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Singapore Business Federation urges larger firms to help smaller players

SINGAPORE — Less than three weeks after voicing disappointment with Budget 2017 for the “inadequate” short-term support for companies, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) yesterday was keen to move on from its remarks: Its chief executive told TODAY that businesses here have “expressed comfort” in the government measures, and called for a mindset shift in the community.

Singapore Central Business District (CBD), night skyline. TODAY file photo

Singapore Central Business District (CBD), night skyline. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — Less than three weeks after voicing disappointment with Budget 2017 for the “inadequate” short-term support for companies, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) yesterday was keen to move on from its remarks: Its chief executive told TODAY that businesses here have “expressed comfort” in the government measures, and called for a mindset shift in the community.

“There is a sense that if we help each other instead of doing things alone and only for ourselves, wherein larger companies help smaller players, the journey will get much easier as it will translate into lower cost for everyone in the process,” said SBF CEO Ho Meng Kit, who was speaking on the sidelines of a post-Budget seminar organised by the federation.

He added: “Today, TACs (trade associations and chambers) are about business leaders volunteering their time and companies coming to seek help.

“Can we instead have companies come to TACs to offer help to other companies? Going forward, there has to be that mindset change. It is not going to be easy but judging from the initial response from SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises), I think we can build on it.”

Following the Budget on Feb 20, SBF issued a statement to say that it was “disappointed with the underwhelming short-term Budget 2017 measures”.

Specifically, the SBF took issue with the “inadequate short-term support to lower business and compliance costs”. It cited the deferment of foreign worker levies that should have been extended across other sectors instead of just the marine and process sectors, and an absence of measures on rental rebates for businesses.

Yesterday, however, Mr Ho said that it is “not about too little short-term measures or too much of medium-term focus”.

“We are going to move on from that conversation to really helping with the implementation (of Budget measures) and making sure of building the mindset of businesses about coming together to forge the future for themselves,” he said.

At the seminar, SBF members held a closed-door discussion on the Budget with representatives from government agencies, including the Ministry of Finance, Spring Singapore, International Enterprise Singapore, the Singapore Economic Development Board and the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore.

Speaking to TODAY after the event, several SME representatives reiterated that smaller companies continue to struggle with rising business costs.

For those that do not have plans to go digital or to go global, the conditions may be more challenging, said Mr Kevin Liang, CEO of EPS Computer Systems, an IT outsourcing company. Having established a presence in Malaysia sometime back, the company now has operations in the Philippines and Thailand, and plans to venture into Indonesia and Vietnam this year.

“While the Government continues to be a facilitator, it could perhaps take a lead role in helping SMEs grow faster, given that Singapore is a small nation and uniquely different compared to other countries …

“Government-linked companies should partner more proactively and directly with SMEs to enable them get better access to opportunities overseas,” said Mr Liang.

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