Forum: More analysis needed ahead of Budget 2020

Ahead of this year's Budget, besides measures to address the impact of the coronavirus crisis, industry leaders are proposing more of the same - budgets to address economic transformation, digitalisation, environmental issues, an ageing population and internationalisation.

The Government has, over the years, pumped billions of dollars into these initiatives. It is time we figured out what worked and what did not, and hold the grant recipients accountable.

Take, for example, the efforts led by Enterprise Singapore.

In its 2019 review, the agency reported that it provided assistance to 600 projects, which were expected to bring about $8.8 billion of overseas sales and $8.9 billion of overseas investments (Enterprise projects last year to generate $17b in value-added to Singapore economy; add 21,700 PMET jobs, ST Online, Feb 7).

The figures for 2018 were similar - 570 assisted projects, which were expected to bring about $11.1 billion of overseas sales and $6.1 billion of overseas investments.

These numbers are lacking in detail and therefore beg the following questions:

Of the 570 projects in 2018 and the 600 last year, which types worked and which did not?

Did the expected billions in overseas sales and investments materialise? If not, why?

Was it the right move to push small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to venture overseas, given their limited management capabilities and resources? What challenges did they face and what should we do differently?

The success of the Japanese keiretsu, the South Korean chaebol and the Taiwanese trade associations in helping their SMEs break into international markets makes them worth emulating.

Would it be better for Singapore's internationalisation efforts to be spearheaded by similar business groups leading a pack of SMEs?

These and many more in-depth questions need to be addressed before we decide to pump further billions into the same initiatives in this Budget cycle.

The outcomes of such an analysis would allow us to double down on those models that worked and hive off those that did not.

Liu Fook Thim

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