SINGAPORE: Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan is retiring from politics after 19 years.
In a letter to Mr Khaw on Friday (Jun 26), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked him for his “lifetime of public service to Singapore”, highlighting the roles he took on in the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of National Development and the Ministry of Transport during his political career.
In a later Facebook post, Mr Lee acknowledged Mr Khaw’s retirement, saying it was “with sadness” that he accepted the decision ahead of the General Election.
“Boon Wan has made immense contributions to Singapore, and left deep impressions on those he worked with, including me personally as a dear friend,” he said.
Mr Lee noted the start and end of Mr Khaw’s time in politics were marked by global crises – the aftermath of Sep 11 and the COVID-19 pandemic now.
“They bookend a remarkable political career, during which you have taken on the most challenging jobs in the Cabinet.”
MR KHAW’S WORK IN POLITICS
Mr Lee wrote about Mr Khaw’s work on the front line during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak while he was a Senior Minister of State at the Ministry of Health, where he subsequently took over as health minister from Mr Lim Hng Kiang.
“Learning the painful lessons of SARS, you instituted new processes and extensive preparations, to get us ready for the next novel disease outbreak. These served us well when COVID-19 came upon us,” said Mr Lee.
The Prime Minister also praised Mr Khaw for reforming MediShield and MediSave, and introducing Eldershield.
“These fundamental reforms reassured many Singaporeans that healthcare costs would remain affordable.”
When Mr Khaw took on the national development portfolio, Mr Lee said he “ramped up the HDB building programme, reduced Built-to-Order (BTO) waiting times and introduced policies to enable newlyweds to own their first flat earlier and live near their parents”.
“These measures gave young Singaporeans the confidence that an affordable home would always be within their reach.”
Mr Lee touched on Mr Khaw’s contributions to the “politically spiky transport portfolio”, outlining projects he pushed for, such as the construction of Changi Runway 3, Changi Airport Terminal 5 and the Tuas Megaport.
He added Mr Khaw’s personal rapport with foreign counterparts was “invaluable”, referring to the “complicated negotiations” on the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link and the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail and the airspace issue with Indonesia.
“Besides your ministerial duties, you also made significant contributions to the People’s Action Party,” Mr Lee wrote, describing how Mr Khaw helped identify where the PAP had “fallen short” after the “disappointing results of the 2011 General Election”.
“You presented your conclusions and recommendations at the 2011 Party Conference, where they were actively debated.
“That was a watershed moment for the PAP.
“You were in my Cabinet since day one, and have been one of my most reliable lieutenants.”
He added Mr Khaw was a “role model and a source of sage advice” for younger ministers.
“His colleagues could always depend on him for generous and sound advice. I am happy that he has agreed to continue sharing his experience and wisdom even after retirement,” Mr Lee said in his Facebook post.
MR KHAW’S TIME AS AN MP IN SEMBAWANG
As a Member of Parliament (MP), Mr Khaw was known for being “dedicated and responsive to residents”, Mr Lee said.
“You were active in bringing the community together, and infusing the kampung spirit in your residents.
“You took special pride in keeping Sembawang clean and green, and residents often encountered you when you took walks in Sembawang Park to relax.
“On behalf of all Singaporeans, and especially your residents in Sembawang, I thank you for all that you have done for Singapore, and wish you a happy, healthy and well-deserved retirement.”
“WEEK OF HIGH EMOTION”
In a Facebook post, Mr Khaw himself addressed the residents of Moulmein and Sembawang.
“Today, PM announced my retirement from politics, after 42 years of public service,” he said.
“It is a week of high emotion for me. Gratitude fills me to the brim!
“Gratitude to #Singaporeans for the many life-changing opportunities, starting from a scholarship, to citizenship and a great career in public service.
“Gratitude to the residents of #Moulmein and #Sembawang who gave me the honour to represent them in Parliament.”
He also thanked his colleagues in Parliament and Cabinet.
“Ten years after my heart bypass, it’s time to say farewell and disembark at the next station, confident that the next crew will take #Singapore to newer height(s).
“I travel light, but I shall disembark, fully laden with friendship and great memories!”
Speaking to reporters later on Friday night, Mr Khaw said he was “fortunate” to have “good people” helping him.
He referred to Education Minister Ong Ye Kung as well who spoke earlier about working with him.
“In life sometimes you meet people that actually change your life for the better,” Mr Ong had said on Facebook, referring to Mr Khaw.
“He has been my teacher, my mentor, and helped shaped my career. He has been such a great influence, I would describe him as a Titan Minister,” Mr Ong said.
As Mr Khaw spoke about Mr Ong, he grew visibly emotional.
“Very kind of him to acknowledge the small role I played in his career.
“But that is the way we ought to behave as supervisors or bosses or managers.
“Your job is to nurture the young, because you’re not going to live to 10,000 years.
“In my case – 40 years – a very long career, but still there’s a termination point. But if you leave with a big pipeline of people whom you have helped to mature, then, the institution can stay on for decades and decades.
“And that must be the attitude we take to Singapore.”
Read Mr Lee’s letter in full here.