Wong Kan Seng


Wong Kan Seng (b. 8 September 1946, Singapore–)[1] is a former People’s Action Party (PAP) cabinet minister. During his political career, he has held various key positions in the Singapore government, including Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Home Affairs. He stepped down from the Cabinet in 2011 but remains a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency (GRC).

Early life and education
Wong had humble beginnings. His parents were street hawkers who sold noodles and Wong had to work hard to make his way in life.[2] He received his primary education at Rangoon Road Primary School and completed his London Chamber of Commerce (LCC) school certificate at Outram Secondary School in 1963.[3] [4] Wong was “moderately active” in school, participating in various activities such as swimming, gymnastics and oratorical contests. He was also sub-editor of the Chinese section of the Outram Annual. He would later become the chairman of the school’s first executive committee in 1983.[5]


Wong joined the teaching service after graduation from Outram Secondary but continued studying at the same time. He attended night classes by the Adult Education Board and completed his Higher School Certificate in 1966. Wong proceeded to study at the University of Singapore (now known as the National University of Singapore) and graduated in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) degree in History and English.[6]

Early career
After graduating from university, Wong joined the Administrative Service scheme for public service leaders. He was first deployed to the Ministry of Labour and then to the Ministry of Defence. While a civil servant, he won a postgraduate scholarship to complete a Master of Science in Business Studies at the London Business School, University of London. Wong served in the Ministry of Defence for 10 years, where he was promoted to Director of Manpower and later Deputy Secretary. He was awarded a Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 1976 for his work in the defence ministry. In 1981, Wong left the civil service to join Hewlett Packard as a personnel manager.[7] [8]

Political career
In 1984, Wong entered politics under the PAP ticket and was elected MP for Kuo Chuan constituency. He told the press that going into politics was a form of public service and a way for him to contribute to the development of the country.[9] In subsequent elections, Wong was elected MP for the Toa Payoh (1988), Thomson (1991) and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRCs (2002, 2006, and 2011).[10] In 1987, Wong was appointed Leader of the House in Parliament and served in this capacity until 2007.[11]


During the 1984 election campaign, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had identified Wong as one of six PAP candidates who would be “more than MPs”.[12] Accordingly, Wong was given the duo portfolios of Minister of State for Home Affairs and Community Development in January 1985.[13] In a cabinet reshuffle later that year, Wong was appointed Minister of State for Communications and Information while retaining his portfolio as Minister of State for Community Development.[14]

In 1987, Wong was promoted to Minister for Community Development and held this position until 1991.[15] [16] He also served concurrently as Second Minister for Foreign Affairs (1987–1988), and later as Minister for Foreign Affairs (1988–1994). Wong’s tenure in the Foreign Service coincided with the expansion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in light of the changing international landscape.[17] [18]

Some of the milestones achieved while Wong was foreign minister included the ending of the conflict in Cambodia and Singapore’s hosting of the ASEAN summit in 1992 that led to the establishment of the ASEAN Free Trade Area. Closer relations were developed with Malaysia and Indonesia through joint economic projects such as the Singapore-Johor-Riau (SIJORI) Growth Triangle. Ties were also established with China and Vietnam, paving the way for various exchanges and collaborations. During his tenure as foreign minister, Singapore also expanded its international involvement by sending troops to participate in overseas peacekeeping operations for the first time.[19] [20]

In 1994, Wong was appointed Minister for Home Affairs (MHA) – a position he would hold for 17 years. One of Wong’s most important contributions was the development of the “Home Team” concept to unify and promote synergies among MHA’s uniformed services: the Singapore Police Force, Civil Defence Force, Central Narcotics Bureau and Prisons Department.[21]

At MHA, Wong was known for his tough stance against crime and drugs. In his 2003 National Day Rally, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said that Wong was a very effective minister who would “sink his teeth into [the most difficult operational task], like a bulldog”. PM Goh further added that without him, Singapore would be “full of illegal immigrants, crawling with criminals, and torn by terrorists”.[22]Under Wong’s charge, legislation such as the Misuse of Drugs Act was strengthened to deter drug addicts.[23] Strong measures were also taken to address juvenile crime, illegal immigration and traffic offences.[24] [25] [26]

