Committee on the Future Economy releases report: A look at the 3 economic units tasked to chart Singapore's future

A picture collage of the Members of the Committee on the Future Economy in 2017 (top), 2010 (middle) and 2003.
A picture collage of the Members of the Committee on the Future Economy in 2017 (top), 2010 (middle) and 2003. PHOTO: KEVIN LIM, ST FILE, LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat speaks at the launch of the Committee on Future Economy's report on Feb 9, 2017.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat speaks at the launch of the Committee on Future Economy's report on Feb 9, 2017. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

This article was first published on Oct 2, 2015, and updated on Feb 9, 2017

SINGAPORE - The third iteration of a committee tasked to develop economic strategies for Singapore's future released its report on Thursday (Feb 9), as it called upon Singaporeans to be the "pioneers of the next generation".  

Taking into account a challenging global environment, the Committe on the Future Economy - chaired by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat - outlined seven broad and "mutually-reinforcing" strategies for Singapore to stay ahead in the digital era. 

The practice of setting up such a unit is not new.

In 2001, then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong created the Economic Review Committee (ERC) - chaired by PM Lee Hsien Loong (who was Deputy PM at that time) - to review policies and propose appropriate strategies to promote further growth in the Singapore economy.

About eight years later in 2009, Mr Lee himself commissioned the Economic Strategies Committee (ESC) - led by then-Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam - to brainstorm new and creative ways to ensure the economy's long-term growth.

Here's a quick rundown of the three committees and what they proposed. 

Committee on the Future Economy 

Members of the Committee on the Future Economy at the launch of its report on Feb 9, 2017. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM 

When it was set up: December 2015 

What was its goal: To tackle five key areas: 

  • Future growth industries and markets 
  • Corporate capabilities and innovation
  • Jobs and skills
  • Urban development and infrastructure 
  • Connectivity

Who was on it: A total of 30 members comprising five ministers - committee chairman and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong and NTUC Secretary-General Chan Chun Sing. 

The rest include leaders from different industries in both global and domestic markets, as well as large and small enterprises. 

When did it submit its report: February 2017

Key performance indicators mooted: 

  • Achieve average GDP growth of 2-3 per cent per year over the next decade 

Key recommendations: The CFE envisioned the people to possess deep skills and be inspired to pursue lifelong learning; businesses to be innovative and nimble; the city vibrant and connected to the world and the Government coordinated, inclusive and responsive. 

These can be achieved through the seven mutually-reinforcing strategies it proposed:

1. Deepen and diversify Singapore's international connections

  • Press on with trade and investment cooperation
  • Set up a Global Innovation Alliance
  • Deepen knowledge of Singapore's markets

2. Acquire and utilise deep skills

  • Facilitate acquisition of deeper skills
  • Strengthen nexus between acquisition and utilisation of skills

3. Strengthen enterprise capabilities to innovate and scale up

  • Strengthen Singapore's innovative ecosystem
  • Support enterprises to scale up
  • Catalyse the private sector to provide more growth capital

4. Build strong digital capabilities

  • Help SMEs adopt digital technologies
  • Build deep capabilities in analytics and cybersecurity
  • Leverage data as an asset

5. Develop a vibrant and connected city of opportunity

  • Invest in Singapore's external connectivity
  • Continue to plan boldly for growth and city rejuvenation
  • Build partnerships for a vibrant city
  • Develop exportable capabilities

6. Develop and implement Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs)

  • Tailor ITMs for each industry
  • Take an open, cluster approach to maximise synergies across industries

7. Partner each other to enable innovation and growth

  • A greater role for Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) and unions
  • Create a regulatory environment to support innovation and risk-taking
  • Use lead demand to support the development of promising industries
  • Review and reshape Singapore's tax system
  • Create a sustainable environment

Economic Strategies Committee

The Economic Strategies Committee unveiled plans for Singapore’s economic transformation on Feb 1, 2010. PHOTO: ST FILE

When it was set up: May 2009

What was its goal: To study five broad strategies:

  • Exploring new growth areas;
  • Anchoring global companies in Singapore while nurturing home-grown enterprises;
  • Growing human and knowledge capital;
  • Creating high-value jobs for Singaporeans;
  • Maximising finite resources such as land and energy

Who was on it: A total of 25 members drawn from the Government, business sector and academia. Then-Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam chaired the unit.

