After Senior Ministers Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Teo Chee Hean were roped in to handle manpower matters like the jobs council and the foreign worker dormitories situation, some Singaporeans are speculating whether Manpower Minister Josephine Teo was given too big a portfolio for her to cope with.
Mr Tharman and Mr Teo served as Singapore’s Deputy Prime Ministers from 2011 to 2019. The pair stepped down from their posts and became Senior Ministers on 1 May 2019, following a Cabinet reshuffle that was designed to give fourth-generation (4G) ministers more exposure and responsibilities so that they can better support the next Prime Minister who will come from their cohort.
The Cabinet reshuffle saw the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) 4G cohort accept several promotions that resulted in them leading two-thirds of the Government’s ministries. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat kept his ministry but also succeeded Mr Tharman and Mr Teo as Singapore’s sole Deputy Prime Minister, giving rise to speculation that he is the ruling party’s Prime Minister designate.
Besides Mr Tharman and Mr Teo, fellow veteran politician Lim Swee Say stepped down from his post as Manpower Minister and was succeeded by Josephine Teo, who became Singapore’s second female minister to helm a ministry after Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu.
While Mr Tharman and Mr Teo seemed to take a backseat to allow the younger ministers to take charge, they have now taken on important responsibilities that pertain to manpower.
Current DPM Heng Swee Keat tapped on Mr Tharman to chair the new National Jobs Council. Asserting that his predecessor has “both detailed knowledge and deep expertise in this issue” in his latest supplementary budget speech last month, Mr Heng revealed that the National Jobs Council will focus on creating jobs and helping workers build deep skills to stay employable in the challenging economy.
Mr Teo was brought in to handle the foreign worker dormitories issue after COVID-19 outbreaks in the dorms ended up infecting over 33,567 workers and counting. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Mr Teo is playing an advisory role in the Government’s inter agency task force to handle the situation in the dorms.
The veteran politicians’ involvement in what are perceived as manpower matters has raised questions about the capabilities of Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.
Mrs Teo was just recently under public scrutiny for the way she handled the COVID-19 outbreaks at the foreign worker dormitories. Some Singaporeans blamed the minister for allowing the COVID-19 situation to spiral out of control among migrant workers even though she was warned in advance that this might happen due to the workers’ overcrowded living conditions.
When she was asked why she did not act early in implementing safe distancing measures in the dorms before the coronavirus infection spread uncontrolled, Mrs Teo did not apologise and instead blamed a lack of hindsight.
Expressing a wish to “rewind the clock” to implement safe distancing measures in the dorms earlier, she told the local press: “If possible, I really wish to know at which stage the infection has already spread to community and migrant workers group? If time can be rewound, this is what I wish I could know.”
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