The fight against terrorism was a key focus during Wong’s term in office. Besides the detention of members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist group, MHA also introduced stricter legislation and state-of-the-art technology to combat the threat of terrorism.[27] [28] Other measures taken included the establishment of a Joint Counter-Terrorism Centre to provide intelligence assessment on terrorism, the strengthening of border checks and increased security at critical installations.[29]

MHA suffered a setback in 2008 with the escape of JI detainee Mas Selamat bin Kastari from the Whitley Road Detention Centre due to a security lapse. The incident resulted in some members of the public calling for Wong’s resignation.[30] Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong came out in defence of Wong by saying that he and the rest of the MHA top management were not to blame for the incident. Lee added that he continued to have confidence in the minister’s capabilities as Wong had apologised to Parliament and taken remedial action.[31]

As a cabinet minister, Wong chaired various committees such as the Ministerial Committee on SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Formed in 2003 in response to the SARS outbreak, the committee made strategic decisions related to the control and management of the disease that were later implemented by the various ministries.[32] In some instances, Wong was even directly involved in finding solutions to practical challenges caused by the outbreak. When Wong came across a brochure for a home surveillance camera system, he suggested these be installed to monitor people under home quarantine. The suggestion was subsequently approved and implemented.[33]

In addition to being Minister for Home Affairs, Wong was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in 2005.[34] In 2010, Wong relinquished his duties at MHA and took up a new appointment as Coordinating Minister for National Security. He was also tasked to oversee the ministry-level Population and Talent Division responsible for managing the inflow of immigrants and ensuring that Singaporeans benefited from the government’s immigration policies.[35] In 2011, Wong stepped down as a cabinet minister while remaining as an MP for the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.[36]

Other appointments
1992–2004: Chairman of the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC).[37] [38]

1992–2006: Deputy Chairman of the People’s Association (PA).[39]
2011–: Special Advisor for Economic Co-operation to the Prime Minister.[40]
2011–: Chairman, Singbridge International, a Temasek Holdings unit dealing with the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City.[41]

Career timeline
Dec 1984:
Elected MP for Kuo Chuan constituency.
Jan 1985:
Minister of State for Home Affairs and Community Development.
May 1985: Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Minister of State for Community Development.
1987–2007:
Leader of the House.
1987–1988: Minister for Community Development and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs.
1988: Elected MP for Toa Payoh constituency.
1988–1991: Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Community Development.
1991: Elected MP for Thomson constituency.
1991–1994: Minister for Foreign Affairs.
1994–2005: Minister for Home Affairs.
2002: Elected MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
2005–2010: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs.
2006: Elected MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
2010–2011: Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security.
2011: Elected MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
2011: Resigned from the Cabinet; appointed Special Advisor for Economic Co-operation to the Prime Minister.

Awards
1976:
Public Administrative Silver Medal.
1988: NTUC May Day Award (Medal of Honour).[42]

Family
Wong is married to Ruth Lee Hong Geok and has two sons.[43]



