1. Whither Singapore
In the past, we have excelled as a regional entrepôt and hub.
Moving ahead, through innovation, digitization and overseas’ expansion, we can reposition ourselves to become a Global Hub.
A hub that’s not just for transacting products, services and finance but also a hub for ideas, innovation, knowledge, talents, technology, expertise, connections and collaborations, and other resources.
Singapore can be a vital toll gate for global trade.
We can be an essential hub and spoke, and the node, router and connector of international commerce.
This is an opportune time for Singapore to rise up as many developed countries are adopting austerity measures and taking a cautious approach in response to the unpredictability of the global economy.
We can strengthen our capacity and capability to capitalize on the silver lining in every dark cloud and leapfrog over competing economies to forge a brighter future.
In the future, whenever a business or consumer buys or sells anything from one country to another, and even if the goods do not physically go through Singapore, we can have a stake in the transaction and generate benefits from it.
We can extract different values, including financial profits, from the transaction.
Singapore will become like a high value-added toll gate for international trade and commerce.
In this regard, we can take a leaf from Israel. Even though it is a small country in close resemblance to Singapore, it has however planted a large footprint in advanced technology and in many areas of daily life.
What’s holding us back is helping our people to master innovations and deep skills to pioneer new grounds and operate in a globalised economy.
Besides sending them out to the world, we should also bring the world to us.
We need to continue to attract an adequate pool of foreign enterprises, entrepreneurs and investors to help us capitalize on new and emerging products, markets, businesses, and opportunities.
To do that, we have to aggressively tackle undue concerns onforeign talents and dangerous rationale underpinning xenophobia. These challenges seem to be rearing its ugly head every now and then, and especially on the wild, wild web.
We need to promote the fact that if the right foreign talents are effectively assimilated and integrated into the workforce, it can be a plus factor to society and a major contribution to the economy.
There are ample evidences to suggest that diversity, pluralism and multiculturalism in our economy can contribute to improvecreativity and innovation.
The assimilations and contributions of talents from different countries, cultures, creeds and customs in our workforce can bring forth more unconventional ideas, concepts and models.
It will help to contribute to radical breakthroughs and results.
If we can leverage on a wider spectrum of local and overseas talents and enterprises, we’ll be in a stronger position to become a global hub of the new economy.
2. Culture For Entrepreneurship And Innovation
The quality of our achievements in the future economy depends on the quality of our culture for entrepreneurship and innovation.
To strengthen such a culture, we need to aggressively tackle and eradicate the culture of “kiasuism” – a culture that tends to avoid risks, abhor failures, and over-adore success stories.
As long as we consciously or subconsciously hold on to such a culture, it will prevent us from pushing the envelope, spreading our wings overseas, and challenging all odds to grow our economy.
To remove the “kiasu” culture, we need to start from the young and help them inculcate a pioneering spirit throughout the formal educational system.
In rolling out Budget 2018, we should ensure that our students are given hands-on projects locally as well as overseas, to help them become self-directed learners, and learn how to contribute to the economy and society.
They should be given appropriate rooms to fail and latitude to come to terms with these failures or resolve them.
These projects should escalate in terms of potential challenges, complexities, and conflicts.
Through these projects, the students can develop self-discipline, determination, grit, perseverance and resilience.
In addition, they can inculcate skills that they may not learn through classroom-based programmes.
These skills include metacognitive and fluid intelligence skills, entrepreneurial and innovative skills, leadership and persuasion skills, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, financial literacy skills, and giving back skills.
These life skills can put them in a better position to contribute to the economy and society.
Unless and until, we develop a culture for entrepreneurship and innovation, we will not be able to respond to the tidal waves of changes and craft our own pathways to the future.
3. Improving Productivity
Budget 2018 should be a targeted, balanced and catalytic budget for strengthening enterprises and productivity.
Improving productivity is a major challenge, especially for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) because labour productivity is limited by finite resources of workers and operational capacities of businesses.
In the new economy where the battle line is not only defined by efficiency of the workforce but also on innovative value-creations of the enterprise, the Authorities will need to enhance productivity from a more holistic perspective.
It includes setting up the ecosystem to help SMEs create and develop game-changing business models, transform operational architectures, strengthen competitive advantages, and focus not only on value-additions but also on value-transformations and value-creations.
To do that, the Authorities may have to hire more and appropriate talents from the private sector to complement its strengths and cover its downsides.
These talents should have the requisite experience and expertise to understand challenges faced by SMEs and help them leverage on different resources that are provided for in Budget 2018 and other initiatives.
As many SMEs are limited in terms of their size, strength, scale and scope of operations, the Authorities will have to proactively reach out to them. These enterprises will need more personalised guidance to help them capitalize on various incentives and initiatives.
In rolling out Budget 2018, the Authorities will have to develop services that are customised to meet the needs and requirements of SMEs from different sectors and at different stages of their life cycles.
