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Seven new office-holders, six promotions in new Cabinet; Parliament to open on Aug 24

SEVEN new political office-holders, six promotions - including two to full minister - and a slew of portfolio swaps were among the changes in the new Cabinet line-up announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday, two weeks after the July 10 General Election.

The new Cabinet comprises 37 office-holders, the same number as the previous cabinet. 

New MP and former IHH Healthcare chief executive officer Tan See Leng is the only new political office-holder to be appointed as a full minister. He will hold three roles: Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Manpower, and Second Minister for Trade and Industry.

"In MTI, he will add a private-sector perspective," said Mr Lee in a virtual press conference. Most of the changes take effect from July 27, with a swearing-in ceremony to be held that evening at the Istana and Parliament House.

Parliament will open on Aug 24 with the President's Address, with the opening debate a week later on Aug 31. Instead of the usual National Day Rally with an audience, Mr Lee will deliver a major speech in Parliament instead, during that debate.

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The new Cabinet is the team that will lead Singapore through the current crisis as well as beyond it, said Mr Lee. In assembling the team in consultation with Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and senior colleagues, the aim was to balance three things: continuity, exposure, and renewal.

The current grave crisis "puts a premium on experience and a sure touch", said Mr Lee, noting that most ministers are staying on, including the older ones. These include himself and Senior Ministers Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Teo Chee Hean.

Due to the crisis, "I have had to maintain a greater degree of continuity than I otherwise would have done", he said. With much uncertainty over how the Covid-19 crisis will continue to unfold, the timing of the handover cannot be easily determined, said Mr Lee in response to a question from the media, reiterating his pledge to see Singapore through this crisis and hand the country over in good working order.

Asked whether this handover would take place before he turns 70 in 2022, as he had previously indicated, Mr Lee replied that he does not control the timeline of how the pandemic evolves.

Mr Heng will take on an additional appointment as Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, which Mr Lee said was just the formalisation of a role he had already been playing.

At the same time, some ministers - especially the younger ones - are being rotated to gain exposure and experience. The fourth-generation ministers may not have had as long or comprehensive an exposure in government as the older generation, and so it is useful for them to be in different and contrasting ministries to understand issues from different perspectives, said Mr Lee.

But those whose ministries are directly tackling the Covid-19 crisis have been kept in their positions, said Mr Lee: Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

Lawrence Wong will be appointed Minister for Education, relinquishing his appointment as Minister for National Development but staying on as Second Minister for Finance. He will continue to co-chair the multi-ministry taskforce on Covid-19.

Ong Ye Kung will leave the Ministry of Education (MOE) to be the new Minister for Transport, replacing retiring minister Khaw Boon Wan.

Taking over from Mr Wong as Minister for National Development is Desmond Lee, who will relinquish his appointment as Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF) but retain a role in the ministry as Minister‐in‐charge of Social Services Integration. "This is to allow him to completed the unfinished work of integrating our social services," said the Prime Minister.

Indranee Rajah will be appointed Second Minister for National Development, relinquishing her appointment as Second Minister for Education. She will continue as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and as Second Minister for Finance.

Taking over at MSF is Masagos Zulkifli. He will also be appointed Second Minister for Health, to look at healthcare issues from a holistic perspective, including the social aspect. He remains as Minister‐in‐charge of Muslim Affairs but relinquishes his appointment as Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources will be renamed the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, and be helmed by Grace Fu. The renaming is to better reflect the ministry's future role as sustainability becomes more important, said Mr Lee. Ms Fu will relinquish her appointment as Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

Taking over at MCCY will be Edwin Tong, who is promoted to full minister. He will also be appointed Second Minister for Law.

Also moving up to be a full minister is Maliki Osman, as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Education, and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs. He will relinquish his role as the Mayor of South East District.

Four other office-holders have been promoted. Existing Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad moves up to become Senior Minister of State in that same ministry, and take on an additional appointment as Senior Minister of State for Defence.

Low Yen Ling will be promoted to Minister of State at both MCCY and MTI, relinquishing her appointments as senior parliamentary secretary in MOE and the Ministry of Manpower.

Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim will be promoted to Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of National Development (MND), relinquishing his appointments at MOE and MSF.

Sun Xueling will be promoted to Minister of State in MOE and MSF, relinquishing her appointments at MHA and MND.

As for the aim of "renewing the line-up and bringing in fresh blood", besides Dr Tan, the six other new political holders comprise five first-term MPs and Rahayu Mahzam, who is entering her second term as MP. Ms Rahayu will be Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Health with effect from Sept 1.

MP-elect for Marymount Gan Siow Huang will be appointed Minister of State for Education and Manpower. MP-elect for Tanjong Pagar GRC Alvin Tan will be appointed Minister of State in the MCCY and MTI, with effect from Sept 1. Fellow Tanjong Pagar GRC MP-elect Eric Chua will be appointed Parliamentary Secretary in MCCY and MSF.

MP-elect for Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC Desmond Tan will be appointed Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Sustainability and Environment.

MP-elect for East Coast GRC Tan Kiat How will be appointed Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of National Development, and will become chairman of government feedback unit Reach.

Other changes are being made at the Senior Minister of State level. Amy Khor will be appointed Senior Minister of State for Transport, while continuing to hold that role in the Ministry of Sustainability and Environment too.

Sim Ann will be appointed Senior Minister of State for National Development and continue in the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), but relinquish her appointment in MCCY.

Chee Hong Tat will be appointed Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and MOT, relinquishing his appointments in MOE and MTI.

Janil Puthucheary will be appointed Senior Minister of State for Health, continuing in MCI but relinquish his appointment in MOT. Also appointed Senior Minister of State for Health is Koh Poh Koon, who will relinquish his appointment in MTI.

Mr Lee acknowledged the loss of three political office-holders, including labour chief Ng Chee Meng, as they were not elected in Sengkang GRC, losing to the Workers' Party team there.

Asked about the unusual state of having a labour chief who is not in Cabinet, Mr Lee replied that while ideally, the leader of the labour movement is elected as an MP and can be part of Cabinet, the government will continue to work closely with Mr Ng.

Three office-holders are retiring, two of whom did not contest in the GE: Mr Khaw, who is retiring as Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport; and Sam Tan, who is retiring as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs as well as Social and Family Development. Mr Tan is also retiring as chairman of Reach.

MP-elect for Jurong GRC Tan Wu Meng is retiring as Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and Trade and Industry. In a letter to Dr Tan, Mr Lee acknowledged his intention to return to medical practice and said he looked forward to Dr Tan's continuing contributions in Parliament.

Two mayors were also appointed: MP-elect for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC Alex Yam, for the North West District, and new MP-elect for Marine Parade GRC Mohd Fahmi Aliman, for the South East District.

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