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Business community welcomes steady hands at finance, trade, manpower ministries
STEADY hands at the helm - that's how business observers described the major Cabinet changes announced on Tuesday.
While two of the three ministries with policies that have a direct impact on businesses will have new ministers in charge, they are no strangers to the local business community.
"They are pretty familiar faces," said CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun of Chan Chun Sing's appointment as Minister for Trade and Industry, and Josephine Teo's appointment as Minister for Manpower from May 1.
Heng Swee Keat remains Finance Minister, after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made a "more extensive than usual" Cabinet reshuffle, following which two-thirds of the ministries will be led by younger ministers.
The Transport, Health, Defence, Home Affairs and Law ministries will be helmed by their current ministers.
Chua Hak Bin, Maybank Kim Eng Research's senior economist, said: "Business may be comforted that Minister Heng is staying on as Finance Minister, ensuring policy continuity."
Both Singapore Business Federation chairman S. S. Teo and Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) president Kurt Wee also said the new ministers at the Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Manpower are known to the business community - and they have worked with them.
"Josephine Teo is approachable and with her background (with NTUC and CEO of Business China), I'm sure she would do a great job," said Mr Teo, adding that he knows and has worked with Mr Chan when he was the labour movement's leader.
Mr Wee recalled that as NTUC boss, Mr Chan had led efforts to engage small and medium-sized enterprises and had contributed substantially to their development.
As for Ms Teo, the ASME chief noted that she had enough "warm-up time" serving as Second Minister for Manpower to know and do her job well.
Maybank Kim Eng Research's Dr Chua said that Ms Teo will be taking charge of the Manpower Ministry "at a time when businesses are complaining about the inability to capitalise on growing opportunities because of tight foreign labour policies".
"She has experience dealing with business and labour and may assume a more pragmatic and flexible position on manpower policies," he said.
Dr Chua also noted that Mr Chan has a first-class economics degree from Cambridge University, though without a market or private-sector background.
"Markets will be watching how Minister Chan responds to the new protectionist wave and ensure that Singapore is not whiplashed by the US-China economic cold war," he added.
But Mr Wee indicated that Mr Chan will not operate alone; Koh Poh Koon, who remains as Senior Minister of State in MTI, "understands business very well". Mr Wee further pointed out that Chee Hong Tat, the new Senior Minister of State at MTI, was once its Deputy Secretary. And both Mr Chee and Mr Chan had headed efforts to cut red-tape and promote enterprise in the government. "They are pro-business," Mr Wee said.
Other business observers noted that S. Iswaran, while appointed as the new Minister for Communications and Information, will still stay on at MTI as Minister in charge of Trade Relations. Lim Hng Kiang, who will step down as Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade), will also remain as Special Advisor at Mr Chan's request.
"His years of leadership experience in trade negotiations and industrial development are invaluable," said the incoming Minister for Trade and Industry. "Minister Iswaran will help to oversee various trade negotiations at MTI, given his familiarity with the stakeholders and issues involved."
CIMB Private Banking's Mr Song noted that this will provide the familiarity and continuity which are comforting and assuring to investors. "That's most important," he said.
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