Singapore Budget 2016: Help to navigate tough climate among top wishes of business leaders

They also hope govt will help local enterprises venture abroad, innovate to create value


HELP to navigate the rough economic terrain, nudge small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to scale up and venture abroad even in tough times, and enable businesses to harness technological innovation are among the top wishes of business leaders as Budget 2016 looms.

Views from the Top, a weekly feature in The Business Times, polled business leaders here on their wishlists ahead of the Singapore Budget 2016 to be unveiled on March 24.

Their concerns echo those of various market observers who are expecting the Budget to address the immediate and medium-term needs of the economy and prime it for future transitions.

"Given the uncertain economic landscape, we expect this Budget to focus on helping businesses, particularly local enterprises, create value through innovation," says PwC Singapore executive chairman Yeoh Oon Jin.

He proposes that one way in which the government can help such local enterprises, especially those without critical mass, in their pursuit of new markets is to set up a "one-stop shop" to help them navigate the plethora of assistance schemes ranging from grants, tax incentives to financing.

Ademco Security Group managing director Toby Koh is among business leaders who see the push for Singapore companies to go international, and the nurturing of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) into large regional players as vital for Singapore's growth.

The call to help SMEs grow locally and internationally has come at a time when SMEs are finding it hard to weather a domestic economy in transition and the wobbly global economy.

Recent surveys reflect a plunge in business sentiment among SMEs here. A joint survey by Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and DP Information Group showed that SMEs in Singapore do not expect to achieve any growth during the next six months.

Mr Koh suggests that the government offer a grant for overseas investments by Singapore companies. "This grant would be tiered depending on years of operations, profitability and revenue. In addition, there should be a tax incentive for Singapore companies which run their overseas business efficiently and profitably."

In the same vein, BDO LLP managing partner Frankie Chia is hoping that the government will review the current time-consuming and complex grant application process, and the "pay first, claim later" grants system that he perceives to be slowing innovation and deterring SMEs from applying for grants altogether.

Fabian Wong, Philips' CEO for Asean and Pacific, says that with innovations in technology rapidly changing the business landscape, multinational companies and SMEs alike have to evolve in tandem and invest in greater value creation activities. "We hope for incentives that will encourage co-innovation and collaboration among the public and private sector, especially in the area of healthcare innovation so we are better placed to address the changing demands of an ageing population."

Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat, ahead of his upcoming Budget speech, shared two weeks ago that Budget 2016 will look at helping companies cope with the current economic downturn, even as it seeks to assist all stakeholders to navigate new landscapes as Singapore's economy transitions.

Mr Heng also alluded to fiscal prudence in the upcoming Budget. "Because it's the first term of the new government, it means that we have to be particularly prudent so that we have resources when we need to act later," he said.

EY Asean and Singapore managing partner Max Loh cautions that short-term fixes should be tempered in order to set Singapore up for long-term sustainability.

"Budget 2016 should continue to steer Singapore towards its aspiration of being a globally competitive value-creating economy with opportunities for all," he says. "We hope the Budget measures will be decisive in intent and targeted in approach, but with an empathetic tone given current economic vulnerabilities."

Singapore's slowing economy and its impact on the job market also emerged as top concerns for Singaporeans who gave their feedback to the government feedback unit Reach in this year's Pre-Budget feedback exercise. These issues made up one-third of 3,600 feedback inputs shared in the exercise jointly organised by Reach and the Ministry of Finance.

Singaporeans who gave their feedback called for schemes to help affected workers cope financially, re-skill and re-enter the workforce. There were suggestions to provide more regular top-ups to the SkillsFuture credit, says Reach.

SME owners asked for more help to tide them over the economic slowdown and restructuring efforts. There was also a suggestion for the government to consider technology and innovation as evaluation criteria in tenders to encourage businesses to innovate.

READ MORE: Views from the Top: Budget wish list

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