POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS OF 2017

CFE report

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said last month that several key priorities identified by the task force.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said last month that several key priorities identified by the task force.PHOTO: ST FILE

A high-level committee tasked with planning the next phase of economic development will unveil this month its strategies to keep Singapore competitive.

The report of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is expected to address the impact of technological disruptions and the rapidly changing global environment on companies and workers.

The recommendations will revolve around five themes: digital economy, jobs and skills for the future, Singapore as a connected city, innovation, and governance.

Businesses hit by the global slowdown, and workers spooked by job cuts, will no doubt be hoping for a fillip to the economy.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who co-chairs the 30-member committee together with Trade and Industry (Industry) Minister S. Iswaran, highlighted in an interview with The Straits Times last month several key priorities identified by the task force.

They include skills training for workers to help them switch industries and remain relevant, investments in research and development to keep companies innovative, and a closer and better partnership between the Government and businesses.

The Budget will likely respond to some of the committee's recommendations, and will also touch on challenges such as restructuring, he said.

The group has taken more than a year to come up with its plans, holding more than 80 discussions during which they heard from more than 1,000 students, educators, parents, union members, business leaders and academics.

More than 20 panel discussions, seminars and conferences were also held, at which committee members reached out to more than 6,000 people.

OCBC economist Selena Ling said the recommendations will "depend on how the Government views the current downturn".

She believes there may be measures to help companies cope with business costs and manpower issues in the short run, given the hazy outlook.

A Singapore Business Federation survey last week found that companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), are uncertain about the Government's transformation push in the face of slowing growth and disruptions caused by technology.

More than one-third of the companies polled felt the focus of near- to mid-term policies should be on support measures to help them ride out the downturn.

Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Saktiandi Supaat, a member of the CFE whose work in the committee focuses on SMEs, acknowledged the squeeze on such companies.

He suggested that the solution to managing costs lies in "enhancing certain processes, perhaps through automation and innovation".

He added that business owners too need to shift their mindset.

"It's not all about what the Government can do to help. Business owners have to think about how to grow their company, such as by going international," he said.

The committee has been encouraging companies to venture abroad. Some, like the Timbre Group's managing director, Mr Edward Chia, agree that an economic downturn presents opportunities for companies.

Mr Chia, who is also on the task force, said: "As people's expectations on salaries are moderated, it could be a good time to invest in human capital."

But he added that the ability to establish an overseas presence depends on a company having a stable foothold at home.

"I need a good team at home to run the existing business before I can think of going abroad," he said.

Of particular interest will be the Government's approach to digital technologies.

While these technologies have disrupted existing jobs, leading to workers being displaced in some cases, the trend towards digitisation also presents opportunities for businesses and employees, industry players said.

The digital economy is seen as a growth area for Singapore, and efforts have begun to grab the opportunities available.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, who is deputy chairman of the CFE, had said that Singapore was well-placed to become a cyber-security or e-commerce hub in the region and also a key player in providing digital services, such as in the area of travel and fintech.

Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation secretary Jeremy Tan, who runs mobile payment platform Liquid Group, said: "Disruption will hurt, but the idea is that the disruptor will create better ways of doing things, which should lead to better-paying jobs."

Pearl Lee

Correction note: In an earlier version, Ms Selena Ling's name was spelt wrongly. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 01, 2017, with the headline 'CFE report'. Print Edition | Subscribe