leekuanyew

Economic prospects 'still look bright', say business leaders

Business community confident that S'pore on right track, says SBF chief

While the Singapore skyline has lost some of its shine in the wake of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death, the country's economic prospects still look bright, noted business leaders and analysts yesterday.

Many companies, including CapitaLand, DBS Bank and UBS, have turned off their building signage as a mark of respect during the national period of mourning.

It is the business community's way of honouring a man credited with Singapore's economic miracle, right in the heart of the Central Business District.

"He was a far-sighted visionary who led Singapore on a strong path of growth, from a fishing village to an advanced city state," said Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chairman Teo Siong Seng. "Despite Mr Lee's passing, the business community is confident that Singapore is still on the right track with the economic restructuring."

Analysts pointed out that in recent years, Mr Lee had played largely an advisory role and had not been actively involved in the policymaking decisions.

"Possibly, there may be some impact in the sense of sentiment in the short term, about what direction the Singapore economy may take in the longer term with the passing of an era," noted OCBC Bank economist Selena Ling.

"But the Cabinet and the Government have been in place for a while and it doesn't strike me as there being a big shift in the macroeconomic policies."

Markets operated as usual yesterday, with the Singapore dollar strengthening against the Chinese yuan, the Japanese yen, the Malaysian ringgit and even the surging United States dollar in late Asian trading.

The Straits Times Index closed little changed, though trading activity was slightly more muted.

Ms Tan Min Lan, head of the Asia-Pacific investment office at UBS, noted that there could be some limited knee-jerk reaction in the Singapore equity and foreign exchange markets.

Observers said policies which Mr Lee espoused and which played a part in the country's success have been ingrained in the governing system.

Such policies, like having a strong rule of law, having zero tolerance for corruption, keeping a pro-business environment, building high-quality infrastructure and being an open, globalised economy, look set to continue.

"We have an established economic framework that has been planned and sustained over the years by three different prime ministers," said Nominated MP and Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Thomas Chua. "Even we businessmen learn from (Mr Lee), to always look ahead and never rest on our laurels."

An important lesson for a generation of young people unaware of the nation's past poverty is that they must not remain in the dark about Singapore's vulnerability, said Associate Professor Tan Khee Giap of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

"We need to get the younger generation to understand that Singapore overcame a lot - such as a small economy, a lack of manpower - to pull through to where it is today. That cannot be taken for granted."

feimok@sph.com.sg