SINGAPORE: Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat underwent surgery at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) after collapsing from a stroke during a Cabinet meeting on Thursday (May 12). The stroke was found to have been caused by an aneurysm, which surgeons successfully closed, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said.
In an update issued late in the evening, the PMO said that Mr Heng "had a sudden stroke due to an aneurysm, which is a localised weakening of a blood vessel. He underwent initial neurosurgery to relieve pressure in his brain due to the bleeding.
"Mr Heng will remain under close monitoring in the intensive care unit of Tan Tock Seng Hospital."
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, himself a former Finance Minister, is covering Mr Heng's duties at the Finance Ministry with immediate effect.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on his Facebook page shortly after the announcement: "We were having our weekly Cabinet meeting just now when Heng Swee Keat suddenly collapsed. The doctors in Cabinet (we have three) attended to him immediately. We called an ambulance, which took him to TTSH. A CT scan showed that he had had a stroke. Doctors are attending to him now. Hope Swee Keat will be alright - he is a valuable member of my team."
President Tony Tan Keng Yam wrote on his Facebook page: "Heard the news about Minister Heng Swee Keat. Hope he has a speedy recovery. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this difficult time."
Later in the evening, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong wrote on his Facebook page that Mr Heng has had surgery: "Shocked when I was informed of Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat's collapse during Cabinet meeting from stroke. He has just undergone surgery and doctors are doing their best to deal with his problem. Let us pray and wish him a speedy and complete recovery. He is a core member of the fourth-generation leadership team. We need him."
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on his Facebook page: "Praying for the recovery of our colleague Swee Keat." Deputy Prime Minister Tharman wrote: "Let’s hope and pray for Heng Swee Keat, who is being treated in hospital after suffering a stroke during Cabinet meeting late this afternoon. He is one of Singapore’s finest sons, and a leader with much promise."
RESUSCITATED BY CABINET MINISTERS WITH MEDICAL TRAINING
According to the PMO, Mr Heng collapsed at 5.34pm during a Cabinet meeting. Ministers recounted on Facebook how three of their colleagues with medical training rushed to Mr Heng's help. Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin wrote: "We were in the midst of our discussions when it suddenly happened. Our colleagues who were doctors attended to him immediately before the ambulance came."
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who is a trained cancer surgeon, wrote: "We managed to resuscitate him but he and his family will now need all our prayers and support as he undergoes critical procedures and treatment for the stroke." Dr Ng is understood to be one of the three who came to Mr Heng’s aid before the ambulance arrived. The other two are understood to be Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, a former ophthalmologist, and Minister of State Janil Puthucheary, a former paediatrician, TODAY reported.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong added that "the team at the hospital is doing their very best for him".
"HE WAS CARRYING AN INCREDIBLE LOAD": LAW MINISTER
Law Minister K Shanmugam wrote that he has been "working closely with Swee Keat on a number of things. I could see that he was very tired. I have been telling him that he was overworking so much that it will affect his health.
"He was carrying an incredible load, handling the Finance Ministry, various important projects, including SG50, and the Committee for Future Economy – this Committee has the crucial task of charting our economic future."
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan wrote that he was in Kuala Lumpur for an official meeting on the high-speed rail project and that when he returned, he was shocked "to hear on (the) radio (of) MOF Heng Swee Keat’s sudden illness." Mr Khaw added: "Let’s wish him a quick and full recovery."
Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob wrote that Mr Heng is "a thoughtful and patient man, deeply committed to Singapore; let's pray for his speedy recovery". National Development Minister Lawrence Wong wrote that "what happened this evening at (the) Cabinet meeting was so sudden, and came as a complete shock. My thoughts and prayers are with Heng Swee Keat and his family. Let's all pray that he will get well soon." Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing and Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli also posted similar messages. Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran wrote: "Deeply shocked and saddened. Swee Keat is a strong and determined man who has worked hard for Singapore."
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu wrote that that she was with a group of women MPs and Women's Wing delegates in Hong Kong when the news broke: "We were shocked and saddened, and have our eyes glued to our phones throughout our dinner with the women leaders of Hong Kong. We offer our thoughts and prayers for our dear colleague, Swee Keat."
Former Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan, who stepped down from his position and returned to the backbench after suffering a mini stroke last May, wrote that "a year ago, after learning I suffered a TIA (Transient ischemic attack or mini stroke), Swee Keat advised me to go slow and doing 'less is more'. I really wish he would recover soon and completely."
Members of the opposition Workers' Party, Singapore Democratic Party, Reform Party, People's Power Party, National Solidarity Party and Singapore Democratic Alliance too, sent their regards to Mr Heng.
A KEY MEMBER OF SINGAPORE'S FOURTH-GENERATION LEADERSHIP
Mr Heng, 54, heads the Ministry of Finance, which manages the national budget, oversees corporate governance regulations, and supervises the prudent investment and utilisation of public funds and government reserves. The Finance Minister also chairs a national committee that is studying strategies for Singapore’s future economy.
In addition, Mr Heng has spearheaded many major projects, and is actively engaged in national initiatives that take a consultative approach and focus on the future.
In 2015, as Chairman of the Singapore 50 (SG50) Steering Committee, Mr Heng helped shaped the Golden Jubilee celebrations to be a mix of nationwide events and ground-up ideas from the people.
In 2012, Mr Heng led Our Singapore Conversation, a national consultation exercise that reached out to close to 50,000 Singaporeans on their aspirations for Singapore’s future. The citizens’ consensus that came out of Our Singapore Conversation went towards substantial policy reviews.
Mr Heng served as Education Minister from 2011 to 2015, and during his term, the Singapore education system moved towards a student-centric, values-driven phase, emphasising the holistic development of students and educational pathways towards multiple definitions of success, regardless of students’ backgrounds.
Mr Heng is also an MP for Tampines GRC. He was first elected there in 2011, and is billed as one of Singapore’s fourth generation of key leaders.
Prior to entering politics, Mr Heng was the Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). He has also served as the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, overseeing economic policy, trade negotiations, and the regulation and development of industry.
Between 1997 and 2000, Mr Heng served in the Prime Minister's Office as the Principal Private Secretary to the then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Mr Heng has also served in various other positions in the Singapore Civil Service, including in the Singapore Police Force.