Remarks by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Press Conference on the new Cabinet Line-Up

PM Lee Hsien Loong | 25 July 2020

Transcript of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's remarks at the Press Conference on the new Cabinet Line-Up on 25 July 2020, at the Istana Banquet Hall. 

Let me thank Singaporeans once again for supporting the PAP to form the next government of Singapore.

Today, I shall be announcing my new Cabinet line-up. This is the team that will lead Singapore through our current public health and economic crisis and also plan for our future beyond the crisis, so that Singapore can recover strongly and seize opportunities in the post-COVID world. In assembling this team, I have consulted DPM Heng Swee Keat and my senior colleagues. We sought to balance three things: continuity, exposure and renewal.

First, continuity. In normal times, we need experienced Ministers to provide steady hands, and also to mentor the younger Ministers.

In this crisis, this need is even greater because this is not normal times. We are in the thick of a grave crisis, dealing with a fast moving, uncertain situation. Every day, we are racing to keep things under control and prevent events from overwhelming us. This puts a premium on experience and a sure touch.

Therefore, most of the Ministers in the new Cabinet are experienced ones, with at least one term of government as Political Office Holders. Most of the older Ministers are staying on – including myself, my two Senior Ministers, Dr Ng Eng Hen, Mr K Shanmugam and Mr Gan Kim Yong.

Secondly, I am rotating the Ministers, especially the younger ones, to gain exposure and experience. We regularly do this during Cabinet reshuffles and the intent is to expose the Office Holders to different portfolios to gain both breadth and depth, to understand the intricacies of the issues, and to see things from different perspectives, and ultimately, from a national perspective.

Third, we are renewing the line-up to bring in fresh blood. I am promoting several junior Office Holders and backbenchers who have performed well. I am also bringing in fresh faces from the newly-elected MPs, including several from the private sector, and one of whom as a full Minister. They will reinforce my team, and offer new ideas and perspectives.

Cabinet Line-up

Let me now run through the detailed changes, starting with the Ministers whose portfolios are unchanged.


First, Heng Swee Keat will continue to be Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister. As Finance Minister he controls the government’s budget, and therefore will have broad oversight of our major priorities and policies. The Ministry of Finance team is unchanged. Heng Swee Keat will continue to be supported by Lawrence Wong and Indranee Rajah as Second Ministers for Finance. Heng Swee Keat will also be formally designated as Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, as he chairs the Future Economy Council as well as the National Research Foundation. Actually, he was already playing this role in the last term. This just formalises existing arrangements. Heng Swee Keat will also continue to oversee the Strategy Group within the Prime Minister’s Office, which coordinates our policies and plans across the government.

Second, as I mentioned earlier, the two Senior Ministers – Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam – will remain. As Senior Ministers, they do not have responsibilities for specific Ministries, but they are invaluable in advising me and the younger Ministers, weighing in with views as needed.

Teo Chee Hean will continue as Coordinating Minister for National Security, and oversee several other issues cutting across the whole of government, including Population and Climate Change.

Tharman Shanmugaratnam will continue as Coordinating Minister for Social Policies and also Chairman of MAS. He also has one more important task and that is chairing our National Jobs Council.

Third, I have kept on the Ministers who are directly handling the COVID-19 crisis: Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Gan Kim Yong will continue as Minister for Health. Prior to COVID-19, he was pushing major reforms of our healthcare system, building new hospitals, improving healthcare financing. He is leading our response to COVID-19, co–chairing the Multi-Ministry Taskforce together with Lawrence Wong. I have asked Gan Kim Yong to stay on at MOH for now, because we are still in the critical phase of our fight.

Chan Chun Sing will also remain at MTI, and S. Iswaran will continue to support him as Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations. Getting the economy back on track is our major priority. As we reopen the economy, we need to support viable industries and companies that need help to get back in to operation. At the same time, we must quickly transform industries and companies that are no longer viable at least in their original form, so as to avoid propping them up indefinitely. MTI is a key Ministry doing this, together with MOM and other related Ministries and agencies.

Josephine Teo will also continue as Minister for Manpower. Josephine Teo joined MOM only two years ago, but has made significant changes to improve job prospects and income security of Singaporeans. For example, tightening the Fair Consideration Framework, and introducing the Matched Retirement Savings Scheme. With the recession biting and retrenchments rising, MOM will be redoubling its efforts to save jobs, and to retrain our workers to take up new ones. MOM is also involved managing the migrant workers in the dormitories, and getting them safely housed, safely managed and safely working.

