Photo of Education Ministers by CNA Justin Ong

Facing criticisms over having two Ministers for one portfolio at the Education Ministry, the two Education Ministers Ng Chee Meng and Ong Ye Kung defended themselves saying their roles are “integrated and synergistic”.

Ng Chee Meng holds the position of Acting Education Minister (Schools) while Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills). This two newly-created profiles were announced in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s latest cabinet, and taken up by first time MPs Ng Chee Meng and Ong Ye Kung. This is the first time a Ministry has two Ministers instead of one, the downside is of course paying double the salary (S$2.2 million/yr) instead of one (S$1.1 million/yr).

The duo released a joint press release today:

“PM’s decision to appoint two Acting Education Ministers is a strong signal – that while the system is expanding in both scale and complexity, we are determined to continue building more and better pathways for Singaporeans to pursue their passions and fulfil their aspirations. Having two Ministers in one Ministry is not new, especially in a large Ministry such as MOE.

Our portfolios are quite distinct, and most of you will find your work falling into one or the other, but we must firmly recognise that our work is integrated and synergistic. We must continue to ensure that students leaving the school system and entering ITE, polytechnics or universities continue to do well, and do not fall out of school.

We must continue to strive towards our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) receiving students that are well-prepared and engaged. Most importantly, all of us continue to share the same goal: To mould the future of Singapore through education.”

The splitting of the Education Ministry begs questions of credibility ad capabilities if both Ng Chee Meng and Ong Ye Kung are unable to handle a single ministry on their own. Although the two claimed that this arrangement signifies the Singapore Government’s attention on higher education and training, the previous Acting Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and his predecessors handled these additional responsibilities as well.

A plausible explanation for having two Ministers in Education is the need to compensate Ng Chee Meng and Ong Ye Kung, who both gave up their million dollar profiles prior to politics. Ng Chee Meng was the former Chief of Army and an airforce general, while Ong Ye Kung was the director for Singapore’s port operator, Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) International Private Limited.

Compared to other ministries like Foreign Affairs and Transport which are having problems with transnational haze and frequent train breakdowns, the Education Ministry is a relatively easy profile. Singapore’s education structure has been primarily stagnant for the past decade, with the same examinations and lack of access to university education for Singaporean Polytechnic and Junior College graduates. Most Singaporeans have to go for a private university to get their degree qualifications with no government subsidies, as local universities have an unspoken requirement to take in more than 30% foreigners.