I was surprised that the cabinet reshuffling came so early after a earlier massive reorganisation immediately after the disastrous General Election last year.
After the general election, three ministers were also given the boot due to their poor showing at the polls – Transport Minister Raymond Lim, Housing Minister Mah Bow Tan and Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for National Security Wong Kan Seng.
Three ministers have left the Cabinet after the election, and out of 14 ministries, 11 will have new ministers in charge reflecting the need for a fresh change at the top.
Cabinet reshuffle after General Election 2011
Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew also left the Cabinet as PM Lee Hsien Loong rightfully decided to do away with two ex-PMs in the cabinet.
Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is also appointed as the Senior Advisor to Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong is appointed as senior advisor to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and been given the title Emeritus Senior Minister.
Many critics have complained that the PM seems to send the unhealthy signal that he could not govern properly without the two ex-PMs assisting within the cabinet.
Moreover, these two ex-PMs are rather vocal on certain sensitive issues and sometimes their views were carried more extensively in the press than our Prime Minister.
The unsubstantiated rumour that Emeritius Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong often commented against the policies of the current PM also did not helped Mr Lee much as he is seen as lacking in direction and leadership.
To his credit, PM Lee has been more forward looking in explaining his policies to the population this year compared to the previous five years.
For example, during the aftermath of the December MRT transport fiasco, he broke from his leave schedule to address the country two days later and is seen as more proactive in getting to the bottom of national issues.
Previously, he left alot of the problem-solving process to his respective ministers who sometimes struggled to effectively answer the media enquiries.
I remembered two weeks before the general election last year, ex-Housing Minister Mah Bow Tan provided a media interview which literally hammered the coffin nail on his ministerial career.
He told the media that there are sufficient housing units for the population when evidentially the country struggled with a lack of new public housing due to the policy of building HDB BTO units on a build to order basis.
Mr Mah should rightfully be dismissed way before the general election last year due to his inept management of the housing ministry in Singapore.
I hope that the Prime Minister is more stern in how he treats incapable ministers as keeping ill-performing ones not only prolong the sufferings of the general population but promote the philosophy that you can get away with poor performance in the ministry.
I am glad that new appointees like Admiral Lui Tuck Yew has so far performed credibly compared to his predecessor Mr Raymond Lim.
New cabinet reshuffle announced recently
The Government has recently announced the restructuring of two ministries — the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) and the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA).
Three new ministries will be formed in their place — the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), and the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).
MSF will be headed by Chan Chun Sing, who will relinquish his appointment in MICA. Chan will also be appointed as Senior Minister of State (SMS) in the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF).
Yaacob Ibrahim will become the Minister for Communications and Information (MCI), and will continue to be in charge of Muslim Affairs.
MCCY will be helmed by Lawrence Wong, who will relinquish his appointment in MINDEF.
In a press statement from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee said Singapore is in a new phase of development, where social and community issues are increasingly important.
He added that the government needs to strengthen families and enhance social safety nets to help the needy.
The changes, came sooner than anticipated, are welcomed as our country faces much uncertainty at the family and job front.
The cabinet reshuffle also showed that the government is concerned with the new social ills prevalent in the country now and is seen as trying to resolve some of the issues.
Whether the reshuffling will be successful at tackling some of the thorny social issues remains to be seen.
Divorces for last year reached a new high of 7,800 and the social division between new and native citizens seem to enter into dangerous unchartered hostile waters.
The cabinet changes have brought some relief to the shell-shocked population as there is much unhappiness with the way foreigners are brought so easily to our shore and turned into citizens.
In fact, the situation is so delicate that our country may soon be divided into two camps – one belonging to the massive 1.8 million foreigners and the other camp belonging to our own native citizens.
I am also not surprised if the future PM will be someonewho hails from the new appointees as they are younger, more enterprising and not afraid to engage the population through social media.
The new changes are welcome though the appointment of Chan Chun Sing as minister of Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is still doubtful as the general seems to be better at handling soldiers than a ministry.
Lack of social work experience for Mr Chan Chun Sing?
The lack of experience in the social sector is telling as Mr Chan tries his level best to connect with the ground and heads a ministry like a new kid on the block.
He didn’t really do much for the whole year when he was appointed minister of MCYS immediately after the General Election and seemed to have problem pinpointing the social issues affecting the country.
For example, he didn’t said much when there were issues relating to the formation of care units for the elderly within the community and when divorce rate hits sky high this year.
In fact, his Parliamentary Secretary Halimah Yacob seemed to have a better grasp of social issues due to her training in the social service sector and could better address them when she spoke in Parliament recently.
I wonder why the PM didn’t think of promoting one of his Parliamentary Secretary such as Mr Sam Tan, who has vast experience handling social matters while heading CDAC for close to ten years prior to his governmental posting immediately after the general election.
I am nevertheless glad that Mr Lawrence Wong, the Parliamentary Secretary for the education ministry, is now a minister heading MCCY.
He seems articulate while addressing the educational issues confronting our country and deserves the promotion.
