The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) has expressed its disappointment over the "underwhelming" short-term measures announced in the Budget to help companies. The federation's main concern is over the "inadequate" short-term support to lower business and compliance costs, an issue which the business community has raised repeatedly. It is natural for businessmen to focus on the present. However, this year's Budget has to accommodate not just Singapore's near-term needs, insistent as they are, but also the demands of preparing the nation for potentially destabilising changes lying in wait around the corner. Just as cyclical concerns must not be ignored, structural issues cannot be downplayed. That approach is indeed a hallmark of past Budgets and this year's is no different.
Still, SBF's worries should not be dismissed. There is value in taking a closer look at the overall cost of doing business in Singapore, as this is crucial to the nation's economic vitality. That would involve probing how the policies of different agencies are adding to the costs of businesses. A fine-grained study would be useful as the various sectors are feeling the pinch differently. For example, employers in the marine and process sectors, who are dependent on foreigners to fill jobs that Singaporeans tend to shun, are grateful that they do not have to pay higher foreign worker levies for another year.
A close study would help determine if there is a case to be made for targeted, short-term relief. For example, high consumers of water and electricity, like the semiconductor and petrochemical industries, along with data centres, would feel the impact of higher prices for utilities more keenly than the majority of businesses. The diesel duty would put pressure on transport companies such as private bus operators. Then, the forthcoming carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions will affect power stations and other large emitters - entities that are important enough to cause palpable trickle-down effects on the economy as a whole.
Complying with government regulations is yet another issue. In a recent SBF survey, respondents placed rising compliance costs higher on the ladder of business hurdles than even gaining access to finance and overseas markets.
Going beyond these impediments, entrepreneurs should look at how they can work more closely with each other to take advantage of bold state schemes to spur growth. There is much for SBF members to chew on, like the Global Innovation Alliance, the SMEs Go Digital programme, the new International Partnership Fund and the existing Global Company Partnership Grant (for smaller players). Their narrative must rise above the usual cost-cutting concerns and inspire workers with forward-thinking and robust plans to seize emerging opportunities.