Their expanded work scope, along with the need to tackle more complex challenges and manage issues that cut across ministries, has made it necessary for the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) to have two ministers each, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Sep 28).
He noted that in some other countries, education and the economy are under the purview of multiple ministries.
The Government had considered “carefully” whether to split the MOE and MTI further like in other countries, but decided against it as “the different parts still have to fit together closely”, Mr Lee said at a press conference to announce his new Cabinet following the Sep 11 General Election.
“It is like a jigsaw puzzle and we want to make sure there are no leftover pieces or holes at the end after you have assembled the picture,” he added.
“We have to coordinate closely together, so splitting the ministries will make this harder.”
Instead, what will be done is to appoint two ministers each to the MTI and MOE, who will work together closely while having different responsibilities, Mr Lee said.
The new Cabinet will see Mr Ng Chee Meng as Acting Minister for Education (Schools) and Mr Ong Ye Kung becoming Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills). Both of them are first-time Members of Parliament (MPs).
Incumbent Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang stays put, but will be focusing on trade. Mr S Iswaran, the sitting Second Minister for Trade and Industry, will be appointed Minister and will oversee the industry aspects at the ministry.
Previous Cabinets have seen second ministers, who are ranked lower than the first minister, appointed to various ministries.
For instance, Ms Grace Fu, who was a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, was also Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources as well as for Foreign Affairs.
Elaborating on the need to appoint two ministers for the MOE and MTI, Mr Lee said that while the MOE has been managing education from primary to tertiary levels, the higher education landscape has evolved.
“Now, the tertiary sector has grown larger and more diverse with many more students, many more institutions, and more different kinds of institutions. Even the universities are not the same as one another,” he added.
The MOE is now also involved in preschool education and offering Continuing Education and Training courses.
Along with the Government’s push to promote lifelong learning through SkillsFuture, the MOE will be partnering with the MTI and Ministry of Manpower to equip graduates with the right skills to secure jobs, said Mr Lee.
Similarly for the MTI, its work has expanded from attracting multi-national corporations to invest here, to helping small- and medium-size enterprises as well as encouraging entrepreneurship and research.
The ministry is also playing a more active role in international economic diplomacy and negotiating trade agreements, Mr Lee noted.
The other office holders in the MTI will be newly elected Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency (GRC) MP Dr Koh Poh Koon as Minister of State and Ms Low Yen Ling as Parliamentary Secretary.
Over at the MOE, Pasir Ris- Punggol GRC MP Dr Janil Puthucheary will become Minister of State, while Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and Ms Low will be its parliamentary secretaries.
Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal was previously Parliamentary Secretary for health and transport, while Ms Low held the same position for social and family development as well as for culture, community and youth.