SINGAPORE - Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is a careful and deliberate leader who, in deciding on issues, wants to understand the deeper reasons behind why people have come to some views.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam gave this description of Mr Heng's leadership style on Sunday (Nov 25), when asked for his comments on the ruling party's new first assistant secretary-general.
He said Mr Heng would ask for information and viewpoints from different people when issues arise, before he makes a decision.
"He doesn't look at them just at the top level," Mr Shanmugam told reporters during a grassroots event in Nee Soon GRC.
Mr Heng, 57, was unveiled as the leader of the People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth generation (4G) team on Friday, with Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, 49, as his deputy and the party's second assistant secretary-general.
Mr Shanmugam, who was appointed party treasurer, also said Mr Heng is a person "of the utmost integrity" who works very hard and is brilliant.
Former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin, who sat in several Future Economy Council meetings chaired by Mr Heng last year, described him as "very patient" and "a measured person".
He added: "Mr Heng always gave others the benefit of the doubt, listening to them and being respectful of their views."
Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh felt Mr Heng had the most support from party cadres and Singaporeans in general. He is thus glad the party leaders and 4G team "responded to the ground support" by choosing Mr Heng.
Mr Singh also made the point that Mr Heng had the most widespread experience before and after entering politics.
A former assistant commissioner of police, Mr Heng had also served as founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's principal private secretary, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), and managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
After getting elected in 2011, he became Education Minister and helmed various key initiatives including a national engagement exercise and a committee tasked with devising strategies for Singapore's economy.
Mr Singh recounted how Mr Heng had asked to see him for advice about a new policy regarding incentive schemes to encourage entrepreneurship when Mr Heng was at MTI.
"Instead of asking me to go and see him, he came over to my office and spent more than an hour listening to me," said Mr Singh, the chief executive of Solstar International.
"He showed humility and a willingness to listen. I was impressed with his approach compared to many who sometimes get carried away with their position and ego."
The former Ang Mo Kio GRC MP added that Mr Heng is well-liked and a good listener who connects well with the ground.
Mr Chan has wider experience in helming more ministries and that will be useful, Mr Singh said. But one area the former army chief can do better in is connecting with the man on the street, he added.
Besides MTI, Mr Chan has held various portfolios including Minister for Social and Family Development, Second Minister for Defence and labour chief.
Mr Shanmugam said Mr Heng and Mr Chan have given their entire adult life to public service.
Both started from extremely humble beginnings, and "exemplify the true Singapore spirit for people who talk about upward mobility", he said. Mr Heng grew up in a kampung, while Mr Chan lived in a rental flat with a single mother.
Mr Shanmugam added that he is optimistic and confident about the PAP's 4G leadership.
"The team has to be further strengthened by bringing in more people during the next elections," he added. "If you get that, I think Singapore will be in good hands."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.