Tag Archives: ministers

Surprises in new Cabinet

PM Lee has announced his new Cabinet – without MM Lee and SM Goh – and it was a surprise to me on two counts. Firstly, instead of grooming some of their newfound talent the usual way e.g. appoint them minister of state, rotate around the ministries, before finally heading one ministry etc, two newly-elected MPs are going to be ministers right away. Secondly, three ministers associated with unpopular policies were ‘retired’ despite being re-elected, albeit with much lower margins. I’d thought the PM would allow these ministers to continue, except for Wong Kan Seng, who was more or less slated for retirement.

‘Retired’ ministers

1. Wong Kan Seng, DPM and Co-Ordinating Minister for National Security, suffered much of the opposition’s assault over the Mas Selemat issue. He was challenged by opposition veteran Chiam See Tong, and polled 56.93 percent in Bishan Toa-Payoh GRC, lower than the national vote of 60.1 percent. I’d thought he’d become Senior Minister (pending retirement) despite all these, but PM Lee chose to leave him out of the Cabinet, unceremoniously ending his lengthy political career which saw him heading key ministries like home affairs and foreign affairs. Without his Cabinet appointments, I think Wong would be eased out of the PAP’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) as well (he’s currently first assistant secretary-general).

Hence his retirement now, rather than later, shows how serious PM Lee is on leadership renewal and ‘transforming’ the PAP.

2. Mah Bow Tan, Minister for National Development since 2001, polled 57.22 percent in Tampines – his lowest winning margin (he first began his political career by losing to Chiam See Tong in Potong Pasir). He was furiously whipped at opposition rallies for the rise in HDB flat prices. Yes, he’d set in cooling measures…but apparently insufficient to cool political tempers. S’porean voters want their accountability, and with such election results, PM Lee had to listen to them – sacking Mah.

I’m not sure if his replacement, Khaw Boon Wan, is able to solve the tricky problem of rising HDB prices, especially if the asset enhancement policy continues. That is the root cause of the price increases. In my view, the policy has to be thrown out before most people are satisfied that HDB flats are within their reach. But throwing out the asset enhancement policy will make tens of thousands of S’poreans angry. It’s a tough job, but I think Khaw has done tremendously well at the Ministry of Health. It’d be interesting to see what tweaks or even reforms he would introduce to housing.

3. Raymond Lim, Minister for Transport. What did he do wrong? All right, many S’poreans hate the peak hour congestion, swear at the occasional breakdown of trains, and wants fare prices to go down or remain the same for eternity. But I think there is nothing fundamentally wrong with transport in S’pore. Train stations will be popping up here and there soon, some not in a decade. With some luck peak hour congestion can be alleviated (mind you, not totally solved ‘cos that’s impossible). It’s a matter of enduring…and well, our patience has its limits. So out go Raymond Lim.

His replacement is Lui Tuck Yew. My impression of him at MICA isn’t good, so cross my fingers.

Rotated ministers

1. Vivian Balakrishnan will swop MCYS for MEWR. This is interesting, because MEWR is ranked a little lower than MCYS in terms of budget allocation. Furthermore, MEWR is a quiet ministry doing the background work – water, canals, reservoirs, trees etc – and Vivian Balakrishnan doesn’t seem to be a quiet man.

2. Dr Ng Eng Hen will take over MINDEF. I think this is expected, because he has been 2nd Minister for MINDEF. He didn’t come from a military background, but so did Goh Keng Swee and Goh Chok Tong, who were formerly ministers for defence. But he should relook his MOE public relations fiasco regarding the calculation of mother tongue grades in PSLE, to avoid a similar one in MINDEF e.g. like lengthening National Service etc.

3. Gan Kim Yong to take over MOH. Khaw has done a good job, so Gan would probably continue tweaking the system, like allowing Medishield for persons with congenital diseases.

4. Lui Tuck Yew to be Transport Minister. Hmm. Not too sure about this, from impressions alone…

5. Yaacob Ibrahim shifted to MICA. Or rather, he’s going back to where his political career in government began. MICA is considered a lightweight ministry, where you throw the newbies to test them out. So putting a veteran in a lightweight ministry suggests two things: this veteran is out of favour, or MICA requires a major shake-up. I’d prefer the latter, because in my opinion, MICA is doing more negatives than positives. It’s there because it’s just there – it’s not doing anything plus plus for S’poreans, especially in areas of censorship, cultivation of alternative spaces for artists and government communications.

6. Tharman to become DPM, as I predicted in a previous post. If George Yeo were not voted out, he would have been DPM. But I think Tharman is as good too, given his standing in the international economic arena. And by holding two portfolios of finance and manpower (which makes sense since neither can do without the other), he should be able to tweak or introduce beneficial policies for S’poreans. The issue of foreign talent will be sensitive, and this is where he might trip up or be successful in.

7. K Shanmugam to succeed George Yeo. He sure has large shoes to fill. But he was one of the top lawyers in S’pore before leaping from the backbench to the Cabinet, and he should be able to handle foreign affairs delicately as well. In any case, foreign affairs for S’pore has few options, and I don’t expect major policy shifts even if the minister changes.

Backbenchers to the fore

Two labour MPs, Josephine Teo and Halimah Yaccob, will be promoted to ministers of state. Both were quite critical of some government policies, and with them in government, I suppose they would initiate changes. Surprisingly, they were promoted to ministers of state right away – not parliamentary secretaries, perhaps given their senior roles in NTUC.

With Halimah Yaccob in MCYS, I think she would definitely initiate policies for low-skilled, low-educated and low-income workers and their families. Good move.

Newbie ministers

Again, I was surprised that PM Lee chose to put Heng Swee Keat as Minister for Education right away. Note that minster-wannabes, according to the PAP system, are usually groomed in lightweight ministries before moving on to take larger portfolios. That he is a full minister (compared to Acting Minister for MG Chan) means that he already holds the trust and confidence of PM Lee, and to take on an important portfolio means any mistakes he makes will be amplified many times, and I believe the resurgent opposition in Parliament will not hesitate to demand his head to roll. But then again he had performed well in MAS during the 2009 financial crisis, so he should breeze through…

MG Chan is the new Acting Minister for MCYS – a sensitive ministry where I expect the opposition, with an unprecedented 6 elected MPs with legitimate access to the people through Meet-the-People sessions, to hammer the government for not doing enough. How he holds up will be important in both PM Lee’s and the public’s assessments of him. Hopefully he doesn’t use his ‘Ah Beng’ English in Parliament.

Conclusion

Surprises – yes. A break from the past – yes. Will it transform Singapore? Not really sure. But with Khaw Boon Wan in housing, K Shanmugan in foreign affairs, Tharman as finance and manpower ministers and DPM, I think most of us can trust this Cabinet. Anyway, we’ve 6 elected opposition MPs + 3 NCMPs to help us ensure these ministers will do their jobs well.

Cabinet Line-up, based on seniority (according to previous Cabinet)

1. PM – Lee Hsien Loong

2. DPM and Co-ordinating Minister for National Security – Teo Chee Hean

3. DPM and Minister for Finance and Manpower – Tharman Shanmugaratnam

4. Minister for Trade & Industry – Lim Hng Kiang

5. Minister in PMO – Lim Swee Say

6. Minister for Info, Communications & Arts – Yaacob Ibrahim

7. Minister for National Development – Khaw Boon Wan

8. Minister for Defence – Ng Eng Hen

9. Minister for Environment & Water Resources – Vivian Balakrishnan

10. Minister for Foreign Affairs & Law – K Shanmugam

11. Minister for Health – Gan Kim Yong

12. Minister for Transport – Lui Tuck Yew

13. Minister for Education – Heng Swee Keat

14. Minister for Community Development, Youth & Sports (Acting) – Chan Chun Sing

But of course expect the official seniority line-up to be different. Foreign Affairs and Defence probably rank higher than MICA or Minister without portfolio, lol.

And to be fair,

Leader of the Opposition – Low Thia Kiang

In other parliamentary democracies, especially the Westminster-style, the Leader of the Opposition is the alternative PM (OK, small the opposition is now and nowhere near a Shadow Cabinet). But shouldn’t PM Lee recognise this position openly, like then-PM Goh did to Chiam See Tong in 1991?

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PAP potential office-holders and where they might go

According to PAP Organising Secretary Dr Ng Eng Hen, the PAP slate for the general elections has a record number of office-holders. From the PAP perspective, the elections are about leadership renewal, that is, the potential leaders whom they have chosen. They have always placed minister-wannabes in junior roles for a while, before promoting them to be full ministers.

Take for example Lui Tuck Yew, minister for information, communications and the arts. After GE 2006,  he was appointed minister of state for education, a junior role. Slightly less than two years later, in April 2008, he was promoted to be senior minister of state for education and MICA. Then one year later (April 2009) he became the Acting Minister for MICA. Finally, in November 2010, he became a full minister. All within one parliamentary term.

He might be a high-flier minister, but he seems to be lacking some PR skills, according to this.

Anyway, since there are so many potential office-holders, are there sufficient offices to go around? And how is the PAP leadership going to evaluate these 4th Gen leaders? For example, what did Lui do in MICA which gave him a promotion to full minister within 5 years? Of course, he must have done something right and nothing wrong, or it would be politically costly to promote him.

Currently, there are total 15 ministries, including the Prime Minister’s Office, but there are 21 full ministers in the Cabinet:

  1. Prime Minister
    Mr LEE Hsien Loong
  2. Senior Minister
    Mr GOH Chok Tong
  3. Minister Mentor
    Mr LEE Kuan Yew
  4. Senior Minister
    Prof S. JAYAKUMAR
  5. Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for National Security
    Mr WONG Kan Seng
  6. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence
    Mr TEO Chee Hean
  7. Minister for Foreign Affairs
    Mr George Yong-Boon YEO
  8. Minister for National Development
    Mr MAH Bow Tan
  9. Minister, Prime Minister’s Office
    Mr LIM Boon Heng
  10. Minister for Trade and Industry
    Mr LIM Hng Kiang
  11. Minister, Prime Minister’s Office
    Mr LIM Swee Say
  12. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs
    Dr YAACOB Ibrahim
  13. Minister for Health
    Mr KHAW Boon Wan
  14. Minister for Finance
    Mr Tharman SHANMUGARATNAM
  15. Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence
    Dr NG Eng Hen
  16. Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports
    Dr Vivian BALAKRISHNAN
  17. Minister for Transport and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs
    Mr Raymond LIM Siang Keat
  18. Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law
    Mr K Shanmugam
  19. Minister for Manpower
    Mr GAN Kim Yong
  20. Minister, Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and Second Minister for Transport
    Mrs LIM Hwee Hua
  21. Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts
    Mr LUI Tuck Yew

Of the 21, two are retiring, but they do not hold any portfolios.

Now, look at the number of political office-holders in each ministry.

  1. MCYS (3): 1 minister (M), 1 minister of state (MOS) (retiring), 1 parliamentary secretary (PS)
  2. MINDEF (3): 1 M, 1 second M, 1 MOS (retiring)
  3. MOE (4): 1 M, 2 Senior MOS, 1 MOS
  4. MOF (2): 1 M, 1 second M
  5. MFA (3): 1 M, 1 second M, 1 Senior MOS (to become Speaker of Parliament)
  6. MOH (2): 1 M, 1 Senior PS
  7. MHA (4): 1 DPM (strangely, on the website, DPM Wong still heads the list), 1 M, 1 Senior MOS (retiring), 1 MOS
  8. MICA (2): 1 M, 1 Senior PS
  9. MINLAW (2): 1 M, 1 Senior MOS (retiring)
  10. MOM (3): 1 M, 1 MOS, 1 Senior PS
  11. MND (3): 1 M, 1 Senior MOS, 1 Senior PS
  12. MEWR (2): 1 M, 1 MOS
  13. MTI (4): 1 M, 1 Senior MOS, 1 MOS, 1 Senior PS
  14. MOT (3): 1 M, 1 second M, 1 Senior PS
  15. PMO (7): 1 PM, 2 SM (one retiring), 1 MM,  2 DPMs, 2 Ms (1 retiring), 1 MOS (why the PMO needs a junior minister?)

In any case, if there are insufficient political offices, it’d be very easy for the PM to create new roles. For him to test out the PAP’s core of 4th Generation leadership, there are only a few key ministries – defence, education, trade and industry (where PM Lee himself began), foreign affairs.

If the current number of political appointees remains, no further ministry is created, then there should be sufficient places to go around. According to the media, there are 5 heavyweights with potential to be full ministers – generals Tan Chuan-Jin, Chan Chun Sing, former MAS director Heng Sweet Keat, NTUC assistant SG Ong Ye Kung, former EMA chief executive Lawrence Wong.

Where might they go, since they are heavyweights? MOE and MTI look full, but the PM can ask the Senior MOS in each ministry (who is the same person) to step down, giving space for two new MOS positions to be created for two different people. MINDEF definitely requires a new MOS and perhaps a PS, who can be picked from the rest of the 24 new candidates. MFA also has a vacancy for MOS, as the current Senior MOS is moving on to become Speaker (assuming the PAP team for Aljunied is elected la, since Aljunied is a battleground, and two ministers in Aljunied are from MFA). In MHA, the current MOS can be bumped up, freeing another space for a new MOS. MOF also looks like they need a MOS. These are the important ministries, and logically the PM would choose these as training grounds for his 4G core leadership. From my observation here, there are definitely sufficient offices for the 5 heavyweight candidates.

There are also other ministries which seem to lack MOS – MICA, MOH, MINLAW, MOT. Given the PAP preference for the Admin Service as their recruiting grounds, I think some new candidates from the Admin Service could become MOS too. They include Sim Ann and Low Yen Ling, formerly from the civil service. As there are quite a few candidates from NTUC (7, if I’m not wrong), they are probably excluded as of now from the group of potential ministers, but in future they might be given political offices.

However, how does the PM evaluate the performance of these new office-holders? Is it a one-way climb? Out of the ‘Super Seven’ in the 2001 elections, Dr Balaji Sadisvan did not make it to full minister while Cedric Foo resigned. These are signs that those who can’t make it are halted. But the decision of the PM is arbitrary and opaque. Since the PAP claims to introduce a record number of office-holders, it seems logical as well for S’poreans to ensure some checks and balances on the new leadership. And that’s how the WP insurance kicks in.

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