PM Lee: Shuffling Lawrence Wong & Ong Ye Kung after short time 'a bit disruptive' but can't be helped

Ong will be moved out of MOT and into MOH, and Wong will move from MOE to MOF.

Jane Zhang | April 23, 2021, 05:19 PM

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The new Cabinet line-up has been announced some nine months after the previous reshuffle in July 2020.

On Friday (Apr. 23), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the new appointments will take effect on May 15, 2021.

He shared that while the decision to change several portfolios again within such a short time period may be disruptive to the ministries, it could not be helped.

Reshuffle came earlier than normal for 2 reasons

Responding to queries from the media about the decision-making process behind reshuffling several ministers and their portfolios less than one year since they were last changed, PM Lee said he normally reviews the Cabinet lineup every year after the budget to make adjustments.

Usually, he said, there is at least one major reshuffle during a given government's term, and that this reshuffle came earlier in the new government's term than normal.

There were two reasons for this.

PM Lee said:

"One is because I'm moving the Minister for Finance, and once you move the Minister for Finance, you're moving a major piece on the chessboard and you have to make many consequential redeployments.

And secondly because I had wanted to adjust the appointments in MTI, MOH, and MOM after the elections, but held off until now."

'A bit disruptive' but cannot be helped

PM Lee added that the appointments he made after GE2020 were "in a sense" an interim set of changes, and that the new reshuffle is the "full set of changes".

While some of these interim changes have remained the same, others — such as the appointment of Ong Ye Kung to the Ministry of Transport (MOT) and Lawrence Wong to the Ministry of Education (MOE) — had to be changed to fit the longer-term configuration.

This is why in the short span of time, Ong will be moved out of MOT and into MOH, and Wong will move from MOE to the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

PM Lee said: "They have made contributions, they are getting to their stride, 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."

"I think it's a bit disruptive for the ministries," PM Lee also acknowledged.

"Unfortunately, it can't be helped."

He added, "It is not desirable to move ministers after less than a year. Sometimes it is necessary and then you think very carefully, and if it can't be helped, you do it."

Ong Ye Kung & Lawrence Wong will co-chair MTF

With his new role in MOH, Ong will be joining Wong to co-chair the Multi-ministry Taskforce (MTF) on Covid-19, PM Lee said.

The MTF was previously co-chaired by Wong and then-Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong (who has now been moved to Ministry of Trade and Industry).

PM Lee explained why Wong will continue to be co-chair, despite his new position:

"[Wong] was co-chair, not on the basis of his previous appointment, but on the basis personal to him."

When asked for his response toward people who may be concerned about what the Cabinet reshuffle will do to Singapore's fight against Covid-19, especially with the recent cluster that has popped up in Westlite Woodlands Dormitory, PM Lee said:

"I don't think that this change of appointments will impact the specific Westlite Dorm situation. I mean, it will mean different people are in charge of our overall Covid response, but that is something which I think we can take in our stride.

Consulted DPM Heng before PM settled the moves

On the question of whether it sets a precedence in moving ministers after less than a year, PM Lee said that while it is "not desirable", it is sometimes necessary.

He emphasised that one "cannot say that this is a precedent and because the last minister served a few months, the next minister likewise".

PM Lee added that the Cabinet reshuffle was a result of extensive consultations:

"I talked to many of the ministers, including DPM Heng, before I settled the moves. 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, before settling it.

That's why it has taken me two weeks rather than just doing it the day after my previous press conference".

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Top photos via CNA video, courtesy of MCI, and