Heng Swee Keat: I protested when I was moved

They were the first among the '4th Generation' of leaders to be identified. Over their last term, four became ministers and cut their teeth on managing some of Singapore's most pressing issues. In the first of our four-part series on the first-term ministers, we ask Education Minister Heng Swee Keat to give us a flavour of his experiences

Just two weeks after Mr Heng Swee Keat was voted into Parliament in 2011, he was appointed Minister of Education.

He was already a high flier, having been a Singapore Police Force Overseas scholar and Principal Private Secretary to former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who called him one of the "finest minds among the civil servants I have worked with".

Since going into politics, he has been put in charge of national initiatives such as the Our Singapore Conversation national feedback exercise and the recent SG50 celebrations to mark Singapore's Golden Jubilee.

Some have even whispered that he has the makings of a future Prime Minister.

But when asked to describe himself and his leadership style, Mr Heng smiled and said: "I would leave others to describe me. I am what I am."

 

 

Despite accolades he has received, Mr Heng has a certain earnestness, with no airs about him.

Shown an old picture of him on the Prime Minister's Office website wearing a classic pair of glasses, he laughed.

"I remember I went with my wife and we tried various pairs. But none of (them) really suited me at that time, except for this one," he said.

The picture was taken when he was Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, he added.

During a wide-ranging interview with The New Paper before the Writ of Election was issued, it became apparent that Mr Heng has a penchant for things that represent old-school values such as hard work, community and humility.

Fond of using the word "Gee!" as an exclamation, he touched on the pursuit of degrees, his most trying moments, and whether civil servants are moved around too often.

"I can tell you that when I was a public servant, as a civil servant, I almost always protested every time I was to be posted," he said.

"Because I always felt that 'Gee, I'm just starting to get the hang of this, I'm learning, I'm just beginning to become good at my job and I want to be able to contribute in this particular area a little bit more, so please don't rotate me, don't move me'."

Mr Heng visits the residence of Mdm Lim Choo Neo, 63 (in purple), and daughter, Heidi Chan, 33 (in green) at Tampines TNP PHOTO: PHYLLYCIA WANG

But with hindsight, Mr Heng said it was a positive experience.

"It's because of that variety of things that I was exposed to that it helped me in many ways, in ways I didn't appreciate until I was older, until you have the benefit of it."

Read more of his interview here


BIO DATA

Heng Swee Keat, 54

Minister for Education

Married with a son and a daughter, both in their 20s.

Year he joined politics: 2011 (Tampines GRC)

1995: Director of Higher Education, Ministry of Education

1997: Principal Private Secretary to then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew

2001: Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Trade and Industry

2005: Managing director, Monetary Authority of Singapore

Focus on skills and experience, not just qualifications

IN TOUCH: Mr Heng Swee Keat visits the Tampines resident Madam Lim Choo Neo, 63 (in purple), and her daughter Heidi Chan, 33.
ON THE GROUND: Mr Heng Swee Keat chats with Tampines residents (from left to right) Mr Kek Lay Huat, Ms Jenny Quak Khah Hioh and Mr Kek Peng Soon.
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New WP candidate He Ting Ru dubbed the next Nicole Seah

Corporate lawyer is concerned about issues affecting youths

She has already been dubbed the Workers' Party's (WP) Nicole Seah.

A favourite with the online crowd, netizens said Miss He Ting Ru had turned heads at party walkabouts and outreach events for her sincerity and compassion even before her formal introduction as a candidate for this election.

She stood out among the four candidates WP introduced at its party headquarters yesterday.

Some called for WP to "send her to Fengshan SMC" on online forums, while others compared her with Ms Seah.

Ms Seah praised Miss He "as a very smart and nice person" online on Tuesday.

"What I appreciate about WP is that they have very clear processes for candidacy and membership. There is no fast track or parachuting. So Ting Ru has really gotten to this point because of her hard work helping at the legal and grassroots level.

"I fully support," Ms Seah said.

Miss He started volunteering for WP's Paya Lebar division after her return from the UK in 2011. She joined the party in 2013.

She is now the secretary of WP's youth wing and oversees its outreach efforts.

The 32-year-old corporate lawyer, who heads her firm's legal department, spoke about reasons for joining the opposition party.

Said Miss He: "I believe that Singaporeans are not numbers on a spreadsheet. Singaporeans want to participate more actively in determining the future of our country.

"I do not think we should rely solely on our country's few natural aristocrats to do so."

PET TOPICS

Her pet topics include youth-related issues and their lack of involvement in policy-making.

She said young people of her generation are worried about "the pressures of setting out in life, the cost of housing, the cost of having children and the cost of care for parents and grandparents."

Said Miss He: "They are also concerned about the dilution of the Singapore core and the impact that large scale immigration has on the fabric of our society.

