Budget debate 2018

Parliament: Ideas to help businesses seize opportunities

Another important move in bolstering the economy is for regulations to be more flexible to keep up with a rapidly evolving business landscape, said Mr Ang Wei Neng.
Another important move in bolstering the economy is for regulations to be more flexible to keep up with a rapidly evolving business landscape, said Mr Ang Wei Neng. PHOTO: ST FILE

A bundle of ideas on ways to get the Singapore economy ready for the future was unwrapped in Parliament by MPs yesterday.

They centred on the Government taking such steps as helping local companies grow by playing a bigger role in Singapore infrastructure projects, being flexible with rules and regulations, and creating a culture brimming with diverse hiring and pervasive innovation.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) was particularly insistent on the Government making it essential for overseas corporations involved in local train projects to form joint ventures with Singapore companies.

Such a move would pave the way for the local companies to pick up skills and gain experience that would make them not only more competitive locally, but also regionally or even globally, he added.

The scope is significant as Singapore plans to double the length of its rail network to 360km by 2030, he noted.

But in the current situation, he said, most of the train tunnelling work is done by foreign giants, and foreign companies are the main providers of rolling stock such as trains and signalling systems.

Pointing out that competition is no longer local, Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) said: "Regional, global markets with substantive scale and actively hunting for talents are what constitute our competition."

In such an increasingly dynamic business landscape, companies also need to be forward-looking in job creation, she said. Elaborating, she urged them to adopt a hiring policy that fully embraces senior employees and mid-career workers retrained in new skills but yet to build up the relevant experience.

Another important move in bolstering the economy is for regulations to be more flexible to keep up with a rapidly evolving business landscape, said Mr Ang. Many companies, especially the most successful ones, provide services across different industries , he added.

For example, China's Alibaba, which offers services ranging from e-commerce to finance, is an example of "creative diversification" which should be encouraged among Singapore businesses.

MPs such as Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) and Nominated MPs Azmoon Ahmad and Chia Yong Yong dwelt on the importance of creating a country-wide culture of innovation.

Ms Phua wants the Budget to allocate resources to study why innovation is not far more pervasive in the private sector, educational institutions and, notably, the public service.

Recounting some of her experiences, she said the public service is restrained by fear of criticism from people and MPs, and of making mistakes and being judged, punished or named and shamed in the Auditor-General's Office's annual audit.

Another obstacle are the limitations caused by existing processes and tools, she added.

True innovation requires "the whole society to create an environment that encourages and celebrates a sense of playing, tinkering and experimenting", she said.

Ms Chia wants children to be nurtured to have an appetite for risk and the courage to fail. Without this mindset, she said, Singaporeans will be nothing more than "buyers and users" of technology.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2018, with the headline 'Ideas to help businesses seize opportunities'. Print Edition | Subscribe