Budget debate: Important to secure long-term resilience of Singapore economy and workers, say MPs

Several MPs commented on the importance of developing the resilience of Singapore firms and the country's global attractiveness for the long term. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Singapore should build up local ecosystems of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with the necessary operational know-how to ensure long-term economic resilience, Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) told Parliament on Thursday (Feb 27).

He pointed out that the coronavirus outbreak has emphasised the need for self-sufficiency, elaborating on how the Government Technology Agency of Singapore's provision of timely updates amid the outbreak is testament to the importance of in-house ability in times of crisis.

Mr Ong encouraged the Government to identify areas of critical need or essential services and to build up a core of local talent, adding that while it is cheaper to outsource in the short term, the value of in-sourcing would be massive in difficult situations.

He was among MPs who commented on the importance of developing the resilience of Singapore firms and the country's global attractiveness for the long term.

Mr Ong cited the Mittelstand, Germany's world-class, export-oriented SMEs that also bolster social welfare and try to retain staff through tough times, adding: "Perhaps it is time for us to explore how we can build a core of locally-anchored, stakeholder-conscious Singapore businesses that can help our economy in both good times and bad."

He added that Singapore already has many of the necessary ingredients for its own Mittelstand ecosystem, with partnerships between the public and private industries, innovation driven by collaborations with higher learning institutes and tripartite collaborations with unions.

The Government's investment in a fund and a development bank for Singapore's own Mittelstand could catalyse the entire SME ecosystem, Mr Ong suggested.

Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera called for "strategic results-based spending to develop local entrepreneurs in ways that benefit domestic employment", highlighting that investing in local enterprises was how Japan and South Korea built up their world-beating firms.

He pointed out that South Korea ensured provision of loans to large firms which could consistently grow exports and earnings, and withdrew support from those who could not deliver in the 1960s and 1970s, which contributed to the rise of tech giants Samsung and LG.

Mr Perera proposed investing more in local enterprises that can deliver, stressing that it is not about giving away state monies regardless of outcomes.

"For those local firms which can consistently deliver financial and economic growth, while safeguarding or growing domestic jobs, to those firms that significantly enhance our economic vibrancy, more support could be provided beyond the caps and limits associated with current economic schemes," he said.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) said there is an urgent need to find new ways to source, train and retain talent necessary to sustain growth.

"The issue of manpower constraints continues to be a major struggle for businesses across the board, even as we are resolved to reducing our dependency on foreign workers," she noted. Industry associations can learn from the Swiss and play a pivotal role in galvanising players in the sector to join forces in delivering impactful training for the industry, Ms Foo said.

She added that Singaporeans would be more accepting of supplementary foreign labour if they are trained and developed for attractive careers.

Meanwhile, Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) raised the issue of the Singapore Exchange (SGX) possibly losing its lustre, with local companies opting to list on stock exchanges in New York, London and Hong Kong in recent years.

These included gaming company Razer, which listed in Hong Kong in 2017.

Mr Ang noted that the SGX does not track local companies which list overseas, but said it could connect with some of these firms to find out why they have done so, as the exchange loses listings of growth-oriented companies.

"This would also have implications on Singapore's ambitions to become a prime financial hub," Mr Ang said.

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