Industry road maps may not meet needs of SMEs: Panellists

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the GPC for Finance, Trade & Industry and Dr Gerard Ee, president of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, co-chaired the ISCA pre-Budget roundtable 2018.
Mr Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the GPC for Finance, Trade & Industry and Dr Gerard Ee, president of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, co-chaired the ISCA pre-Budget roundtable 2018.PHOTO: ISCA

Not all businesses have benefited from the industry transformation maps (ITMs) designed to propel the economy into the future, said panellists at a discussion yesterday.

They said the ITMs were disconnected from the needs of industry and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and did not have links to other sectors.

Their comments came at the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants' pre-Budget roundtable, which focused on ITMs, digital economies, internationalisation, innovation and jobs and skills.

ITMs, which were announced in Budget 2016, took up the bulk of the two-hour-long discussion.

They are tailored for industries to address specific issues through an integrated approach involving trade associations and chambers (TACs), firms and the Government.

There have been 15 launched so far, with the remaining eight to be released by March. They will in all cover 80 per cent of the economy.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit noted a divide between ITMs and businesses, saying: "There is the sense that whatever is developed in ITMs is disconnected from the reality of industry."

This was partly due to ITMs being driven by a government agency and not the private sector, he said.

Mr Ho suggested building better interfaces between public agencies and industries to address this.

He also voiced his concern that ITMs may be developed for larger firms in mind.

"In each industry, there is a long (line) of SMEs which are not as productive, not as innovative. ITMs must be relevant to these poorer-performing SMEs. I am not seeing that," he said.

The lack of private-sector involvement is an area of concern for panellist Piyush Gupta, who spoke in his capacity as chairman of the Association of Banks in Singapore.

Mr Gupta, the chief executive of DBS Bank, believes that close collaboration and cooperation with TACs that are adequately organised to involve the industry is one key factor for businesses to succeed.

"When you don't have an appropriate TAC or engagement with the private sector, you will see less good outcomes," he said.

However, Mr Gupta noted that the rapid pace of change could render ITMs out of date within six months.

He also noted the need for ITM linkages between sectors as the world continues to change and boundaries begin to blur.

This phenomenon of "sector convergence" was often raised by the panellists, such as Mr Max Loh, managing partner of Asean and Singapore at Ernst & Young. Even as ITMs aim to benefit as many SMEs as possible, not everyone is likely to gain, he said.

But Mr Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry, said ITMs are "the way to go" to transform the economy, adding that they are still in works in progress.

Ultimately, economic transformation - be it through ITMs, internationalisation, going digital or building innovative capabilities - is not for its own sake, he said.

"Economic growth and activities are but a means to an end... simply to create good jobs," said Mr Liang.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2018, with the headline 'Industry road maps may not meet needs of SMEs: Panellists'. Print Edition | Subscribe