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New Cabinet line-up throws up some surprises

Posted by theonlinecitizen on March 30, 2008

Gerald Giam

The new Cabinet announced by the Prime Minister’s Office on Saturday evening unveiled some surprises in both promotions and non-promotions.

The most significant promotion was that of MP for Sembawang GRC K. Shanmugam, who has been appointed as the new Law Minister. That he was appointed as an office holder at the Ministry of Law was not unexpected.

He had been mentioned in the press quite a few times as a likely successor to Prof S. Jayakumar, who has been the Minister for Law since 1988.

However, Mr Shanmugam’s hop-step over many rungs of the political ladder comes as quite a surprise. Into his fifth term as a backbencher, he skipped over the offices of Parliamentary Secretary, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Minister of State, Senior Minister of State, Second Minister and Acting Minister, to be appointed immediately as a full Minister. Not only that, he was given a double portfolio.

He will also be the Second Minister for Home Affairs, a heavyweight ministry that is often seen as second in importance to only the Defence Ministry.

Reshuffle at MICA

Many had anticipated a leadership change at the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA). Dr Lee Boon Yang was expected to step down as Minister into retirement after 17 years in the Cabinet.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Second Minister, was widely regarded as almost a shoo-in to replace him as Minister. Instead it was Dr Balakrishnan who was dropped from MICA. (He retains his appointment as Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, though.) It is unclear why he was not promoted to full Minister at MICA, nor why he had his ministerial portfolios reduced from two to one.

Senior Minister of State Balaji Sadasivan will also be leaving MICA. Singaporeans would recall that it was Dr Balaji who announced just before the May 2006 General Elections that websites which “persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues relating to Singapore” will be required to register and will thus be prohibited from engaging in election advertising. This directive was largely ignored, and it led to the creation of a series of “persistently non-political” podcasts by mr brown, including the famous “Bak Chor Mee” clip.

While there was no replacement for Dr Balakrishnan at the Second Minister’s post, Dr Balaji’s position will be filled by the newly promoted RAdm(NS) Lui Tuck Yew (left), previously the Minister of State for Education. Speculation will be rife as to whether the former Navy Chief is being tested out as the next potential successor to Dr Lee Boon Yang.

It should be noted that the senior management at MICA has recently also seen some changes. Mr Chan Yeng Kit, the former CEO of the Info-Comm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), took over as Permanent Secretary at the start of this year. Last week, Mr Lock Wai Han, the former Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was appointed as MICA’s Deputy Secretary.

The effect that these changes (and non-changes) will have on the government’s approach to the old and new media is something that many will be watching with baited breath to unfold. Will Singapore beat Sudan and improve on our 141st ranking on the press freedom index? Will the “light touch” approach to the Internet become lighter or heavier? And will “party political films” ever be allowed in Singapore, like in virtually all other democracies in the world?

It is difficult to assess what the rationale for these recent leadership changes at MICA were, but I would not be surprised if the “political tsunami” in Malaysia fuelled by independent Internet media was factored in the decisions. We have seen the stepping down of an office holder who was seen as resistent to the tide of the new media, to be replaced by another who is prepared to go in there “listening, learning, and then contributing”.

No Madam Minister?

The much hoped-for appointment of Singapore‘s first female Minister was not to be in this Cabinet reshuffle. The most touted candidate, Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu, was promoted to Senior Minister of State and given another portfolio in the Education Ministery. However, she did not make it to full Minister this time around. While gender equality champions are bound to be disappointed, this outcome was unsurprising.

Ms Fu is only a first-term MP who did not face an election fight during the last elections. (Her Jurong GRC team received a walkover.) It would be premature to promote her to Minister so soon, as this could raise questions about whether her gender played an “affirmative” role in her promotion. Besides, the most likely ministry for a first time minister, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), is still being helmed by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. Nevertheless, one could expect that MCYS will eventually be headed by a female minister, possibly by the next reshuffle.

Where is our Fourth generation PM?

When Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was recently appointed Finance Minister, it set tongues wagging as to whether he might be a possible successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Some had expected that this Cabinet reshuffle would give a clear signal of who the anointed leader would be. That clear signal would have been the appointment of a new Deputy Prime Minister. Some had wondered if Prof Jayakumar would step down to make way for a new DPM.

This was not to be the case. Prof Jayakumar remains as DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security. Even the other DPM, Mr Wong Kan Seng, held firmly to his position as DPM and Home Affairs Minister, despite calls from some quarters for his resignation after the embarrassing escape of alleged terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari.

