Heng Swee Keat

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Heng Swee Keat PPA PJG (Chinese :王瑞杰; pinyin :Wáng Ruìjié; born 15 April 1961) [1] is a Singaporean politician who has been serving as Deputy Prime Minister since 2019 and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies since 2020. A member of the governing People's Action Party (PAP), he has been a Member of Parliament representing the Bedok ward of East Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC) since 2020. He was previously Minister for Education (2011–2015) and Minister for Finance (2015–2021). [2]

Contents

Before entering politics, Heng had worked at the Singapore Police Force, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Trade and Industry, and Monetary Authority of Singapore, and was also Principal Private Secretary to Lee Kuan Yew from 1997 to 2001. He made his political debut in the 2011 general election as part of a five-member PAP team contesting in Tampines GRC and the team won with 57.22% of the vote. He then became a Member of Parliament representing the Tampines Central ward of Tampines GRC and managed to retain his parliamentary seat in the 2015 general election with 72.06% of the vote before switching to contest in East Coast GRC in the 2020 general election.

Heng was poised to succeed Lee Hsien Loong as the fourth Prime Minister following his appointment as Deputy Prime Minister in May 2019 and election as the First Assistant Secretary-General of the PAP in November 2018. Heng subsequently withdrew himself from the nomination in April 2021. [3]

Background

A Chinese Singaporean of Teochew descent, Heng was educated at Raffles Institution before he received an overseas scholarship from the Singapore Police Force in 1980 [4] [5] to study at Christ College at the University of Cambridge, from which he graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in economics. [1] He returned to serve in various roles in the Singapore Police Force, [6] including a five-year stint in the Criminal Investigation Department, before leaving in 1997 with the rank of Assistant Commissioner. He also completed a nine-month Command and Staff Course conducted by the Singapore Armed Forces, [7] and a Master of Public Administration at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1993. [1]

In 1997, Heng joined the Singapore Administrative Service and worked at the Ministry of Education before he was appointed Principal Private Secretary to Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1997. In 2001, Heng became Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. [8] From 1 June 2005 to 2 April 2011, he was the Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, [9] and was named Asia-Pacific Central Bank Governor of the Year by The Banker in February 2011. [10]

Political career

2011–2015

Heng made his political debut in the 2011 general election as part of a five-member People's Action Party (PAP) team contesting in Tampines GRC, with former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong claiming that Heng had the potential to be a Cabinet minister. [11] The PAP team won with 57.22% of the vote against the National Solidarity Party and Heng became a Member of Parliament representing the Tampines Central ward of Tampines GRC. [12]

On 18 May 2011, Heng was appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Education even though he had just been elected for the first time as a Member of Parliament. In August 2012, he was tasked with leading a new ministerial committee to conduct a broad-based review of the government's policies and direction. [13]

2015–2020

During the 2015 general election, Heng led the five-member PAP team contesting in Tampines GRC and they won with 72.06% of the vote against the National Solidarity Party. After the general election, on 1 October 2015, Heng relinquished his portfolio as Minister for Education and took up the position of Minister for Finance. [14]

On 19 February 2018, Heng announced during a budget speech in Parliament that the government planned to raise the goods and services tax (GST) from 7% to 9% sometime between 2021 and 2025. He said, "the GST increase is necessary because even after exploring various options to manage our future expenditures through prudent spending, saving and borrowing for infrastructure, there is still a gap". [15]

On 1 May 2018, Heng took over the responsibility of assisting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on National Research Foundation matters from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. [16] Later that year, on 23 November, he replaced Teo as the PAP's First Assistant Secretary-General following an election in the party's Central Executive Committee. [17] [18]

On 1 May 2019, Heng was appointed Deputy Prime Minister, taking over the office which had previously been shared between Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam. He also continued to hold the Cabinet portfolio of Minister for Finance. [19] From 1985 to 2019, there had always been two Deputy Prime Ministers sitting concurrently in the Cabinet. [19] The unique circumstance of Heng becoming the sole holder of the office, together with his earlier appointment as the PAP's First Assistant Secretary-General, was seen by political observers as paving him the way to becoming the next Prime Minister. [20]

