Lee appointing younger S’pore ministers in Cabinet revamp

SINGAPORE • Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (picture) named a new trade and industry minister in a Cabinet reshuffle, further preparing his party for a leadership transition sometime in the next few years.

Chan Chun Sing will be minister for Trade and Industry from May 1, taking on duties currently shared by Lim Hng Kiang, who will step down, and S Iswaran, who will become minister in charge of trade relations. Chan, who turns 49 this year, will relinquish his position as minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Chan will play a key role in an economy that is forecast to see solid growth in 2018, after an export boom last year gave the country its fastest expansion since 2014. Inflation remains within the government’s forecast range, while its labour market is strengthening, but officials face longerterm challenges such as rapid ageing and adjusting to the digital economy.

Lee, 66, is devolving more responsibilities from older ministers to the younger ones. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will take on the additional job of assisting the prime minister on National Research Foundation matters from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. Chan will take over responsibility for the public service division from Teo.

There was no movement in the finance minister post, which last changed hands in 2015, when Heng replaced Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam shortly after the government won a landslide election victory. Heng, who turns 57 this year, was part of a younger team of officials Lee promoted to show that the ruling People’s Action Party was preparing for succession.

Ong Ye Kung will remain minister for education with an expanded portfolio overseeing the entire ministry, from higher education and skills previously. He will relinquish his job as second minister for defence.

Josephine Teo, who is currently minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, will be minister for manpower and continue as second minister for home affairs, while Indranee Rajah will be promoted to minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, second minister for finance and second minister for education.

They may not be among the perceived front runners to take over as Singapore’s next prime minister, but women made some progress in Singapore’s latest Cabinet reshuffle.

Rajah will be promoted to full minister starting May 1, nudging the needle forward on gender parity. The former senior counsel joins Teo and Grace Fu as the only women in the cabinet, alongside more than a dozen men. Rajah is currently the senior minister of state for law and finance.

Before the changes, Singapore — the only developed economy in South-East Asia — was among 15 countries with scores reflecting “extreme” gender inequality in legal and political spheres in the Asia-Pacific region, according to data released yesterday by the McKinsey Global Institute. Representing about 24% of Parliament and 9% of ministerial or Cabinet roles in 2017, women have been under-represented in Singapore even as the share of women legislators has increased and more women have run for office in recent years, the researchers said. — Bloomberg