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Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan retires from politics after nearly 20 years

SINGAPORE — Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan will retire from politics and will not contest in the upcoming General Election on July 10.

Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan will retire from politics and will not contest in the upcoming General Election on July 10.

Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan will retire from politics and will not contest in the upcoming General Election on July 10.

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  • Mr Khaw spent 42 years in public service as a civil servant and then political office holder
  • Was health, national development minister; volunteered for “politically spiky transport portfolio” 
  • Said he begun to think about retirement after a heart bypass in 2010
  • PM Lee thanked him for his “immense contributions” to Singapore
  • Said Mr Khaw was one of “his most reliable lieutenants” and a role model for younger ministers


SINGAPORE — Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan will retire from politics and will not contest in the upcoming General Election (GE) on July 10.

Mr Khaw, 67, who was also Member of Parliament (MP) for Sembawang Group Representation Constituency, entered politics in 2001 after a career in the public service.

In a Facebook post on Friday (June 26), Mr Khaw said it had been a week of “high emotion” for him — he celebrated his 43rd wedding anniversary on Thursday, a day before announcing his retirement from public service after 42 years. 

“Gratitude to Singaporeans for the many life-changing opportunities, starting from a scholarship, to citizenship and a great career in public service,” wrote Mr Khaw, who was awarded a Colombo Plan scholarship and moved from his birth country of Malaysia to Singapore in the 1970s. 

He also extended his gratitude to colleagues in Parliament and Cabinet, describing them as people “who live a life of selfless dedication”. 

“Together, with the many civil servants whom I have had the privilege to work with, we helped build a nation, achieving triumphs and overcoming occasional crises,” he wrote. 

His children and grandchildren he said remind him of the largest purpose of nation building — “to secure future generations of Singaporeans an even better life”.

“Ten years after my heart bypass, it’s time to say farewell and disembark at the next station, confident that the next crew will take #Singapore to newer height. I travel light, but I shall disembark, fully laden with friendship and great memories!” he said. 

He added in a subsequent Facebook post that he had begun to think hard about succession planning and the timing of his retirement after his heart bypass in 2010.

Saying that he owes a heavy responsibility to Sembawang residents, he said he is very pleased to hand over leadership of the GRC to Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, whom he had identified earlier as his successor.

In a letter to Mr Khaw dated Friday (June 26), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the years of Mr Khaw joining and leaving politics have been marked by global crises — the aftermath of the Sept 11 attacks in the United States and the current Covid-19 pandemic. 

“They bookend a remarkable political career, during which you have taken on the most challenging jobs in the Cabinet,” he wrote. 

Mr Khaw was Minister of Health and Minister of National Development before becoming transport minister.

“In your quiet, unassuming way, you have made a huge and lasting contribution, and strengthened Singaporeans’ faith that this Government can and will solve their own problems and improve their lives,” said Mr Lee in his letter, a copy of which was released by the Prime Minister’s Office to the media.

Mr Lee credited Mr Khaw with coming up with new processes and making extensive preparations after the severe respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak to get Singapore ready for the next novel disease outbreak. 

“These served us well when Covid-19 came upon us,” said Mr Lee. 

Mr Lee also noted that Mr Khaw had also reformed MediShield and MediSave and introduced ElderShield, a severe disability insurance scheme that provides basic financial protection to those who need long-term care, especially in old age. 

During his time as the Minister of National Development, Mr Khaw’s immediate task was to assuage public concerns about the Housing and Development Board (HDB) waiting times and affordability, said Mr Lee. 

“You ramped up the HDB building programme, reduced Built-to-Order waiting times and introduced policies to enable newlyweds to own their first flat earlier and live near their parents.”

Mr Lee noted that after having helmed the national development portfolio, “no one would have begrudged” Mr Khaw lighter responsibilities in the subsequent term. 

“Yet after the 2015 GE, you volunteered to take on the politically spiky transport portfolio and later to serve as Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure,” wrote Mr Lee. 

Mr Lee also highlighted Mr Khaw’s contributions to the People’s Action Party (PAP). 

“After the disappointing results of the 2011 GE, you led the post-mortem to identify where the party had fallen short...That was a watershed moment for the PAP. The honest introspection and self-critique set the party on a fresh course,” he said. 

In 2011, Mr Khaw became PAP’s chairman and helped to “drive change from within”, said Mr Lee. 

“This contributed much to our decisive win in the 2015 GE.”  

As a MP, Mr Lee said that Mr Khaw was active in bringing the community together and “infusing the kampung spirit” in residents. 

“You took special pride in keeping Sembawang clean and green, and residents often encountered you when you took walks in Sembawang Park to relax,” wrote Mr Lee. 

Referring to Mr Khaw as one of “his most reliable lieutenants”, Mr Lee said that beyond his portfolios, Mr Khaw's comments on matters put before the Cabinet “always went to the heart of the matter”. 

He credited Mr Khaw as being the person to convince him in 2012 to venture into social media to engage an audience “not likely to follow my speeches and statements in detail”. 

“For the younger Ministers, you have been a role model and a source of sage advice. They look to you to learn not only how to solve difficult problems, but also your seemingly effortless way of explaining nettlesome issues to Singaporeans,” wrote Mr Lee. 

In a Facebook post, Mr Lee said that Mr Khaw had been in his Cabinets since the beginning and it was with “great sadness” that he accepted his retirement ahead of the next GE. 

“Boon Wan has made immense contributions to Singapore, and left deep impressions on those he worked with, including me personally as a dear friend,” he wrote. 

Prior to entering politics, Mr Khaw was permanent secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. He was previously principal private secretary to then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. 

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat also posted a tribute to Mr Khaw on his Facebook page on Friday. 

He recounted how he worked as one of Mr Khaw’s deputies when Mr Khaw was the trade and industry permanent secretary. 

“In the years since, I have continued to appreciate Boon Wan for his clarity of vision, and his systematic approach to problem solving and achieving outcomes," wrote Mr Heng.

"His serenity amidst turbulence is well-known — he is Mr Zen. His wisdom at Cabinet meetings will be missed.”

Related topics

Khaw Boon Wan transport Politics Singapore General Election SGVotes2020

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