Fresh perspective expected from new team at MTI

Mr Chan Chun Sing (left) will take over the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), and Mr Chee Hong Tat has been appointed Senior Minister of State at MTI.
Mr Chan Chun Sing (left) will take over the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), and Mr Chee Hong Tat has been appointed Senior Minister of State at MTI.PHOTOS: JONATHAN CHOO, LIANHE ZAOBAO

Business leaders also see policies remaining pro-business, pro-transformation with several senior ministers staying on

Amid challenges such as a looming international trade war and technological disruption, the business community said it expects a fresh perspective from a new generation of leaders taking over at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI).

With trade and industry czar Lim Hng Kiang retiring after 14 years at the helm, and Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran taking on a smaller role in future, MTI is among the ministries which will see the biggest changes in its leadership team after the Cabinet reshuffle announced on Tuesday.

Mr Chan Chun Sing, 48, will take over from Mr Lim, while Mr Chee Hong Tat, 45, has been appointed Senior Minister of State at MTI.

Company executive and Nominated MP Azmoon Ahmad said of Mr Chan: "Since he is younger, I hope to see new ideas from him. I hope he can inject more dynamism into the ministry.

"It's especially important that he stay up to date on technological disruption and how it affects businesses and the economy."

Mr Lim, 64, will be senior adviser at MTI after leaving the Cabinet, while Mr Iswaran, 55, who will be Communications and Information Minister, will stay on at MTI as Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations.

VIVIAN ON THE LEADERSHIP SELECTION PROCESS

I think for the first question, should we have more diversity, the answer is we keep trying to expand the available pool. But the next opportunity to do that is the next election. And we will continue to try to look for candidates beyond the usual fishing ponds. But we are talking about imminent succession because PM (Lee Hsien Loong) has said he wants to (hand over the reins) soon after the next election. Which means unless you want to start with a completely zero-experience prime minister - otherwise it stands to reason that the next prime minister has to emerge from the Cabinet of today.

Then the next question should be what is the process by which that leader emerges? My point is that it's exactly the same process in which the last two transitions occurred, which is basically, the decision is made consensually by the peer group. The reason it is done this way is that you want whoever emerges to have the undivided support of the team. Therefore, it has to be a consensual, peer process. We think it has worked well in the last two transitions, and we think we should do the same.

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, on the process of selecting the next prime minister. He was asked about diversity in Singapore's leadership during an interview on Asean with Reuters news agency on Tuesday, before the Cabinet reshuffle took place.

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With the two older ministers advising and assisting Mr Chan, business leaders expect policy continuity.

Former MP Inderjit Singh, head of an electronics firm, said: "I think it is a good idea for Mr Iswaran to remain involved at MTI as Mr Chan does not have any industry or business experience. This should also reflect some continuity which will bring greater confidence to the private sector."

Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chairman Teo Siong Seng said the new team will benefit from the solid foundation laid by Mr Lim. "He leaves behind a very capable team to assist the new minister," he said.

While Mr Chan's past portfolios were social-and defence-related, business leaders said he has built rapport with the local business community as labour chief for three years. For example, he has engaged business leaders on employee training and workers' rights issues, and been deeply involved in the Singapore-Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, leading business missions to China.

"He doesn't have the full suite of economic experience like Mr Lim or Mr Iswaran, but he is very engaging, enthusiastic to know more and always ready to come forward to meet our businesses," said SBF chief executive Ho Meng Kit, recounting how Mr Chan readily agreed to talk to businesses at a function shortly after being made labour chief.

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee, meanwhile, said Mr Chee is familiar with the ministry, having previously served as second permanent secretary there. The other Senior Minister of State, Dr Koh Poh Koon, 46, has been at MTI since 2016.

"So we are not dealing with unknown quantities here - they are familiar with business issues."

With 4G leaders set to helm two in three ministries, SBF's Mr Teo called it a Cabinet reshuffle for the future, adding: "But with several senior ministers staying on, I am sure policies will remain pro-business and pro-transformation."

Agreeing, Mr Wee said he is confident in the 4G ministers' ability to take on bigger responsibilities, as they have proven capable thus far.

"The 4G (leaders) have been gradually moving to the forefront since the last election. Mr Heng Swee Keat, for example, has handled three Budgets. This reshuffle rotated some of them to different ministries so that they have broader skillsets," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2018, with the headline 'Fresh perspective expected from new team at MTI'. Print Edition | Subscribe