"Unlike earlier generations, some young Singaporeans no longer think to dream of a better life and a future for themselves and their children."

The party also introduced managing director of a tech company Mr Adrian Sim, real estate agent Ron Tan Jun Yen and WP deputy treasurer L. Somasundaram, a polytechnic lecturer.

WP has not announced where any of the new candidates will be fielded.

 
 
Miss He Ting Ru.
Mr Adrian Sim.
Mr L. Somasundaram.
Mr Ron Tan. -- TNP PHOTOS: PHYLLICIA WANG

Police report over 'poison pen letter'

ALLEGATIONS: A letter writer made a scandalous claim against Dr Daniel Goh (above), who is married, and one of his ex-students in NUS.
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SDP introduces fourth batch of candidates

TWO MORE: Mr Bryan Lim (left) and Mr Damanhuri Abas.
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RP introduces Ang Mo Kio team, denies it's a suicide squad

TEAM WITH 'A DIFFERENT ENERGY': 
(From left) Activist blogger Roy Ngerng, former banker Jesse Loo, infocomm trainer Siva Chandran, lawyer M. Ravi, entrepreneur Osman Sulaiman and career counsellor Gilbert Goh.

The Reform Party (RP)'s six-member Ang Mo Kio group representation constituency (GRC) team denied it is a suicide squad.

The People's Action Party (PAP) team in the GRC is led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Lawyer M. Ravi, 46, who leads the RP team, said history has shown that the voice of the people has taken on the might of any government.

Referring to the party's 2011 team as not so well known, he said this team "presents a different energy".

 

 

Mr Ravi said: "In the present election, I think we are a wonderful energy and a powerful one to be reckoned with, and we believe. And I think your question will be best answered on the Polling Day itself."

The rest of the party's slate for the GRC are activist blogger Roy Ngerng, 34, infocomm trainer Siva Chandran, 32, career counsellor Gilbert Goh, 54, former banker Jesse Loo, 52, and entrepreneur Osman Sulaiman, 40.

Mr Ngerng said: "All of us are committed to running and all of us are committed to serving. All of us have the heart and the passion to do it as (we) have shown over the past few years."

'FAIR CHANCE'

Stressing that the team members do not think of themselves as a suicide squad, Mr Ngerng added: "We are speaking up for Singaporeans. We are standing as Singaporeans and as Singaporeans, we want a fair chance.

"And we want the voters to have a fair chance at voting and selecting people whom they believe (in) to represent them."

Mr Ravi said the team is popular among the people.

He added: "And we have high visibility. So we won't be a suicide squad.

"As you know that even a weak team like (in the) last election, the Reform Party team got 31 per cent of the votes. They never lost their deposit, so we definitely will get more than 40 per cent of the votes."

He acknowledged that the journey will not be easy as the ward is helmed by the PM.

He said: "And you ask me whether we are daunted by this, the unequivocal answer is no. We are here to take up the cudgel and we are here for the challenge."

Mr Ravi had earlier said he was not running in the election. "For me, it has been a very difficult decision to enter politics, because I don't see myself as a politician (but) as more of a human rights activist," he said.

After which, he said he received "a lot of positive response from Ang Mo Kio residents, Facebook friends and online supporters that I should stand (in) the General Election".

Mr Ravi was Mr Ngerng's initial counsel in a civil suit filed by PM Lee against Mr Ngerng, which has been decided in favour of PM Lee.

He was suspended from practising law in mid-February, following concerns over his mental health.


"And you ask me whether we are daunted by this, the unequivocal answer is no. We are here to take up the cudgel and we are here for the challenge."

- Lawyer M. Ravi, on the Reform Party contesting in PM's ward

SUICIDE SQUADS?

Suicide squad? We're heavyweights, says PAP's Aljunied team

They are going up against strong incumbents, so much so that people have likened them to 'suicide squads'. TNP reporters put this to three political parties

UNITED 
THEY STAND: 
PAP's Aljunied GRC candidates (from left) Chua Eng Leong, Shamsul Kamar, Yeo Guat Kwang, Victor Lye and Muralidharan Pillai.

TEAM: PAP, AGAINST: WP, WARD: Aljunied

The People's Action Party (PAP) laughed off the suggestion that its Aljunied group representation constituency (GRC) team was not a heavyweight one.

It playfully pointed out that candidate Chua Eng Leong was a "heavyweight" in his own right. Quipped Mr Chua, an executive director of a bank: "I'm 110kg!"

The PAP team was backed by the presence of two political majors yesterday: Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and former Cabinet minister and former PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng, who was appointed to lead a PAP task force to win back Aljunied GRC.

