In an interview with state media reporters yesterday (Apr 18), Minister Heng Swee Keat said he is “very happy” to remain as Finance Minister in the Cabinet reshuffle next month. However, the fact remains that the Prime Minister have little choice who could take up the heavyweight profile.
After filling his Cabinet with military generals and officers, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently realised that he as no replacement for Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. While all other ministers like Ng Chee Meng and Chan Chun Sing are expected to take up a new ministry, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is unable to go anyway because no one else is professionally-trained or experienced in fiscal policies.
There are currently 6 ex-uniformed men including newly-inducted ones like Chan Chun Sing, Chee Hong Tat, Ng Chee Meng and Tan Chuan Jin. In 2016, the critical brain drain problem was highlighted when Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat suffered a stroke. There was no one in sight to take his profile, except for his predecessor the former Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
If Deputy Prime Minister Tharman retire in the next General Election by 2020, there would be no one to replace Minister Heng Swee Keat when he gets a stroke again.
Military generals come by a dozen and they are especially handy because they do not question orders. In the past 14 years of his premiership, PM Lee Hsien Loong placed many army generals in state-owned companies as CEOs. Although all of them ran the companies into losses, everyone was given a second chance like former Neptune Orient Line CEO Ng Yat Chung who is now Singapore Press Holdings CEO. Just yesterday, a new army general was appointed to replace former chief of defence force Desmond Kuek as SMRT CEO.
Based off PM Lee’s deployment of army generals, it is apparent he believe a company CEO need not know anything about the business. That could also be why he put his wife Ho Ching as CEO of Temasek Holdings. PM Lee probably believe that the senior management running the actual day-to-day operations and consultants would advise the CEO what to do.
However, the same body-commanding-the-head method can’t be done for the Finance Minister profile. A minister who heavily relies on his government department of scholars for fiscal policies is going to run the country into debt.