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Younger, beefier Cabinet for post-SG50 Singapore

With time running short, PM Lee insists new team of leaders must be ready to take over from him and his senior ministers after next election

PM Lee (centre) announcing his Cabinet and other office holders at a press conference at the Istana on Monday. With him were (from left) Ng Chee Meng, Grace Fu, Khaw Boon Wan, Teo Chee Hean, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Heng Swee Keat, Masagos Zulkifli and Ong Ye Kung.


SEVENTEEN days after sweeping to a convincing general election victory, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday announced a major shake-up to his Cabinet, with a larger line-up in place to prepare the next team of leaders to take over after the next polls.

The new Cabinet in the post-SG50 era will have 20 full or acting ministers, with half of them aged 55 years and below. In all, there are 37 office-holders, up from 33 previously, and half are 50 years old or younger.

Speaking at a press conference held at the Istana, Mr Lee, 63, described the task of leadership renewal as an "urgent" one, given that he did not have the luxury of time.

"I am making a decisive move in my new Cabinet and not just an incremental change. I am putting many of the younger ones into key ministries so that they can broaden their experience, learn the ropes and establish themselves quickly with one another and with the public," he said.

He noted that Singapore was entering a new phase of nation-building, with complex challenges faced by multiple ministries. As such, there was a need for "tighter coordination" across ministries for a more coherent whole-of-government response.

Mr Lee revealed that he would appoint three coordinating ministers to oversee work involving multiple ministries in the areas of national security, economic and social policies, and infrastructure.

For the first time, two key ministries - Education (MOE), and Trade and Industry (MTI) - will have two ministers at the helm, with each taking charge of different priorities.

The hot seat of the Transport Minister went to Khaw Boon Wan, who is one of the three coordinating ministers. He will pass his National Development portfolio to Lawrence Wong. Mr Khaw replaces Lui Tuck Yew, who announced his retirement from politics before the elections.

Both of Mr Lee's deputies, Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, will leave the home affairs and finance ministries respectively to focus on their roles as coordinating ministers.

Mr Teo will continue in national security and Mr Tharman will look after economic and social policies. They indicated that they would spend time to mentor the younger ministers.

Heng Swee Keat will become the new Finance Minister and will deliver his first Budget statement next year, while K Shanmugam will be appointed Home Affairs Minister in addition to being Law Minister.

Vivian Balakrishnan will take up his new role as Foreign Minister, with his Environment and Water Resources portfolio going to Masagos Zulkifli.

The MOE will undergo a significant leadership overhaul, with two political newcomers - Ng Chee Meng and Ong Ye Kung, both of whom were elected for the first time on Sept 11 - named co-Acting Ministers.

Mr Ng, the ex-chief of defence force, will oversee schools while Mr Ong, a former senior civil servant, will look after higher education and skills which covers the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics, universities and SkillsFuture.

Over at MTI, current minister Lim Hng Kiang will be in charge of trade as he oversees Singapore's trade negotiations, the Economic Development Board and Jurong Town Corporation.

S Iswaran, now the second minister at MTI, will be the minister in charge of industry. He will oversee the rest of the ministry's statutory boards including Spring Singapore and the Energy Market Authority. Mr Lee added that he had asked Mr Iswaran to focus on economic restructuring and creating a vibrant domestic economy.

Meanwhile, political history will be made when Grace Fu becomes the first woman to helm a ministry as a full minister, after it was announced that she would take over from Lawrence Wong at the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. She will also become the first female Leader of the House in Parliament, taking over that role from Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Besides Ng Chee Meng and Ong Ye Kung, three other first-term members of Parliament were made office-holders.

Chee Hong Tat, a former permanent secretary, will become Minister of State at the Health and Communications and Information ministries. Koh Poh Koon will be a Minister of State in the Trade and Industry and National Development ministries, and Amrin Amin will head to the Home Affairs Ministry as a Parliamentary Secretary.

The prime minister also took the opportunity to promote two backbenchers. Pasir Ris-Punggol MP Janil Puthucheary will be appointed Minister of State for Education as well as Communications and Information.

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng enters the leadership ranks as Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. Asked to sum up the appointments, Mr Lee described the changes as a "bold move". He said: "I'm pushing the timetable. I have a deadline to meet. I want to have a team ready to take over soon after the next election."

He added that he would do a mid-term review and make further changes, with several ministers indicating that they would be happy to leave once suitable successors are found.

Mr Lee stressed that it was "most likely" that his successor would be someone from this Cabinet line-up. "There is no time. And if someone else has to come from outside, it would mean something has gone very unexpectedly," he said.

The swearing-in ceremony of the new Cabinet will take place on Thursday at the Istana. Ahead of the opening of the new parliament session next January, Mr Lee also said he had nominated veteran MP Halimah Yacob to once again be the Speaker of Parliament.