When did it submit its report: February 2010

Key performance indicators mooted:

  • Achieve a productivity growth of 2-3 per cent per year over the next decade, more than double the 1 per cent rate over the last 10 years
  • With that productivity growth in mind, grow the country's gross domestic product (GDP) by 3-5 per cent per year
  • Grow workers' incomes

Key recommendations: The ESC set out seven recommended strategies over the next decade, which can be summarised in three broad priorities: boost skills in every job, deepen corporate capabilities to sieze opportunities in Asia, and make Singapore a distinctive global city and an endearing home.

1. Productivity-driven growth

  • Raise foreign worker levies so that companies will rely less on cheap foreign labour
  • National Productivity Fund to give productivity grants to companies, tax rebates or grants for companies to invest in productivity
  • Enhance Workfare to keep older workers in the workforce and encourage low-wage workers to upgrade their skills

2. Global-Asia hub

  • Make Singapore a leading consumer business centre
  • Keep manufacturing at 20-25 per cent of the economy
  • Attract companies here to test urban innovations, such as the Electronic Road Pricing system

3. Diverse mix of companies

  • Double number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with revenues of over $100 million to 1,000 by 2020
  • Encourage mergers and acquisitions among SMEs and cooperation between multinationals and SMEs
  • Government and private sector to start a growth fund of up to $1.5 billion to invest in growth-oriented SMEs in next 10 years

4. More innovation

  • Spend 3.5 per cent of GDP on R&D by 2015, up from 3 per cent
  • "Designed in Singapore" accreditation to emphasise design-driven innovation
  • Centres of Innovation in polytechnics to help firms enter new growth areas

5. Smart-energy economy

  • Study feasibility of nuclear energy
  • Renewable energy to account for 5 per cent of peak demand in 2020
  • Price energy to reflect real costs and constraints

6. Better use of land

  • Tanjong Pagar to be new waterfront city after 2027
  • Create new underground spaces with an underground masterplan and subterranean land rights
  • Intensify land use and make land zoning more flexible

7. Global city, endearing home

  • Have five world-class institutions or programmes by 2020 in new disciplines such as arts and fashion
  • Affordable spaces for arts and design
  • Host more high-profile international events

Economic Review Committee

Members of the Economic Review Committee led by Mr Lee Hsien Loong. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE

When it was set up: December 2001

What was its goal: Implement immediate measures to deal with uncertainties due to the Asian Financial Crisis, and to put in place longer-term strategies to restructure the economy.

Who was on it: A 20-strong committee, led by then-DPM Lee Hsien Loong and comprising government ministers, union leaders, academics and CEOs

When did it submit its report: February 2003

Key performance indicators mooted:

  • Full economic recovery by 2004
  • Economic growth of 3-5 per cent every year
  • Labour force growth of 1-2 per cent
  • Productivity growth of 2-3 per cent
  • Real wage growth of 2-3 per cent

Key recommendations:

1. More immediate proposals to cut costs and stay competitive

  • Defer restoration of employers' CPF rate beyond 36 per cent by two years; progressive increase to 40 per cent thereafter;
  • Lower salary ceiling for CPF contributions from $6,000 to $5,000;
  • Lower employee CPF rate to 16 per cent for those aged between 50 and 55, from 20 per cent

2. Remake Singapore into a global economy in 15 years

  • Build a creative and entrepreneurial nation willing to take risks;
  • Build a diversified economy powered by the two key sectors of manufacturing and services
  • Appoint a minister to champion entrepreneurship
  • Establish ministerial committee to lead drive to develop services sector