Interview with Desmond Lee: Youngest minister a nature buff with a keen eye

Singapore's youngest Cabinet minister Desmond Lee highlights the importance of conservation and the need to balance between development and protecting our biodiversity.
Minister Desmond Lee, 40, with a photo he took of a crimson dropwing dragonfly at Windsor Nature Park last Thursday.
Minister Desmond Lee, 40, with a photo he took of a crimson dropwing dragonfly at Windsor Nature Park last Thursday.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Dressed in khaki and armed with a pair of binoculars, newly minted Second Minister for National Development and Home Affairs Desmond Lee arrived for an interview last Thursday at Windsor Nature Park looking ready for a bird-watching adventure.

It was an apt look for the youngest minister of Singapore's current Cabinet, a nature buff with a keen eye: During a walk around the park, the 40-year-old spotted and identified two dragonflies - a common scarlet and a crimson dropwing - each barely the length of a human finger.

But the easy demeanour of the father of three children - a seven- year-old daughter and two sons, aged three and five - spoke of more than just his enjoyment of nature.

It also reflected his approach to governance: one that involves walking the ground and speaking to different people, from nature enthusiasts - from whom he learnt how to identify birds - to construction company representatives, policemen and heritage group leaders, who hail from some of the sectors of society he interacts with frequently.

"The Government has no monopoly on knowledge or perspectives. We have to eat humble pie, we have to talk to people and get their perspectives... You want people's views, because it impacts them. And they give us a wealth of local knowledge and ideas," he said.

Mr Lee, whose father is former Cabinet minister Lee Yock Suan, entered politics in 2011 as a backbencher in Jurong GRC.

In 2013, he was made minister of state for national development, before being promoted to senior minister of state in 2015, taking on the additional portfolio of home affairs as well. In his latest promotion on May 1 this year, he became Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and National Development, which made him the youngest full minister in the current Cabinet.

Over the years, he has maintained close ties with conservation groups, most recently joining marine enthusiasts last week in discussions over Sisters' Islands Marine Park, Singapore's one and only marine park located south of the mainland.

Audrey Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2017, with the headline 'Youngest minister a nature buff with a keen eye'. Subscribe