From Lunch With Sumiko archives: PAP's 4G leaders Ong Ye Kung, Heng Swee Keat, Desmond Lee and Lawrence Wong

SINGAPORE - One minister said the competition people expect in Cabinet does not actually happen in Singapore.

On the issue of who will be the next prime minister of Singapore, one said: "We must see it as much larger than ourselves."

Another is known to be a good listener and often attends events - such as a Hong Lim Park climate change rally - without seeking media coverage.

One of them has an Instagram bio that reads "bookworm, guitar player and dog lover".

Here's a look back at interviews with four People's Action Party fourth-generation leaders Ong Ye Kung, Heng Swee Keat, Desmond Lee and Lawrence Wong, when they sat down at lunch with Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan.

Ong Ye Kung on new ministers' 'collective ambition' for Singapore

SPH Brightcove Video
The Straits Times Executive Editor Sumiko Tan has lunch with Education Minister Ong Ye Kung and finds out about his tuckshop favourite in school.

It's noisy at White Restaurant, a zi char eatery in Sun Plaza in Sembawang, and Mr Ong Ye Kung is speaking softly.

I strain to hear what he is saying and hope that the two voice recorders I've brought along are working. To be safe, I switch on the recorder in my phone too.

I want to capture him accurately because topping my list of questions is this rather sensitive one: How does he feel about always being described as possible prime minister material?

Will he deflect the question? Laugh it off? Get irritated? Give the Government's standard reply that governing Singapore is more about teamwork than a one-man show?


Heng Swee Keat's steely resolve behind genial manner

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Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat talks about the key priorities for Singapore's fourth-generation leadership, the relationship between 4G ministers, and his health over lunch with The Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat remembers how, as a young police officer, he encountered a traffic light that was not working and had to get out of his patrol car to marshal traffic.

There he was, smack in the middle of Lower Delta Road with honking cars whizzing by. He had to impose some order quickly.

"You have to do some gut feel and say, 'OK, enough cars have passed, let me now not cause a hold-up'," he recalls.

That gut feeling also guided him when, as commander of Jurong Police Division later, he and his men had to raid construction sites to sniff out illegal immigrants.


To solve a problem, build trust and relationships first, says Desmond Lee

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Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee talks about transforming Singapore's social safety nets, the challenges as a 4G minister and taking advice from his father.

Midway through lunch with Desmond Lee, I ask him what he feels about naysayers who think the Government isn't doing enough to help the poor.

Like, you know, people who post photographs of old folk collecting cardboard to sell.

The Minister for Social and Family Development looks at me, puzzled and concerned.

"I think we don't stereotype these as 'naysayers'," he corrects me gently.

"We must recognise that they, too, are pointing out social problems."


2020 feels like a lifetime for Lawrence Wong

SPH Brightcove Video
Sumiko Tan meets Lawrence Wong, Education Minister and co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19. They discuss the events of the past year and Mr Wong's hopes for Singapore's future.

Midway through my lunch with Lawrence Wong, I feel a sneeze coming. The air-con has been blowing on my back and my nose is, suddenly and ominously, tingling.

We've both taken off our face masks and are dissecting our main course of poached sea bass.

Sneezing during a meal is not the done thing in these Covid-19 times. Sneezing over the food of the co-chairman of Singapore's multi-ministry task force fighting the pandemic? I don't want to go there.

I swallow. Sip water. Push a finger against the side of my nose and, luckily, the moment passes. He is spared my aerosol spray.

This is my first in-person lunch interview since Singapore declared war on the pandemic in January. With fewer new cases, it seemed the right time to resume the series and the Education Minister has agreed to be my guest.


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