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Businesses dominate panel to chart Singapore's future economy

They account for 80% of 30-member committee; past panels have had bigger proportion of govt representatives
Tuesday, December 22, 2015 - 05:50
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The business sector is taking front-row seats in charting the future of Singapore's economy.

Singapore

THE business sector is taking front-row seats in charting the future of Singapore's economy.

Representatives from corporations and business associations make up four-fifths of the main 30-member Committee for the Future Economy (CFE) as it looks to address issues in five key areas that are deemed crucial to Singapore's future economic development.

And the business sector's enlarged presence in such a committee underscores a shift in economic priorities.

"This is a positive move. If you want to encourage entrepreneurship, you should learn from the experts themselves," said OCBC economist Selina Ling.

Unveiling the list of members for the first time on Monday, the Secretariat of the CFE stated that the committee will look into five key areas - new growth areas, corporate innovation, jobs, urban infrastructure and connectivity - to help shape Singapore's economic future.

Through input from trade associations, chambers, and thought leaders from Singapore and abroad, the committee aims to complete its work by the end of 2016.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is the committee's chairman, and Minister for Trade and Industry (MTI) (Industry) S Iswaran is deputy chairman.

The 30 members that will be leading the CFE's work come from different industries, operating in both global and domestic markets, and enterprises both large and small.

Based on the make-up of its main committee, the CFE appears to be keen on placing a greater focus on the role that enterprises play in the future of Singapore's economy.

Past committees have had more government representatives taking up a larger proportion of their main committees. The committees were also smaller than the CFE.

The Economic Strategies Committee, set up in 2009, was chaired by then-finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Its main committee had 25 members, with nine of them hailing from the government sector, two from the labour movement, and 14 from the business sector.

Going further back is the Economic Review Committee which was set up in 2001. It was led by then-deputy prime minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Its main committee had 20 members, with eight from the public sector (including one from the Economic Development Board), one from academia, two from the labour movement, and nine from the private sector, according to a report available on MTI's website.

The current CFE has 30 members, out of which only five members are political office holders, with one of them holding a concurrent position in the labour movement. There is one other representative from the labour movement.

In contrast, business representatives form the bulk of the committee, numbering at 24 members. They come from several sectors including financial, food and beverage, semiconductor, logistics, legal and even one from the computer gaming sector. They include multi-national corporations, government-linked companies and small and medium-sized enterprises.

Said Singapore Management University associate professor Eugene Tan: "The CFE composition and the imperative of a restructured economy, driven by productivity and innovation . . . point to economic priorities being a dominant plank of the overall government policy in the first half of the 13th Parliament."

Mr Heng had earlier emphasised the important role that companies play in the future of Singapore's economy.

He had previously told the media that adopting the perspectives of companies, employees and potential entrepreneurs is crucial in seeing what policies are necessary to help them grow.

Not only do they now have a louder voice on the committee, they are also the focus of possible policies that the CFE might propose.

In focusing on corporate innovation, the committee will recommend strategies to enable companies and industry clusters to develop innovative capacities, and use technology as well as new business models and partnerships to create value.

In addition, the committee will draw up growth strategies for key clusters as it helps companies seize opportunities in the global marketplace.

Other issues include helping workers to remain relevant in the new economy, ensuring that the living environment is in line with new economic priorities, and how modern connectivity can help Singapore remain relevant in today's world.

Whether the bigger presence of business representatives would show that the committee would take this chance to set Singapore's economy in a whole new direction or continue along the same path has got economists and observers thinking.

Highlighting that labour productivity gains - a key recommendation of the previous committee - have been dismal, Ms Ling stated that the CFE's proposals would be timely in charting a new course for Singapore, and that the increased presence of the business community in it may be a sign of things to come.

Chief executive of consultancy Future-Moves Group Devadas Krishnadas also agreed that the last two economic committees did not fully meet their stated objectives.

"Having a good representation from the business community is a good step to ensuring that the Future Economy Committee is realistic in its outlook," he said.

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