First priority is to listen and learn: Desmond Lee

Mr Desmond Lee at the launch of a trail on St John's Island last Saturday. On his continuing role in MND, he said he will strengthen community dialogues "so that our City in a Garden takes on an even deeper shade of green".
Mr Desmond Lee at the launch of a trail on St John's Island last Saturday. On his continuing role in MND, he said he will strengthen community dialogues "so that our City in a Garden takes on an even deeper shade of green".ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

At age 41, Mr Desmond Lee is the youngest member of the Singapore Cabinet.

Next Monday, he will helm the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), in addition to his portfolio as Second Minister for National Development.

In 2011, he made a quiet entry into politics, mostly known as the son of former Cabinet minister Lee Yock Suan. But the younger Mr Lee has carved a niche for himself over the past six years.

At the Ministry of National Development (MND), he plays a key role in balancing Singapore's competing needs of development and conservation. One of his traits is to go down to the ground to solicit views and gain support across the board, said those who have interacted with him.

He holds regular dialogues, whether with wildlife experts, from whom he learnt how to identify birds, or construction company bosses, whom he would nudge to get on board the Government's industry transformation plan and invest in technology.

It is an approach he is expected to bring to MSF, which is facing its own balancing act between meeting the growing needs of an ageing population and increasing demands from other segments of society.

Senior lecturer N. Sivasothi of the National University of Singapore's department of biological sciences said: "Desmond brought to the fore a ground-up approach, pulling members of the different communities in to discuss specific issues, which helps to reach out to a wider community. It is a trait he can bring into the social sector."

Mr Lee indicated as much in a reply to The Straits Times yesterday.

"My first priority at MSF is to listen and learn. I hope to meet our front-line social workers and community partners to hear from them," he said. "This is because MSF's role is to bring stakeholders and the community together, to meet not only the needs and aspirations of today, but also anticipate and start preparing for the needs and aspirations of tomorrow."

His work in MND will continue. Besides the construction sector, he will strengthen community dialogues "so that our City in a Garden takes on an even deeper shade of green", he said. Earlier this year, he told ST that the Government was looking at how the process of conducting environmental impact assessments can be strengthened.

Mr Stephen Beng, head of the Nature Society's (Singapore) marine conservation group, congratulated Mr Lee, saying he was glad to know that he will retain his MND portfolio. "We embrace good leaders in governance, and we are glad that he will continue in the MND to follow through on the processes and community networks he has initiated."

Mr Lee, in a Facebook post on his new appointment, said MSF has had to deal with complex challenges in the past few years, such as helping children from low-income families level up through KidStart, enabling people with disabilities and special needs to live with dignity, and promoting the early childhood sector and supporting the teachers. "There is much I need to learn," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2017, with the headline 'First priority is to listen and learn: Desmond Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe