Budget debate to look at future of economy, tech impact on workers

A view of  Singapore City skyline.
A view of Singapore City skyline. PHOTO: ST FILE

The future of Singapore's economy in a world of rapidly changing technology will be a key focus for MPs, when the debate on this year's Budget begins tomorrow.

Other issues to be raised include how recommendations by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) will be executed, the impact of technological changes on workers and the rising cost of living.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland- Bukit Timah GRC) told The Straits Times that he is looking to drill down into the recommendations by the CFE, which was formed to chart the next phase of the country's growth.

"We have to take a close look at how to get businesses to see the need to digitise, move into overseas markets and become part of the future economic landscape," said Mr Liang who, as chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Finance and Trade and Industry, will kick off the debate.

He added that he will also be speaking about more immediate challenges, such as the difficulties faced by the oil and gas and marine sectors currently.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) wants to know whether the higher number of professionals, managers, executives and technicianswho lost their jobs recently is a sign of a growing mismatch between their skills and those required by new jobs.

"We need to ensure our workers remain competitive and help them prepare as industries change and new sets of skills are required," he said.

Similarly, Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun felt that more attention needs to be paid to those who may not be able to keep up with the changes in technology, and get left behind.

He said: "Change will inevitably be painful for some and derail some careers. Even as we implement the strategies for the future economy, we need to articulate the social impact and the impact on families."

Mr Zaqy, who chairs the GPC for Communications and Information, will also ask about how the media industry can remain relevant as it becomes increasingly easy to stream foreign films and television shows online using services such as Netflix.

"There is still a need for local programming. We don't want local content to be completely overshadowed," he said.

MPs will also highlight other aspects of the CFE report, including a proposal to develop deep cyber-security skills in national servicemen.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), the GPC chairman for Defence and Foreign Affairs, will ask for more details on this initiative.

Noting that the number of national service recruits will fall as the population ages, Mr Nair said he plans to ask how the Singapore Armed Forces can remain an effective fighting force.

He said: "We hear of the labour crunch in the workforce, and the reality is that the military faces the same manpower issues."

The rising cost of living is another concern for MPs, especially after Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a 30 per cent hike in water prices during his Budget speech.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) wants to know whether there are incentives for Singaporeans who save water. "I believe in rewarding good behaviour," said the deputy chairman of the GPC for the Environment and Water Resources.

And Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), according to a draft of his Budget debate speech that he posted on Facebook, will call on the Government to explain more thoroughly how it prices water, to help the public better understand the water price increase.

Mr Heng will respond to MPs' concerns over the Budget on Thursday, after which Parliament will form the Committee of Supply to scrutinise and debate the various ministries' budgets and policies.

The marathon sitting will end next Friday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'Budget debate to look at future of economy, tech impact on workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe