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Heng Swee Keat: The man who saw Singapore through the financial crisis

SINGAPORE — Hailed by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as the man who saw Singapore through the global economic crisis, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is set to steer the country forward as its economy transforms rapidly.

Heng Swee Keat: The man who saw Singapore through the financial crisis

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, 57, has been named the People’s Action Party’s first assistant secretary-general, paving the way for him to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

SINGAPORE — Hailed by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as the man who saw Singapore through the global economic crisis, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is set to steer the country forward as its economy transforms rapidly.

Mr Heng, 57, who was a top civil servant before becoming a Cabinet minister, was on Friday (Nov 23) named first assistant secretary-general of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), paving the way for him to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as head of the Government after the next General Election due by early 2021.

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In 2011, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had described Mr Heng as the “man who saw Singapore through the financial crisis” of 2007 and 2008, and the country “recovered faster than other countries”.

Mr Heng was managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore from 2005 until 2011, when he stepped down to contest in the General Election that year.

PM Lee Hsien Loong had echoed the late prime minister’s view of Mr Heng: “During the global economic crisis... he helped our financial system come through safely — a critical job at a high-pressured time.”

Since he was thrust into political life, Mr Heng has shepherded various national initiatives to lay the groundwork for the next phase of Singapore’s economic growth.

He co-chaired the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), which set out the strategies for Singapore’s growth. Right now, he helms the Future Economy Council, set up last year to oversee the roll-out of the CFE’s recommendations, which cover areas such as the development of skills and capabilities, as well as innovation and productivity.

Mr Heng, a Singapore Police Force overseas scholar, began as a police constable, reaching the rank of assistant commissioner.

From 1997 to 2000, he was principal private secretary to the late Mr Lee, who was then Senior Minister.

In 2001, Mr Heng was appointed permanent secretary at the Trade and Industry Ministry.

Mr Lee, who died in 2015, had described Mr Heng as the “best principal private secretary” he had ever had.

"The only pity is that he is not of a big bulk, which makes a difference in a mass rally. But he has one of the finest minds among the civil servants I have worked with,” Mr Lee had said.

Mr Heng left his post as MAS chief to contest in the Tampines Group Representation Constituency during the 2011 General Election.

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Just weeks after the election, he was made a full minister to helm the Education Ministry — a portfolio he held until 2015 when he moved to head the Finance Ministry.

In May 2016, Mr Heng was forced out of action for several months after suffering a stroke during a Cabinet meeting.

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Making a “miraculous” recovery, in the words of his Cabinet colleague Vivian Balakrishnan, he was discharged less than two months later.

Through his seven-year political career, Mr Heng has helmed other key national initiatives.

In 2012 and 2013, he led the Our Singapore Conversation consultation exercise, where nearly 50,000 people gave their views on housing, healthcare, transport, education and other issues.

In 2015, he chaired the SG50 steering committee to mark Singapore’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. The committee planned year-long activities islandwide and encouraged ground-up initiatives to mark the milestone.

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