Singaporeans will have to wait a bit longer to get a sense of who may succeed PM Lee.


In keeping with Singapore’s tradition of predictable succession planning, this latest Cabinet reshuffle had a few eyebrow-raisers, but on the whole steered away from any radical departures from the status quo. Therefore, in the remaining three years of this Government’s term in power, we can expect more of the same old politics and policies.


Read also:

‘Loss to law profession, but gain for S’pore’ by The Straits Times.

Absence of woman minister ‘disappointing’ by The Straits Times.


Cartoon from My Sketchbook.




23 Responses to “New Cabinet line-up throws up some surprises”

  1. elfredinario said

    Political movements as Mr Shanmugam shouldn’t come as surprise. In the need of event, ‘rise and fall’ in politics is not really decided by ranking.

    If needs be, PM can just slot Jack Neo into MICA as full minister.

    I suppose the key point for the global internet community would be the focus on MICA.

    But there are many firespots in Singapore for some shuffled ministries, so hopefully they can be resolved by the new leading figures in time.

  2. Andrew Loh said

    I am surprise that Shanmugam is the new Law Minister. However, I think he will bring a different feel to the ministry. I hope he does as Prof Jayakumar, as far as I can recall, hasn’t done much in his 20 years there. It’s left to be seen if Shanmugam will bring significant changes.

    I am disappointed that Grace Fu is not made a full minister. I think if someone like Vivian Balakrishnan can be a minister, Grace Fu certainly can also. Granted that she only got into politics at the last elections but she comes across as more genuine than Vivian “Do you want to eat in a restaurant, foodcourt or hawker centre” Balakrishnan (VB). By the way, VB was touted as one of the “Super Seven” in the last elections, wasn’t he? Doesn’t seem so super now.

    The only appointment which I find disconcerting is Ng Eng Hen as Education Minister. The problem here is that education should have some continuity. Educational development of children (and young adults) should be consistent and minimal disruption should take place.

    With each change of education minister, principals, teachers, students and even parents will have to adept to new changes which a new minister, undoubtedly, will bring – as was the case with Teo Chee Hean and then Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

    Lee Boon Yang stays on at MICA despite indicating that he would like to step down. VB being dropped from his second portfolio and not moving tells me that he is falling from grace – similar to George Yeo, who was once touted by LKY himself as a “future prime minister”.

    Taking a wider view, it is more interesting to see where the newly-appointed ministers will stand in the next elections – as more ministers may step down then – such as Jayakumar, Lee Boon Yang, George Yeo and even Wong Kan Seng.

    All in all, nothing earth-shattering about these changes. The more important thing is to see if the new ministers can deliver.

    One last note: With all these new appts, one wonders how the PM is going to justify a 3rd pay hike for them this year – as already mentioned by Teo Chee Hean last year.

    After all, they would all be in their new appts for less than a year.

  3. Andrew Loh said

    Further thoughts on Vivian Balakrishnan:

    VB hasn’t done much in his time at MCYS. Instead his boo boos are memorable. From saying that “blood will be shed for liberalising” the policy on bar top dancing, to dissing Dr Lily Neo for asking for more help for those on public assistance, VB has shown a rather emotional streak – something which the PAP under the father and son team of LHL and LKY, disdains.

    Thus, the clipping of VB’s wings (from two portfolio to one, and not taking over at MICA) is, on hindsight, not surprising.

    Even the recent successful bid for the Youth Olympics is not seen as his achievement. It is seen as Teo Ser Luck’s feather in the cap. It is also interesting to note that again, Teo Ser Luck is put in charge of the $400 million Sports Hub project.

    VB has not been able to do much for the poor and needy. All that he has been saying is that “the govt prefers a many-hands approach”, despite concerns about this from some quarters.

    The issue which may have contributed most to his fall from grace (lets not kid oourselves, having your wings clipped and denied promotion is a fall from grace), is the wrangle over a mere $30 for those on public assistance.

    VB made the govt looked vindictive, stingy, unsympathetic and worst of all, hypocritical – that they would give themselves millions of dollars of pay rise while denying the poor a mere $30.

    Thus, it came to pass that less than a year after making that atrocious remark – “Do you want to eat in a restaurant, foodcourt or hawker centre” – VB was brushed aside by new Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who announced in this year’s budget speech that the poor on PA would get a rise of $40.

