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Heng Swee Keat to resume duties as Finance Minister

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong will be appointed Second Finance Minister

Mr Heng will focus on two tasks: Getting ready for next year's Budget, and his role as the co-chairman of the Committee on the Future Economy.


PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Sunday that Heng Swee Keat, who suffered a stroke during a Cabinet meeting in May, will resume his duties as Finance Minister.

Speaking at the National Day Rally, Mr Lee also said that he will appoint National Development Minister Lawrence Wong as Second Finance Minister to help Mr Heng with the operational responsibilities at the ministry.

Explaining this move, Mr Lee said this would allow Mr Heng to focus on two tasks: Getting ready for next year's Budget, and his role as the co-chairman of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE).

With Mr Heng progressively returning to work, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, will cease covering Mr Heng's duties at the Ministry of Finance.

Mr Lee was talking about the importance of leadership succession in Singapore during his speech when he gave an update on the progress of Mr Heng's recovery.

"Minister or not, all of us are mortal. Heng Swee Keat recently gave us a bad scare, worse than what happened to me just now," he said, referring to the incident earlier in the evening when Mr Lee had to be ushered off stage midway through the speech after feeling ill. He eventually resumed his speech after a long break of nearly 80 minutes.

"I am very glad (Mr Heng) pulled through, and is steadily recovering his strength," said the Prime Minister, describing it as a "miracle" that Mr Heng is fine.

Mr Lee praised the Singapore Civil Defence Force team that responded to the emergency call from the Istana for doing an excellent job on that fateful day.

Mr Heng, 54, collapsed from a stroke during a Cabinet meeting on May 12. The stroke was later found to have been caused by an aneurysm, which surgeons at Tan Tock Seng Hospital managed to close successfully.

He underwent initial neurosurgery to relieve pressure in his brain due to the bleeding. He was also treated with antibiotics for a lung infection.

Mr Heng was discharged from hospital on June 25 but has not yet appeared in public as he continues his recovery at home.

Mr Lee said that Mr Heng's doctors have recommended that he avoid contact with crowds for "at least a few more months" to minimise the risk of infection.

While Mr Heng remains unable to carry out his usual community and grassroots work for the time being, his doctors have already given him the go-ahead to do office work with "minimum interaction".

Mr Heng is the anchor minister of Tampines group representation constituency (GRC). Former Member of Parliament (MP) Sin Boon Ann has been helping to look after Mr Heng's Tampines Central ward, with help from the other four MPs in the GRC.

Four days after Mr Heng's stroke, Industry Minister S Iswaran was appointed as CFE co-chairman alongside Mr Heng, with Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing taking Mr Iswaran's place as deputy chairman.

Mr Lee reiterated the fact that building up a team of good leaders and preparing for succession remains his "top priority".

"Nothing that has happened has changed my timetable, or my resolve to press on with succession. In the next general election, we will reinforce the team again. Soon after the next GE, my successor must be ready to take over from me," said Mr Lee, stressing that one of his most urgent tasks is leadership succession.

Earlier, he cited the Brexit referendum as a clear reminder of the importance of good politics. Mr Lee said it has deepened fault lines in British society between the young and old, as well as between the more educated and working class groups, among others.

The landmark vote on June 23 saw the majority of British voters opt to leave the European Union, a decision that has affected the UK economy, sent the value of the pound dropping, and resulted in jobs being lost.

"Why did it happen? Voters lost faith in their leaders and the whole political class. Large segments of the population felt that they were not benefiting from the country's progress ... the educated prospered, the working class did not," said Mr Lee.

The same anxieties and pressures are present in Asia, but Singapore can be different from the rest provided it has good politics, with leaders who are in tune with the people's aspirations and are able to respond to their concerns.