New Cabinet: Six members of 4G leadership to take on new ministerial portfolios

These 4G leaders will take on new portfolios: (clockwise from top left) DPM Heng Swee Keat, Mr Lawrence Wong, Mr Desmond Lee, Mr Ong Ye Kung, Ms Grace Fu and Mr Masagos Zulkifli. PHOTOS: DESMOND FOO, STEPHANIE YEOW, ST FILE, MCI

SINGAPORE - Six key members of the 4th-generation leadership team will take on new portfolios as the Government seeks to expose younger office-holders to new ministries and widen their experience, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

PM Lee, announcing the new Cabinet line-up on Saturday (July 25), said Mr Lawrence Wong, 47, will be the new Education Minister.

Taking Mr Wong's place as National Development Minister is Mr Desmond Lee, 44, who will give up his role as Minister for Social and Family Development.

Mr Ong Ye Kung, 50, will relinquish the Education portfolio to become Transport Minister, a role previously held by Mr Khaw Boon Wan, who has retired.

Ms Grace Fu, 56, will helm the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment - or what used to be the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR). The ministry's new name will better reflect its future role in safeguarding sustainability as part of the national agenda, said PM Lee, 68.

Mr Masagos Zulkifli, 57, will leave MEWR to helm the Ministry of Social and Family Development. He will also take up the post of Second Minister for Health and continue to be Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

Explaining his thinking behind the rotation of the 4G ministers in Cabinet in response to a question from the media, PM Lee said providing continuity, giving ministers exposure and renewal are three factors behind the Cabinet reshuffle.

The grave situation posed by Covid-19 puts a premium on experience and a sure touch, said PM Lee, who was speaking from the Istana at a press conference livestreamed on Facebook on Saturday.

This is why most Cabinet ministers are experienced, with at least one term of government as political office-holders. It is also why most of the older ministers are staying on, he added. At the same time, the younger ministers are being rotated to gain exposure and experience, said PM Lee.

"We regularly do this during Cabinet shuffles, and the intent is to expose the office-holders to different portfolios to gain both breadth and depth, to understand the intricacies of the issues, and to see things from different perspectives."

PM Lee added that most of the younger ministers came in one or two terms ago, and as such, their exposure in government is not as comprehensive nor as long, compared with the experience of 3G ministers such as Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

"Therefore, it's valuable for them to have to be put in different and contrasting places in order to understand issues from different perspectives, and therefore, be able to come to a considered judgment collectively on what should be the national perspective to take when you make decisions in Cabinet, and not just be speaking on behalf of the seat which you're sitting upon at that time," he said.

"Because tomorrow, you may be in a different seat and you must make up your mind what is the best thing to do for Singapore," he added.

PM Lee said the experience from helming, for instance, a ministry tasked with filling the coffers as well as ministries whose job is to spend public money, will help office-holders gain both breadth and depth to understand the intricacies of issues facing the country.

It will also help ministers see things from different perspectives, and ultimately be able to see things from a national vantage point, he added.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will take on an additional role as Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.

PM Lee said Mr Heng has been doing the job since the last term of government, chairing both the Future Economy Council and National Research Foundation, so the new title "just formalises existing arrangements".

Mr Heng, 59, will continue to oversee the Strategy Group within the Prime Minister's Office, which coordinates national policies and plans across the Government, PM Lee added.

At the Cabinet reshuffle that followed GE2011, 11 out of 14 ministries got a new minister, while this time, there are six new ministers out of 15 ministries.

Several 4G office-holders took to Facebook on Saturday evening to reflect on their experiences in the different ministries.

Mr Ong said he is leaving the Ministry of Education with a heavy heart, after an exciting journey there working on reducing the exam load, revamping PSLE scoring, phasing out streaming, enhancing Character and Citizenship Education and digital literacy, uplifting students from vulnerable backgrounds, and strengthening mother tongue teaching, among other things.

Mr Masagos said he looked back on the five years he spent at MEWR with a great sense of pride, having made "many difficult but necessary choices", such as imposing a carbon tax and phasing out pollutive vehicles. "Every decision underwent careful deliberation of trade-offs, as we remained steadfast in safeguarding the interests and welfare of Singapore and Singaporeans," he said.

Mr Heng's post said the Government's top priority remains keeping workers in jobs and helping them build new skills.

As Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, Mr Heng said he will bring together all the economic agencies, to focus on employment and the transformation of industries.

"With these rotations, promotions and new faces, we have a balanced slate. We will work hard to tackle the many challenges ahead, to build a better future for all," he said.

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