    VB has now probably realised, too late, that being a “maverick” within the PAP govt is still, sadly, a no-no. Not that VB has been a maverick of course. (Someone who wanted to deny bar top dancing is no maverick anyway, in my book.)

    The one who is climbing – and climbing fast – is Tharman. Being trusted with the Finance portfolio is no small matter, esp when Finance is seen as the most powerful portfolio in the govt.

    Thus, watch the rise of Tharman.

    And the fall of Vivian.

  4. Adrian said

    If one multi-million dollar minister has to set up a committee and wait for more than 12 months before deciding to give to people a mere $30 per month increase in public assistance, I think it maybe better for him to go back to being an eye specialist. Good overview analysis, Andrew. And on the issue on justifying the next pay increment for the ministers and civil servants, I have absolute trusts that all of the government’s intellectual resources will be put into developing a solid business case to “communicate” (not convince) to us and it will surely not take more than 12 months.

  5. Abe Tan said

    I still remember the three IF’s he had put forth when the public
    after being outraged by the NKF fiasco, asked him to regulate
    the charity sector so as to limit abuses and frauds by those
    running the charities. If this and if that ….

    Everything based on the big “IF”. Living in a Fairy Land?

    My big “IF” is that if Vivian remains as a minister than we would
    be taken for a long ride.

  6. Daniel said

    “Highest number of Senior Ministers of State”

    What the hell we need to have so many senior ministers promoted from three to eight ?

    What the hell that the PM are so inept that he need so many ministers to help him ? Remember all these ass@$#holes are the highest paid and over-paid in the world, and their performance is all about delivering half-fuc@#$ked solution at expense of citizen.

    No wonder we need to increase GST, price hike to feed these shameful ministers and president.

    Stop telling us that without PAP, Singapore will die. In reality, with PAP, Singapore will die faster.

  7. why the MM and SM? said

    My question is why does the tax payer need to continue paying MM Lee salary and SM Goh salary? Is this not a bloated bureaucracy that Vivian wrongly accused NMP Siew of? If our poor PM Lee needs his dear father at his side to function properly, maybe PM Lee should pay MM Lee a proper maintenance allowance from his own pocket. And If the new MTI minister needs SM GOH to sell Singapore to India, then that should come from the MTI minister’s pocket. I do not see how the tax payers need to pay millions to SM Goh and MM Lee, when they are not managing any specific portfolio or accountable to any specific KPI. By the way, what is their KPI?? PM Lee is the goal keeper, and SM and MM are….??
    PS – Is MM Lee also paid a top salary as chief of GIC???

  8. Low said

    I think SG may be blessed with a lot of scholars and “good thinkers” in the government. But, if you look around the world, the real first world ministers are all politicians who have gone through the “baptism of fire”, namely democratic elections. At least, there are appointed by an elected President who had to rally through a full-year of election fights. In Singapore, hats should be taken off for the ministers who have gone through the election fight, abeit, a diluted one through GRCs and other ‘lawful’ tactics. Otherwise, we are really blessed with good, efficient political administrators – ministers? well, not all at least.

  9. elfredinario said

    Hi Andrew Loh!

    Firstly, this is obviously an interim exercise to move people around. As for Mr Tharman’s appointment, he was actually the ‘designated’ Finance Minister, and I knew that years back.

    What you have to realise about Finance Ministry is this, the influence is still PM Lee. So in a way, the real control behind this ministry is still with the MM and PM.

    Mr Tharman has been with MAS for that long, if you were the PM you’d place him in this job esp when many things are happening recently in the money sides. No surprise.

    I am more concerned about MICA because all of us online should be curiously cautious. Shanmugam’s got a reputation after NKF thingy, Gan Kim Yong scored by inputing coming controls in private education sector where CASE’d be seemingly replaced by another new entity, and Dr Vivian our YP chief is obviously gonna concentrate on the Youth Olympic thing alongside with Teo Ser Luck. Mr Khaw is busy fighting in his health sector. Now Mr Ng has own fight in the private education sector.

    A for the women, maybe we’d have some women ministers in future, but the same surprise is Dr Vivian is not in MICA. Hahahaha… But we have a CID chief (is it???) in MICA plus a supposedly ‘righteous’ Mr Shanmugam in Law…

    What do you think?

    We can expect Mr Ng to fight in education as Mr Khaw is doing, but in MICA… after the northern happenings… I am sure MM is thinking more the Internet nowadays.

