Parliament

S'pore must position itself as a key node in Asia in a post-Covid world: Heng

Staff returning to work at Raffles Place. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat acknowledged that one way for businesses to build resilience is to establish a strong Singaporean core. This creates opportunities for local workers and helps businesses t
Staff returning to work at Raffles Place. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat acknowledged that one way for businesses to build resilience is to establish a strong Singaporean core. This creates opportunities for local workers and helps businesses to operate in a sustainable manner. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

As the coronavirus changes the global landscape, Singapore must ensure that it plays a "valued and inextricable role" in this new post-Covid-19 world, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Central to achieving this goal is the work of the new Emerging Stronger Task Force, which is studying the shifts and recommending how Singapore should refresh its economic strategy.

The recommendations will focus on technology and innovation, digitalisation and disruption to global supply chains.

"Like a pearl that is part of a strand of vital global nodes across the world, we must play a valued and inextricable role in the new global configuration," said Mr Heng. "We will do so by forging new partnerships and bringing new value to the world through innovation and deep capabilities, including technological capabilities."

The 17-member task force is chaired by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and PSA International group chief executive Tan Chong Meng. It includes representatives from sectors such as banking, aviation, engineering and hospitality.

The topic of helping Singaporeans adapt to changes caused by the pandemic was raised several times during the two-day debate on the supplementary Fortitude Budget.

Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) called for the Government to consider proposals from various industries as they prepare to restart work in a changed environment. The authorities should make "specific adjustments instead of broad measures", and trade associations and merchant groups should also weigh in, she suggested.

Nominated MP Douglas Foo lauded the Budget's efforts to help small and medium-sized enterprises go digital, but he noted some firms still struggle to send older workers for training as there are relatively few courses conducted in Chinese, Malay or Tamil.

Mr Heng replied that hastening Singapore's economic transformation is a national priority. He called on workers and employers to do their part by staying focused on it.

Other MPs, such as Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC), spoke on the importance of self-sufficiency and building up a strong Singaporean core.

"The pandemic has taught all of us an important thing: Self-sufficiency is important, be it on supplies or labour," Mr Saktiandi told the House on Thursday.

Mr Heng acknowledged that one way for businesses to build resilience is to establish a strong Singaporean core. This creates opportunities for local workers and helps businesses to operate in a sustainable manner, he said, even if the country's external labour supply is disrupted.

He compared the pandemic to a mighty storm that has damaged sails and driven ships around the world back into their harbours.

Singapore must use the downtime to build new strengths and capabilities, he said.

"Let us take this rare chance to repair, upgrade our ship and install new instruments, re-orientate our mental compass and strengthen our sailors so that when the fair wind comes, we will sail out faster and farther than ever before."

Linette Lai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore must position itself as a key node in Asia in a post-Covid world: Heng'. Subscribe