Fourthly, the Ministers for the security and central agencies: MINDEF, MFA, MHA, MinLaw and MCI will remain. Ng Eng Hen, Vivian Balakrishnan, K Shanmugam, and S Iswaran all retain their current portfolios. Ng Eng Hen at MINDEF. Vivian Balakrishnan at Foreign Affairs and also with responsibility for the Smart Nation initiative. K Shanmugam at Home Affairs, and also MinLaw. S Iswaran will continue to be Minister at MCI.


Now let me speak about the Ministers who are moving for exposure.

Lawrence Wong will be the new Minister for Education, replacing Ong Ye Kung. Lawrence Wong was previously at MOE where he carried out a review of higher education, which raised the university cohort participation rate to 40 per cent and widened the range of university degrees. He will build on the good work of Ong Ye Kung and previous Education Ministers, and continue improving our education system to bring out the best in every child and student. He will also focus on lifelong learning for adults, and work with companies to integrate learning with the new demands at our workplaces. Lawrence Wong will continue to chair the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on COVID-19.

Ong Ye Kung will succeed Khaw Boon Wan at the Ministry of Transport. I thank Khaw Boon Wan for his many accomplishments there. In the last five years, MOT’s priority was engineering work, especially getting our public transport system in good shape and to improve reliability. Khaw Boon Wan has done an excellent job on this. In the next few years, MOT’s emphasis will shift to envisioning and realising Singapore’s post COVID-19 connectivity by land, sea and air.

For land, our public transport system will need to evolve further, to be sustainable, affordable and part of our long-term plan for a green Singapore. For sea and air, the critical task is to preserve Singapore’s status as a global hub, especially in the post-COVID-19 world. MOT will also be engaged with Malaysia and Indonesia on major bilateral projects like the High Speed Rail and RTS Link, and also sensitive air space and maritime issues. So we need a very good Minister at the helm, with Cabinet experience and political nous.

Desmond Lee will be appointed Minister for National Development, replacing Lawrence Wong. Desmond Lee has been Second Minister at MND for several years, so he is familiar with the issues. He has been doing good work engaging community groups on our physical development plans. He has also been helping the Multi-Ministry Taskforce sort out arrangements for migrant construction workers to resume work. He will have support from Indranee Rajah, who will be appointed Second Minister at MND. Indranee Rajah will remain as Second Minister for Finance, as well as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, overseeing NNPTD, and assisting SM Teo Chee Hean on population matters.

Although Desmond Lee is being posted to MND, he will retain a role in the Ministry of Social and Family Development as Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration. This is to allow him to complete the unfinished work of integrating our social services. We have made progress on this, for example, setting up Social Service Offices in the heartlands. But there is more to do to make our social services more citizen centric and to provide comprehensive support, bringing together financial assistance with education, healthcare, employment and other areas.

Masagos Zulkifli will take over from Desmond Lee as the Minister for Social and Family Development. He has a good understanding of the needs of different segments of our community, and will bring this to bear in his new Ministry. Masagos Zulkifli will be concurrently appointed Second Minister at the Ministry of Health. This is so that we can look at healthcare and ageing issues from a holistic perspective and with a community lens, and strengthen our efforts on preventive health, especially on common but preventable ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Minister Masagos will of course continue as the Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs.

Finally, Grace Fu will move to the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE), previously the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources. We are renaming the Ministry, to call it the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, to better reflect its future role. Sustainability has become an increasingly important part of our national agenda. We are planning our climate change defences and managing our carbon footprint. And COVID-19 has also shown Singaporeans how important the work is, which goes on behind the scenes on issues like food security and safety. Water of course remains an important part of MSE’s mission, and it is part of sustainability.


Next, let me speak about the new political office holders I am bringing in to refresh the team. First, on promotions.

I am promoting Maliki Osman and Edwin Tong to full Ministers. Maliki Osman will be Second Minister to Vivian Balakrishnan at Foreign Affairs, and to Lawrence Wong at Education. He will also be appointed Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. Edwin Tong will be appointed Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, and also concurrently Second Minister for Law, supporting K Shanmugam. Both Maliki Osman and Edwin Tong have performed well as Senior Ministers of State, and it is time for them to step up and take on more responsibilities.

