Ruling party politician Heng Swee Keat told reporters at a media briefing today that he would be “happy to continue” as Finance Minister following the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle, which is expected to give the 4th generation leaders more exposure and responsibilities.
Responding to questions on whether he is likely to stay in the Ministry of Finance, Heng added that there is still much work to be done at his ministry as Singapore continues to face fiscal challenges. Besides pointing to international tax revenue collection as a key area that Singapore and other countries are devoting more focus to, Heng said:
“There are important expenditure needs to provide for. We want to be able to make the best use of our resources to achieve our economic and social needs, while maintaining a high level of security. Allocating the Budget across these different areas is a major challenge.”
Heng is widely tipped to be one of the frontrunners to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as head of government. Several prominent figures have touted that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will make a fine PM. Former Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh was one such voice who said, “No obvious PM candidate other than Heng Swee Keat has emerged.”
Besides Heng, younger ministers like Chan Chun Sing and Ong Ye Kung have been tipped as top choices for the role by political pundits. Both ministers are in their 40s.
Netizens responding to Heng’s latest remarks expressed confusion over whether Heng knows he will not gain the post and is trying to save face or whether he knows he got the role and is just trying to seem humble:
This is not the first time Heng has sidestepped what many see as the implied query of whether he thinks he is likely to succeed PM Lee. In December last year, Heng deftly deflected questions on being a potential successor to PM Lee during an interview with Chinese magazine, Caijing.
Dodging the actual questions on the rife speculation that he will be Singapore’s fourth Prime Minister, Heng instead spoke about how the cabinet works cohesively and how the Prime Minister is the head of the cabinet:
Caijing: PM Lee has said that his successor is most likely to be in the Cabinet now, you have been mentioned as potential successor, what’s your response to this?
HSK: Our cabinet has very strong cohesion. It started from the time when Lee Kuan Yew was PM and it has since continued to be so with our second PM Goh Chok Tong and current PM Lee Hsien Loong. Cabinet members meet every week to discuss policies and everyone pitches policy suggestions. We also spend time discussing our relationships with our neighbouring countries and partners. We will continue to maintain constructive relationships with neighbouring countries, including China. Over time, we get to understand that different ministries face different issues, and it helps us understand national issues better. This is a very cohesive team and the PM is the leader of the team.
On what qualities Singapore’s next Prime Minister should have, Heng pointed to trust and asserted, “The most important thing in our parliamentary system is to win the trust of the people.”
Caijing: In your opinion, what qualities should Singapore’s next Prime Minister have?
HSK: The most important thing in our parliamentary system is to win the trust of the people. Before becoming the PM, you need to be elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) first. All MPs spend a lot of time to understand their constituents, and they strive to improve their lives.
We also need to constantly monitor what’s happening around us in the world, in order to understand the challenges and opportunities we face, and also how to mobilise the people to adapt to changes. Economic restructuring is part of this effort. For example, how can we maintain cohesion in a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious society, and how can we help the young realise their potential through education, these are very important issues to Singapore.