SINGAPORE - Singapore has been strengthening its partnerships both regionally and globally, but the most foundational ones are those within the country, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in rounding up the Budget debate.
"A strong and united Singapore assures our partners around the world that we can be taken at our word, and will not cycle back on our commitments due to domestic divisions," he said on Thursday (Feb 28).
"(It) also sends a clear signal of our will and resolve to defend our sovereignty and safeguard our vital interests," he added.
Partnerships are a key principle of the Singapore way, Mr Heng said, noting that it was a key element of recent Budgets, and entails working with others internationally, in the business arena, and with the community.
Globally, Singapore has free trade agreements allowing businessmen access to other markets, defence agreements allowing militaries to build mutual understanding, and collaborations between officials and businesses that build goodwill. Some examples of such tie-ups are the Kendal Industrial Park in Indonesia; the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative in China; Iskandar Malaysia; and the new state capital of Andhra Pradesh in India.
Locally, Singapore needs to build on its partnerships between the Government, companies and unions, said Mr Heng, who highlighted the role of trade associations and chambers in helping companies as well.
Firms must build deeper capabilities with their workers, who benefit from better jobs and pay, he added. In turn, a skilled and committed workforce gives companies a competitive edge and the Government will continue supporting firms, such as in changes made to the Enterprise Development Grant. Through the extended Enterprise Development Grant, eligible firms can access up to 70 per cent of government funding to transform themselves.
A strong tripartite partnership can also result in positive outcomes, such as in ST Engineering's aerospace sector, where a union-management training council has worked with the National Trades Union Congress to customise the SkillsFuture Digital Workplace course for workers, he said. In 2018, more than 200 employees attended the course, which familiarises workers with digital technologies. Another 600 workers are expected to do so this year.
Mr Heng added that the authorities will continue their steady investments in research and development, as well as in strengthening economic links to the region.
The Government will take an "enterprise-centric approach" tailored to firms' stages of growth, such as by having the Scale-up SG programme - introduced in Budget 2019 - for those ready to compete globally.
"Where there are market gaps, we provide support, such as through the Enterprise Financing Scheme, to provide financing for younger and smaller firms," said Mr Heng.
Other key partnerships include building a caring and inclusive society, as well as keeping Singapore safe and secure together, he added.
"We will find the best way forward together. But no one - not you, not me, not the Government - has all the answers," he said.
"There is always room for improvement," he said, noting the robust feedback from Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC).
"Let us not just stop at making criticism, but reach out to one another; recognise that we may have different views, but we can work together and find that middle ground," he added.