2016 in a word: Challenging

Professor Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, says 2016 has been ''challenging'' for the environmental sector.
Professor Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, says 2016 has been ''challenging'' for the environmental sector.

The year was tough for some but also held opportunities for others

The word "challenging" would sum up what 2016 meant for Singapore.

Over the year, businesses, jobs and workers alike faced the strains arising from technological disruptions and a slowing economy.

Security was heightened, given new terror threats in neighbouring countries, and the outbreak of Zika raised healthcare concerns.

The Sunday Times asked observers and industry experts across 13 sectors for a word which represented their 2016. Three returned with "challenging".

Mr Loh Lik Peng, founder of restaurant and hotel group Unlisted Collection, said businesses had a "tough year", hit by the slowdown in consumer spending and firm costs pressures from rentals and labour.

The sluggish economy also had an impact on others. Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran said: "Generally speaking, it has been a year of extraordinary pressures on legal practitioner, from getting work to getting paid to getting by."

Professor Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, described 2016 as "challenging" for the environmental sector.

Last year, two major projects highlighted the tension between development and nature conservation: plans to build a train tunnel under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and the massive makeover of leafy Mandai to build a hub of five wildlife parks.

A "troubling" 2016 came to mind for Mr Yang Razali Kassim, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University.

He highlighted the foiling of more terror plots by the Indonesian authorities and arrests of female suicide bombers there.

"Singapore's vulnerability will rise in 2017, spilling over from 2016. One can only recall the plot to fire a rocket into Singapore from Batam, which is also unprecedented," added Mr Yang Razali on the terror threat Singapore faces.

Other newsmakers sought to put a more neutral gloss on 2016. It was a year of change for Singapore, described as "redefinition", "disruption" and "innovation".

Labour MP Ang Hin Kee said jobs are being redefined with the rise of the "gig economy". Jobs such as private transportation and food delivery are now being handled by groups of independent contractors, or what he calls "tied freelancers".

Government Technology Agency (GovTech) chief executive Jacqueline Poh said industries from finance and logistics to retail were disrupted by the convergence of mobile technologies, the Internet of things, big data and artificial intelligence.

Uber's Singapore general manager Warren Tseng said innovations have changed the way Singaporeans commute.

He said Uber's launch of a carpooling feature illustrates how technology can be used to put more people into fewer cars, helping ease congestion and pollution.

In the market, carpooling through apps such as Ryde, GrabShare and GrabHitch is also taking off.

Despite the onslaught of change and challenge, some experts such as National Institute of Education don Jason Tan said 2016 was one of "opportunities" - through greater inclusiveness and more education options. He highlighted the Government's decision to extend the Compulsory Education Act from 2019 to cover children with moderate to severe special needs, and the formation of the SkillsFuture Singapore statutory board.

Dr Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, said 2016 was "hopeful" for the heritage sector, as the heritage community and government agencies reached some positive outcomes over sites such as the Ellison Building. The Land Transport Authority has said it will engage a conservation specialist to advise on minimising the impact of upcoming tunnel works on the 92-year-old building.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 01, 2017, with the headline '2016 in a word: Challenging'. Print Edition | Subscribe