Transformation to digital economy 'a top priority' for Singapore

Committee charting Singapore's economic future faces long and tough road ahead, say analysts, industry figures

Transforming Singapore to embrace innovation and become a digital economy should be among the committee's top priorities, but a long and tough road lies ahead. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Transforming Singapore to embrace innovation and become a digital economy should be among the committee's top priorities, but a long and tough road lies ahead.

Analysts, economists, industry players and MPs yesterday noted the challenges the new body will face, such as a maturing economy and finite resources.

These were among the reactions to the unveiling of the new 30-member Committee on the Future Economy - which includes government officials and business leaders - formed to draw up plans for the country's economic future.

The committee will tackle five key areas: Future growth industries and markets, corporate capabilities and innovation, jobs and skills, urban development and infrastructure, and connectivity.

Ms Foo Mee Har, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry, said corporate capabilities and innovation should be the most important, to help firms adopt new technology and ideas.

"I hope the committee's recommendations would take learning from the past, consolidate existing programmes, and launch breakthrough initiatives and unique business models that will give Singapore a true global competitive and comparative advantage," she told The Straits Times.

OCBC economist Selena Ling questioned how the committee would fit "the rise of the digital economy and disruptive technologies" into one of the five key areas.

Committees that focused on economic strategies to remake Singapore and its economy were created in 2001 and 2009.

Their work has often been seen as a blueprint to help the nation stay ahead as a global economy.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, the chairman of the GPC for Finance and Trade and Industry, said that Singapore needs to expect constant change as a given.

The committee, he added, will have to develop strategies to help companies and employees keep up with the "fast pace of technological changes" in the areas of skills and employment.

Analysts also want the committee to address the perennial challenge of helping small and medium- sized enterprises grow to be strong and better engines of the economy.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said that beyond the terms of reference, "the committee will have to deep dive into the major or fundamental issues such as growing the SMEs, immigration and manpower policy, as part of the overall plan of driving indigenous economic activity".

He deemed those areas "integral to any assessment of what stands in the way of the economy transforming decisively".

Ms Ling emphasised that local enterprise and innovation must still play an important role in the area of jobs and skills.

Ms Kuik Xiao Shi, chief operating officer of beauty mobile application Vanitee, said: "In the next 50 years, what could really move the needle for Singapore's future economy are businesses that are driven by technology and are global in nature.

"I would like to see a strategy that takes active steps to identify and support these key industry trends which have the potential and capabilities for Singapore's home-grown companies to create innovative business models and scale internationally."


MR FORREST LI, founder and group chief executive of Garena

Markets for existing products and services will only become more saturated. Innovation will be the key to continued growth as it encourages and enables the set-up of new businesses in areas of unmet needs.


MS MARIAM JAAFAR, partner and managing director (Singapore), The Boston Consulting Group

I am particularly interested in the opportunity to accelerate the development of a digital economy - from leveraging new digital technologies across sectors to new digital business models to embracing digital lifestyles - entrepreneurship and innovation, opportunities in our regional backyard even as we seek to grow global players, and the impact of all these on jobs and social cohesion.


DR ROBERT YAP, Singapore National Employers Federation president and executive chairman of YCH Group

Employers face many challenges such as global competition from both developed and developing economies, disruptive technologies and new business models. Our productivity growth has stagnated. The slowing down in our workforce growth and an ageing population will also put a strain on growth.

I hope to contribute in areas that can help employers transform their organisations and workforce to overcome these challenges and facilitate business growth.

I also hope that we can build an enhanced ecosystem to create more iconic and world-class Singapore companies that can help to boost the new economy as well as provide many new and better job opportunities globally for Singaporeans.


MR MARK LEE, chief executive, Sing Lun Holdings

Singapore must remain competitive but yet remain a compassionate country to our fellow Singaporeans. This fine balance is not easy to achieve. My own focus will be on value creation within the manufacturing sector that allows Singapore companies like us to continue to be globally competitive and innovative.


