SINGAPORE: Singapore must master major trends reshaping the global economy and speed up the structural transformation of its own economy to emerge with a stronger one post-COVID-19, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Saturday (Jun 20).
The minister was speaking about building a more cohesive society, in the sixth and final speech in a series of national ministerial broadcasts on Singapore’s post-COVID-19 future.
Mr Heng acknowledged that many could still lose their jobs despite the Government’s efforts to create 100,000 jobs and training opportunities under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package.
“All countries, including us, are providing immediate support, to provide a cushion,” Mr Heng said. “But we are going further, investing to give everyone a springboard, to bounce back from this even stronger.”
Near the end of May, the Ministry of Trade and Industry cut growth projections yet again as the economy continues to strain under the pandemic. Singapore’s gross domestic product is expected to shrink between 4 per cent and 7 per cent this year, it said, down from previous estimates of between 1 per cent and 4 per cent.
But Mr Heng said Asia is likely to remain a bright spot as resilience and reliability becomes increasingly valued amid the COVID-19 outbreak, adding that the digital shift will accelerate, transforming the way people work and live.
“We must support our businesses and workers to ride on these trends, and reimagine our economy for a post-COVID future,” he added.
Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, laid out three ways Singapore can achieve this: Find new links in the world for the free flow of goods and services, continue investing in its infrastructure and focus on research and innovation to increase competitiveness.
NEW GLOBAL LINKS
Mr Heng said Singapore is a major trading nation and a key aviation and maritime hub, committed to the free flow of goods, services, capital, data, ideas and talent.
The country must always remain an open, trading nation, he stressed, warning that “we are finished” if it closes up.
“In a more fractious post-COVID world, whatever the rest of the world does, we will persist to find new links to enable these flows, especially in connecting critical supply lines around the world,” he added.
Closer to home, Mr Heng said Singapore will continue investing in infrastructure even if it means delaying some projects.
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan had said on Tuesday that construction of Changi Airport’s fifth terminal will be paused for at least two years amid uncertainties about the future of travel and aviation.
Mr Heng said Singapore will continue to strengthen its resilience through projects like the “30 by 30” food production plan, which encourages the use of technology and alternative spaces to grow more food.
“Such projects keep us connected to the world, makes travelling within Singapore faster and more pleasant, and gives us all beautiful homes,” Mr Heng said. “We will also rejuvenate our island into a cleaner and greener Singapore, and a city in nature for our people to enjoy.”
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Mr Heng said Singapore is also finalising its research and development plan for the next five years and will launch a series of Innovation Challenges to pioneer solutions for some of the world’s major challenges.
The Government, he said, has set aside more than S$20 billion to support basic and applied research in high impact areas such as health and biomedical sciences, climate change, and artificial intelligence.
Mr Heng said Singapore continues to be one of the most competitive economies in the world, pointing to how it started transforming for the future economy five years ago through various Industry Transformation Maps.
The Emerging Stronger Taskforce, set up in May to guide Singapore’s economic recovery post-COVID-19, is “consulting widely” from a wide spectrum of society and putting ideas into action “quickly”, he said.
For a start, Mr Heng said the taskforce will set up the industry-led Singapore Together Alliances for Action. Each will in the coming months develop new ideas in areas like robotics, e-commerce, environmental sustainability, digitalisation of supply chains and the built environment.
“The key is speed and agility,” Mr Heng added. “Successful projects will become new shoots of growth, and generate new jobs.”
Nevertheless, Mr Heng said the effort to grow Singapore’s economy is not just to create jobs, but to create better jobs for all. The Government will prepare Singaporeans to take on these jobs by strengthening its education system and through the SkillsFuture movement, he said.
“This is how we will keep the promise of progress alive for all,” he added.