10 Facts About Heng Swee Keat, The Finance Minister That Could be Our Prime Minister


Last Updated on 2019-04-28 , 4:16 pm

Chances are, in the last few days, you’ve seen the name “Heng Swee Keat” appeared much more often than usual.

If you’re one of those millennials who doesn’t even know who your MP is, you most likely are wondering what has just happened. Is GST going to increase soon? Are we getting another SG Bonus?

Or have Hokkien become the National Language, and Keat Hong is lucky (heng) to be pretty (swee)?

Well, here’s the thing: there might be a possibility that Heng Swee Keat, the current Finance Minister, would be our next PM (Prime Minister, not private message).

Lest you’re unaware, our current Prime Minister is going to retire soon, and a few 4G leaders have been known to be the front runners, with Heng Swee Keat being one of them. Recently, the PAP held its internal election, and Heng Swee Keat is being chosen to be the first assistant secretary-general, with PM Lee still the secretary-general.

The post of a secretary-general in a party is like the post of a CEO in a company: it’s the leader of the party.

So, being chosen as the first assistant secretary-general means that Heng Swee Keat has a high chance of being the next PM. But of course, unless we’ve a crystal ball, everything is never etched in stone.

For the uninitiated: who’s Heng Swee Keat?

Who’s Heng Swee Keat?

Now, for a start, we’re going to introduce the man to readers who might think that an MP is Magic Point instead of Member of Parliament.

The 57-year-old is a member of parliament for Tampines GRC since 2011. In the year that he was elected, he became the Minister for Education from 2011 to 2015, and then took the role of the Finance Minister since 2015. So yeah, he was the one who had to convince us, and the other members of parliament, that the GST increase is necessary.


It’s not common for an MP to be appointed as a full minister immediately after being elected MP: the only one who has achieved that is Richard Hu, all the way back in 1984.

In other words, he’s indeed a super high-flier.

Well, much more because he was already flying high before entering politics.

He was awarded the SPF Overseas Scholarship

There are some politicians that rose in the SAF, but Mr Heng rose from the ranks of the blue force.

Back in 1983, the young Mr Heng got awarded the SPF Overseas Scholarship, one of the best scholarships in Singapore. He started his career as a police officer when he was 22.

During his term, he rose to the rank of Assistant Commissioner, the “fourth highest rank” in the force.

He then joined the elite Administrative Services in 1995.

But it was in 1997 that he learned from the best.

Became Principal Private Secretary to then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew

No one can deny that Lee Kuan Yew is one of the best statesmen in the world, and our potential PM could have learned from the best.

From 1997 to 2000, Mr Heng was the Principal Private Secretary to then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Every minister has an office with staff (yes, were you thinking that it’s all a one-man show?!), and the Principal Private Secretary is like the head of the office who runs it with the Minister.


In other words, it’s like the Chief of Staff (ah, this is more familiar since we watch US dramas, eh?) of the office.

And the late Mr Lee has this to say about Mr Heng: he is the “the best principal private secretary I ever had”.


Career before Politics

A principal private secretary isn’t exactly a politician since he’s not elected in, so he’s not exactly stepped into the politics world back then.

In 2001, he became the permanent secretary for the Trade and Industry Ministry, tackling tough trade agreements. From 2005, he then moved on to be the managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the last post he had before moving into politics.

And it was in MAS that he shone. I mean, back then lah.


MAS Tenure

If you were already born in 2007 and understood what “money” was back then, you’d know that between 2007 to early 2010s, there as a global “Great Recession” that impacted many countries, including Singapore. It was then called the country’s worst post-independence recession.

And back then, Mr Heng was the head of MAS, and therefore had to steer Singapore’s monetary policy correctly so that our dollars would still be strong. And one of the reasons why our dollars are still strong is due to his handling of the recession.

I mean, it’s not one man who saved us all, but we’ve the head to thank for, right?

Allegedly Already Approached to Join Politics in 1997

Back in 1997, Mr Heng had just retired from SPF and according to some, he was allegedly being asked to join politics. But he didn’t, and what made him eventually join politics was the economic crisis (the recession you read earlier)—he saw how close the nation was on the edge and therefore wanted to play a part in Singapore’s future.

Well, at least something good come out from the economic crisis.


Career in Politics

As mentioned, he was the second person in the history of Singapore to be made a full minister immediately after being elected as a magic point member of parliament. After the 2011 election, he was appointed to the Cabinet as the Minster of Education.

During his term there, he removed the ranking of secondary school (then again, kiasu parents still have ways to find the “top schools”) and the naming of top scorers in PSLE. They were done so that parents wouldn’t keep on comparing, and students won’t just look at grades to judge their capabilities.

Also, Mr Heng was the one who famously aimed to have 40% of every age group to have a place in university. In other words, he was indirectly responsible for the opening of so many universities in Singapore.

In 2015, he became the Finance Minister and has stayed on since then. All in all, he has delivered three Budget speeches, with the latest one early this year.

Stroke in 2016

Some of us would remember him as having a stroke during a Cabinet meeting in 2016.

Back on 12 May 2016, Mr Heng suffered a stroke during a Cabinet meeting and was warded in TTSH ICU.

He had collapsed due to a ruptured aneurysm and was operated on immediately. It was quite a serious stroke: that kind of stroke killed 40% of sufferers and usually, survivors had permanent damage.

But not our potential prime minister.


Mr Heng woke up six days later, and was discharged six weeks later with a full recovery. He was back at work after three months.

And guess what he did the moment he woke up form his surgery? As there was a tube in his windpipe, he was then only able to communicate via a pen and paper, and the man wrote this: “Is there a Cabinet meeting today? Where are the papers?”

No wonder the late Mr Lee said that he was the best.

But relax lah, Mr Heng. Your health more important lah.

(Did I just give an advice to the future PM?)

Allegedly a Workaholic

You can’t tell from his smiles (really, he’s always smiling), but the guy is allegedly a workaholic.

According to his fellow Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, who’s also the king of selfies, Mr Heng works very late.

And his former colleagues and fellow MPs also said that he has the habit of sleeping in the office during crunch time.

Damn, during crunch time, our boss would just say, “Okay, we got a tight deadline, you all remember to turn off the lights and air-con when you all go off ah. I’m going for dinner and sleep now le. Make sure everything is done before you all leave.”

Life’s unfair.

High-SES Education

Despite his down-to-earth approach and friendliness, he has very high-SES education.

He has a degree in economics from Cambridge University and two Master’s degrees: one in economics from Cambridge and the other from Harvard.

Before that, he was from RI.

Many have said he can relate to people from all walks of life, and that shows in the next point.

He is popular and humourous

Okay, my words won’t suffice, so here’s one example.

If you’re approachable, popular and humourous, people would dare to joke with you, right? If you’re that serious boss who has a resting bitch face, no one would joke with you (heck, they won’t even talk to you).

Here’s a video whereby the nurses dare to joke with him—in front of the camera somemore.

If people can be so open with him in front of the camera, you can imagine how approachable he is in real life.

So, now that you know more about him, bookmark this article (you’re reading this on our app, right?). When he really become our PM, you can brag that you know more about him even before he turned from Finance Minister to Prime Minister #justsaying