Opening Remarks by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the 18th Singapore Business Federation Annual General Meeting. DPM Heng made his remarks via video message.
A very good afternoon.
Global Economy In Crisis
The 18th Singapore Business Federation AGM is held under extraordinary circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging, with millions infected around the world. It has dealt a major demand and supply shock to the global economy. It is accelerating major structural changes which were already taking place. It has further stressed an increasingly fractious global system.
As a small and open city-state and economy, we are highly exposed to these challenges. This is our worst economic contraction in decades. Unemployment is at its highest in more than ten years. Our way of life, our livelihoods and our future are at stake.
This is a major test of our generation. I had to put up an unprecedented four Budgets in 100 days. We have committed almost 100 billion dollars to protect lives, help our companies and preserve jobs. Thanks to the active feedback from SBF members, we have made the Budget measures impactful for our businesses and our workers.
A very significant part of our support goes towards protecting jobs – through the Jobs Support Scheme. As its name clearly says, this scheme is meant to support jobs. Jobs is our top priority. Because jobs are the most direct way for every Singaporean to improve their lives and support our loved ones. As our Labour Movement puts it, “A job is the best welfare for our people”. This is why companies should refrain from putting workers on no-pay leave, or worse, retrench them. Companies must make good use of the Jobs Support Scheme and other measures to retain and pay your local employees.
Remember – the fortunes of workers and businesses are intertwined. Stronger businesses create better jobs and prospects for our workers. Stronger workers with skills and experience enable companies to be stronger. So I trust that our businesses will make the best use of the support provided to adapt, transform and upgrade your workers. Only then can you emerge stronger from this crisis.
Stabilising and growing our economy will be very challenging. There is profound uncertainty ahead. But growing our economy and rebuilding from a crisis, has and will always be a tripartite effort – between the Government, businesses and our Labour Movement. This is the Singapore Together way, where we pull our strengths and resources together, to make the best of the situation. We have overcome major economic crises before, and I have every confidence that we can overcome this crisis and emerge stronger.
The SBF, as the apex business chamber, plays a very critical role in this tripartite effort. In representing the views of our businesses. In galvanising our companies to work together, and with industry and across industries. In developing the next generation of leaders, through our Young Business Leaders Network and other programs. The SBF also plays a critical role in helping our companies to adapt and transform, especially during this crisis - through your RISE Fund, through your Business Resilience Advisory Program, by connecting companies that are hiring with available manpower in the sector, and looking after our workers through your Foundation Compassion Fund, together with other trade associations and chambers.
Now, we do not know for certain what the post-COVID-19 global economy will look like. But we know what are the major trends ahead:
- Resilience and reliability will be more valued,
- Asia is likely to remain a bright spot,
- The shift to digital will accelerate, and
- Technology and innovation will provide the competitive edge.
We will help our businesses capture new opportunities from these global trends, and redefine and reimagine our economy so that we can emerge strengthened for the next decade. Thankfully, we have a good head start as we started our economic transformation journey early, with our Industry Transformation Maps. We will also benefit from having strong fundamentals – a competitive economy, stable government, strong rule of law, an attractive place to do business. The SkillsFuture movement has helped to upskill many of our workers, and we will redouble our efforts in the years ahead. I have also set up the Emerging Stronger Taskforce to look at how we can create even more opportunities in the post-COVID world.
The next five to ten years will determine our trajectory as a generation, and for decades to come. We all need to play our part so that we can emerge stronger. Companies cannot stand still and hope for the storm to pass. But you are not alone in this journey. You have the support of the SBF, industry associations, and our economic agencies. You have the support of the Labour movement. You can make the best use of the various support and assistance schemes available.
Leadership In Transition
The SBF is in a strong position to contribute to meet this crisis, because of the exemplary leadership of Mr Teo Siong Seng over the past six years. I have known Siong Seng, or S.S. as most of us call him, for many years. He is a captain of industry, and also a captain of many ships. I have come to know S.S. for his candour, his constructive spirit to issues, and his collaborative spirit. This is why S.S. is so highly respected by all tripartite stakeholders. It would be difficult to summarise his achievements in a few words. But I will try.
First, S.S. is a strong proponent of growth and transformation. He provided many valuable inputs and leadership when he co-chaired the Future Corporate Capabilities and Innovation Sub-Committee with me, as part of the Committee on the Future Economy in 2016. He established the Future Economy Conference and Exhibition as the SBF’s flagship event – one that focuses on helping our businesses upgrade, transform and prepare for the future. He has also been with me on the Future Economy Council since its formation to chart our economic future.
Second, S.S. will be remembered as a champion of internationalisation. He was instrumental in strengthening our business ties with our ASEAN neighbours, China, and countries in the Americas, Europe, the Middle-East and Africa. It was with his strong support that the SBF partnered Enterprise Singapore to set up GlobalConnect@SBF, which supports our businesses seeking to expand overseas.
Third, S.S. is a strong advocate of sustainable businesses. Recognising that businesses have a role to play in reducing inequality, S.S. initiated the “Sustainable Employment – Achieving Purposeful Business Success Together” Report in 2019, outlining recommendations on what businesses could do to help our mature workers, lower-wage workers and those vulnerable to job disruption. 130 companies have since taken up the Sustainable Employment Pledge to foster a vibrant economy and inclusive society. This movement is even more important now to strengthen our social compact.
A proponent of transformation. A champion of internationalisation. An advocate of sustainable businesses. This is what S.S. will be remembered for in his six years as Chairman of SBF. On behalf of the Government, and all our tripartite partners. A big thank you for what you have done, and the strong foundations you have laid for future generations of leaders.
Let me also thank the other council members who are stepping down at this AGM for their service, and congratulate those who will be forming the new council. I understand that the new council will be meeting immediately after this AGM to elect the key office holders. I look forward to working with the new Chairman, key office holders and council members. I am confident that they will take SBF forward to greater heights.
The world is in crisis. Our economy is going through rough seas. This will put our strong tripartite partnership to the test. We have overcome previous crises before, and we can likewise overcome this crisis together. The Singapore Business Federation has a critical role to play as part of this tripartite effort. Through your partnership, and with every business working with us as Singapore Together, We will not only emerge from this crisis, We will emerge stronger.
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