SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong emphasised the need for leadership succession during the National Day Rally on Sunday (Aug 21). He said his successor must be ready to take over from him soon after the next general election.
Mr Lee spoke about the issue after returning to the stage to applause about an hour and a half after he took ill while delivering his English speech. The Prime Minister's Office said that Mr Lee had been feeling unsteady because of prolonged standing, heat and dehydration, and that Mr Lee's heart is fine and that he did not have a stroke.
"What happened makes it even more important to talk about (leadership succession) now," said Mr Lee.
He noted that the core team of the next generation of leaders is in the Cabinet, but added: "Minister or not, all of us are mortal. (Finance Minister) Heng Swee Keat gave us a bad scare recently - worse than what I gave you just now. Much worse."
Mr Heng collapsed during a Cabinet meeting three months ago, after suffering a stroke.
Speaking on Sunday, Mr Lee that it was a "miracle" that Mr Heng was all right. He said doctors recommended that Mr Heng avoid contact with crowds for at least a few more months to minimise the risk of infection, but have given him the go-ahead to do office work with minimum interaction.
To applause, Mr Lee said: "I have decided that Swee Keat will resume duties as Minister for Finance," adding that Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, will stop covering as Acting Minister.
Mr Lee added that Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong has been appointed Second Finance Minister to help Mr Heng as he resumes his duties.
Mr Heng will focus on next year’s Budget and the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), while Mr Wong will help him out with the operational responsibilities at the Finance Ministry, Mr Lee said.
Mr Lee also thanked the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) team that responded to the emergency call when Mr Heng collapsed. "I'm glad they're here (at the National Day Rally) today," he said. To even greater applause, Mr Lee added: "And I should say thank you to them because I invited them here as guests and they came to treat me just now."
'I KNOW PM WAS IN GOOD HANDS': HENG
Mr Heng too, noted how Cabinet ministers and emergency responders alike reacted when Mr Lee took ill during his speech.
"We saw tonight how closely PM’s team works together, as some rushed on stage to support PM, while others informed the audience and us at home about what was happening. I have experienced this spirit," wrote Mr Heng in a Facebook post shortly after the speech. "I, for one, know that PM was in good hands with them."
He added: "Like all of you, I have never felt such a surge of joy as when PM came back on stage tonight after he took ill. He looked very well, full of colour and spirit, just like his usual self.
"I hope his full check-up after the NDR will find that everything is OK, and I hope PM will take some rest. He has been checking up on me in the last few weeks, advising me to take care after my stroke. My sincerest hope is that he will also be kind to himself when it comes to his health."
He added: "All my best to PM and his family, who must have had a scare tonight."
Mr Heng also welcomed Mr Wong's appointment as Second Finance Minister. He wrote: "He will be a great member of the team. Lawrence and I worked closely together at MOE (Ministry of Education), when he led the Committee on University Education Pathways beyond 2015, a major piece of work that led to important policies. We had good robust discussions, and I look forward to more exchanges when he joins us at MOF (Ministry of Finance) as Second Minister."
Mr Wong, in a post on his own Facebook page, said that he was delighted that Mr Heng is recovering well and will be back to work soon. "PM has asked me to help Swee Keat in MOF, in addition to my current role in MND (Ministry of National Development).
"I worked for several years in MOF previously as a civil servant and thoroughly enjoyed my stint there. Look forward to returning to the ministry, and giving my full support to Swee Keat as he progressively resumes his duties."
Mr Heng also said he was "deeply grateful" to DPM Tharman for covering his duties these few months. "I also thank Minister Iswaran in the CFE, SMS Indranee and SMS Sim Ann, and MOF and other officials, for their dedication."
He also thanked his colleagues in his constituency, Tampines GRC, adding that they will continue to help him with constituency work.
SUCCESSION PLANNING 'VERY KEY': CEDRIC FOO
The point Mr Lee made about leadership succession was something that stood out for MP for Pioneer SMC Cedric Foo. Speaking to Channel NewsAsia after the rally, Mr Foo said it appears to him that very few Singaporeans give much thought to succession planning. "I think we should not make light of the fact that succession planning is very key, largely because Singapore is a new and relatively young nation," he said.
"Ultimately, what distinguishes Singapore and makes us so different from the rest of the world is that we have a group of committed people," added Mr Foo. "People who have a vision of where they want to take Singapore to, and people who will make all sacrifices necessary to achieve that for Singaporeans."