Not many Parlimanetary Secretaries are promoted to become ministers and seeing Mr Lawrence Wong becoming the rare few proved that meritocracy exists in the high office instead of the past trend of turning to our military generals to helm ministries.
There are also too many ex-military men in the cabinet and this not only cements the fact that ground think exists within the government but that the PM seems to favour people from the military to rise up through the cabinet rung.
Some critics have speculated that because many of the top military generals were promoted by him and that they knew him in person when the Prime Minister was a general himself before joining the cabinet, they will be loyal to the hand that feeds them.
Unstable PM position for Mr Lee Hsien Loong?
Speculation also abound as to whether our Prime Minister will be able to hold on to the PM seat after his incumbent father Mr Lee Kuan Yew passes on as the PM position is self appointed by the cabinet and he may not be enjoying alot of support from his peers as people thought.
Personally, on another matter, I think our Prime Minister needs to be more daring in implementing changes as this is a very different and difficult world right now.
He must dares to fail as no policy is guaranteed for success. Doing nothing will only make the current situation worse.
Holding on to the current inertia state will only spell doom for his political party in five years’ time as the population is restless for change – which is still hard to come by even after the disastrous showing at the polls last year.
Many have speculated that the ruling party will lose more seats in five years’ time before they seriously start to implement drastic policy changes for the sake of survival.
The fact that he is Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s son is also a liability for our PM as many people tend to unfavourably compare him with the works of his father.
He is fortunately a softer image of his autocratic father and represents more of his mother who is mellowed and measured.
However, I would like to see the PM gives up his seat for the sake of the country after the next election as so far he has not really do much good for the country.
During his tenure as PM, he implemented GST to the tune of 7% – much to the dismay of a under-paid population and decided to bring in close to 1.8 million foreigners to boost up our GDP and economy without proper planning and discussion with the population.
Many PAP supporters would aruge that he has brought forth much prosperity to the country and that our country now boasts of having the highest concentration of millionaires in the world but yet ironically there are still many Singaporeans who could not earn beyond $1500 a month.
More than 100, 000 Singaporeans earn below $1500/month and our wage gap remains one of the highest in the world.
The government slogan of pushing the economy along at all cost hurts the feelings of many Singaporeans who felt that the current regime does not have a heart when it comes to tackling the struggles of the common people.
Many citizens would gladly trade away one percentage point of the GDP in exchange for a more humane government.
Many citizens have also complained that the current PM lacks innate connection with the ground as since young he is kept away from the general population due to his heritage.
He could not figure out what is congestion while riding on our crowded public transportation and has not even taste a day of unemployment since he started work with the military.
His lack of connection with the ground has severely hampered his problem-solving abilities as how can he be effective if he could not empathsized with the needs and struggles of the general population?
Nevertheless, if there is a power struggle for the top seat, PM Lee should enjoy the support of most of his military generals whom he has called to the cabinet.
Lack of private sector experience for our cabinet
The cabinet reshuffle highlights another more serious issue here – the lack of private sector talent at the top.
Besides Mr Gan Kim Yong who heads the Health ministry now, no other minister has the relevant experience working in the private sector – which is a serious concern.
The government seems to have a hard time attracting talent to the cabinet as so far most of them could only qualify as Members of Parliament (MP) and rarely does an MP from the private sector has the priviledge of making it to the cabinet.
The lack of ministers with the relevant private sector experience is telling especially in the manpower ministry as currently Mr Tan Chuan Jin – another general who was called to the cabinet after last year election - struggles with this massive portfolio that may determine the survivability of the ruling party.
Mr Tan is in the ultra-hot seat right now and though he tries very hard to tackle the manpower issue, we can see that he lacks the understanding and the relevant ground experience to really tackle the contentious labour issues presented.
He is also another government scholar who has never works a day in the private sector.
As a military top-gun, he has thousands of men under his command and many people will be able to tell him that working in the yes-sir military and the private sector is a totally different ball game.
He will never really comprehend the feelings of the unemployed and someone who is being exploited in the work place.
Mr Tan will have his work cut out as the country struggles with the various manpower issues that plagued the current global economy.
Many people have complained about the recent influx of foreign workers in our midst and though the ministry has of late tightened up the foreign worker control, much still needs to be done.
Mr Tan may need to really go down to the ground and speaks to those who are unemployed and implements daring changes that will be ground shaking.
So far, most of his changes are cosmetic and let’s see how much he can do as he has announced that he will implement changes to the employment contract come this year end.
Many PMETS have complained that the government has being mostly pro-employer in many of its’ policies and that executives do not have much arbitration rights here if there is a dispute in the work place.
Our unions are also mostly toothless and unseen whereas employer associations seem to hawk the news whenever there is any employment issue here.
As Singapore enters into a difficult trying period whereby globalisation will rear its ugly head if things are not put right soon, let us hope that the government will do what’s best for the country than trying to save itself from another hiding at the next polls.
Written by: Gilbert Goh