Cabinet reshuffle: 4 ministries with the biggest changes, and the challenges they face

One of the biggest Cabinet shake-ups in recent years will see four ministries undergo the biggest changes in terms of leadership: Education, Trade and Industry, Communications and Information and Manpower.
One of the biggest Cabinet shake-ups in recent years will see four ministries undergo the biggest changes in terms of leadership: Education, Trade and Industry, Communications and Information and Manpower.

SINGAPORE - In just two days, one of the biggest Cabinet shake-ups in recent years takes effect on May 1. The changes announced last week involve all but one ministry.

Insight looks at the four ministries that will see the biggest changes in terms of leadership: Education, Trade and Industry, Communications and Information and Manpower.

What are the challenges ahead for their fourth-generation leaders when Parliament resumes on May 7? And what are the main issues observers hope the new team can address?

1. Ministry of Education


The "national habit" of falling back on academic grades and the paper chase to secure school places and jobs is still strong, despite recent policy tweaks. ST FILE PHOTO

Preparing for jobs in the new economy and boosting students from poor backgrounds are two challenges ahead for the Ministry of Education (MOE), which will now come under one minister, from two previously.

 

Mr Ong Ye Kung, 48, who oversees higher education and skills, will have an expanded role, taking over the schools portfolio from Mr Ng Chee Meng who joins the labour movement full-time.

The "national habit"of falling back on academic grades and the paper chase to secure school places and jobs is still strong, despite policy tweaks in the last few years, notes Ms Denise Phua, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Education. She hopes this will be tackled by the new team.

Another issue looming large is social mobility, says National University of Singapore lecturer Kelvin Seah, whose research focuses on the economics of education.

While Singapore already has many programmes aimed at helping the poor, such as the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme, he notes that data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development released last year shows students from poorer families in Singapore still lag considerably behind their richer peers in academic achievements.

2. Ministry of Manpower


Another issue that may be on MOM's agenda is how to address the concerns of workers in the gig economy. ST FILE PHOTO

Questions about how to better protect workers who may fall through the cracks, and help them re-skill and find better jobs, are among those the Ministry of Manpower's new leaders will likely have to wrest with, says Mr Zainal Sapari, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Manpower.

 

Mrs Josephine Teo, currently second Minister for Manpower, becomes the ministry's new full Minister - its first woman at the helm - replacing Mr Lim Swee Say, who steps down after three years in the post.

Also joining MOM are Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, who will be Minister of State, and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Ms Low Yen Ling, who will relinquish her Ministry of Trade and Industry portfolio.

Another issue likely to be on MOM's agenda is how to address the concerns of workers in the gig economy, says Singapore University of Social Sciences labour economist Walter Theseira.

This is will be a growing problem, he says, as more workers are spending a larger part of their time in jobs that fall outside the realm of traditional employment.

3. Ministry of Trade and Industry


Workers at the Pasir Panjang Terminal. One way of dealing with a potential trade war is to look to South-east Asia for new opportunities. ST FILE PHOTO

With concerns mounting that Singapore could suffer collateral damage if an international trade war erupts, coupled with business anxieties over a restructuring economy, Mr Chan Chun Sing will have his plate full in his new role as Trade and Industry Minister.

 

Singapore will feel the impact if trade sanctions and investment curbs that the United States is threatening to impose on China take effect, as they will spill over onto the whole value chain in affected industries, say economists.

"We need to consider what we can do to protect Singapore's trade position and interests so that the trade tensions do not hit the country disproportionately hard," says Maybank Kim Eng economist Chua Hak Bin.

The Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) - blueprints that map out growth plans for 23 specific sectors covering more than 80 per cent of Singapore's GDP - are also still a work-in-progress.

Singapore has now entered a more difficult phase of innovation, research and development, and has to work on how it can leverage on the digital economy, says OCBC economist Selina Ling.

4. Ministry of Communications and Information


Mobile payments will be the ''next frontier'' for Singapore to conquer, says media and communication professor Lim Sun Sun: ST FILE PHOTO

Fake news, the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, and fears about abuse of surveillance data amid plans by the Government to roll out an interconnected network of smart lamp-posts here.

 

These are concerns that have dominated the headlines in recent months, and illustrate the main challenge confronting the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) in the next session of Parliament: how to make the information landscape healthier for all, amid the proliferation of information and technology in current times.

Current Trade and Industry Minister (Industry) S. Iswaran, 55, moves over to head MCI, taking over from Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, 62, who is retiring from Cabinet.

He will be aided by Senior Minister of State Sim Ann, who will relinquish her portfolio in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary, who will also assume responsibility for cyber security matters.

 

Taking on these issues requires a calibrated approach, says Singapore University of Technology and Design's media and communication professor Lim Sun Sun.

While Singapore has to keep up with the pace of technology development and help businesses and organisations harness these new solutions, there is also a need to pre-empt ethical and social issues they could breed, she says.

Read the full Insight feature here.