Closer private-public partnership will foster agile regulations needed to create pro-business environment: Chan Chun Sing

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing speaks at the Pro-Enterprise Panel and Singapore Business Federation Awards ceremony on Nov 20, 2020.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing speaks at the Pro-Enterprise Panel and Singapore Business Federation Awards ceremony on Nov 20, 2020.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - A tighter partnership is needed between businesses and the Government so that regulations can be agile and adapt to changing needs and innovations, said Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Friday (Nov 20).

He was speaking at the Pro-Enterprise Panel and Singapore Business Federation Awards ceremony, held to recognise organisations that worked to create a pro-business environment.

The ceremony, held in a hybrid format, also marks the 20th anniversary of the Pro-Enterprise Panel (PEP), a private-public panel which aims to provide solutions to the regulatory issues that businesses face.

Mr Chan said: "While we cannot control the circumstances around us, we can control the responses... We will pivot our business models, develop new ideas, develop new regulations to enable new ideas to come about, and together, seize those new opportunities."

He added that the way regulations are used has to change from being protective and efficient, to becoming progressive and enabling instead.

"We have to optimise our regulations at the system level to enable new businesses, encourage innovation and facilitate business growth," he said, adding that this is why regulations have to be agile and not static.

Mr Chan noted: "We want the best of both worlds - we want predictability and consistency in the logic with which we regulate and yet, at the same time, we want the agility to be able to adapt to circumstances as they evolve, or even pre-empt the situations that may arise."

For example, the Housing Board implemented a regulatory sandbox with FairPrice and BreadTalk to pilot a way to bring food more easily to residents, in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The initiative, called Food and Groceries on Wheels, allowed vans to bring groceries to residents across 19 designated carparks. This helped elderly residents and those who are less mobile to buy provisions more easily during the pandemic.

Multiple agencies such as Enterprise Singapore and the Urban Redevelopment Authority were also involved, to balance regulatory concerns with business needs.

But for regulations to keep pace with new business developments, there has to be much closer partnership between the private and public sectors, Mr Chan added.

"The chances that our existing agencies are able to know everything - the latest findings, data and methodologies... are quite remote. If the regulators do not know what the businesses are doing, the regulators may end up being the obstacle to the commercialisation of the ideas."

One way around this is for more public service officers can be attached to private firms to exchange information and ideas, he said.

"At the frontiers of regulations, we (also) need to form a community of practice, where the latest ideas, technological progress and processes in the industry are shared with the regulators, and both sides are in regular conversation with one another, to build up the trust with one another."

Mr Chan reiterated that Singapore's commitment to regulatory transparency and predictability will not change. This also means exercising discipline in imposing regulations, because each one has compliance costs.

"When we do this consistently, businesses can be assured and have confidence in the long-term viability of their products and projects. If we adopt a consistent logic and are ever conscious of the cost of compliance and regulate on the basis of good science and sound economics, it will strengthen our role as a hub for new business ideas. This will also then allow us to be a standard bearer in the regional and international community," he said.

"If people are confident in our standards, and if more people adopt our standards, then it will benefit our companies and other companies that want to use Singapore as their base and platform to extend their products and services to the rest of the world. And this will once again become Singapore's competitive advantage amidst the current pandemic, and even beyond."