Budget 2019 debate

Singapore must explore what works, discard what doesn't: Heng Swee Keat

Singapore must consistently review its policies in line with new trends, feedback and evidence as it plans for the long term, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said.

"We plan for the long term because we plan for Singapore to be here in the long term," he said yesterday.

Ministries should have an entrepreneurial mindset as well, Mr Heng added, in rounding up three days of debate on the Budget. He stressed the need for the Government to be prepared to experiment and take calculated risks.

"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 an ability to draw from a broad slate of policies is critical in the light of a rapidly changing world.

Adaptations have already taken place in some areas, with the Business Grants Portal and Startup SG Network launched following feedback from smaller firms that it was hard to navigate government schemes and get help to transform businesses.

Some policies have seen changes as well, said Mr Heng, citing the introduction of CPF Life and the Lease Buyback Scheme to help citizens prepare for retirement as they live longer, and the expansion of Community Health Assist Scheme subsidies to give universal coverage for chronic illnesses.

On long-term planning, Mr Heng also said that leaders should not be deterred from making investments because of external risks and uncertainties. Rather, these can be impetus for "bold but deliberate planning".

 
 
 

He cited ageing and climate change as areas the nation is building up infrastructure for. "We do not shy away from making difficult decisions," he said. "That is why we have been pushing hard on economic restructuring, and have taken further steps this year to drive deeper restructuring."

The Republic is well placed to ride on global shifts and must push ahead to strengthen its position, he said.

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

Singapore, he added, has to double down on improving productivity and innovation at the industry and firm level. This was why it made the hard move to cut the Dependency Ratio Ceiling level for the service sector. This refers to the maximum permitted ratio of foreign workers to the total workforce a company is allowed to hire.

Citing NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How's speech on Tuesday, 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... firms will find it harder to adjust in the future."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2019, with the headline 'S'pore must explore what works, discard what doesn't: Heng'. Print Edition | Subscribe