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Not desirable to move ministers after less than a year, but situation ‘can’t be helped’: PM Lee

SINGAPORE — It is not desirable to give Cabinet ministers short stints in their portfolios owing to the disruption it can cause, but such moves are sometimes necessary, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (April 23).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announcing the Cabinet reshuffle at the Istana on April 23, 2021.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announcing the Cabinet reshuffle at the Istana on April 23, 2021.

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  • Mr Ong Ye Kung and Mr Lawrence Wong would have spent only around 10 months in their current roles before the Cabinet changes
  • Short stints are not desirable and will be disruptive for the ministries, PM Lee Hsien Loong said
  • Yet, it has to be done if the situation demands it, he said
  • Mr Heng Swee Keat’s decision to step down as Finance Minister meant that extensive shake-up was needed


SINGAPORE — It is not desirable to give Cabinet ministers short stints in their portfolios owing to the disruption it can cause, but such moves are sometimes necessary, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (April 23).

He was responding to questions about the impact of his new Cabinet line-up during a press conference at the Istana.

The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Transport would see a change in leadership after only about 10 months, among several other changes that would result in a total of seven ministers being assigned to new portfolios.

When asked if this quick rotation of ministers would set a precedent, Mr Lee said that it has to be done if the situation makes it necessary.

“If it can't be helped, you do it. And next time, you have to think very carefully again. You cannot say that this is a precedent because the last minister stayed a few months, and the next minister likewise.”

Friday’s Cabinet reshuffle follows the shock announcement on April 8 by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also Finance Minister, to take himself out of the running for the role of Singapore’s next prime minister.

In the latest shake-up, two ministers — Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung and Education Minister Lawrence Wong — will be assigned new portfolios in the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance respectively from May 15.

Both Mr Ong and Mr Wong had been assigned to their current portfolios during the previous Cabinet reshuffle last July.

Explaining his decision, PM Lee said that following the 2020 General Election, he had already intended to appoint new ministers to head the ministries of trade and industry, health and manpower after the elections, but had decided to hold off due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But as DPM Heng had decided to step down from his role as finance minister, the latest redeployments came as a consequence of this vacancy. Mr Lee described the finance minister’s portfolio as a “major piece on the chessboard”.

So, he had to move Mr Ong and Mr Wong even though they had only been in their appointments for a short time.

“Unfortunately, (this) cannot be helped,” he said.

“I think it's a bit disruptive for the ministries. (The ministers) have made contributions, they are getting into their strides and now I have to disrupt them.

“But I hope that after this adjustment, the new ministers in those two posts will be able to settle down for some time.”

He added that it took him two weeks of “extensive consultations” with his Cabinet, including DPM Heng, to discuss the redeployments before he settled on a decision.

“And then I had to discuss with each of the ministers to make sure that they understood what their new mission was and what the purpose of the deployments were,” Mr Lee said.

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Addressing questions about how the new line-up would affect the functioning of the Government’s Covid-19 multi-ministry task force, as well as the economy, Mr Lee said that “he appoints ministers where they can best make contributions”.

Mr Ong’s deployment to the Ministry of Health would make him the co-chair of the Covid-19 task force, alongside Mr Wong, who is the current co-chair. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong will step aside as co-chair when his appointment to the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) takes effect in three weeks.

Mr Lee said: “It will mean different people in charge of our overall Covid response. But that is something that I think we can take in our stride.”

In response to another question, he added that he expects the task force and the two co-chairs to work closely together and co-operate to ensure that policies are well-coordinated and nothing slips through the cracks.

“That's how the whole Cabinet has to work. Because people must know you're doing this as part of a team and you're doing your part and, at the same time, you are covering for one another.

“When a problem comes up, we deal with a problem holistically and not just each person tackling his piece and leaving gaps in between or overlaps and conflicts between the different ministries.”

On the economy, Mr Lee said he hopes that investors would recognise Mr Gan as a trade and industry minister who is able to discharge his responsibilities as well as the current minister, Mr Chan Chun Sing.

“Chun Sing didn't come to MTI with a lot of economic management experience. But he came applying his mind, having spent time in the unions, which is very valuable, and before that he was in MSF (the Ministry for Social and Family Development).

“But in MTI, he mastered the job,” Mr Lee said, adding that Mr Chan had been rolling out economic schemes in the past year of the pandemic.

Mr Gan has also spent more than a decade in the private sector, including senior roles at leading steel producer NatSteel, and was a junior civil servant in MTI when Mr Lee was in charge of the ministry in the late 1980s.

Mr Lee said: “If (investors) read his CV, I have no reason to doubt that they will maintain full confidence in Singapore.”

Related topics

Lee Hsien Loong Cabinet reshuffle Lawrence Wong Gan Kim Yong Chan Chun Sing Ong Ye Kung

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