Parliament: Singapore has to stay open to the world, be united as it seeks to rejuvenate economy, says DPM Heng

Managing the country's dual identity as both city and nation is critical to Singapore's success, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Even as the Covid-19 situation in Singapore stabilises and the country shifts its focus to economic recovery, it needs to stay open and connected to the world, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Thursday (Oct 15).

Managing the country's dual identity as both city and nation is critical to Singapore's success, he added.

As a city, it must remain open to new and exciting ideas. As a nation, it has to stay united and defend its independence.

"These seemingly conflicting objectives are not choices, but necessities for us," Mr Heng said, rounding up two days of debate on the Third Supplementary Supply and Budget Adjustments Bill, during which 33 MPs spoke. "And they will always define us as a country, and guide how we manage our economy and society."

As a city, Singapore's global competition includes cities such as London, New York, Shanghai and Mumbai, said Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance.

All these cities have their own hinterlands and can draw talent from large local talent pools.

But Singapore, with its small domestic population of four million, has to assemble the "best possible team" to stay useful and relevant to the world.

"We want to make sure that we have the best players in our squad, playing to one another's strengths, working together as a team," Mr Heng said. "This is why we must remain open to the best talents from all over the world. So that we can put forth the best team and step out onto the world stage."

Giving examples of how openness has benefited Singapore, he noted that global companies have set up operations here, bringing their know-how and networks, creating a vibrant ecosystem for local companies and start-ups and enabling them to be part of a global value chain.

Top talent has also chosen to call Singapore home and allowed locals to collaborate with the best. For example, leading researchers Professor Sir David Lane and Professor Birgitte Lane have provided thought leadership that has spurred Singapore's advancements in the biomedical sciences, he said.

The country sends its top minds overseas to learn from others, through scholarship programmes such as that offered by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

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At the same time, Singapore is making every effort to help its workers upskill and reskill, Mr Heng said in his speech, in which he recapped plans to rejuvenate the economy and strengthen the resilience of workers as well as businesses as the country emerges from the pandemic.

The future of work may be very different in a post-coronavirus world, he said, and the rise of digitalisation and the gig economy will make the job market more volatile.

"The new economy will require workers who are versatile and know how to build on existing skills, embrace lifelong learning, and be able to move between adjacent industry clusters," he added, calling on companies to play their part in developing training programmes for workers.

These efforts to upskill the Singaporean workforce, coupled with its openness to ideas, innovations and innovators, will help secure a better future for this country, Mr Heng said.

"As a global city competing and collaborating with other global cities, it is crucial that we remain open, and at the same time, invest in our people," he added. "That way, we remain relevant to the world."

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