MR RUSSELL THAM, regional president (South-east Asia), Applied Materials

(Singapore needs to) enhance and grow globally competitive engineering and advance manufacturing capabilities, deepen our value creation across the innovation value chain for global markets and future technology trends, and further sharpen our public-private collaborative framework.

Collectively, I hope this will create good and desirable jobs for Singaporeans and a sustainable and inclusive economic future.


MR HAN KWEE JUAN, chief executive, Citibank Singapore

I believe that the needs of consumers and companies are changing and the banking and finance sector has to adopt new business models leveraging on technology and new skill sets to offer more immediate and relevant solutions.

Singapore has the unique advantage of being a global financial centre with world-class business infrastructure, progressive regulations and Asian business hub for banks and fintech companies to innovate new business models and solutions that will create new jobs for Singaporeans.

Majority of members from private sector


  • Mr Teo Siong Seng, 61, chairman of the Singapore Business Federation, the biggest business association here, representing more than 18,000 firms.
  • Dr Robert Yap, 63, president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, which represents the interests of employers in national tripartite committees, forums and national-level reviews.


  • Ms Cham Hui Fong, 47, assistant secretary-general and director of industrial relations at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).


  • Ms Chia Yong Yong, 53, partner at Yusarn Audrey, a law firm which focuses on intellectual property, and president of SPD, which helps people with disabilities.
  • Ms Rachel Eng, 44, joint managing partner at WongPartnership, a law firm with offices in places like Abu Dhabi, Beijing and Yangon.


  • Ms Mariam Jaafar, 38, partner and managing director (Singapore) of The Boston Consulting Group, which has offices in 46 countries.
  • Mr Jean-Luc Butel, 59, president of K8 Global, and senior adviser of McKinsey & Company's healthcare practice.


  • Ms Goh Swee Chen, 55, chairman of Shell Companies in Singapore. The global energy giant was one of the earliest multinational investors here.
  • Mr Mark Lee, 42, chief executive officer of apparel manufacturer Sing Lun Holdings.
  • Mr Fabian Wong, 55, chief executive officer of Philips in Asean and Pacific. The lifestyle electronics giant sells a range of products, including healthcare.
  • Mr Russell Tham, 47, regional president (South-east Asia) and corporate vice-president of Applied Materials. The company creates engineering solutions for the semiconductor and flat-panel display industries.
  • Mr Vincent Chong, 46, president and chief executive officer (designate) of ST Engineering, which focuses on solutions for the aerospace, electronics, land systems and marine sectors.


  • Mr Christian Bischoff, 56, founder and executive chairman of Pan Asia Logistics.
  • Mr Tan Chong Meng, 55, group chief executive officer of port operator PSA International.


  • Mr Han Kwee Juan, 48, chief executive officer of Citibank Singapore.
  • Mr Saktiandi Supaat, 42, executive vice-president and head of forex research at Maybank Group.


  • Mr Bill Chang, 49, country chief officer for Singapore and chief executive officer of group enterprise at Singtel.
  • Mr Forrest Li, 38, founder, chairman and group chief executive officer of Garena, which began as a computer gaming platform and branched into mobile e-commerce and chat applications.
  • Mr Azmoon Ahmad, 53, senior vice-president and member of executive management at Desay SV Automotive, which researches and manufactures systems used in vehicles.


  • Mr Lim Chow Kiat, 45, group chief investment officer of GIC.
  • Mr Lim Der Shing, 40, venture partner at Jungle Ventures, a Singapore-based venture firm that invests in Asia.
  • Mr Harish Manwani, 63, global executive adviser of private equity at Blackstone.
  • Mr Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara, 52, head of the enterprise development group at Temasek Holdings.


  • Mr Edward Chia, 31, co-founder and managing director of Timbre Group, a music lifestyle company.
  • Ms Susan Chong, 46, founder and chief executive officer of Greenpac, which helps companies re-engineer packaging processes.

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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 Transformation to digital economy 'a top priority' for Singapore. Subscribe