Desmond Who?

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News Comment

He didn’t seem to be on the political fast-track. Nor did he spark any excitement when he was picked to stand for election in 2011. Since then, he has been kind of low profile.

Until last week, that is. That was when Desmond Lee Ti-Seng was catapulted from MP to Minister of State (National Development).

The question that cropped up after the announcement was: Desmond who?

At 37, he is the youngest minister currently in office and is the son of former minister Lee Yock Suan.

Remarkably, he is starting in the same position as his father, who spent three years on the backbenches before being named Minister of State for National Development as well as Finance and then became a Cabinet minister.

Some of Desmond Lee’s fellow MPs elected for the first time in 2011 have enjoyed a quicker elevation to office. Former Monetary Authority of Singapore managing director Heng Swee Keat was straight away appointed Minister for Education. Former army chief Chan Chun Sing, who has just been appointed full Minister for Social and Family Development, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, and Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin, were all inducted into office sooner than Lee. Sim Ann, who has just been promoted to Minister of State for Communications and Information and for Education, was also quicker off the mark.

But Lee said before his election: “I have no ambition for political office.”

Asked if he aspired to political office, he replied in a video interview: “I am a political newbie, an unknown, and I think it’s important to remain grounded, feet on the ground, head on the shoulders. My sole priority now is to be elected, take care of residents… I have no ambition for political office. That’s not for me to decide.”

Lee quit his civil service job as deputy secretary   deputy director (correction)* in the Health and Law ministeries just two months before the last GE in March 2011.

He joined Temasek Holdings as an associate director in the Legal and Regulations Department. He had also served as a Supreme Court justice’s law clerk and a deputy public prosecutor.

PM Lee Hsien Loong has praised Mr Lee and another new appointee, Ms Low Yen Ling, the incoming Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development, “They both have been good backbenchers and I think they worked hard and people have gotten to know them and I’m sure they will make a contribution,” he said.

Desmond Lee is a member of the Public Accounts Committee and also a member of three Government Parliamentary Committees – for Culture, Community and Youth, Home Affairs and Law, and Social and Family Development.

He has spoken on the Casino Control (Amendment) Bill and the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill among other issues.

He wants to protect people at risk from gambling. About 130,000 people are excluded from casinos under the National Council on Problem Gambling Exclusion Measures, said Chan Chun Sing as Acting Minister for Social and Family Development in reply to his questions in November 2012.

On the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill, Lee expressed concern that couriers able to provide better information to the Central Narcotics Bureau might get off more lightly than others.

During the Budget session, Lee spoke of insensitive views posted online, and asked about plans to foster greater understanding between people of different races and religion.

Following the haze in June when the precious N95 masks were not readily available to the public, he Lee asked in Parliament if the Competition Act could include provisions to prevent essential items from being hoarded.

“I think of myself as a careful person,” he said in a video interview before the May 2011 general election. He added with a smile: “My father has got his way of doing things. I have my own style. But I like to think that (it is) in the interest of Singaporeans for their political representatives to be prudent, to be careful, because of what’s at stake is Singapore’s future, not just our own.”

Asked about his strengths and weaknesses, he said: “I see myself more as a team player … I work better with people, bouncing ideas off each other… Weaknesses? (I am) very sentimental. Sometimes my sentimentalism can be, you know, to people, to places. So that kind of thing is a weakness.”

* Correction

Mr Lee was Deputy Director, Legal Policy Division, Ministry of Law, according to his CV  on the Parliament website. He was not deputy secretary as originally stated in the article. The error is regretted.