee Rajah, 55, the only one to be promoted to full minister. The Senior Minister of State will be appointed Minister in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and be Second Minister for Finance and Education.

This means there will be three women in the Cabinet, along with Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu, 54, and Mrs Teo.

Meanwhile, Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, 48, gets an expanded role at the ministry, taking charge of the entire swathe of education policies. He relinquishes his role as Second Defence Minister.

Fellow Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng, 49, will be appointed Minister in the PMO, following an announcement on Monday that he will move to the labour movement, where he is expected to eventually take over as the National Trades Union Congress' secretary-general.

Overall, the new Cabinet will be a somewhat more youthful one. Its average age will be 55, down from 56 currently. It will also be slightly trimmer, with 19 members, down from 21.

The last major Cabinet change was after the May 2011 General Election, in which the People's Action Party received its lowest vote share since independence. In what PM Lee then called a "radical change" so as to have a fresh start, 11 of 14 ministries saw new leaders in charge.

This time, the focus is squarely on leadership succession.

PM Lee previously said there must be a new team ready to take over from him "soon after the end of this term", which ends in January 2021. The next general election must be called by April that year.

In line with that, key 4G leaders are being given additional duties.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, 57, will set the national agenda for research and development, taking over from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, 63. Mr Chan will oversee the public service, another of DPM Teo's responsibilities.

The new Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs will be Mr Masagos Zulkifli, 55, while Dr Janil Puthucheary, 45, will assume responsibility for cyber-security matters. Dr Yaacob, who currently oversees both tasks, will relinquish them when he retires from the Cabinet.

Four backbenchers are also being brought in to government roles.

Mr Edwin Tong will be Senior Minister of State for Law and Health from July 1, and Mr Zaqy Mohamad will be Minister of State for National Development and Manpower. There will be two new Senior Parliamentary Secretaries: Ms Sun Xueling and Dr Tan Wu Meng.

Yesterday's reshuffle came amid the looming question of who will be Singapore's next prime minister. Mr Heng, Mr Ong and Mr Chan are viewed as the three front runners.

Observers were mixed in their assessment, as they read the tea leaves. Some suggested that Mr Chan appears to have pulled ahead of the pack, given that he is now given a new role at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, rounding out his exposure to different portfolios.

But others said it is too early to tell. Said Nominated MP Ganesh Rajaram: "Next year or so, people will be looking to see how the three fare in these roles. And then we can see who might be the front runner."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2018, with the headline '4G leaders to helm 10 of 16 ministries in major reshuffle'. Print Edition | Subscribe