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SME support schemes must help boost competitiveness too: MP

New frontbenchers Koh Poh Koon and Chee Hong Tat also address the changes needed to the business culture here

MP Foo Mee Har said that future support schemes should be aimed at firms which create innovative products and services.


IT is time for the government to do away with "generic" support schemes that subsidise the cost of doing business rather than address their underlying lack of competitiveness, said People's Action Party Member of Parliament Foo Mee Har on Tuesday.

Speaking during the debate on the President's address, the West Coast GRC MP and chief executive officer of the Wealth Management Institute had some suggestions for the Committee on the Future Economy:

"Future schemes should focus on helping firms create new, innovative and differentiated products and services that are truly competitive internationally," she said.

Any scheme introduced from now on should also be tailored at sectoral level and streamlined for easy access, the former banker added.

The second-term MP, who entered politics in 2011, called on the government to reflect on the "heavy reliance" on multinational companies to bring technology and expertise to Singapore, and stressed that it was necessary for the country to make a concerted effort to invest in indigenous Singapore technology.

She also suggested giving incentives to large Singapore corporations with overseas projects so that they would bring along some smaller local suppliers as part of their international expansion plans.

This way, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can kick-start their overseas venture, said Ms Foo, echoing calls by several other MPs in the last two days for more help to be given to local firms so they can take wing abroad.

She urged the government to mandate that companies with an "unusually high" dependence on foreign Employment Pass holders submit a detailed plan on how they intend to train and develop Singaporeans for those jobs.

She also spoke about the need to foster a culture that is "more tolerant of mistakes, where failure is less stigmatised and missteps are seen as learning opportunities".

"No successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur is ashamed to tell you of his mistakes. Instead, they are proud to tell the tale of how they picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and bounced back from adversity. They are willing to try again because 'failure' is not a bad word," she said.

Among the eight first-term MPs who addressed the House on Tuesday were two new office-holders, Koh Poh Koon and Chee Hong Tat.

Dr Koh, the Minister of State for Trade and Industry, emphasised that, apart from helping established SMEs to transform, the government had to rethink ways of supporting entrepreneurs and building a vibrant start-up ecosystem here.

"Start-ups, particularly those with high-growth potential, are an important source of innovation in our economy, and help to rejuvenate our business landscape," he said in his debut parliamentary speech.

Dr Koh, a colorectal surgeon before his political appointment, said that the government was "acutely aware" of the pains that SMEs are going through on this journey of economic transformation.

"We are prepared to walk this path with them. We will continue to provide strong support to SMEs that are prepared to transform and enhance their businesses," he said.

"We will work closely with trade associations and the business community to ensure that our SMEs continue to succeed. We will seek new growth industries to set the stage for our future economy."

Mr Chee, the Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health, listed three things Singapore had to do in order to encourage greater innovation and enterprise.

First, problems should be viewed as opportunities to develop new solutions and discover new breakthroughs.

Second, there needs to be more risk-taking and experimentation, and lastly, Singapore must remain open and connected to the rest of the world.

A total of 16 MPs spoke on Tuesday, taking the total to 33 so far over the first two days of the debate. The sitting continues on Wednesday at 1.30pm and will wrap up on Friday.