In retrospect: 3 veteran ministers stepping down to make way for younger leaders

In retrospect: 3 veteran ministers stepping down to make way for younger leaders

Mr Lim Hng Kiang, Mr Lim Swee Say and Dr Yaacob Ibrahim will leave behind nearly 70 years of collective experience as office holders when they leave their ministerial posts.

When Mr Lim Hng Kiang, Mr Lim Swee Say and Dr Yaacob Ibrahim finally leave their respective ministerial posts come May 1, they will be leaving behind 66 years of collective experience as office holders.

SINGAPORE: When Mr Lim Hng Kiang, Mr Lim Swee Say and Dr Yaacob Ibrahim finally leave their respective ministerial posts come May 1, they will be leaving behind 66 years of collective experience as office holders.

The Cabinet reshuffle, revealed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Apr 24), had first been mooted in February this year. Then, he said younger ministers will be given more exposure and responsibility and they will then be able to better support his successor.

“The Prime Minister thanks Mr Lim Hng Kiang, Mr Lim Swee Say and Dr Yaacob Ibrahim for their services and contributions, in multiple portfolios over many years,” the press statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Mr Lim will still have links to his current ministry, though, after it was announced on Tuesday that he will be appointed Special Advisor from May 1. In this role, he will provide advice on MTI’s economic strategies to grow Singapore’s capabilities and international economic space. 

The outgoing minister will also advise on Singapore’s participation and engagement in multilateral trade fora such as the World Trade Organisation and the ASEAN Economic Council, as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), MTI said.

Here’s a look back at the three ministers, and their contributions over the years.


Mr Lim Hng Kiang, the current Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade), is the longest-serving office-holder among the three, and second only to the Prime Minister before the reshuffle. He has been in his post since 2015, when the ministry was split between Trade and Industry portfolios, but was the Trade Minister from 2004.

The 64-year-old was thrust into office in 1991 as the Minister of State for National Development, shortly after he was first elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Tanjong Pagar GRC – the constituency under founding PM Lee Kuan Yew – under the People’s Action Party (PAP) banner. He was fielded in West Coast GRC in the next election cycle, and is there till today.

Since then, he made the rounds among the ministries, becoming the Acting Minister for MND in 1994 before becoming full minister a year later. He relinquished the reins and took on the Health Ministry portfolio in 1999, a post which saw him tackling the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003.

He oversaw the implementation of tough measures such as shutting of schools and a strict quarantine regime during the four-month fight to contain the virus, which had infected 238 people and claimed 33 lives here.

After this, he had a stint as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in 2003.

Besides his Cabinet appointments, Mr Lim Hng Kiang is also the deputy chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and a board director of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC).

He was awarded the President’s Scholarship and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Scholarship to read Engineering at Cambridge University, where he graduated with First Class Honours (Distinction) in 1976, and also studied for a Masters in Public Administration at the Kennedy School in Harvard University. 

He was married to Madam Lee Ai Boon, who died from cancer in April 2014. They have two sons.


His PAP compatriot and current Manpower Minister, Mr Lim Swee Say, shared similar beginnings in his political career.

The 64-year-old, too, made his entry into politics as an elected MP in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s Tanjong Pagar GRC – but one election cycle later, in 1997.

He was also made Minister of State – but for the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and Trade and Industry – in his first political appointment in 1999.

A year later, he was made Acting Minister for the Environment before becoming its minister in 2001.

His reunion with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) was in the horizons though, when he returned as its deputy secretary-general in 2004, at the same time as his appointment as Minister in the PMO and Second Minister for National Development. The NTUC post was one he first held in 1997 to 1999.

He subsequently became the Labour Movement chief in January 2007, a position he was to hold for eight more years – and one he became somewhat synonymous with – before he took on the current role as Manpower Minister in May 2015.

Also an SAF scholar, Mr Lim Swee Say had studied Electronics, Computer and Systems Engineering at Loughborough University of Technology in the United Kingdom, where he graduated with First Class Honours in 1976.

In fact, he had played a significant role in developing Singapore’s information technology sector – way before the Smart Nation vision was even birthed – when he was the general manager of the National Computer Board (an early predecessor of today’s Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore) in 1986.

He later attended the Stanford Sloan Programme at Stanford University and graduated with a Master's in Management in 1991.


The last of the three ministers stepping down is Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, who is the current Minister for Communications and Information, as well as Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs and Cyber Security.

The one-time structural engineer took the plunge and entered politics in 1997, when he was fielded and successfully elected as PAP MP for Jalan Besar GRC.

He was eventually tapped to become Parliament Secretary at the Ministry of Communications in 1998, before becoming Minister of State for Community Development and Sports in 2001.

The following year, he was made Acting Minister of Ministry for Community Development and Sports, as well as Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, before becoming a full minister in 2003.

He subsequently took up reins at the Ministry for the Environment and Water Resources in 2004, where he stayed for seven years.

After the 2011 General Election, Dr Yaacob was appointed the Minister for Communications, Information and the Arts, but following the restructuring of ministries a year later, became the current Minister for Communications and Information.

His plate got a little fuller when he was appointed Minister-in-charge of Cyber Security in 2015. He oversees the running of the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) – the agency in charge of protecting the country’s key IT infrastructure.

The 63-year-old has a PhD from Stanford University and was a structural engineer at Bylander-Meinhardt.

He also joined academia, specifically the National University of Singapore’s Engineering faculty. The Associate Professor at the Department of Industrial Systems Engineering and Management is currently on a long-term leave of absence from the varsity.

(Download our printable infographic: Singapore's new Cabinet and other political appointments at a glance.)

Source: CNA/kk