DPM Heng pledges to revive Singapore's status as air hub

Government will also hasten moves to boost Republic's maritime position, he says

Travellers queueing up for temperature taking before checking in for their flights at Changi Airport Terminal 3 last month. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung will deliver a ministerial statement on reviving Sing
Travellers queueing up for temperature taking before checking in for their flights at Changi Airport Terminal 3 last month. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Disruptions from Covid-19 may have thrown a spanner in the works for Singapore to be a well-connected air hub, but the Government is doubling down on efforts to restore the country's connectivity.

Pledging to revive Singapore's status as an air hub when global travel resumes, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat also said in Parliament yesterday that the Government will work on building up the country to be a Global-Asia confluence of technology, innovation and enterprise.

"We must re-establish our position by reopening our borders gradually, positioning Singapore as a safe destination, levelling up capabilities and refreshing our infrastructure," he said in a ministerial statement on the country's progress in combating Covid-19.

Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Finance Minister, added that Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung will deliver a ministerial statement on reviving Singapore's air hub in Parliament today.

The Deputy Prime Minister further said the Government will hasten moves to strengthen Singapore's maritime position by improving transshipment capabilities, inking trade facilitation agreements and anchoring key shipping routes through the country.

More will be done in terms of regional maritime cooperation as well, and he cited the Iskandar Malaysia as well as Batam, Bintan and Karimun regions for the potential they hold. He also said Singapore will significantly strengthen its trade and logistics ecosystem and deepen capabilities in its port and airport.

Moves to bolster the country's digital capabilities are being accelerated, said Mr Heng, noting that they will be a "game-changer" for Singapore's connectivity with its global partners. He pointed out that Singapore has concluded Digital Economy Agreements with Australia, Chile and New Zealand, and is having talks with South Korea.

At the same time, companies in Singapore are getting help to exploit technology and have embarked on more than 27,000 projects to improve their productivity and build new capabilities through the Government's Productivity Solutions Grant and Enterprise Development Grant schemes, he said.

One example he cited is the Seonggong restaurant group, which manages brands like Seorae Korean BBQ. He met its founder last Friday, and said the group used digital technology to successfully revamp its operations, so much so that its deliveries from online orders have offset the losses from its dine-in business.

"The experience of businesses shows that digitalisation is a strategic capability to unlock growth, evolve their models to harness digital possibilities, and to integrate processes such as logistics, payment, and marketing," he said.

Work on transforming companies and industries through technology will continue for all businesses here, and a key government priority now is to take digital transformation to enterprises in the heartland.

Senior Minister of State Sim Ann and Minister of State Low Yen Ling will announce further plans for these firms in the coming days.

The Government will also unveil a new five-year Research, Innovation and Enterprise plan in December to enhance research to support areas of national priority.

These areas include early childhood development, lifelong learning and keeping seniors healthy.

The plan will also expand on efforts Singapore is undertaking to transform its manufacturing, aviation and maritime industries, and deepen its capabilities as a Smart Nation and sustainable society.

"By enhancing our connectivity and making innovation pervasive, we can better meet the challenges of a post-Covid world, and create good jobs and a brighter future for all Singaporeans," said Mr Heng.

Yesterday, he said that since 2017, the Future Economy Council has been driving the implementation of industry transformation maps to restructure Singapore's economy sector by sector.

Good progress has been made, he added, citing figures on employment, productivity and incomes.

•At the end of last year, Singapore's resident unemployment rate was at a low 3.2 per cent.

•Between 2016 and last year, the overall productivity, measured by real value-added per hour worked, rose by what Mr Heng called a creditable 2.4 per cent per year. This is an improvement over the 2.2 per cent growth in the preceding three-year period.

•Real median income for Singaporeans grew by 3.7 per cent per year in the last three years, up from 3.2 per cent in the preceding three years.

•Incomes at the 20th percentile grew by 4.4 per cent per year in the last three years, up from 4 per cent in the preceding three years.

"We are building on our good position, and keeping up the pace," said Mr Heng.

He added that the Government's task force to guide the country's economic recovery from Covid-19 will be setting up more industry-led alliances to devise ideas for projects and generate jobs for Singaporeans.

There are currently seven such Alliances for Action now, and the Emerging Stronger Taskforce is looking to launch more in new growth areas such as medtech.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2020, with the headline DPM Heng pledges to revive Singapore's status as air hub. Subscribe