Straits Times: Govt seeks to forge stronger ties among citizens, and with them

A NEW ministry will oversee arts, sports and youth from Nov 1, as the Government seeks to deepen its engagement with citizens through various ways.

This Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) will be helmed by Mr Lawrence Wong, seen as a key member of Singapore's fourth-generation leadership.

Sketching out MCCY's aims, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a statement that it would focus on building a cohesive and vibrant society, and deepening the sense of identity and belonging to Singapore.

It will take on the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports' (MCYS) roles of strengthening community bonds, promoting volunteerism and philanthropy, engaging youth and developing sports.

Additionally, it will promote harmonious communal relations, amid an atmosphere of simmering anxieties over the influx of new citizens.

Arts, heritage and national resilience, which now fall under the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica), will also be under its purview.

In response to queries, PM Lee said many countries have a dedicated ministry to oversee youth, arts and sports, and see benefits in grouping them together.

"These are important areas for us too. But in addition, MCCY will drive community development, which in Singapore, perhaps more than elsewhere, is integral to building an inclusive and cohesive society," he said.

"The name 'Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth' does not identify all these areas explicitly, but that is only to keep the ministry name reasonably concise," he added, in anticipation of reaction to the name, particularly the absence of the word "sports" in the title.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Wong said he believes many can see the importance of the new ministry's work as Singapore's social fabric becomes "increasingly diverse".

The 39-year-old, one of several former top civil servants who entered politics in the last general election, moves up a rung to Senior Minister of State today and will be appointed Acting Minister of MCCY once it is formed.

Having one ministry serving arts, sports, culture and community engagement will also encourage synergies that benefit them all, the former principal private secretary to PM Lee added.

This will not be the first time Singapore has a culture ministry.

In 1959, the Ministry of Culture was set up with similar aims, with Mr S. Rajaratnam as its first minister. It was dissolved in 1985, and its functions went to the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Community Development.

Yesterday's suite of changes included the announcement that MCYS and Mica will be restructured into three ministries from Nov 1. This will sharpen the focus on three "increasingly important priorities", said PM Lee.

The MCCY, Mica renamed as the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), and another zooming in on families and social safety nets will have to break new ground, try fresh approaches, and keep up with rapidly changing conditions and needs, he added.

MCI will oversee the development of the infocomm technology, media and design sectors; the national and public libraries; and the Government's information and public communications policies. Reach, the Government's feedback unit, will also be transferred from MCYS to MCI.

This reorganisation, said PM Lee, will enable the Government to focus more sharply on communication and information, in an age of social media and a more active citizenry.

As for the current MCYS, it will be renamed the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Reactions to the new MCCY ranged from those cheering it as a means to deepen the spread of sports and arts in the grassroots, to worries that elite sport and high-brow arts, which have seen greater recognition and growth in recent years, will be affected.

Nominated MP (NMP) Nicholas Fang said: "My hope is that sports and arts don't become reduced to tools to achieve other goals, even though those goals are worthy in themselves."

NMP Janice Koh, who represents the arts, expressed concern that with the focus on social cohesion, aims such as achieving artistic excellence, building a thriving creative economy, and making great art for Singapore and the world may fall under the radar. "The arts are intrinsically valuable and have a much wider role to play beyond the purpose of community bonding," she added.