Education Minister Lawrence Wong will be taking over the Finance Minister portfolio from Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat as part of a Cabinet reshuffle involving seven “frontline ministries”, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told a virtual press conference on Friday (23 Apr).
Mr Wong has been holding the position of Second Minister for Finance since 2016 and was just appointed Education Minister last Jul.
Former Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing will be replacing Mr Wong as Education Minister.
Ong Ye Kung will be moved from the Transport Ministry portfolio to the Health Ministry, taking over Gan Kim Yong who has held the Health Minister position for nearly 10 years.
Mr Ong will co-chair the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force together with Mr Wong.
Mr Gan will take over Mr Chan’s role at the Trade and Industry Ministry.
Former Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran will now lead the Transport Ministry. He will continue to be Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations in the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
Josephine Teo, who previously held the Manpower Minister position, has been appointed to helm the Ministry of Communications and Information. She will also continue to hold her Second Minister for Home Affairs position.
Mrs Teo will also replace Dr Vivian Balakrishnan as Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative. She will also take over from Mr Iswaran as Minister-in-charge of the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore.
Dr Tan See Leng will be replacing Mrs Teo as Manpower Minister. He will also continue his role as the Second Minister for Trade and Industry.
Other appointments in Cabinet reshuffle
Sim Ann, who holds the Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of National Development (MND) portfolio, will also become Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — taking over from Chee Hong Tat.
While she will continue with her role in MND, Ms Sim will no longer be serving as Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications and Information.
While he will no longer serve as Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Chee will stay in his role as the Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Transport.
Dr Koh Poh Koon will be appointed Senior Minister of State in the Manpower Ministry. He will also continue as the Senior Minister of State in the Health Ministry.
Tan Kiat How will be appointed Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications and Information.
He will continue as the Minister of State in the Ministry of National Development but relinquish his appointment as Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Rahayu Mahzam will be appointed Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Communications and Information and continue as Parliamentary Secretary in the Health Ministry.
Cabinet reshuffle follows DPM Heng’s announcement to step down from Finance Minister portfolio, withdraw from potential PM succession
The cabinet reshuffle came after the country was abuzz with Mr Heng’s decision to step down from his Finance Minister portfolio and to withdraw from being the potential successor to PM Lee’s post.
In a letter to PM Lee on 8 Apr, Mr Heng, who turns 60 this year, wrote that his age is a crucial factor in his decision.
“When I also consider the ages at which our first three prime ministers took on the job, I would have too short a runway should I become the next prime minister then,” he wrote.
“We need a leader who will not only rebuild Singapore post-COVID-19, but also lead the next phase of our nation-building effort,” Mr Heng added.
In a press conference on 8 Apr, PM Lee said that he and Mr Heng had talked about the issue of Mr Heng relinquishing the Finance Ministry portfolio last year following the general election in Jul.
“We agreed that Budget 2021 would be an important Budget, not an emergency Budget, like the five in 2020, but a Budget to take Singapore beyond COVID-19,” said PM Lee.
PM Lee said in a Facebook post later that Mr Heng “has delivered an unprecedented six Budgets that have supported Singaporeans and businesses, and kept everyone safe” since the start of the pandemic.
“Beyond his portfolio responsibilities, I am confident that Swee Keat will continue to contribute actively to Cabinet deliberations, and the work of the party.
“Together with the Senior Ministers, he will help me mentor the younger ones in the team, to develop and identify from among themselves a new leader,” said the prime minister.
Mr Heng will continue to serve as DPM and the Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies. He will also continue to chair the National Research Foundation under the Prime Minister’s Office.
PM Lee also indicated at the press conference on 8 Apr that there will be “consequential moves” in other ministries with the Cabinet reshuffle.
The People’s Action Party (PAP)’s fourth-generation (4G) leaders in a statement said that the unprecedented turn of events “is a setback for our succession planning”.
“We recognise that Singaporeans will be concerned. We seek your support and understanding, as we choose another leader,” they said.
Mr Chan and Mr Ong — two of the 4G leaders that have been touted as potential candidates to Singapore’s premiership — said that the 4G team will have to “holistically” consider who among them would be the most well-suited to shoulder the role of “captain of the team”.
PM Lee said that while the issue of leadership succession will take “longer than a few months”, he hopes that the 4G leaders will come to a “consensus” and be able to “select a new leader before the next general elections”.
“I have no intention of staying on longer than necessary,” he said, adding that he would like to “hand over” the PM post to his new successor “as soon as he is ready”.
All of the new appointments will take effect on 15 May after the next Parliament sitting on 10 May.