Parliament: Government must be prepared to experiment and take calculated risks, says Heng Swee Keat

Flagging changes in the global economy, such as Asian economies' rapid growth and the shifting of supply chains, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said Singapore will be "stuck" if it sticks to business as usual.
Flagging changes in the global economy, such as Asian economies' rapid growth and the shifting of supply chains, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said Singapore will be "stuck" if it sticks to business as usual.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore must consistently review its policies in line with new trends, feedback and evidence even as it takes a long-term view in planning, and ministries should take on an entrepreneurial mindset as well, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Thursday (Feb 28).

Rounding up three days of debate on the 2019 Budget statement, he stressed the need for the Government to "be prepared to experiment and take calculated risks".

"If we do not succeed at first, we learn from our experience and try again. This is how we become better as a people, and as a country," he added.

He urged all ministries to adopt such a mindset: "We must be focused on exploring what works, discard what does not, and execute effectively, so as to achieve better outcomes for Singapore and Singaporeans."

Mr Heng added that this ability to draw from a broad slate of policies and avoid strict adherence to theories - a point Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) noted earlier on Thursday - is critical in the light of a rapidly changing world and Singapore's unique challenges.

Such adaptations have already taken place in some quarters, with the Business Grants Portal and Startup SG launched following smaller companies' feedback that it was hard to navigate government schemes and get help for business transformation.

Some policies have seen changes as well, added Mr Heng, citing the introduction of CPF Life, Silver Support and the Lease Buyback Scheme to help citizens better prepare for retirement as they live longer.

And schemes like Medisave have to evolve as medical technology advances, more options become available, and the population ages.

 
 
 

"We will remain flexible and adaptive to deliver the best outcomes for our people," he said.

On long-term planning, Mr Heng also said that leaders should not be deterred from making investments because of risks and uncertainties in the external environment - which are instead impetus for "bold but deliberate planning".

Citing ageing and climate change as areas that the nation is building up infrastructure for, he said: "We plan for the long term, because we plan for Singapore to be here in the long term."

He added: "We do not shy away from making difficult decisions if they are necessary... That is why we have been pushing hard on economic restructuring, and have taken further steps this year to drive deeper restructuring."

Flagging changes in the global economy, such as Asian economies' rapid growth and the shifting of supply chains, he said Singapore will be "stuck" if it sticks to business as usual.

The Republic is well-placed to ride on the changes, he said, and it must push ahead to strengthen its position.

"We will continue investing in research, innovation and enterprise development, and support our entrepreneurs and businesses to boldly venture into new markets. This will bring new opportunities," he said. "However, the window to achieve deeper economic restructuring, to help more of our firms capitalise on this opportunity, is narrow."

While Singapore has achieved strong macroeconomic fundamentals through policies introduced over the years, he said: "What we need now is to double down on improving productivity and innovation at the industry and firm level."

This has to be done in a targeted, tailored approach to get firms of different types to adapt and transform, he added.

One difficult but necessary move, he said, was cutting the Dependency Ratio Ceiling level for the services sector. This refers to the maximum permitted ratio of foreign workers to the total workforce a company is allowed to hire.

Citing Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How's speech during the debate, the Finance Minister said: "Our resident labour force growth will continue to slow. If we do not move decisively on improving productivity and building up a skilled Singaporean core in industries which are currently lagging, firms will find it harder to adjust in the future."