There are many ways to celebrate culture

2 mins read

The Cabinet announced this week it is going to establish a new junior ministry, this time for culture, complementing the three new portfolios established in the past two years – shipping, tourism, and innovation.

In the case of shipping, the first deputy ministry to be established, it was a necessary evolution of the former government service, the Department of Merchant Shipping.

With the maritime sector accounting for at least 7% of GDP, based on past estimates, it was a longstanding demand of the shipping community to upscale this service to give the department the authority needed to negotiate and promote the advantages of the Cyprus flag and the maritime hub in general.

The progressive tax package has been embraced by the European Commission and renewed for a further 10 years allowing this sector to attain higher levels of achievement.

The next decision for a junior ministry of tourism baffled us, in the beginning, as it meant taking a semi-government service with the flexibilities it should have had, and demoting it to an extension of the government machine, not known for its smooth decision making.

With a vibrant young professional at the helm, we are hopeful that this will prove an effective mix of rigid civil service and the need for speed.

The junior ministry for innovation and digital technology was probably invented out of the need to re-engineer the basic pillars of the economy and transform government into a modern platform with the ability to cross-pollinate ideas in the public sector.

It proved effective during the lockdown imposed by the coronavirus pandemic that also exposed the shortcomings of the government machine and its collaboration with the private sector and the educational sphere.

Some other offices have also been restructured, as a result of which we have a chief scientist who, together with the junior minister, should determine the digital edge that Cyprus requires.

Half-way through his second term and delivering on his pre-election promises of junior ministries, albeit somewhat late, there will soon be a Deputy Minister for Culture.

This is not a case of reinventing the wheel, as culture already has a prominent role within the portfolio of Education, Culture and Sport, with the Cultural Services department already undertaking this task.

Although we would be among the first to praise the promotion of culture at all levels of society, one cannot but wonder what lies behind this decision.

What should have happened was to boost the national budget for culture and hire more people, instead of creating one more job for a person enjoying the Presidential Palace’s favour.

What could be different by breaking away from Education and becoming a standalone junior ministry? Will grants to the arts suddenly increase?

Will the absence of imposing the simplest of regulations, such as complying with the laws that define the proportion to be spent on the arts when a new public building is used, amazingly change overnight?

Will protecting our national heritage and UNESCO sites become more effective?

Will we discover new cinematic talent at the forefront of the international silver screen?

What is needed is a culture shift within society, although some baby steps have been taken on some issues, we have not taken leaps in others.

And it takes a huge leap of faith to believe a junior minister of culture will miraculously change all this.