No silver bullet, but CFE's broad approach is needed: Observers

The Committee on the Future Economy, co-chaired by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat (centre) and Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran (fourth from left), releases its report on Feb 9, 2017.
The Committee on the Future Economy, co-chaired by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat (centre) and Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran (fourth from left), releases its report on Feb 9, 2017. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Some find report on economy underwhelming, but others say strategies reflect era of change

Remarkably far-sighted, or not far enough? Some have criticised the report by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) for lacking a "silver bullet" solution, unlike previous strategic reviews.

But others argue that in an unprecedented era of disruption, the CFE's multi-pronged, broad approach, covering many bases, is exactly what is needed. In fact, the "silver bullet" approach may no longer work in current times, MPs and observers interviewed yesterday said.

"Things are changing so quickly now that the most important thing is to be nimble and connected," said MP Saktiandi Supaat, a member of the main CFE committee. "This is no longer like the past, where we went for export-oriented growth and bet on manufacturing and pharmaceuticals."

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Finance and Trade and Industry, said the report may not have been ground-breaking in the traditional sense, but "broke new ground in showing how we should build up our enablers to get the economy ready for the future".

The economic landscape is highly volatile and there is no telling what the next big thing will be, he said, adding: "We can't say for sure the big areas we should go into. But we can ensure that we are ready to deal with volatility and change."

  • Strategies for growth

  • On Thursday, the 30-member Committee on the Future Economy unveiled seven strategies to help Singapore navigate an uncertain global climate and grow its economy.

    The recommendations aim to keep Singapore open and connected, ensure its workers acquire skills for the future, and help companies scale up through innovation and transformation.

    1 Deepen and diversify our international connections

    2 Acquire and utilise deep skills

    3 Strengthen enterprise capabilities to innovate and scale up

    4 Build strong digital capabilities

    5 Develop a vibrant and connected city of opportunity

    6 Develop and implement industry transformation maps

    7 Partner one another to enable growth and innovation

 
 
 

This means firms have to be prepared to venture abroad, workers must build deep skills and industries need to develop digital capabilities.

In its report released on Thursday, the CFE urged Singaporeans to expand connections abroad, continue to build deep skills and use them well. It also encouraged firms to stay innovative and competitive by boosting enterprise capabilities, and to develop strong digital capabilities.

Past economic committees were formed in response to downturns, with reports focusing on immediate measures and restructuring efforts.

However, the CFE's report sets out "the direction and the broad strategy rather than a detailed road map", said Finance Minister and CFE co-chairman Heng Swee Keat.

Still, several observers felt the report was underwhelming.

One was Mr Devadas Krishnadas, chief executive of management consultancy Future-Moves Group, who wrote on Facebook that the report should not be "about how many more planning activities need to be undertaken".The report, he felt, "continues to reflect a belief system that command planning the economy is still the critical success factor and that generating a plan and achieving a result are synonymous".

"The Government does not create jobs or value-added. Only the private economy does.

"We should be thinking in terms of what the Government, and only the Government, can and should do, which are areas of co-creation between the Government and the private economy, and where the private economy should be left to do its thing," Mr Devadas wrote.

But OCBC economist Selena Ling said the broad-based nature of the report shows the Government wants to focus on being a facilitator and an enabler, while allowing the private sector to carve the way forward. She said: "If we want to move towards being a more entrepreneurial and innovative society, it can't be the Government dictating where we should go and what we should do."

 

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The CFE also made little mention of foreign manpower. Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, the CFE co-chair, had said Singapore remains open to foreign talent, but has to strike a balance between growing the economy and the population's needs.

Said Mr Cedric Foo, deputy chairman of the GPC for Finance and Trade and Industry: "Based on current trends, we can plot what our society will possibly look like in the future. It is the responsibility of the leadership to provide a destination people can rally around.

"The CFE comes in with the tactics for us to get to that destination."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'No silver bullet, but CFE's broad approach is needed: Observers'. Print Edition | Subscribe