For example, in a fast-changing world, the Authorities will need to help enterprises set up environmental scanning and intelligence gathering systems on a global basis.
Such systems can help enterprises predict business trends; preempt opportunities; achieve first-mover advantages; move up the food and value chain; and become a market maker rather than a price taker.
Unless we improve our productivity level on a more holistic level, we will not be able to capitalize on opportunities in the future economy on a more stable, secure and sustainable basis.
4. Helping Elderly Workers
As one of the fastest-aging countries, we will be faced with a growing challenge of creating and sustaining employments for a growing pool of middle-aged and older workers.
The challenge of looking after them is compounded by decreasing total fertility rate, smaller family units, and longer life expectancy.
What’s more, as we come to grips with fast-improving disruptive technology, many of the jobs held by these elderly workers may become devalued and disintermediated.
Budget 2018 should herald the start of an aggressive long-term programme to help a fast-aging workforce enhance their employment prospect and employability.
We will do well to resolve the challenge now and continue to fine-tune the solutions so that we will be better prepared to resolve similar or even potentially worse problems in the future.
I trust the Ministry of Manpower’s Committee of Supply will not only cover how various initiatives will be carried out by the government.
It will also look into enrolling key stakeholders from the people, private and public sectors to collaborate and co-create solutions to tackle this issue.
For instance, to ensure that the elderly workers are gainfully employed, we need to make improvements to the supply and demand side of the employment market.
On the supply side, we must provide incentives to help the elderly workers improve their attitude, knowledge, skills, values to employers, and contributions in the workplace.
The incentives should help them to, for example, inculcate discipline for self-regulation, personal care, and lifelong learning.
Improve their passion, competence and fitness for gainful employment.
By helping elderly workers to work hard and smart, it can help eradicate contentions in
in many quarters that older workers have increasing medical and accidental problems, absenteeism rate, and labour turnover.
On the demand side, there should be stronger policies and regulations against age discrimination.
We need to educate employers to believe in the potentials of older workers, and help them invest in empowering these workers to take on different and even more difficult roles and responsibilities.
The Authorities can offer more targeted incentives, especially during these challenging times, to free up their workers to redesign, re-skill and retool themselves.
Enrich their job scopes, including developing flexi-time and flexi-place arrangements so as to enhance their commitments and contributions to workplaces.
Additional subsidies can be provided to employers to develop an elderly worker-friendly environment as well as organise health and wellness programmes for these workers.
It will not only strengthen their work productivity but also enhance their performance and contributions.
The Authorities should proactively look at how to engage the support of relevant grassroots organisations and VWOs, or even help to set up such organisations to headhunt these vulnerable workers and reach out to them.
In addition, these workers may need personal coaching to help them ascertain relevant training courses and register for these courses.
They may even need personalised guidance to help them participate in the courses and persevere to complete all the necessary training programmes.
By building a learning nation and a deep-seated culture for continuous improvements, our workers can continue to stay relevant and effective, and at the cutting edge of the new economy.
5. Addressing Decreasing Total Fertility Rate And Aging Population
The challenges of decreasing total fertility rate and aging population have a major impact on the strength and growth of our economy, security, and society on a long-term basis.
These challenges continue to loom just across our horizon.
Perhaps we need to take a stronger and braver move – a more comprehensive Next Generation Package (NGP) if you will – to turn the silver tsunami tide and improve the results on a more sustainable basis.
The proposed NGP should be a more targeted, holistic, catalytic, and impactful thrust. It should be implemented on a cross-governmental basis and be actively supported by the public, private and people sectors.
The NGP should address not only the roots but also the symptoms of the issues. It should seek to eradicate all the roots as soon as possible as time is of the essence.
For instance, many couples are still concern over the financial burdens of having and raising children. These concerns can have a stronger influence on couples’ decision to have a child than the pleasures of having one.
The NGP should take a multidimensional, multidisciplinary, and multifaceted approach to help, especially young couples, to defray major costs of bringing up their children. It includes costs of placing their children in childcare centres, medical costs, educational costs, and costs for major living essentials.
The NGP can lessen couples’ worries and encourage them to have more children and to have them earlier. It can lead to a more sustainable increase in the total fertility rate.
It can also encourage homemakers to join and contribute as part of the workforce. They can better focus on their work and in doing so, improve personal and organisational productivity.
There are also many other indirect but catalytic outcomes that can result in a cascade of positive benefits for our country, including building stronger families and communities, strengthening the economy, and developing a more caring, cohesive and compassionate society.
If it takes a village to bring up a child, let’s make Singapore the best village to bring up an appropriate quantity and quality of children to further secure and brighten our future.
6. Budget 2018: Helping Our SMEs To Fly
Local enterprises, especially SMEs, are struggling through the double whammy of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment as well as increasing business costs.
