As expected, the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) Report released yesterday is long on rhetoric but woefully lacking in bold and aggressive measures to tackle the serious problems that confront Singapore.
The rise of anti-globalisation sentiment especially in Western economies, the imminent threats to our positions as a seaport and airhub, the declining dependence on oil and the advance in clean energy technology, and the relentless drive of automation are real and pressing threats that will cripple our economy.
The CFE report is a rehash of ideas and strategies that have been tried and failed by its predecessors such as the Economic Strategies Committee (ESC) Report published in 2010 and the Economic Review Committee (ERC) Report in 2003. The CFE's more-of-the-same response to these dangers is alarming.
Below are some examples of the similarities of the CFE, ESC and ERC recommendations:
1. On innovation and growth
CFE: Partner each other to enable innovation and growth.
ESC: Make skills, innovation and productivity the basis for sustaining Singapore’s economic growth.
ERC: [Bank] on creativity and innovation to power the economy.
2. On helping incubators and startups
CFE: Research in universities...adds buzz to university incubators.
ESC: Introduce...incubator spaces for creative industries and start-ups.
ERC: Continue to nurture local...incubators and startups.
3. On manufacturing and services
CFE: Build on our strengths in key manufacturing and services sectors.
ESC: Be a key global centre for high value manufacturing and services.
ERC: Remake Singapore into a diversified economy powered by...manufacturing and services.
4. On aviation and shipping connectivity
CFE: Strengthen [our] status as a global aviation and shipping hub...and enhance [our] digital connectivity.
ESC: Strengthen our [aviation and maritime] trade linkages and enhance our connectivity.
ERC: Maximise air and sea connectivity to strengthen supply-chain offering to manufacturers.
5. On MNC-SME collaboration
CFE: Foster collaboration between larger corporations and Singapore-based SMEs.
ESC: Provide incentives for MNCs to co-develop innovative products and services with SMEs.
ERC: Remake Singapore...where vibrant Singapore companies complement MNCs.
6. On foreign workers
CFE: Ensure that our local workforce is complemented by skilled foreign workers.
ESC: Give employers incentive to retain experienced and skilled foreign workers.
ERC: Ensure that our foreign worker policies...allow companies to employ the workers they need.
7. On Intellectual Property (IP) development
CFE: Commercialise the research findings and IP of our research institutions.
ESC: Grow...headquarter-related activities, R&D, IP management
ERC: Strengthen R&D efforts...so as to create and exploit IP.
8. On developing workers
CFE: Companies should play a bigger role in developing their workers.
ESC: Maximise the potential and performance of every worker.
ERC: Assist companies with preparation, training and upgrading of their Singaporean workers
9. On being a global city
CFE: A globally-oriented people with deep and relevant skills, in a smart city that encourages vibrancy, sustainability and connectivity.
ESC: The best quality education, advanced skills, research capabilities, and the infrastructure and connectivity of a global city.
ERC: A globalised economy where Singapore is the key node in the global network, linked to all the major economies.
10. On risk-taking, entrepreneurship and innovation
CFE: Develop an innovative society, where our enterprises and people...are adept at creativity and risk-taking.
ESC: Make enterprise innovation pervasive.
ERC: Evolve new social values which celebrate entrepreneurship and risk-taking.
As can be seen, the CFE has offered precious little that is bold and new. It is disappointing that the Report did not make the necessary recommendations that will genuinely transform the Singapore economy into a productive and innovative one.
To do this, the SDP proposes the following:
One, the PAP government has to stop its direct participation in the domestic sector of the economy through GLCs. GLCs are unproductive and un-innovative commercial entities operating in an unaccountable and non-transparent manner. More importantly, they crowd out local entrepreneurs who find it hard to compete with these state controlled enterprises.
To read more about the divestment of GLCs, please go to the SDP's economic plan here.
Two, the exam-oriented education system must undergo comprehensive reform to prepare students for a future where critical thinking and a creative attitude are needed. Piecemeal efforts are not enough.
To read more about how to revamp our education system, please go to the SDP's education plan here.
Three, the one-party authoritarian political system and control of the mass media in Singapore stifle debate, creativity and the development of questioning minds. An open society with a free media are essential features of an innovative society.
To read more about why an open and democratic society is crucial for the development of an innovative society, please click here.
Without reforms of these three key areas, no amount of rhetoric published in high-sounding reports by PAP-led committees is going to foster an innovative Singapore.