Government ready to steer Singapore economy through ups and downs: Heng Swee Keat

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat at a reception with Singaporeans living in the San Francisco Bay Area last Friday. The Finance Minister said that during his visit to Silicon Valley, he found how a focus on technology and innovation was transforming s
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat at a reception with Singaporeans living in the San Francisco Bay Area last Friday. The Finance Minister said that during his visit to Silicon Valley, he found how a focus on technology and innovation was transforming society and the economy. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FINANCE

It will manage economic cycles while staying focused on industry transformation, he says

The Singapore economy will go through cycles and the Government is prepared for that, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told Singapore media in San Francisco on the sidelines of a tech forum on the last day of his 11-day trip to the US.

"If there is a need for us to use counter-cyclical monetary and fiscal policy to manage that, we will," he said last Saturday in answer to a question on whether there was concern over signs of a slowdown in the economy.

"But what is more important is for us to continue to focus on very major structural changes which are happening in the global economy and the Singapore economy."

Singapore has to stay focused on its industry transformation and look at how synergy can be created, he added. "The other area is to push ahead with technology innovation," he said. "I think we must position Singapore as a global Asian node of technology innovation and enterprise."

Mr Heng said that during his visit to Silicon Valley last Friday, he found "tremendous focus on technology and innovation and how that is transforming society, transforming the economy".

"They are looking at how they can take on the best technology and how it can be used for innovative activities that can benefit people across different realms," he added.

"What struck me is the speed and scale at which they are taking this challenge very seriously. It's an area we must invest a lot of time and resources in."

 
 
 

A second strength was the diversity of the teams the tech companies had assembled, Mr Heng said.

"They have been able to assemble great teams of people, very diverse teams, not just in terms of race, gender and age, but more importantly in terms of their background experience, whether it is the schools that they go to, the education that they have, the background training they have been in - whether it is engineering or businesses - as well as the range of countries that they come from."

By pulling together the background experiences, strong, diverse teams with very creative people have been built, he added. "That is another major area we need to look at - how we can grow this talent pool."

Mr Heng also spoke about how the Government can create an enabling environment to allow innovation to flourish.

He said Singapore was fortunate to have a single layer of government, which allows faster decision-making. "But we need to look at how our regulatory approaches need to change in order to enable this innovation to take place," he added.

"Instead of looking at government as a possible obstacle to change, I think government should be an important... enabler of change, because at the end of it, all of us share a common objective of improving the lives of our people."

During his trip, Mr Heng met finance chiefs of Group of 20 countries, and World Bank and International Monetary Fund officials, as well as senators and members of Congress and the US administration in Washington. Discussions included US relations with Asia.

 
 

Although there is significant trade friction between the US and China, which goes beyond trade numbers to issues related to technology and broader long-term competition for strategic influence, US administration and political leaders have a very positive view of Singapore and South-east Asia, he said.

Singapore has a longstanding relationship with the US that it can build on, he added. "We do not take particular positions. We are a neutral trusted party and we are also a major partner of the US in many different areas, whether it is in security or economics or people-to-people exchange, and I hope we can build on this and extend this and grow this in the coming years."

Asked if a Cabinet reshuffle would take place soon in Singapore, he said "it is likely to happen soon but I will leave the Prime Minister (Lee Hsien Loong) to announce the details". He added that he would not speculate on what portfolio he might have next.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2019, with the headline 'Heng: Govt ready to steer S'pore economy through ups and downs'. Print Edition | Subscribe