Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, in slip during Budget debate, hints at new Finance Ministers?

Future job or slip of the tongue?

By Sulaiman Daud | March 2, 2018

On Thursday, March 1, in Parliament, Workers’ Party MP Sylvia Lim sought a number of clarifications from Heng’s wrap-up speech on Budget 2018, including a point on test scores.

Referring to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report covering students in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, which showed that Singapore’s poor students were doing better than students from lower-income households in our counterpart countries, Lim pointed out that here in Singapore, less well-off students here were lagging behind their wealthier-background peers.

Freudian slip?

Responding to Lim, at one point Heng said the following:

“Then on your point about science and the PISA score and the students, now we’re not saying that we have a perfect education system. In fact there are many things which I’m very happy that Minister Ng Chee Meng and Minister Ong Ye Kung are continuing to do building on the works of previous finance minister to continue to raise the…

At this point, people started murmuring “education minister” to correct him. He realises, then says:

“…sorry? Education Minister, sorry. Did I say Finance? Oh ok (Laughs).”

By this point, everyone around him is laughing, and even Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin couldn’t resist wading in at this point off-screen:

“Same person.”

A Freudian slip? The Straits Times posited the possibility that this seemingly minor boo-boo by Heng as him signalling a future change for current education ministers Ng Chee Meng and Ong Ye Kung.

“Could this be an indication of the future portfolios that the two ministers — identified as core members of Singapore’s fourth-generation leadership — would take up when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reshuffles the Cabinet this year?”

Reshuffle incoming

Whether or not it is, we know that change is imminent.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Feb. 27, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he would reshuffle his Cabinet after Parliament prorogues following the Committee of Supply debate:

He said:

“I will reshuffle the Cabinet after Parliament prorogues, to give the younger members more exposure and responsibility. This way, my successor will be supported by a stronger and more experienced team, committed to leading Singapore to a better and brighter future.”

Previous portfolio changes

If either current Education Minister does take up the Finance portfolio, it won’t be the first time this move was made.

Heng himself, as we know, was Minister for Education before being appointed as Minister for Finance in 2015.

Before him, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam simultaneously held the portfolios for Education and Finance for a brief period in late 2007-early 2008.

So, was Heng’s slip a hint of the future make-up of the Cabinet?

As what ST wrote: “Not at all”

Heng said quickly:

“I’m not hinting at any changes! (Laughs) I got distracted, yeah! (Laughs).”

You can watch the exchange in the video below, starting from 13:43:

Top image adapted from

About Sulaiman Daud

Sulaiman believes that we can be heroes, if just for one day. His favourite Doctor is Peter Capaldi's Twelve. In his spare time he writes about film, pop-culture and international politics, which you are very welcome to read here.

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