Transcript of remarks by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Press Conference on Cabinet changes on 23 April 2021, at the Istana.
Two weeks ago, I told you that we were planning a Cabinet reshuffle.
Today I am announcing the new line-up. It will be a more extensive reshuffle than is usual this early in the term of government.
I have two reasons for this: One, the Minister for Finance is changing. Following Budget 2021, DPM Heng is relinquishing the Finance portfolio. Finance is a key ministry, so when the Finance Minister changes, there are many repercussions for the other appointments. Two, I am also moving the Ministers for Health, Manpower and Trade & Industry. These are frontline ministries dealing with COVID-19 and its consequences. I considered making these changes after the GE last year, but we were then still in the thick of COVID-19. I decided that we needed to let the Ministers concentrate on fighting COVID-19 at that point. Now that the COVID-19 situation is more stable, although by no means over, I am able to make these changes.
With these major moves, there are inevitably other consequential adjustments to appointments.
I am therefore taking this opportunity to redeploy some of the other Ministers, to give them fresh responsibilities, and gain different exposure and experience.
Let me now run through some of the details.
As I announced two weeks ago, Heng Swee Keat will continue as Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies. He will also continue to oversee the Strategy Group within the Prime Minister’s Office, which coordinates our policies and plans across the government, as well as the National Research Foundation. As Finance Minister, Swee Keat has carried a heavy burden, especially during COVID-19 when he delivered multiple Budgets within a year. Relinquishing Finance will free him to concentrate more on the whole-of-government economic agenda, including chairing the Future Economy Council, and incorporating the recommendations of the Emerging Stronger Taskforce into the work of the Council. He will also continue to co-chair the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), together with PRC Vice Premier Han Zheng.
Lawrence Wong will take over as Minister for Finance. Lawrence has been assisting Swee Keat as Second Minister since 2016, so he has the experience, and is a natural fit for the job. The MOF team is otherwise unchanged. Minister Indranee Rajah will support Lawrence as Second Minister. On COVID-19, Lawrence will continue to co-chair the Multi-Ministry Task Force.
Chan Chun Sing will move to the Ministry of Education. Chun Sing has done an excellent job getting our economy back on track, and preparing our industries and companies to respond to structural changes in the global economy. This has been a major national priority. Now I am sending him to Education, where he will build on the work of previous Education Ministers, to improve our education system to bring out the best in every child and student, and develop young Singaporeans for the future. Nurturing people is quite different from growing the economy or mobilising unions. I look forward to Chun Sing taking on this fresh responsibility and broadening his experience.
Gan Kim Yong will take over as Minister for Trade and Industry. Kim Yong has been Health Minister for almost a decade. He has been a point man in the fight against COVID-19, co-chairing the Multi-Ministry Task Force. At MOH, he implemented many major healthcare reforms, and leaves a significant legacy of enhancements and improvements to our healthcare system. Right now, MTI, where is he going is a key ministry. In MTI Kim Yong will oversee our economic recovery from COVID-19, and pursue new opportunities to grow our economy. He is well suited for this role, because he was previously Minister for Manpower, and also served in MTI, in fact with me, very early in his career before spending 16 years in the private sector.
Ong Ye Kung will take over as Minister for Health. He has been dealing with major challenges in Transport since he took over Transport from Khaw Boon Wan. He continued Boon Wan’s improvements of our public transport system. Since COVID-19, Ye Kung has been working on reopening our borders and protecting our status as an air and sea hub. At MOH, he will build on the strong foundation laid by Kim Yong in healthcare, and deal with issues like ageing, healthcare infrastructure and healthcare finance. These need our unremitting efforts spanning many health ministers. Ye Kung will co-chair the MTF on COVID-19, together with Lawrence Wong.
S. Iswaran will take over as Minister for Transport. At MCI, he has significantly improved government’s public communications and sensemaking capabilities, and helped us understand and respond to citizens’ views and concerns. He has managed major upgrades to our tech infrastructure, e.g. the award of tenders and rollout of the new 5G networks. At Transport, he will continue improving the quality, affordability and environmental sustainability of our transport system. Another important task is to maintain our status as a global air and sea hub in the post-COVID-19 world. MOT also deals with ongoing sensitive air space and maritime issues concerning our neighbours. Iswaran will also continue as Minister in charge of Trade Relations at MTI.
At MCI, Josephine Teo. As Manpower Minister, Josephine was responsible for a whole range of policies, including worker safety, labour relations and retirement adequacy. Under her leadership, we achieved tripartite consensus on a 10-year roadmap to raise the Re-employment Age and Retirement Age. We also made a major expansion of the Silver Support scheme. Last year, in the unprecedented COVID-19 downturn, MOM led our efforts to support local job creation and training opportunities. At the same time, MOM has been on the frontline dealing with the migrant worker dormitories. Through all this, Josephine has been steadfast in working to support our lower wage workers and upgrade their incomes. This project is making good progress, and she will see this through even though she has gone to MCI. Josephine will also continue as Second Minister of Home Affairs.
Tan See Leng will step up as Minister for Manpower. Since he was appointed Second Minister in MOM in July last year, he has been leading our efforts to tackle COVID-19 in the migrant worker dormitories. Now he will take on the full range of responsibilities at MOM. See Leng will also continue as Second Minister at MTI. This will help us connect the work of the two vital economic Ministries, particularly on restructuring the economy and the workforce.
The rest of the Ministers and Ministries are unchanged.
Quite a number of the Ministers also have additional responsibilities. Most are unchanged, but I will mention two changes. Josephine Teo is taking over as Minister in charge of Smart Nation from Vivian Balakrishnan, and as Minister in charge of Cybersecurity from Iswaran.
Edwin Tong will take over as Deputy Chairman of the People’s Association from Chan Chun Sing.
Other Political Office Holders
Apart from the Ministers, I am also rotating some of the newer POHs.
Koh Poh Koon will be Senior Minister of State at the Ministry of Manpower, in addition to his appointment in Health. Poh Koon has been seconded to the NTUC as Deputy Secretary General since 2018. I have asked NTUC’s Central Committee to let Poh Koon to come back to the government, and they have agreed. It is very good for the labour movement to have someone familiar at MOM, especially one who has been working on worker training. That is why I am sending Poh Koon to MOM.
After discussing with Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng, I am sending Chee Hong Tat to NTUC to replace Poh Koon. Hong Tat will relinquish his appointment at MFA, but will remain in MOT. At MFA, Hong Tat will be replaced by SMS Sim Ann, who will in turn relinquish her portfolio at MCI.
Minister of State Tan Kiat How will replace Sim Ann at MCI, while remaining in his other appointment at MND.
Finally, Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzam will take on an additional appointment at MCI.
All the new appointments take effect on 15 May 2021, after the next Parliament Sitting.
Most of the 4G Ministers have already accumulated experience in a wide range of portfolios. This round of Cabinet changes will allow them to gain new experience and exposure.
They have to get to work quickly, because although our COVID-19 situation is stabler now, we are still in the midst of a public health and economic crisis. The reshuffle is also an opportunity for them to work together in new capacities, so that they can understand each other better, and strengthen their cohesion as a team. This will make the new team readier to take over from me and my older colleagues.
I ask Singaporeans to give me and my Cabinet team their full support.
Now let me say a few words in Mandarin, before I take questions.
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