I am also promoting four other junior Ministers:

Zaqy Mohamad will be promoted to SMS, and will add MINDEF to his existing responsibilities at MOM. Low Yen Ling, Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and Sun Xueling will move up from Senior Parliamentary Secretaries to Ministers of State, and also take on new portfolios. Rahayu Mahzam will be appointed from the backbenches. She will take on a new role as Parliamentary Secretary at MOH, from 1 September 2020.

Next, let me introduce the new faces we are bringing into the team, from our batch of newly elected MPs.

I am appointing Tan See Leng as a full Minister. Tan See Leng has a depth of private sector experience as a medical professional and business entrepreneur. He will be Second Minister in MTI and MOM, as well as Minister in PMO. In MTI, he will add a private sector perspective to economic policymaking, to make sure that our policies are effective in helping businesses, and to address problems faced by the private sector. Being also posted to MOM, he will help align our economic and manpower policies to reinforce each other.

Gan Siow Huang, Alvin Tan, Desmond Tan, Tan Kiat How and Eric Chua will also be appointed as new office holders from our slate of new MPs. Gan Siow Huang will be MOS at both MOE and MOM, where she will help push our education and skills retraining agenda. Alvin Tan will go to MTI and MCCY as MOS, where his knowledge of social media and the digital media industry will come in useful. Alvin will take up his appointment a little later, on 1 September 2020. Desmond Tan will be MOS at Home Affairs and MSE. Tan Kiat How will join National Development as MOS. He will also be appointed in PMO, where he will work on government outreach and communications. He will also oversee REACH. Eric Chua will be Parliamentary Secretary at MCCY and MSF. His extensive experience with youth and community work will prove invaluable in both ministries.


Finally, I want to say a few words about those who are leaving political office.

Khaw Boon Wan, as you know, decided to retire at this GE. Khaw Boon Wan has been part of my Cabinet since Day 1, and I am very grateful for his contributions and friendship. I am happy that he will continue to make himself available to advise the younger Ministers on issues that he is familiar with, and to share his experience and wisdom. Some of you may have heard, you would have read in the papers, that he was hospitalised for dengue fever this week. But I have good news, he has recovered well and has been discharged just this morning. I wish him good health, and a peaceful and active retirement.

Sam Tan too is retiring. He has held office in many different Ministries since he joined politics in 2006, including Trade and Industry, Foreign Affairs, Communications and Information, and Manpower. He was also Mayor of Central Singapore District for a term, from 2011 to 2014. He has been invaluable to the team because he is close to the Chinese ground, and has given us reliable feedback on how the community views issues.

Finally, Dr Tan Wu Meng has asked to leave the government to return to medical practice. As Senior Parliamentary Secretary in MFA, he travelled to many far-flung parts of the world, ably representing Singapore’s interests at international meetings. In MTI, he looked after consumer interests through the Competition Commission and CASE, and advised the Pro-Enterprise Panel to help SMEs and start-ups. I thank Tan Wu Meng for his contributions in government, and look forward to more good work from him as a senior MP for Jurong GRC.

During the GE, we also lost three good POHs: Ng Chee Meng, Lam Pin Min and Amrin Amin. They were valuable members of my team, and I am sorry to see them leave government. But Ng Chee Meng continues to serve as NTUC Secretary-General, and I know the others will continue to serve Singapore in other ways. I will work closely with Ng Chee Meng to make sure the needs of workers are properly addressed, especially in this economic recession.


In total, the new Cabinet will have 37 office holders – the same number as my previous Cabinet in 2015.

It is a team with experience and depth, with senior members tempered by the challenges that they have gone through together, reinforced with younger members who will bring different perspectives to bear, and fresh ideas and energy to take us forward.

Tackling COVID-19 and the economic crisis calls for all hands on deck, and my entire leadership team have roles to play. Beyond the crisis, we continue planning for the future, including for leadership succession. DPM Heng Swee Keat together with Chan Chun Sing and the other younger Ministers are increasingly taking the lead in setting the government’s agenda, and preparing to take over from me and my older colleagues.

I ask Singaporeans to give me and my team your full support. I am confident Singapore will emerge stronger from the crisis. We will do our best to work with you to secure Our Lives, Our Jobs, Our Future.