Cabinet reshuffle: Heng Swee Keat looks forward to strengthening partnerships

He vows to do his best to fulfil duties, together with colleagues

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will become Deputy Prime Minister from May 1, 2019. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's packed schedule is set to get busier, once he becomes Deputy Prime Minister next Wednesday.

This month, he was in Chiang Rai, Thailand, for the Asean Finance Ministers' Meeting on April 4 and 5, and in Putrajaya for the Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat on April 9. From April 10 to 20, he was in Washington for the Group of 20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting and the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and in the San Francisco Bay Area for two tech forums, among other events.

In between, he had community engagements lined up.

For Mr Heng, these meetings are about strengthening partnerships - which he indicated will remain a key focus in his new post.

Shortly after his promotion was announced yesterday, he reiterated the importance of such cooperation in a Facebook post.

Mr Heng said he was honoured by the trust Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong placed in him, and vowed to do his best, together with his colleagues, to fulfil their responsibility to Singapore and Singaporeans.

"We look forward to partnering with all Singaporeans for Singapore, and to strengthening our relations with our partners in Asean and around the world," he said.

Partnership - including engaging with views from the public - has been a key theme for him since he helmed a national conversation as education minister from 2011, before moving to the Finance Ministry in 2015. He will remain Finance Minister.

"We have a strong and united team in place - not only in the Cabinet but as a whole Singapore society," Mr Heng said on Facebook.

"In my time in public service, I have gained and learnt much from partners from all parts of industry and society. I am also constantly inspired and encouraged by my residents in Tampines and, of course, by Singaporeans here and abroad."

He added that he was glad both Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam will stay on as Senior Ministers to share their wisdom.

Mr Heng had been tipped as the next deputy prime minister since he was picked by his peers as the first assistant secretary-general of the People's Action Party (PAP) last November. Both PM Lee and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong were deputy PMs before they held the top post.

Mr Heng won a Singapore Police Force scholarship in 1980 to study economics at England's Cambridge University. He was a police officer on his return, before moving to the Administrative Service in 1995.

Between 1997 and 2000, he was principal private secretary to then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who called him "the best principal private secretary I ever had".

Mr Heng joined politics in 2011, contesting in Tampines GRC during an election which the PAP won with its lowest vote share since independence. Shortly after, he was made education minister, where he worked to downplay the focus on grades and emphasise intangibles like character building.

In 2015, he succeeded Mr Tharman as Finance Minister. In May 2016, Mr Heng suffered a stroke at a Cabinet meeting, but his doctors later gave him a clean bill of health. Last year, he told reporters he would not have assumed leadership of the PAP's fourth-generation team if he was not confident of his health.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit said Singapore is well known abroad, and Mr Heng has to be more prominent as its next face. "Mr Heng, as the incoming PM, will need to make an impact internationally," he said. He noted Mr Heng has met many business leaders in China and the US.

Political analyst Mustafa Izzuddin said of Mr Heng: "He can show the style of leadership we can expect when he becomes prime minister, and he'll carve his own imprint in time to come," he said.

  • Additional reporting by Rachel Au-Yong

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2019, with the headline Heng Swee Keat looks forward to strengthening partnerships. Subscribe