Cabinet reshuffle: PM Lee Hsien Loong says leadership transition well underway, as 4G leaders come to the fore

Cabinet reshuffle (clockwise from top left): Chan Chun Sing; Heng Swee Keat; Indranee Rajah; S. Iswaran; Josephine Teo; Ong Ye Kung; Ng Chee Meng and Masagos Zulkifli.
Ministry of Communications and Information

The leadership transition is “well underway”, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, commenting on the Cabinet reshuffle announced on Tuesday (April 24) which saw changes in all but one ministry.

“This year’s reshuffle is more extensive than usual,” he said in a Facebook post.

Giving some insight into his thinking behind the changes, PM Lee said that he decided to stretch the younger ministers, giving many of them two ministries and additional responsibilities.

“The younger ministers will progressively take over more responsibility for governing Singapore. After this reshuffle, they will head two-thirds of the ministries.”

Following this round of changes, to take effect next Tuesday (May 1), the fourth-generation ministers will helm 10 of 16 ministries. This is up from eight previously.

Three veteran ministers with a collective experience of 66 years on the front bench will be retiring. They are: Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang, 64, Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say, 63, and Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, 62.

Their successors are, respectively, current labour chief Chan Chun Sing, 48, Second Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, 49, and Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, 55.

Mr Iswaran will also be redesignated Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations in the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Meanwhile, Ms Indranee Rajah, 55, currently a senior minister of state, will be promoted to full minister. She will be appointed Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and be second minister in finance and education.

The Education Ministry will now come under one person. Current Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, 48, who is in charge of higher education and skills, will now be responsible for the whole ministry. He will relinquish his appointment as Second Minister for Defence.

His fellow Education Minister Ng Chee Meng, 49, who oversaw schools, will be appointed Minister in the PMO, in line with an earlier announcement that he will be moving to the labour movement.

Overall, the new Cabinet will be a slightly more youthful one. Its average age will be 55, down from the current 56.

It will also be a somewhat trimmer Cabinet, with 19 members, down from 21.

The reshuffle is the third round of changes this parliamentary term, but is the most significant so far.

The last major Cabinet reshuffle was in May 2011, following the general election during which the People’s Action Party received its lowest vote share since Independence. In what PM Lee then called a “radical change” so as to embark on a fresh start, 11 of 14 ministries saw new leaders put in charge.

This time, the focus is squarely on leadership succession.

In January, PM Lee said that the Cabinet reshuffle will be “a significant step in exposing and building the new team of leaders”.

He has previously said that there must be a new team ready to take over from him “soon after the end of this term”. The term ends in January 2021.

In line with that, key 4G leaders are given additional duties.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will take over responsibility in National Research Foundation matters from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

Mr Chan will now oversee the public service, also taking over from DPM Teo.

The new Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs will be Mr Masagos Zulkifli, while Dr Janil Puthucheary will take over responsibility for cyber-security matters. Dr Yaacob had overseen both portfolios previously.

To bolster the front bench, four backbenchers have been brought in.

Mr Edwin Tong will be made Senior Minister of State for Law and Health starting from July 2018 and Mr Zaqy Mohamad will be Minister of State for National Development and Manpower.

There will be two new senior parliamentary secretaries: Ms Sun Xueling at the home affairs and national development ministries; and Dr Tan Wu Meng at the foreign affairs and trade and industry industries.

Other changes include:

– Mr Heng Chee How will be appointed Senior Minister of State for Defence. He will relinquish his appointment in the PMO.

– Ms Sim Ann will be appointed Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information. She will continue in the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth but will relinquish her appointment in the Ministry of  Trade and Industry.

– Mr Chee Hong Tat will be appointed Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education. He will relinquish his appointments in the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Health.

– Dr Puthucheary will be appointed Senior Minister of State for Transport. He will continue in the Ministry of Communications and  Information but will relinquish his appointment in the Ministry of Education.

– Dr Koh Poh Koon will relinquish his appointment in the Ministry of National Development but will continue as Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry.

– Mr Sam Tan will be appointed Minister of State for Social and Family Development. He will continue in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and relinquish his appointments in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Manpower.

– Ms Low Yen Ling will be appointed Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower. She will continue in the Ministry of Education but will relinquish her appointment in the Ministry of Trade and Industry.