Always a good idea to repack your cabinet every now and then

The new Cabinet for Singapore was sworn in on Thursday (1 Oct), just 4 days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled his 4th Cabinet.

There are 7 new office holders introduced in replacement of 3 outgoing office holders. PM Lee stayed true to his words, ensuring his new Cabinet will prepare Singapore for a leadership handover to a new generation of leaders.

The new Cabinet will very much define the lives of Singapore for the next 5 years, and is possibly the foundation for the next Generation of leadership for Singapore. With such great magnitude of importance, the appointment of the Cabinet will definitely be more than meets the eye.

As such, MustShareNews delves deeper into the Cabinet reshuffle and we uncovered 7 lessons to learn from the new Cabinet.


1. Prior hints dropped about the post of the Foreign Affairs Minister

The appointment of a new Foreign Affairs Minister in Vivian Balakrishnan may have came as a surprise, but we had already spotted some signs of the change prior to the announcement of the new cabinet.

Shanmugam behaving out of character

Prior to the Cabinet announcement, Minister Shanmugam released a Facebook post blasting the Indonesia government about the haze issue just 4 days (24 Sept) before the announcement of the new Cabinet.

The soon-to-be former Foreign Affairs Minister riled at the Indonesia government for their evasive stance on the haze issue, questioning if his counterparts had felt any shame.

Yet at the same time, we are hearing some shocking statements made, at senior levels, from Indonesia, with a complete disregard for our people, and their own – PSI levels in parts of Indonesia are at almost 2,000 (PSI above 350 is considered hazardous in Indonesia).

How is it possible for senior people in government to issue such statements, without any regard for their people, or ours, and without any embarrassment, or sense of responsibility? [emphasis added]

– Minister Shanmugam

That’s pretty harsh and out of character for a Foreign Affair Minister of Singapore to openly lash out at another country. Singaporean Foreign Affairs Ministers have always had class, unlike a certain someone…..


We figure that Minister Shanmugam might have been informed of PM Lee’s decision on appointing Minister Vivian as the new Foreign Affair Minister, before that Facebook post was released.

That Facebook post could have been a final moment of catharsis for Minister Shanmugam, after having to deal with the useless Indonesia government over the issue of haze since he took charge in 2011.

Balakrishnan singled out for his diplomatic abilities

Soon-to-be Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian was singled out by PM Lee during the National Day Rally speech for his diplomatic abilities on the international arena.

Take Minister Vivian – Vivian Balakrishnan. Minister for Environment, Water Resources. Last year, he attended the UN Climate Change Conference which was held in Peru, in Lima in December.

Vivian led the Singapore delegation, but he did not just represent Singapore. He was appointed one of two Friends of the Chair.  The other Friend of the Chair was Norway. And the role of the Friend of the Chair is to be an honest broker — to work behind the scenes to bridge the gaps between the different countries, to help put together a deal that countries could agree upon.

So it is an important low-key job.

They chose Vivian and Vivian was effective. Why?

Because he was competent and mastered a very complicated brief.

Vivian and Team Singapore helped the Lima conference to reach a successful outcome. They had to overrun. I think they went for another 36 hours but in the end there was a positive agreement and in the process, the agreement also protected and advanced Singapore’s interests. That’s one example.

– Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

The decision to move Minister Balakrishnan to Foreign Affairs could have be decided as early as before the National Day Rally.

In fact, the new Foreign Affairs Minister could have already completed his first assignment. Minister Balakrishnan was away at New York for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Summit 2015 on the day of announcement of PM Lee’s new Cabinet (28 Sept) —


2. Potential Prime Minister spot may be down to two candidates (for now)

A large focus of PM Lee’s for the 2015 General Election was to handover the government to the 4th Generation of leaders. In fact, PM Lee had explicitly suggested that the next Prime Minister will be among the candidates elected in the coming 2015 General Election.

Upon the reshuffling of the Cabinet, we gathered that PM Lee’s choice for the man to succeed him may be just down to two candidates.

Chan Chun Sing

Minister Chan Chun Sing is perhaps the most popular name among the other 4th Generation leaders. Minister Chan is also widely touted to be the next Prime Minister of Singapore because of his popularity and his ability.

