Come May 2 (since May 1 will be a public holiday), Singapore will return to work with a few changes to the people running our country.
The two biggest ones: Josephine Teo and Desmond Lee will become full ministers in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), while juggling most of their existing duties.
Meanwhile, a bunch of ministers of state will become senior ministers of state, and a couple of parliamentary secretaries will become senior parliamentary secretaries.
And here’s another surprise: Minister of State for Manpower Teo Ser Luck will be making an exit from public office come June 30. Our resident cabinet buff guy will become an MP and work in the private sector after that.
All in, there will be 22 Ministers — a pretty large group, PM Lee Hsien Loong says, because it’s a “transition team”.
Here are, as usual, 5 things we observed from his latest round of promotions:
1. PM Lee is making history in appointing two female full ministers under his watch.
This round of changes is a historic one for Singapore — for the first time in our young life as a country, we will have two female full Ministers in the same Cabinet.
When Minister for Community, Culture and Youth Grace Fu was first appointed as full minister, she was the first and only female full minister to helm her own ministry in Singapore.
In fairness, she still is, but hey, it’s great that we now have two full ministers in our Cabinet who are female.
On behalf of women in Singapore, thank you both for blazing a trail for us!
2. Desmond Lee will become one of the youngest people in Singapore’s history to be named a full Minister.
Lee entered politics in 2011 and was appointed as the Minister of State for National Development for two years from 2013 to 2015. He was promoted to Senior Minister of State for National Development, as well as Home Affairs, in October 2015.
If we were to compare Lee with the six potential PMs, Lee, 40, will actually have risen the ranks to make full Minister earlier than all of them.
Heng Swee Keat: He was appointed immediately as full Minister (Education Minister) in May 2011.
Age as full Minister: 49 years old
Chan Chun Sing: He was promoted to full Minister (Social and Family Development) in August 2013.
Age as full Minister: 44 years old
Tan Chuan-Jin: He was promoted to full Minister (Manpower) in May 2014.
Age as full Minister: 45 years old
Lawrence Wong: He was promoted to full Minister (Culture, Community and Youth) in May 2014.
Age as full Minister: 41 years old
Ong Ye Kung: He was promoted to full Minister (Education, Higher Education and Skills) in Nov 2016.
Age as full Minister: 46 years old
Ng Chee Meng: He was promoted to full Minister (Education, Schools) in Nov 2016.
Age as full Minister: 48 years old
While Lee may be the youngest to be promoted to Minister in recent years, he is not the youngest full Minister in our history.
Even if we exclude the pioneer generation Ministers — the late Lee Kuan Yew became PM at 35 years old — there is one Minister at present who ascended to a full Minister position significantly younger than Desmond.
He is none other than our current PM Lee, who was promoted to become the Minister for Trade and Industry at age 35.
There’s another under-40 full Minister too: former Foreign Minister George Yeo, who was made Minister for Information and the Arts when he was 36.
Congratulations to Lee, as he is among illustrious company.
3. There are enough ministers to form two football teams, with many housed under PMO
After Labour Day, there will be 22 full ministers in the Cabinet, overseeing 16 ministries.
As PM Lee said in his first cabinet reshuffle after General Election 2015,
“It’s a transition team so it’s a bit bigger than usual, more ministries will see a change of ministers and the coordinating ministers will coordinate their work and will guide the new ministers in their responsibilities. And I will do a mid-term review and make further changes”.
In other words, 2017-2018 will be an important year for our political leaders — PM Lee will be doing a mid-term review that is likely to reduce the number of ministers. After all, there are a few ministers who are not directly in charge of their own ministry.
Seven ministers — PM Lee, DPMs Teo and Tharman, Ministers Khaw, Chan, Teo and Lee – will be housed under the “umbrella” known as the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
But hold your horses: PM Lee doesn’t have to buy new cabinets for his office just yet. See, PMO doesn’t entirely function as a physical office where all seven ministers working within it are squeezed together in one building.
Take Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure Khaw Boon Wan, for instance, who as Minister for Transport probably works from his MOT office.
Minister Chan Chun Sing, as Labour Chief, probably works from his office at the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC).
Teo’s office at her newly-assigned Ministry of Manpower, though, may reveal a wee bit more about how the Cabinet reshuffle after this will pan out.
And this brings us to the fourth point —
4. With this reshuffle, PM has appointed one fourth generation leader — either a Minister or Senior Minister of State — to understudy an experienced minister.
Three of the most experienced ministers — excluding PM Lee and DPM Teo — are Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang (1991 batch); Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say (1997 batch); and Minister for Communications & Information Yaacob Ibrahim (1997 batch).
At MTI, there is Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran working closely with Lim Hng Kiang.
At MOM, it’s newly-minted Second Minister Teo, who used to work under Lim Swee Say at NTUC for five years, and on at least one project at the EDB too. In fact, Teo said Lim “has always been a generous mentor” and they enjoyed good “chemistry”:
There is no change at the MCI, but both Janil Puthucheary and Chee Hong Tat will be promoted to Senior Ministers of State.
Will this 4G Minister, this 2nd Minister and the two Senior Ministers of State be helming their own ministries in the next Cabinet reshuffle?
Guess only PM Lee knows the answer to this question.
5. And finally, our million-dollar question — how will this round of ministerial promotions affect the selection of Singapore’s fourth Prime Minister?
Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who wrote a letter on leadership renewal to the Straits Times in his capacity as the People’s Action Party (PAP) chairman, saying,
“As with both ESM Goh Chok Tong and PM Lee Hsien Loong, the next prime minister will be chosen by the next generation of leaders from among themselves. If all goes well, they will make this choice by consensus. Older ministers, including the current PM, will stay out of the deliberations. This is as it should be, for it is the younger ministers who will have to work with the new PM and help him succeed.” The Straits Times, Sep 4.
In other words, the next PM will be picked by the younger fourth generation (4G) ministers.
And who are the key 4G leaders?
The core group remains the same, with one of these six likely to be our next PM: Heng Swee Keat, Chan Chun Sing, Tan Chuan-Jin, Lawrence Wong, Ong Ye Kung and Ng Chee Meng.
But an equally important question to ask is who the fourth-generation ministers outside the six are, as they will likely have a say in deciding the next PM as well.
Using Minister Heng’s age as a marker (56 years old), we now find not three but five Ministers who are younger than him, beyond the core six.
They include Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu (53 years old), Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran (54 years old), Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli (54 years old) and the two newly-minted ministers — Josephine Teo and Desmond Lee.
Will the introduction of two additional ministers complicate things or help with the decision-making in arriving at a consensus for the next PM?
We think that even PM Lee or this group of 11 younger ministers will not really know for sure yet.
Top photo of the ministers and Ho Ching jumping in Moscow via PM Lee’s Facebook page