On Thursday (8 Apr), Minister for Finance and Deputy Prime Minister, Heng Swee Keat made a statement that shocked the public. In an announcement that seemed to come from nowhere, Mr Heng said that he would no longer consider taking up the prime minister position, a position that he was expected to take up after current Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, retires.
In his official letter to PM Lee, Mr Heng who noted that he would be 60 this year, said that he would have “too short of a runway” to become the next Prime Minister as he would be in his mid-60s when the COVID-19 pandemic is over. He has also said that he would give up his position as Minister for Finance.
While Mr Heng seems to be suggesting that he is taking a back seat because of his age (he is 60), this seems at odds with the fact that PM Lee (who is just shy of a decade older and pushing 70) is now set to remain as Prime Minister indefinitely. After all, why is Mr Heng citing age as a reason when his announcement essentially means that an older PM Lee now stays at the helm for a longer time?
Further, how do Mr Heng’s actions gel with the Government’s position on ageism and raising the retirement age in Singapore?
In 2019, PM Lee said that the retirement age would be raised from 62 to 63 in 2022 and eventually to 65 by 2030. As for the re-employment age, it would be increased from 67 to 68 in 2022 and eventually to 70 by 2030. Clearly, the Government was sending out the message that people should work for longer and that age is increasingly not a barrier to employment. Why then is Mr Heng citing age as a reason for his resignation?
Does this not run counter to what his Government is saying?
Back in 2019, Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) argued for companies to set targets for employing older workers to keep pace with the ageing workforce here. The Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) members of parliament also called on Singapore to stamp out age discrimination at work.
But now, their own senior PAP stalwart, Mr Heng, seems to be acting contrary to what they were mooting.
Speaking at the press conference announcing his news, Mr Heng said: “Singapore politics is not about self but what is good for Singapore, and I have been constantly thinking of what is in the best interest of Singapore and Singaporeans.”
Is it in Singapore’s best interest for a senior politician to seemingly contravene the Government’s position on ageism?
It is no secret that concerns have been raised for senior citizens working well past their retirement age. The Government has long tried to detract from these criticisms. In using age as a reason for his decision, is Mr Heng is effectively suggesting that having a person over the age of 60 be Prime Minister is not in Singapore’s best interests.
Yet, is it in Singapore’s best interests for other old people (some well past 60) to continue (sometimes in back-breaking laborious jobs) to work?