They operate in a tight labour market and face headwinds competing with online businesses and other direct and indirect players in an open and global environment.
One of SMEs’ biggest challenges is availability, affordability and accessibility of capital to help them compete and grow their businesses.
Perhaps, we should revisit the setting up of an EXIM Bank or a similar institution or initiative to help SMEs enhance their financial position, stability and growth.
SMEs have limited size, scale and scope of operation. It is more difficult for them to enjoy priority and dedicated services from mainstream banks and financial institutions, and to access alternative fundings.
In addition, SMEs have greater challenges to assure lenders of their financial position and credit-worthiness.
They also face challenges to convince lenders to invest in projects that are of a higher risk in nature, especially investments in new markets, technology, innovation and systems that are outside of the normal radar screen.
Mainstream banks and financial institutions are not inclined to go beyond offering conventional financial services to SMEs.
They are unlikely to provide strategic and long-term business services such as identifying new business opportunities and offering assistance to help SMEs capitalise on these opportunities.
They may not fully understand the practical needs of SMEs and be as willing to co-invest or share the risks with SMEs to capitalise on a project.
With their foci on their bottom lines, they are not as predisposed to invest in helping SMEs develop their infrastructure, supports and services, grow their businesses, and become the next generation of world-beaters.
An EXIM Bank or a similar venture can cover these essential gaps and also be more focused in meeting the other needs and requirements of SMEs.
For instance, it can provide leadership and advices to help SMEs merge their operations or hunt as a pack. By doing that, it can help them enjoy economy of scale, link diverse markets, and strengthen their competitive edge and value-additions.
7. Helping SMEs Set Up Corporate Universities
The government should apportion resources to help SMEs set up what they call a corporate university to strengthen their companies and provide ongoing and upgrading learning programmes to their workers.
The corporate university is a strategic tool that is widely leveraged upon by many great companies and is an important part of developed economies.
SMEs can explore running a corporate university on their own, as part of a strategic alliance, or in partnership with a business consultancy.
The relevant authorities can also encourage and empower local universities and other relevant bodies to provide such services to help SMEs and our senior professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) improve themselves and compete to succeed in the new economy.
A corporate university with a relevant hands-on curriculum can help SMEs enhance their business model transformations, lifelong learning programmes, knowledge management, and change management on both organisational and individual levels. It can also help foster a stronger branding, culture, loyalty, and affection for the company.
As part of an ongoing process, key stakeholders should help to research, launch, and leverage on best practice of corporate university.
8. Re-Cleaning Up Our Image
Our pursuit to have a squeaky clean image is one of the pillars of the Singapore system.
Without that image, there’ll be a cascade of negative effects on our government, economy, society and future.
In recent times, the graft scandal by Keppel O&M in Brazil as well as the cheating case involving former and current SMRT workershave put us in a bad light, both locally as well as overseas.
In the process of handling over the government to the fourth generational leadership, it is also time to review and strengthen some of the fundamentals in the way we run the country.
More specifically, the government should look at more effective ways to improve on accountability and transparency, combat corruption, establish more effective check and balance systems, enhance whistleblowing procedures, tackle money laundering, and improve availability of and accessibility to information.
The government needs to convene key stakeholders from the political, people, private, and public sectors to review, redesign and revitalize our current systems.
To assure our people, enterprises, investors, and partners of our commitment to improve the system, we should not only strengthen our squeaky clean image, we should also be seen to be improving our image.
9. Building A “Gotong Royong” Spirit
In the final analysis, the motives, means and ends of any budget is to improve quality of life. That should be the focus and basis for evaluating success of Budget 2018.
Budget 2018 should therefore catalyze our people to take a stronger ownership of our communities and country.
Together, we will create more initiatives to build on the “one united people” spirit and strengthen families and communities.
Develop a home where we will have a deeper sense of rootedness and belonging.
Help to take care of each other and look after the last, the least, the lonely, and the lost among us.
We should hold on to a deeper belief that it’s in our Little Bright Red Dot that we can find purpose for living, happiness and fulfillment on individual, family and community levels.
In rolling out Budget 2018, we should aim to build on such a “gotong royong” spirit by incentivizing more bottom-up and peer-to-peer initiatives.
It should encourage more partnerships between the public, private and people sectors and encourage key stakeholders to connect, collaborate and co-create solutions for our communities and society.
We certainly need to foster more helping hands, including non-governmental organizations and volunteers to strengthen the bond between families and communities.
These helping hands can also be deployed to help address challenges of an aging population and potential fault lines that can divide and polarize our people, including xenophobia, not-in-my-backyard syndrome, and even racial or religious misunderstandings.
As a people, we must have the self-efficacy to believe we can battle all odds as a country.
Every one of us carry equal responsibility to strengthen our social ecosystem and make Singapore a livable and lovable home.
I hope this message will find a place in your heart.
By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.
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