2020 onwards

On 30 June 2020, the Nomination Day for the 2020 general election, Heng announced that he would be contesting in East Coast GRC, surprising political observers as he had been expected to run for election in Tampines GRC, which he had been representing for two terms since 2011. [21]

During a campaign speech, Heng unveiled the PAP's manifesto for East Coast GRC residents called "Together We Care @ East Coast". The plan became popularly known as the "East Coast Plan" among Singaporeans and on social media. [22] In the campaigning period, a police report was lodged against Heng after comments he had made during a student forum at Nanyang Technological University in 2019 resurfaced. [23] While responding to a question on the possibility of Singapore having a non-Chinese Prime Minister, Heng had said that the older generation was "not ready for a prime minister from a minority race" or someone who was non-Chinese. [24] The police released a statement on 7 July 2020, stating that they had consulted the Attorney-General's Chambers and deemed that Heng's remarks had no intent to wound anyone's racial feelings or promote enmity between different races. [25]

On 10 July 2020, the five-member PAP team led by Heng in East Coast GRC won with 53.41% of the vote against the Workers' Party, [26] so Heng became a Member of Parliament representing the Bedok ward of East Coast GRC. He continued to hold his Cabinet appointments as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance after the election.

On 18 February 2020, Heng delivered a budget speech in Parliament when the COVID-19 pandemic had just struck Singapore in January 2020. Referred to as the "Unity Budget", the government budget for 2020 covered measures to cover uncertainties long-term against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 26 March 2020, Heng delivered a second budget speech announcing an additional S$55 billion "Resilience Budget" in response to the worsening situation of the pandemic and to mitigate the economic impact on businesses. It was the second time in Singapore's history since the financial crisis of 2007–08 that past reserves had to be used to fund the initiatives provided. Measures include a cash grant of S$9,000 for eligible self-employed persons as well as S$3,000 for lower-income recipients under the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme as emergency relief against the pandemic. Heng also mentioned that this would likely be the worst contraction ever in the economy since 1965. [27] On 27 July 2020, Heng took up an additional Cabinet appointment as Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies. [28]

After the 2020 general election, Heng had been widely seen as the leading contender to be the next Prime Minister. [29] However, he withdrew himself from the nomination on 8 April 2021, citing age and health concerns, although political analysts also attributed his withdrawal to the PAP's lower-than-expected result in East Coast GRC at the 2020 general election. [30] [31]

Following a Cabinet reshuffle, on 15 May 2021, Heng relinquished his Cabinet portfolio of Minister for Finance, and was succeeded by Lawrence Wong. [32] On 28 May 2021, the Monetary Authority of Singapore announced that Heng had been reappointed as a member of its board for a further term of three years. [33] [34]

Personal life

Heng is married to Chang Hwee Nee, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Heritage Board. They have two children. [35] [36] [37]

On 12 May 2016, Heng collapsed from a stroke during a Cabinet meeting. He was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where he underwent neurosurgery to relieve pressure in his brain. He was transferred to the intensive care unit after the surgery [38] [39] and discharged on 25 June 2016. He resumed his duties as a Member of Parliament and Minister for Finance on 22 August 2016. [40]

Honours

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References

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Heng Swee Keat
王瑞杰
Heng Swee Keat.jpg
Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
Assumed office
1 May 2019
Government offices
Preceded by
Managing Director
of the Monetary Authority of Singapore

2005 – 2011
Succeeded by
Ravi Menon
Political offices
Preceded by
Minister for Education
2011 – 2015
Succeeded by

as Minister for Education (Schools)
Succeeded by

as Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills)
Preceded by
Minister for Finance
2015 – 2021
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Deputy Prime Minister
2019 – present
Incumbent
Parliament of Singapore
Preceded by
Member of Parliament
for Tampines GRC (Tampines Central)

2011 – 2020
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Member of Parliament
for East Coast GRC (Bedok)

2020 – present
Incumbent