Minister Chan’s popularity is also translated to votes, as the anchor Minister of Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency (GRC), the popular Minister led the PAP team to victory by a big margin of 77.8% of the votes at the recent General Election.

The New Cabinet reflects 3 upgrades to Minister Chan’s position that suggests he is the prime choice for the role of the Prime Minister —

a. Party Whip

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Secretary General will be taking over Health Minister Gan Kim Yong’s role as the Party Whip in the new Parliament set to conferred next year.

As the Party Whip, Minister Chan will be in charge of enforcing discipline on the PAP members in the Parliament. As the new “discipline master” of the PAP, Minister Chan will have the chance to command respect within the PAP.

b. Deputy Chairman of the People’s Association (PA)

Aside from being conferred the title of the Party Whip, Minister Chan will also be appointed as the new Deputy Chairman of the People’s Association (PA), a statutory board under the PAP. Let us note that this appointment will mean that the NTUC Secretary General will be second only to PM Lee in the PA.

As the chief of the NTUC and the Deputy Chariman of the PA, Minister Chan is well-positioned to garner more popularity from Singaporeans.

c. The only 4th Generation leader in the Prime Minister’s Office

In the new Cabinet, there will be 5 Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), reporting directly to PM Lee. Among them, Minister Chan is the only 4th Generation Minister in the PMO.

With direct access to PM Lee, Minister Chan can be directly groomed for the top job.


Heng Swee Keat

In the new Cabinet, Minister Heng Swee Keat will relinquish his Education Ministerial portfolio for a heavier weight and more important portfolio — as a Finance Minister.

Prior to the new Cabinet appointment, Minister Heng held a relatively low public profile as Education Minister. However, his appointment to Finance Minister may change all that, proving that after all, this is a man with enormous potential.

Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong had endorsed Minister Heng as a potential Minister in 2011. Former and late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew described Minister Heng as the “best Principle Private Secretary he ever had”. With endorsement from two former Prime Ministers, the new Finance Minister certainly has the potential for the top job.

Let us keep it in mind that Minister Heng is not some random Minister taking over the Finance Minister post from Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Tharman Shanmugaratnam. Before his entry to politics, Minister Heng had served as the Managing Director for the central bank of Singapore, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) for 6 years.

In fact, the appointment of the Minister Heng to the Finance Minister role was also met with positive response by Reuters UK, an international media.

Minister Heng graces the Reuters’ article on Singapore’s new cabinet —


With DPM Tharman’s guidance as a Coordinating Minister, we are sure that Minister Heng will achieve big things — the top job maybe?


BONUS: Minister Heng has more likes than Minister Chan on Facebook (as at 30 September 2015)


3. However, the new Prime Minister is not confirmed….

Aside from Minister Chan and Minister Heng, there are several other potential Prime Ministers in the Cabinet as well. We’re pretty sure that PM Lee will be taking note of the overall progress of all the Ministers before deciding on his successor.

Besides, the choice for the Prime Minister is not entirely up to PM Lee. After all, the Secretary-General of the PAP (who is also traditionally chosen to be PM) is elected by PAP cadres, made up of around 2000 people. Even late founding father Lee Kuan Yew’s choice to succeed him (now-President Tony Tan) was not chosen in the PAP cadres voting session.

In fact, the new Cabinet reflects at least 4 more potential 4th Generation Ministers in frame for the top job aside from Minister Chan and Minister Heng —

Source, Source, Source, Source

Read all about MustShareNews’s top 10 potential candidate for the next Prime Minister (all of our choices made it to the Cabinet).

4. Khaw Boon Wan is PM Lee’s sacrificial lamb for succession planning

On 11 August 2015, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew decided to step down from his Ministerial position and retire. Former Minister Lui was not just any Transport Minister, PM Lee actually had plans for Minister Lui going forward.

How do we know? Well…

Recall that at PM Lee’s first Cabinet Reshuffle earlier this year (8 April), Lui was given the portfolio of the Second Minister For Defence apart from the portfolio of Transport Minister. PM Lee could have been planning for Lui to eventually succeed Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Yet as we know, the time never came.

