SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Desmond Lee has acknowledged that the corruption probe involving Transport Minister S Iswaran is “very worrying” and has had a big impact on West Coast GRC in a new interview with The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao.

Mr Iswaran, the anchor Minister for West Coast GRC, has been placed on a leave of absence since he was arrested and released on bail in July 2023 as part of the corruption probe. His ministerial pay has been cut to $8,500 while he earns his full MP allowance, although he has been interdicted from his duties.

Mr Lee was lifted from Jurong GRC, helmed by now-Singapore President Tharman Shanmugaratnam, ahead of the 2020 general election. He was placed in West Coast GRC to support Mr Iswaran as the ward faced off with former ruling party MP Tan Cheng Bock and his Progress Singapore Party team at the polls.

West Coast GRC is now on shakier ground, with the anchor minister leading them into the election absent before the term ends. The West Coast team is operating one MP short, with the other MPs sharing the load.

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It remains unclear whether both group wards will continue to exist in their current forms or whether other heavyweight ministers will be redeployed to anchor these constituencies in the next election, which must take place by next year.

Some political observers have suggested that Mr Lee may transition to anchoring West Coast GRC at the next polls, but with the People’s Action Party (PAP) winning the ward with an extremely narrow 51.68 per cent vote – even with the presence of two ministers – at the last election, the prospect that the ward’s electoral boundaries will remain unchanged is slim.

With their anchor minister missing in action over the past six months, Mr Lee has said that the incident “has had an impact, is a big impact”, although he did not elaborate on what this impact is.

He, however, said that despite the impact, his team has been working to engage residents and deal with issues like the cost of living and inequality. He told the press, “Since (the news broke) in July, we have been able to hold the team together, energise them to continue serving the ground with passion and dedication.”

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Mr Lee added, “But that has not distracted us from the important mission of continuing to serve our residents and ensuring that there is no disruptive trend to service continuity, that there are people that residents will continue to look for assistance.”

Turning to the upcoming leadership transition, which will see Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hand over the baton to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong in November, Mr Lee said: “I personally look at this transition as something that is good for Singapore. It is important for there to be leadership renewal, but (I’m) assured and confident that it will be a continuum rather than a disruption and reformation.”

Stressing the importance of leadership renewal and continuity, he highlighted the ongoing efforts by MPs and grassroots leaders to support the Government’s policy priorities, including initiatives to aid senior citizens in aging well.

Mr Lee also expressed optimism regarding the future Cabinet composition, noting that younger ministers will continue benefiting from the wisdom and experience of their older counterparts. He urged Singaporeans to support the leadership transition, seeking “the mandate to carry us into the future, particularly at a very challenging time for the world and for Singapore”.