Singapore

Heng Swee Keat will head council to transform Singapore’s economy

Heng Swee Keat will head council to transform Singapore’s economy
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. TODAY file photo
Published: 11:10 AM, May 1, 2017
Updated: 11:34 PM, May 1, 2017

SINGAPORE — A year after it was first set up, a council tasked to develop skills for the future and to support productivity-led economic growth will be renamed and beefed up to implement the proposals by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE).

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will chair the council, taking over from Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. 

This was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (May 1) at the May Day Rally. Speaking to the media afterwards, Mr Heng said the new Future Economy Council will look to tackle the expected rise in unemployment, on top of rolling out the CFE proposals such as the Industry Transformation Maps. 

The council was first set up in May last year as the Council for Skills, Innovation and Productivity, with the purpose of building on the efforts of the SkillsFuture Council and the National Productivity Council.

In its next phase of work, Mr Heng outlined two areas of focus: Addressing “issues that can give the entire economy a lift” — such as in the area of skills and productivity, innovation and internationalisation — and coming up with responses tailored to the needs of each industry, as the challenges and opportunities are different among the sectors. 

Mr Heng said the concrete details of the council’s work will have to be “worked through carefully”. He added: “This is again another area which will require the input of many parties, so that we can come up with a more comprehensive and integrated plan.”

Mr Heng said the new council had started work in March, and he plans to strengthen its existing 20-member main committee, which is supported by sub-committees. Details will be announced after the council has had some time to deliberate further, he added.

In his speech, Mr Lee noted that Mr Heng will be working with Trade and Industry (Industry) Minister S Iswaran, Labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing, Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong to transform Singapore’s economy and to grow jobs. 

Other ministers and ministers of state — especially “the younger ones”, as Mr Lee put it — will also be roped in to take charge of the “strategic effort”.

It is “their generation of leadership who will have to work with Singaporeans to take the country to new heights”, Mr Lee said. 

“It is a deep transformation, which will take time and will extend beyond this term of government,” he added. 

“It is an opportunity for them to work closely together as a team, strengthening their bonds with employers and unions, and with each other, and show Singaporeans what they can do.” 

Mr Heng reiterated the need for various parties to come together and pave the way forward. 

“To transform the economy, we will need everyone — workers, employers and Government — to work closely together … so that together we can achieve more than what each of us can do alone,” he said.

On the prospect of rising unemployment, which was flagged by Mr Lee, Mr Heng said the crux lies in the details of any schemes that the Government comes up with, which will shape the council’s approach. 

Stressing that this is a longer-term challenge that afflicts other countries as well, Mr Heng said: “If you look around the global economy, the changes that are happening have been really very major — and all countries are facing this. 

“But we have an advantage ... this tripartite structure we have been having, the trust that we have built up over the years — working through difficulties and tackling new challenges — will serve us well in the coming years.”