PM Lee could have learnt from his lesson, not to allow the post of the Transport Minister disrupt his succession plans any further. Thus, he decided to allocate the post a relative ‘old bird’, Khaw Boon Wan.


#OptimisticAbitLah #InKhawWeTrust  

5. Changing cabinet still fundamentally the same

Despite the changes made, there are some patterns remaining in the Singapore Cabinet that reflects the unchanging pattern of Singapore’s politics at large, and it’s not good.

Existing pattern #1: Few Females in Cabinet

After 50 long years, Singapore finally boasts our FIRST Female Minister to be in charge of a full Ministry. She is Minister Grace Fu Hai Yuen, who will be helming the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth.


Puns aside, this pattern is rather depressing for Singapore.

As a developed state with a relatively good score for gender equality, it is pretty disappointing that we took 50 years for the first full female Minister with a Ministerial portfolio to emerge.

Besides, Singapore has a pool of capable female politicians; PM Lee’s full Cabinet consist of 5 females (apart from Minister Fu), and all the ladies hold at least 2 appointments each in the Cabinet —

Source, Source, Source
Source, Source

We just wonder what exactly is stopping these ladies from holding a full Minister post….

Pre-existing pattern #2: Malays in same roles

For the first time ever, there are two Malay Ministers holding a portfolio in the Cabinet of Singapore, and they are Yaacob Ibrahim and Masagos Zulkifli.

Source, Source

Yay for racial equality? Not quite.

Anybody who looks into the history of these Ministerial portfolios will assume they are reserved for Malay politicians, because previous Malay politicians — Othman Wok and Ahmad Mattar — held the exact same portfolios, under the guises of Minister for Culture and Social Affairs, and Environment Minister respectively.

In fact, throughout the 50 years of independence, the only Malay minster who did not hold the two above positons was Abdullah Tarmugi, who was Minister of Community, Culture, and Youth from 1994 to 2000.

With the transitional Cabinet of the 4th Generation leaders reflecting the same pattern, it seems that the trend is set to continue.


As much as there is a pattern of a lack of female Ministers or a lack of Malay Ministers in certain ministries, we shouldn’t allocate a job to somebody because of gender or racial considerations.

Each Ministerial post ought to be appointed according to merit. However, 50 years after independence, if Singapore is stuck with the same pattern despite the principle of meritocracy, we really ought to question if we are doing the right thing.

6. The new Generation of leaders are expected to be all rounders

PM Lee’s appointment of his Cabinet reflects a desire for the next Generation of leaders for Singapore to be all rounders — each 4th Generation Cabinet member seems to need a broad knowledge of how different Ministries function.

This is evident from PM Lee’s appointment of new office holders to Ministries that are unrelated to their previous job scope.


7. Setting a new precedent for transitional leadership in Singapore

PM Lee’s decision to assign three Co-ordinating Ministers to oversee the Ministries may have set a new precedent for transitional leadership from a generation to the next.

The three Coordinating Ministers are —

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam: Co-ordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean: Co-ordinating Minister for National Security

Minister Khaw Boon Wan: Co-ordinating Minister for Infrastructure

Each Co-ordinating Minister has at least 10 years of experience in the Cabinet, and will oversee several Ministries, giving them the chance to mentor the new generation of leaders.

The full list of responsibilities for each Co-ordinating can be found below —


Normal life resumes

Overall, however, the new Cabinet of Singapore is pretty well crafted out. PM Lee has stayed true to his words, ensuring this fourth Cabinet will be one for leadership handover.

PM Lee has probably solved the two biggest issues facing the Cabinet — the transitional leadership handover, and the hot seat of the Transport Minister.

Meanwhile, a smooth transitional handover was ensured by introducing 3 co-ordinating Ministers, while attempting to diversify the portfolios of new office holders.

For the Transport Minster’s hot seat, PM Lee made sure that “cursed” post will not bog down any 4th Generation leader by handing it to a Senior Minister.

And there we go, this is probably the last piece of election-related news for the year.

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Featured image via Lee Hsien Loong
With reference from Channel News Asia, Channel News AsiaHerWorld Plus, AsiaOne, AsiaOne, AsiaOne, Reuters UK, The Straits Times, CNN