30-member committee to chart future of economy

Business leaders will join Heng Swee Keat and four other ministers to study 5 key areas

Tourists walking along the path on the waterfront promenade, along Marina Bay Sands as the skyline of Singapore CBD stands in the background. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

A committee tasked with charting the course of Singapore's economic future will be made up of 30 members, including government officials and leaders of companies large and small.

The Committee on the Future Economy will study five key areas that are crucial to sustaining economic growth vital to Singapore's future.

One key focus for the committee is to identify future growth industries and markets, and help firms seize opportunities in those areas.

Also at the top of the list is giving strategies to cultivate innovation and grow the use of technology among companies here.

For workers, there will be a detailed study on how technology and demographics will impact the labour force, which will help aid workers as they retool themselves for the new economy.

The committee will also draw up plans to develop Singapore's infrastructure, while paying attention to making living spaces sustainable.

Lastly, there will also be attention paid to entrenching Singapore's position as a hub for Asia, amid growing connectivity in the region.

The committee is chaired by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, and aims to complete its work by the end of next year.

Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran is the deputy chairman. Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and NTUC secretary-general and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing are also on the committee.

The vast majority of the members are drawn from the private sector.

These include business associations and multinational companies such as Shell and the Boston

Consulting Group, as well as local enterprises such as the Timbre Group, ST Engineering and Sing Lun Holdings.

Mr Heng said the formation of the committee comes at an "important juncture" for Singapore, with businesses and workers "facing difficult adjustments" in the face of slowing global growth and rising costs.

"We hope to go beyond seeking their views, to working with and supporting them to lead and champion some of the transformation processes," he said.

The practice of setting up such a committee is not new; similar efforts were undertaken in 2001 and 2009.

Members said both Singapore and the world have changed significantly since the last committee gave its recommendations. They noted that this committee will have to tackle a wide range of issues, from disruptive technologies to the ageing population's impact on Singapore.

Mr Edward Chia, managing director of dining and live music chain Timbre Group, said it is essential that Singapore "finds that balance for technology to complement the human workforce" in its efforts to become a "smart nation".

"Technology is sometimes mistrusted in many industries as it has the potential to displace workers. However, harnessed well, technology can certainly play an important role in labour-constrained societies like in Singapore," he said.

Another key focus involves ensuring that people at all stages of life can contribute to the economy, said Ms Chia Yong Yong, a consultant at Yusarn Audrey, a law firm specialising in intellectual property.

This includes "looking at the extent to which one truly retires, and what happens post-retirement".

In addition to long-term challenges, the committee should also tackle shorter-term issues such as the cost and manpower constraints business are facing, said Singapore Business Federation chairman Teo Siong Seng. This will help them transit from current difficult conditions to the future economy, he said.

  • Additional reporting by Jeremy Koh


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2015, with the headline 30-member committee to chart future of economy. Subscribe