Author
Stephanie Ho



References
[1] Parliament of Singapore. (2013, October 21). Member’s CV: Mr Wong Kan Seng. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.gov.sg/mp/wong-kan-seng?viewcv=Wong%20Kan%20Seng
[2] Ambalam, G. (1984, December 14). Invitation to make a vision come true. Singapore Monitor, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[3] Four more professionals in the PAP polls line-up. (1984, June 24). Singapore Monitor, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[4] Parliament of Singapore. (2013, October 21). Member’s CV: Mr Wong Kan Seng. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.gov.sg/mp/wong-kan-seng?viewcv=Wong%20Kan%20Seng
[5] Tan, K. Y. L. (2006). Labour conquers all: 100 years of Outram Secondary School. Singapore: Outram Secondary School, p. 66. (Call no.: RSING 373.5957 TAN)
[6] Tan, K. Y. L. (2006). Labour conquers all: 100 years of Outram Secondary School. Singapore: Outram Secondary School, p. 66. (Call no.: RSING 373.5957 TAN)
[7] Four more professionals in the PAP polls line-up. (1984, June 24). Singapore Monitor, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[8] Low, K. T. (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s who Pub. (Call no. RSING 920.05957 WHO)
[9] Lee, K. C. (1984, July 10). Just another way to serve the people. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[10] Parliament of Singapore. (2013, October 21). Member’s CV: Mr Wong Kan Seng. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.gov.sg/mp/wong-kan-seng?viewcv=Wong%20Kan%20Seng
[11] Leong, W. K. Change in the air at head of the House. (2007, March 10). TODAY, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[12] Ee, B. L., Thomas, M., & Loong, S. Y. We now have a team in place: PM. (1984, December 19). Singapore Monitor, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[13] Three new MPs to become Ministers of State. (1985, January 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[14] Even-workload Cabinet changes. (1985, May 7). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[15] Cabinet reshuffled. (1986, December 30). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[16] Tan, S. (1991, June 30). PM reshuffles Cabinet. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[17] Liu, G.  (2005). The Singapore Foreign Service: The first 40 years. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 159–160. (Call no.: RSING q327.5957 LIU)
[18] Quantum leap in role necessary: Kan Seng. (1991, March 20). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[19] Liu, G.  (2005). The Singapore Foreign Service: The first 40 years. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 166. (Call no.: RSING q327.5957 LIU)
[20] Ministry staff bid farewell to Wong Kan Seng, BG Yeo. (1994, January 4). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[21] Wong K. S.  (2010, October 30). Speech during the Home Team parade for outgoing minister. Retrieved from http://www.mha.gov.sg/news_details.aspx?nid=MTg4MA%3D%3D-Zjjvwf5Qw7k%3D
[22] Au Yong, J. (2011, May 19). 'Bulldog with dogged resolve'. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
[23] Tan, O. B. Harsher penalties for hardcore drug addicts soon. (1996, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[24] New ways to get tough on juvenile crime in the pipeline. (1996, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[25] Tan, O. B. (1998, March 14). Immigration offenders will face tough action. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[26] Penalties may be raised for speeding. (1998, March 14). The Straits Times, p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[27] ISD officers praised for foiling terror plot. (2003, April 4). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[28] Singapore tackling terrorism with new laws, equipment – MHA. (2002, May 17). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
[29] Hardening S’pore. (2004, March 17). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[30] Li, X. (2008, April 24). To resign or not, that's the question S'poreans are asking. The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[31] Deal with matter decisively but don't overreact. (2008, April 23). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[32] Chua, M. H. (2004). A defining moment: How Singapore beat SARS. Singapore: Institute of Policy Studies, pp. 127–128. (Call no.: RSING 614.592 CHU)
[33] Chua, M. H. (2004). A defining moment: How Singapore beat SARS. Singapore: Institute of Policy Studies, pp. 136–137. (Call no.: RSING 614.592 CHU)
[34] Velloor, R. (2005, July 1). DPM Tan to step down by end of August. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[35] Cai, H. X. (2010, October 28). After 17 years, DPM Wong says goodbye to Home Team. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
[36] PM Lee announces changes to Cabinet. (2011, May 18). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
[37] Wong Kan Seng heads Chinese self-help group. (1992, May 13). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[38] Soh, W. L. (2004, July 31). Chinese self-help group's past leaders lauded. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[39] Lee, L. (2006, December 16). Outgoing labour chief to be No. 2 in PA. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[40] Khoo, L. (2011, September 13). Kan Seng to advise PM on economic co-operation. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
[41] Khoo, L. (2011, September 13). Kan Seng to advise PM on economic co-operation. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
[42] Ahmad Osman. (1998, April 26). Wong Kan Seng tops list. The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[43] Low, K. T. (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s who Pub. (Call no. RSING 920.05957 WHO)



The information in this article is valid as at 25 November 2013 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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Politics and Government
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