Mr Lim, who now functions as the Aljunied team's adviser, said candidate K. Muralidharan Pillai, 47, heads the litigation department at law firm Rajah & Tann and has regional responsibilities and 100 lawyers under him. "We've got lawyers competing on either side. You tell me the other side is the heavyweight?"

He said the team, which also comprises Shenton Insurance chief executive Victor Lye, 52, Spectra Secondary School's former head of student management Shamsul Kamar, 43, and four-term labour MP Yeo Guat Kwang, 54, were well suited to wrest Aljunied back because they had been extensively working the ground and are "good fits".

Said Mr Muralidharan: "I'm not fazed by the odds. I've no hidden agenda here. I'm confident that collectively, the PAP's Aljunied team has the capability to lead Aljunied as one community and manage its town council well."

Mr Tharman described the five men as credible, honest and dedicated. He said: "They go in with the mindset of the underdog. They go in with the mindset of being humble in everything they do, but they go in with more than a fighting chance. They really want to prove their worth and serve the residents better."

Added Mr Lim: "These are men of courage. It takes courage for anyone to come forward to stand for election in opposition-held territory."

RESIDENTS SAY

Mr Lim said the fact that Mr Tharman was at the press conference showed that the party cares about Aljunied.

The issue of town council management also came up during the press conference and the team was asked what residents felt about Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council's accounting lapses.

Mr Lye replied that some residents, including a junior college student he spoke to, had a sense that something was wrong.

Mr Lee also said while many residents did not fully understand town council issues, they found that the environment was not as clean as it should be and some maintenance works were patchy.

When asked if the WP should be given another chance as this was its first time managing such a large town council, Mr Tharman said the recent issue was not for political gain.

"It's not aimed at putting the WP down. When I speak of an issue, it is because I'm worried. I'm really worried.

"I want to make sure that we have responsible and honest politics in Singapore. That's all," he said.

The five candidates referred to Aljunied GRC as their "home".

Mr Yeo, an Aljunied GRC MP from 2001 till 2011, when he was moved to Ang Mo Kio GRC, said it was great to be home.

Mr Chua said his team would go the extra mile for residents and added: "Bring us home to Aljunied."


"They go in with the mindset of the underdog. They go in with the mindset of being humble in everything they do, but they go in with more than a fighting chance. They really want to prove their worth and serve the residents better."

- Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, on PAP's Aljunied team

SPOTLIGHT ON:
 ALJUNIED GRC

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SingFirst to contest Tanjong Pagar and Jurong GRCs

SDP CANDIDATES: (From left) Mr Chirag Desai, Mr Wong Chee Wai, Mr Tan Jee Say, Mr Fahmi Rais and Mr Chiu Weng Hoe Melvyn are five of the ten candidates that will be contesting in the 2015 General Election under the SingFirst banner.

Singaporeans First (SingFirst) will be fielding two group representation constituency (GRC) teams, both in tough People's Action Party (PAP) wards.

One team will be contesting Tanjong Pagar GRC, which has not had a contest since 1991.

Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March, had led the GRC for 60 years from 1955.

Tanjong Pagar GRC is helmed by labour chief Chan Chun Sing, a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

The other team will be contesting Jurong GRC. The PAP team there is led by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is also Finance Minister.

Asked how he felt being called a member of SingFirst's "suicide squad", new face Mr Wong Chee Wai, 44, quipped: "I feel hurt because I suspended my PhD (to stand in the election)."

SingFirst announced its first batch of candidates contesting the General Election at its headquarters in Tras Street yesterday morning, but did not specify which GRCs they would be fielded in.

The candidates are former presidential hopeful and party chief Tan Jee Say, 61, IT consultant Wong, market risk manager Chirag Desai, 38, trainer and communication and media consultant Fahmi Rais, 48, and sales executive Chiu Weng Hoe Melvyn, 36.

YES-MEN

Asked about the strength of his rivals in the two GRCs, Mr Tan said: "They are all just 'yes-men' from the civil service and 'yes-men' from the military. There is nothing original (about PAP's candidates), they do not value-add to the progress and future of Singapore."

Mr Tan said that residents in both GRCs have been welcoming towards the party on their walkabouts and that "people are thankful" for the "choice to vote".

Mr Fahmi added about residents he met in Tanjong Pagar GRC: "The people are so excited about having the opportunity - the first in their lives - to vote. If you were happy with the current party, there is no need for you to be excited to vote."

Mr Tan also said that the party plans to fight for national issues, specifically immigration policy, instead of municipal matters.

He spoke about SingFirst's manifesto and slogan: "Restore Our Nation". He explained that the slogan stems from the need to "take back our country from the Government that has given it away to foreigners".

He also highlighted the party's focus on giving local professionals managers executives and technicians (PMETs) priority for jobs over foreigners.

Mr Tan also weighed in on the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council financial saga, saying that they had candidates with relevant financial background and town council management experience.

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