Singapore—With all the talk of who is next in line to lead the country in the wake of Heng Swee Keat’s announcement that he would step aside from PAP 4G leadership, one other important position is also now in play—that of Finance Minister.
At the Apr 8 media conference wherein the Deputy Prime Minister made his announcement, it was also announced that Mr Heng will be stepping down as Finance Minister, a position he has held since October 2015.
He will, however, remain Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, as well as chairman of the National Research Foundation under the Prime Minister’s Office.
A Cabinet reshuffle is expected in around two weeks, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saying that there are to be “consequential moves” in other ministries.
So who might succeed Mr Heng in the Ministry of Finance (MOF)?
This portfolio is indeed an important one as the MOF is “responsible for managing Singapore’s fiscal policies and the structure of its economy”.
The MOF also prepares the yearly national Budget.
Among the political luminaries who have held the portfolio are former President Tony Tan (1983 to 1985), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (2001 to 2007) and Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (2007 to 2015).
Two contenders quickly come to mind, Mr Lawrence Wong and Ms Indranee Rajah, who are the current Second Ministers of the MOF.
Mr Wong, who is the country’s Minister for Education, is considered one of the front runners to succeed Mr Heng as the leader of PAP’s 4G team. He co-chaired the multi-ministry task force last year assigned to tackle the Covid-19 and was perceived to have done well.
There is also talk that Mr Wong may follow the trajectory of SM Tharman’s path in his political ascent. The Senior Minister once held the Education portfolio before he became the Minister for Finance.
Like Mr Tharman, Mr Wong read economics abroad (Mr Tharman at London School of Economics and Cambridge, Mr Wong at University of Wisconsin – Madison and University of Michigan – Ann Arbor) and also holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
In informal surveys, Mr Wong has performed well. And talk of him as PM Lee’s successor already began circulating after last year’s General Election.
As for Ms Indranee, her political resume is no less impressive. A lawyer with a degree from the National University of Singapore, she has been a Member of Parliament (PAP – Tanjong Pagar GRC) for over two decades, where she assumed office as Leader of the House last year.
She has also been a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office since 2018, and is Second Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Education.
On the other hand, there is still the possibility that Mr Heng will keep his position in the MOF, considering that the current Cabinet is less than 10 months old.
Another possibility is that a relative newcomer is given the position, which is what happened with former Finance Minister Richard Hu (1985 to 2001). Dr Hu, who held a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Birmingham in Britain, worked in the private sector until 1983, when he became the Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC).
A year after that he contested, and won, at the Kreta Ayer Single Member Constituency under the PAP, and began his 16-year tenure heading MOF shortly thereafter.
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