1st trip and appearance in Tampines point to Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat being back in business

After a remarkable recovery, it looks like he's right back where PM Lee wants him.

By Chan Cheow Pong | May 6, 2017

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is now in Yokohama, in Japan.

He travelled there on Friday, May 5, for the Asean+3 finance ministers’ and central bank governors’ meeting, as well as the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank.

Yes, we know you’re wondering why we’re telling you this. You’re right; we usually don’t care when ministers travel.

But this is important, because it’s Heng’s first overseas trip since suffering a hemorrhagic stroke that left him bedridden for a month and a half, between May and June last year.

He was allowed to return to work in August, too, with Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong assisting him as Second Finance Minister.

So indeed, Heng making his first overseas trip as Finance Minister is a clear sign that he is stepping up his pace at work — also a signal of his full recovery.

He’ll be in Yokohama, accompanied by Ministry of Finance and Monetary Authority of Singapore officials, until Saturday, May 6.

And this is nice, too, because he made it to these same meetings, also held in early May last year but in Frankfurt, Germany, less than two weeks before the stroke hit during a cabinet meeting on May 12, 2016.

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Prior to this first trip, he had been avoiding crowded places and large meetings since returning to office to protect his lungs, which were weakened by an infection he caught in hospital.

New role: Future Economy Council chairman

As a core member of the 4G leadership, Heng, whom the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once described as the best Principal Private Secretary (PPS) he ever had — serving him from 1997 to 2000 — is widely seen as a steady pair of hands, and among the front-runners for Deputy Prime Minister in the next cabinet reshuffle slated for next year.

This detail may have flown over your heads, but PM Lee Hsien Loong announced in his May Day Rally speech that Heng will helm something known as The Future Economy Council (FEC).

What’s that, you might ask? If you’re thinking it sounds familiar, like the Committee for the Future Economy (CFE — which Heng also headed, incidentally), they’re two different things.

Photo by Chan Cheow Pong

The FEC is an entity formerly known as the Council of Skills, Innovation and Productivity (CSIP), that was led by Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

The Council will be in charge of driving the CFE’s proposals to transform Singapore’s economy and grow jobs.

So we suppose it makes sense to have Heng driving what his own committee came up with. But still, a notable appointment no less.

First appearance at grassroots

Heng also made his first appearance at Tampines Central recently last Sunday, just one day before his new appointment at the FEC was announced.

In a Facebook post dated April 30, Heng was pictured chatting and posing for photographs with residents in his constituency at the Community Club and the NTUC supermarket.

It all points to a fully-recovered Heng getting back into the groove of the full spectrum of government and political work.

This, in turn, can only mean good news for residents and also Singapore, we guess, as we prepare for a tough road ahead in the face of economic transformation and leadership renewal.

Top photo from Facebook of Ministry of Finance, Japan

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About Chan Cheow Pong

It took Cheow Pong two decades to recover from the trauma of memorising General Paper essays before he was ready to be an English writer. In between affliction and recovery, he thoroughly enjoyed his time writing in Chinese and doing Chinese translations.

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