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Government, firms must work more closely together: Heng
THE Singapore government and the corporate sector must work more closely together, especially against a backdrop of slowing global and domestic growth, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told an audience of 800 business leaders at the Singapore Corporate Awards 2019 on Tuesday.
This was one of three ways for businesses to tackle current political, economic, social and technological challenges, he said.
The other two ways are to strengthen company fundamentals and maintain good corporate governance, as well as to press on with innovation and transformation.
In his keynote address at Resorts World Convention Centre, Mr Heng said that the government will continue to partner businesses to promote forward-looking, pro-business regulations and policies.
This includes working towards smarter regulations that would enable innovation and reduce the cost of compliance, while ensuring that risks are effectively managed.
Some examples include introducing regulatory sandboxes for fintech and for autonomous vehicles. Firms can now testbed new solutions in real but contained environments.
On the digital front, the government is working with industry to enhance business processes and efficiency with new guidelines and norms.
Other initiatives are underway. The Infocomm Media Development Authority is proposing changes to facilitate digital transactions, including the digitalisation of property transactions and cross-border trade documentation such as bills of lading, which are legal documents issued by a carrier to a shipper that detail information about the goods being carried. A public consultation was announced last month on the Electronic Transactions Act.
In addition, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority is reviewing the Companies Act to provide for the use of digital means for companies to conduct meetings and interact with stakeholders.
The Singapore Customs is also working with agencies and businesses on the next generation of trade processes. Called the Networked Trade Platform, it will enable electronic exchange of trade documents, and can facilitate border clearance, trade financing and insurance of shipments.
On the international trade front, while the support for globalisation has waned, the government will continue to promote an open, rules-based, multilateral trading system, Mr Heng said.
"In the next phase of our development, the 4G leadership will also strive to harness our diverse strengths... We have already begun the journey, with the Future Economy Council, a tripartite committee that charts the direction of Singapore's economy, and the ongoing implementation of our Industry Transformation Maps," he said.
As for his other two suggestions - strengthening company fundamentals and persisting with innovation - Mr Heng said that strong board leadership plays a key role in navigating market challenges and identifying new growth areas "in this climate of uncertainty".
"A good board also puts in place good risk management systems and capabilities in the company. They understand that risks and returns are two sides of the same coin. Apart from operational and reputational risks, good boards prepare for strategic risks that could disrupt their businesses."
Mr Heng added that as companies tackle the immediate challenges, they must focus on the long term, and maintain the momentum for innovation and transformation, especially in these three areas - automation and robotics, the digital economy, and venturing abroad to South-east Asia and other parts of Asia.
"As the business environment becomes more complex and challenging, businesses that collaborate are likely to do better.
"Larger players can collaborate with SMEs to adopt the latest technologies, and build new capabilities. By partnering larger companies, SMEs can also better manage common challenges when venturing into new markets.
"One important partner for collaboration is our trade associations and chambers (TACs). Our TACs are in the best position to understand the needs of their industries, and to take the lead to form partnerships and strengthen the capabilities of our companies."
Some TACs are already connecting enterprises of different sizes through their activities such as overseas business missions, he noted.
The SCA is jointly organised by The Business Times, Singapore Institute of Directors and Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, with the support of the Singapore Exchange and the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority. Standard Chartered Singapore is the presenting sponsor while Jardine Cycle & Carriage is co-sponsor.