SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that the "extensive" reshuffle to the Cabinet announced on Tuesday (Apr 24) means that the Singapore Government's leadership transition is well underway.
"Cabinet is a live grouping. I regularly have to move ministers around, appoint new ones from the backbenches, promote some office holders, and from time to time retire others," he wrote in a Facebook post shortly after the changes were unveiled.
"This year’s reshuffle is more extensive than usual. Three long-serving ministers are retiring. Many office holders elected in recent elections are getting new or expanded portfolios. I have decided to stretch the younger ones, giving many of them two ministries and additional responsibilities."
A number of fourth-generation, or 4G, leaders in the Government were given new roles in the reshuffle: Mr Chan Chun Sing will head the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), Mrs Josephine Teo was made Manpower Minister and Mr S Iswaran will be Minister for Communications and Information.
Ms Indranee Rajah will be Minister in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) as well as Second Minister for Finance and Education.
Mr Ong Ye Kung, who helmed the Education Ministry with Mr Ng Chee Meng, will now be in charge of the entire ministry, while Mr Ng moves on to be Minister at PMO while leading the labour movement as deputy secretary-general of the National Trade Unions Congress (NTUC).
Mr Lee wrote that the younger ministers will "progressively take over more responsibility for governing Singapore".
"After this reshuffle, they will head two-thirds of the ministries ... The leadership transition taking place in the next few years is well underway," he said.
"I ask Singaporeans to continue to support us, and work with me and my team to take Singapore forward."
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who remains at the Ministry of Finance (MOF), said in a Facebook post that the changes will "strengthen" the Cabinet.
"Even as my colleagues and I step up to new positions, and we build our collective strengths as one team, we continue to learn and benefit from the guidance of PM, the DPMs, our colleagues and the communities we serve," he said.
MINISTERS COMMENT ON NEW, EXPANDED ROLES
Ministers affected by the reshuffle have said they welcome their new or expanded portfolios.
Mr Chan said that he will be looking forward to "write the next chapter of our country's economic development".
"In a way, the new role at MTI is an extension of the work in NTUC to ensure that our working people can continue to benefit from good jobs and our businesses can have the opportunities to become more competitive," he wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
Mr Ong, who is in Hong Kong on a working visit, told Channel NewsAsia that the reshuffle is a "step-by-step" plan by the Prime Minister towards political transition.
"So today's two-thirds, I think it's a fraction that is going up," he said.
Mr Ong, said his particular thanks goes to Mr Ng, who will be relinquishing his education portfolio, and lauded him for "bold moves" such as revamping the PSLE scoring system.
"This paved the way for further improvement of the education system and it is a path that I want to continue taking," he said.
Mrs Teo echoed those sentiments, saying she will continue to build on the programmes put in place by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who will be retiring.
"We share a very close similarity of ideas on what it takes to make progress for our workers. He (Mr Lim) has put in place during his term as Manpower Minister many good programmes which I intend to continue to build upon and strengthen," Mrs Teo told Channel NewsAsia.
She added: "People are naturally concerned about what the future holds in terms of quality of jobs as well as the prospect of them continuing to improve where wages are concerned. There is also an interest in whether workplaces can become more inclusive and progressive. The Manpower Ministry will focus on these issues and outline our plans."
Ms Indranee, who spoke to Channel NewsAsia at Kim Tian West where her ward is, said that she was "honoured and humbled" that the Prime Minister has entrusted her with new portfolios - in PMO, MOF and the Ministry of Education.
Being in the PMO will allow her to do projects that cut across ministries and dovetails with her MOF portfolio, she added.
It's a "tremendous task but something well worth doing", Ms Indranee said.
When asked how the 4G leaders will choose a leader among them, she said: "That will come about in time, it will be somebody who obviously has the support of all and our way of working has always been very collegiate."
Speaking on the sidelines of his trip in Hannover, Mr Iswaran said the Ministry of Communications and Information is “challenging” in terms of the scope of work that it entails, as it consists of fast-changing sectors like telecommunications, information technology and media.
“At the same time, the information space is a very important one for effective communication between the government and the general population ... I’m looking forward to the challenge and discussing with Dr Yaacob to understand the issues and to work closely with the team at hand.”
Mr Iswaran will also continue in the Ministry of Trade and Industry as Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations.
“This is an important area for us in Singapore, especially against the backdrop of the current global environment, we want to make sure that Singapore’s interests are protected," he added.
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, who will be stepping down as Minister for Communications and Information, posted a heartfelt farewell video on Facebook rounding up his 16 years as a minister in three different ministries.
"A big thank you to all those who supported me in various ways to make my work as a minister much easier and more meaningful," he said.
Dr Yaacob is also the longest-serving Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, after taking over the reins from former Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi in 2002. A lot has changed for the community over the past 16 years, says Dr Yaacob, adding that he is proud of how far the Malay-Muslim community has come.
“Education achievement, for example, is on the rise. Our social problems are not growing, divorce rates are going down, minor marriages are coming down,” he told Channel NewsAsia.
Dr Yaacob added he will still serve the community in other ways after he retires from the Cabinet. For now, he is looking forward to taking a break and indulging himself in his favourite pastime, reading.
Dr Tan Wu Meng, who was appointed Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry, said he will be leaving his medical practice. He is an oncologist at Parkway Cancer Centre.
"It is with regret that I am leaving my professional medical practice. I will miss caring for patients," he said. "But if one can help improve Singapore's future more directly, even if in a small way, there is a duty to take up this new journey."
(Download our printable infographic: Singapore's new Cabinet and other political appointments at a glance.)
Additional reporting by Brandon Tanoto and Afifah Ariffin