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Committee on S'pore's economic future to focus on 5 key areas

SINGAPORE — Tasked to chart the way forward for the Republic’s economy, the high-powered Committee on the Future Economy has identified five areas that will be crucial to economic development in the coming years.

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SINGAPORE — Tasked to chart the way forward for the Republic’s economy, the high-powered Committee on the Future Economy has identified five areas that will be crucial to economic development in the coming years. 

These are future growth industries and markets, corporate capabilities and innovation, jobs and skills, urban development and infrastructure, as well as connectivity.

The committee was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Oct 1. To be chaired by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and his deputy, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran, the committee secretariat said today (Dec 21) it aims to complete its work by the end of next year. 

Apart from the scope of the committee’s work, its full list of 30 members was also announced. Apart from Mr Heng and Mr Iswaran, three other Ministers are on it: Minister in Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing, who is also labour chief; National Development Minister Lawrence Wong; and Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung. 

While most of the members are prominent business leaders from a range of industries, there was representation from other sectors in the form of National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong, 47, and former Nominated Member of Parliament and lawyer Chia Yong Yong, 53. 

The business leaders hail from large conglomerates as well as homegrown companies. They include Citibank Singapore CEO Han Kwee Juan, 48, Singtel chief executive officer of Group Enterprise Bill Chang, 49, The Boston Consulting Group managing director (Singapore) Mariam Jaafar, 38, Pan Asia Logistics founder Christian Bischoff, 56, Desay SV Automotive Senior Vice President Azmoon Ahmad, 53, and Temasek Holdings head of Enterprise Development Group Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara, 52. The youngest member is 31-year-old Timbre Group co-founder and managing director Edward Chia. 

Writing on Facebook, Mr Heng said the formation of the committee “comes at an important juncture for us”. “Businesses and workers are facing some difficult adjustments in light of global economic developments,” he said. “But we have our strengths, and there are many exciting opportunities ahead... By working together – workers, businesses and government – we can overcome challenges and seize new opportunities.”

The committee - described by Mr Heng as comprising “diverse expertise and experience” - will consult widely, including with trade associations and chambers, as well as the unions. The public will also be invited to share their views through various channels.

Mr Iswaran said: “We will work closely with stakeholders spanning various backgrounds and experience to design strategies that can spur sustainable growth and create good jobs for Singaporeans.” He stressed the need for a small and open country such as Singapore to hone its competitive advantage in industries that will “drive the global economy of the future”.

Economists interviewed noted the importance of the committee’s work at a time when the Singapore economy is at a crossroads. 

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said: “The last 50 years has been about building infrastructure and providing incentives, which the government could plan at a leisurely pace… Going forward, it’s not about the hardware of policies anymore but the heartware of (developing) our human resources.” 

UOB economist Francis Tan cited the challenge of Singapore possibly losing its hub status. The Republic has to go up against up-and-coming competitors such as Bali, which is having a thriving start-up scene, for instance. One of the areas that the committee is looking at is how Singapore can “continue to be a hub that brings value to Asia and the world”, the committee secretariat said.

SIM University economist Walter Theseira noted the committee consisted of representatives “from new sectors in the economy that did not exist a decade ago”. Citing the example of Mr Forrest Li, 38, who chairs US$1 billion homegrown gaming company Garena, Dr Theseira said: “Clearly, Singapore would like to have more start-ups like Garena… Many young Singaporeans aspire to work at or (set up) such start-ups.”

Mr Edward Chia, who co-founded Timbre when he was 21, said he hopes to contribute his experience of building a small and medium enterprise (SME). “I hope to offer a practical and realistic point-of-view to suggest ways for SMEs to shape up their capabilities and to create opportunities to scale and regionalise their businesses.” A board member of the Restaurant Association of Singapore, Mr Chia also said that he was keen on recommending strategies for the food and beverage sector, such as developing new capabilities in technology. Several committee members such as Ms Chia Yong Yong and co-founder of JobsCentral Group Lim Der Shing, 40, also cited technology as an area to be studied. 

Mr Lim said he hopes to see all Singapore companies “make full use of technological advances to better run their businesses” while Ms Chia Yong Yong felt that technology could be used to help mature workers. “If we can harness IT and assistive technology, it might help some (of these workers) overcome their functional disabilities, improve quality of life and ultimately lead to a direct impact on productivity,” she said.

Dr Theseira noted that mature PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) are a vulnerable group in the future economy, and requires special attention. “They are often the providers for an entire extended family... (More should be done) to help (them) adapt their skills for different roles, and help companies take them in,” he said.

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