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Senior civil servant Chee Hong Tat hints he is quitting to enter politics (The Straits Times)

by August 5, 2015 Government & Politics

Second Permanent Secretary likely to be last of PAP’s public sector candidates; ‘election feel’ at party meeting

The Second Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), Mr Chee Hong Tat, has indicated that he is leaving the civil service to enter politics in the coming general election.

The 41-year-old, whose resignation was announced yesterday, told The Straits Times: “I hope to have the opportunity to continue serving Singapore and Singaporeans.”

In response to whether he was leaving to enter politics, he said that he enjoyed public sector work. “I find it is very meaningful.”

The Public Service Division, in announcing his departure, said his last day of work is Aug 11.

Public servants are required to resign before they can enter politics, so they are traditionally the last to be unveiled as election candidates by political parties.

The announcement of Mr Chee’s exit from the civil service came ahead of a meeting of People’s Action Party (PAP) branch secretaries from across the island at the party headquarters in Bedok last night.

Though they meet regularly, sources told The Straits Times that last night’s meeting had a decidedly election feel.

For example, the branch secretaries – the men and women who run ground operations in the PAP’s 87 branches – were told by party leaders to “expect momentum to pick up after National Day”.

They were urged to ensure that logistics, like activists’ roles during the campaign period, are settled soon. The branch secretaries also discussed where opposition parties had been sighted, and potential problems that could arise during the campaign.

One branch secretary, for example, feared that his team may suffer burnout before the polls take place, as they have been in “election mode” for a while.

The ruling party looks to be in the final stages of electoral preparation, with Mr Chee likely to be the last of its public sector candidates to tender his resignation.

The others include Ms Rahayu Mahzam, 35, the outgoing deputy registrar of the Syariah Court, and teacher Shamsul Kamar, 43, who is also serving out his notice period.

Another high-flier likely to enter politics is Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng, 47, who announced last Friday that he will retire from the Singapore Armed Forces on Aug 18.

Mr Chee has recently been attending community events with Bishan- Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair, who is expected to retire from politics at the next polls.

An officer of the elite Administrative Service since 1998, Mr Chee graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science as well as in economics. He has held various appointments in such ministries as Home Affairs, Finance, Transport and Education.

He was Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s principal private secretary in 2008 when the late founding Prime Minister was Minister Mentor. He was also chief executive of the Energy Market Authority (EMA) from 2011 to April this year.

Mr Chee was appointed Second Permanent Secretary at the Trade and Industry Ministry last year.

His responsibilities included international trade policies, tourism, competition policy, entrepreneurship and enterprise development.

The Public Service Division said he was active in promoting a business-friendly environment and helping small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs, to raise their competitiveness through innovation, market access and developing their capability.

• Additional reporting by Rachel Au-Yong