Parliament: Government needs to tweak policies to help SMEs thrive, says NMP Thomas Chua

SINGAPORE - Five government policies need to be tweaked to help Singapore's small and medium enterprises (SMEs) survive and thrive, Nominated MP Thomas Chua said on Tuesday.

Leading his list is the setting up of a one-stop agency that will give SMEs a hand in coordinating resources and solve problems.

Said Mr Chua, who is President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry: "Although IE Singapore and SPRING Singapore have always done remarkably well, we do hope the Government would appoint a minister to personally oversee a special one-stop agency to help the SMEs."

In his speech in Parliament, he also called on the Government to make it a must for large companies to have local SMEs as partners when they tender for large government projects.

The Government should also provide healthcare and insurance benefits for workers aged 55 and older, he said.

He expressed the hope that the Government would not further tighten manpower quotas and levies. And that there would be enough consultation with the business community before new policies are implemented.

His call for change, following an adjournment motion he filed to let him speak for up to 20 minutes, comes amid the growing productivity gap between large enterprises and SMEs.

He noted that in the latest World Competitiveness Yearbook Ranking for 2014, large enterprises have climbed three notches up to the No 14 spot in productivity and efficiency. It was No 11 in 2011.

On the other hand, SMEs have fallen five rungs down to No 29 in the same period.

"What causes greatest concern is that Singapore SMEs' ranking falls far behind those of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia, and China's SMEs are ahead of us by four notches," he said, adding that the figures are sobering.

Replying, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan said Spring Singapore, the agency looking after the SME sector, provides a range of programmes for them to develop their capabilities.

"Our multi-agency approach, with each agency looking at a specific focus, ensures that willing-and-able SMEs receive the level and type of support they need to thrive," he said.

Mr Lee explained that as a signatory to the World Trade Organisation agreement on Government Procurement and in a number of Free Trade Agreements, Singapore is not allowed to attach conditions requiring companies that tender to partner local companies.

Still, 80 per cent of government tenders last year - amouting to half the total contract value - were awarded to SMEs.

He also reiterated Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's remark earlier this month that the Government was unlikely to tighten further Singapore's foreign manpower numbers.

As for the higher medical costs for older workers, he said it can be mitigated with the Special Employment Credit.

"Many SMEs understand the need to moderate labour supply at the national level but wish that their sector could somehow be exempted," said Mr Lee. "The truth is that

we still added 11,200 foreign workers and 41,000 local workers into the workforce in the first half of 2014."