    Do update us if you guys have any news. 😉

    Pls pardon any typos.

  10. Panter93 said

    Hi Mr Elfredinario,

    Is that the reason why so many of us have been banned
    from entering into YPAP Forum by our ISP?

    Can throw more light?

  11. observer said

    VB has been a lot less of a maverick and far less “hip” than his reputation pre-Govt suggests… he’s been quite the voice of conservatism, actually, almost as if he had to prove his cred on “tough” hardliner PAP positions since joining Govt. Bit of a relief in some ways that he’s been dropped from MICA — sense is that artists don’t actually trust him very much w their aspirations and interests. On the other hand, I think winning the Olympic bid is reason enough to retain him at MCYS, and perhaps streamlining his job is a way of making sure his attentions are not divided for the event.

    MOE – interesting that they’ve now moved in two Manpower / personnel related people at the top. Their new Perm Sec Ms Yeo Chee Yean used to be at MCYS and PSD (both people-oriented portfolios).

    Could it be they finally realised that teaching staff need some TLC and it’s not just about rankings? There is cause for optimism actually.

  12. antz said

    To make it simple and short,to be frank s’pore politics are boring.Lifeless cos the system goes back round and round.

  13. Panter,

    You kena-ed again???
    It’s not the right place to ask this sort of question lah~

    Politically, maybe becos:
    1. The old rules have passed away before MM departs;
    2. You are using your own Id;
    3. You are not yet a PAP member;
    4. You no know the (old) rules (set by MM himself);
    5. Someone is using his/her own rules on you.

    Otherwise, maybe it’s indeed a bug.

    Or they know you are easy to be banned.

    Local politics is like a… sphere. And politics is… not like what you have thought to be on facts and such. Very hard to explain to you lah~

    When you are in the sphere, you are positioned somewhere, or those aware shall position himself somewhere not too close to the core and just not outside the parameter.

    You’d never understand why PAP is making David Marshal a hero after he retired from service when WP is getting stronger if you don’t understand politics.

    Elfred is positioning himself right at the parameter, the bo-chap zone in politics.

    In the mindset of MM, there is something called within the system, and outside the system.

    Now you know why I am kinda scare that he departs too early… The rules or PAP tradition will just change into something else. MM only goes after the kinds pursuing too aggressive politics threatening to destablise the status quo…

    Other people… I don’t know. I can’t imagine s well. N many want him dead, not knowing what they are asking for…

    Personal opinion.


  14. yr uncle said

    why all the ‘shifting around’ by minister ? i only interested when all of them will be ‘shipping out’ ? take so much money and can’t solve problem, just shift responsibility back to public. tak boleh tahan !!!

  15. Dingo said

    Aww… but I liked Vivian… a little. Did he used to be critical of the PAP? His face in that picture posted above makes him look sad and distressed.

  16. Seeking Salvation said

    what the difference the old croak is still the mm the next post is immortal mentor minister imm but god forbids

  17. […] by The Singapore Daily on 31 March 2008 Cabinet Musical Chairs – The Online Citizen: New Cabinet line-up throws up some surprises – Random Thoughts Of A Free Thinker: Preliminary thoughts about Singapore’s latest Cabinet […]

  18. Gary Teoh said

    The chinese has a saying ‘change soup never change medicine’what is the use, Tak Boleh Tahan

  19. Alan Wong said

    Is it a coincidence in Singapore that many office bearers of a particular background are always tasked with looking after the piggy banks.

    Previously we have one CEO in charge of NKF.
    Then we have a President in charge of the key to our reserves.
    Next we have one for a Finance Minister.

    I just wonder whether is it that they can easily be manipulated by those in power.

  20. antz said

    I wonder when will ‘the old croak’ stepped down for good.?

  21. […] Musical Chairs – The Online Citizen: New Cabinet line-up throws up some surprises [Recommended] – Random Thoughts Of A Free Thinker: Preliminary thoughts about Singapore’s latest […]

  22. patriot said

    Please do not play around with races and said a particular race is making use of another race. No race in Singapore is as stupid as to be manipulated by a different race.

  23. Theowne said

    @Alan Wong

    Prior to his appointment, he was Minister of Education. He has two masters degrees. He was Senior Minister of Trade and Industry. Are all these “piggy-bank” positions? Of course, I don’t think facts would matter to you, you’re more interested in playing the tension game, I think.

    Please grow up, unless you want to become like Malaysia, or the United States.

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