PM Lee Hsien Loong names Cabinet aimed at leadership succession

Coordinating ministers will help tackle complex matters, mentor younger ministers

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (centre) announcing the changes at a press conference at the Istana. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Sept 28) announced a renewed and restructured Cabinet with the aim of readying a team to lead Singapore soon after the next general election.

Mr Lee said he had moved boldly to put fourth-generation leaders in roles of heavy responsibility to test and train them. Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam will act as Coordinating Ministers and mentors.

Mr Teo will oversee national security and strategic planning, while Mr Tharman will oversee economic and social policies. Outgoing National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan will be Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, as well as Transport Minister. Mr Lee said the appointment of coordinating ministers was made with an eye on a more complex policymaking environment, and the need to coordinate responses to broad challenges that involve multiple ministries.

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Three Coordinating Ministers, two Education Ministers and the first female minister with her own ministry. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced changes to the Cabinet at a press conference on Monday. Managing Editor of The Straits Times Ignatius Low, Assistant Political Editor Rachel Chang and political desk's Francis Chan weigh in on the Cabinet changes including why Mr Khaw Boon Wan was chosen as the new Transport Minister.

For example, Mr Khaw's role overseeing infrastructure will let him "tie together closely the different aspects of urban planning and infrastructure provision", Mr Lee said, citing elements such as housing and rail and IT infrastructure.

Two ministries whose scope of work has expanded will have two ministers each: Education, and Trade and Industry. Each will have different responsibilities but work closely together, he said at a press conference at the Istana to announce the 20 Cabinet members and 17 other office-holders.

New MPs, former defence chief Ng Chee Meng and former senior civil servant Ong Ye Kung will both be Acting Ministers for Education. Mr Ng will oversee schools while Mr Ong will oversee higher education and skills training.

Both are seen as key members of the fourth-generation leadership team, and Mr Lee said of the group: "I want people tested, I want people developed, I want people exposed and known to the public, and confidence built up, and the team shaken down, so that within the team, they know who can do what, how they can work together, and who can emerge as a leader of the team."

His successor as Prime Minister would "most likely" come from among the members of this new Cabinet, if not, something has gone "very, very unexpectedly", he said.

Other ministers tipped to form the core of the next leadership team will also take on heavier roles.

Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong will take over National Development, while Education Minister Heng Swee Keat will take over from Mr Tharman as Finance Minister.

The new Cabinet is one of the youngest in recent history, with over half under 55 years of age.

Ms Grace Fu will be Singapore's first female full minister to helm a ministry - Culture, Community and Youth. Mr Masagos Zulkifli will be Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan will become Minister for Foreign Affairs, taking over from Mr K. Shanmugam, who helms Home Affairs and Law.

The presence of seasoned coordinating ministers also gives him the confidence to put newer ministers in tough roles, Mr Lee said.

Both DPMs emphasised mentorship in their roles. Said Mr Teo: "A major responsibility now is to help PM to develop a new team, to help, guide, mentor, share our experiences and to help them to succeed."

Mr Tharman said a five-year runway to prepare a new team is more than what most countries have. "Here we've got five years, shorter than has been the normal practice in Singapore, but I think entirely doable, because these are good men and women, and we've got experienced hands still in Cabinet."


4th generation leaders to play key roles

Lawrence Wong to lead National Development

MOE to get two new acting ministers

Bold move to prepare new team for the future

Seasoned trio to take bird's-eye view and oversee complex issue

Grace Fu finds place in history with two firsts

Masagos to take charge of MEWR, help handle Muslim affairs

Role on world stage not new to Vivian

Heng to helm Finance, MTI to have 2 ministers

Janil Puthucheary, Baey Yam Keng promoted from backbench

An earlier version misquoted DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam in the last paragraph of the story. We are sorry for the error.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline PM Lee Hsien Loong names Cabinet aimed at leadership succession. Subscribe