Thursday, 7 April 2016

2016 Budget Statement debate in Parliament

Budget 2016 Debate Round-Up Speech by Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat on 6 April 2016

Budget 2016 'is but one step in a longer journey' for Singapore
Larger goal is to make every Singaporean a winner in the long run, says Heng as he wraps up debate
By Yasmine Yahya, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 7 Apr 2016

Parliament yesterday wrapped up the debate on the Government's Budget, with Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat saying it signalled the country's determination to transform its economy for the future and keep Singapore thriving.

Rounding up the debate in which 53 MPs spoke over three days, he said that while the Budget was focused on businesses, especially help for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), this would lead to better jobs for workers.

Budget 2016's support for seniors through Silver Support payouts was also about helping the families taking care of them.

And its measures for the young, from pre-school subsidies to KidStart for those from low-income homes, will enable them to seize opportunities, build good careers and, in turn, support their loved ones.

The Budget, Mr Heng said, is "our first step in our journey towards SG100". To embark on this journey, companies have to transform themselves for long-term growth, and workers have to continually learn skills that the world needs.

And everyone should look out and care for one another as a community, he added.

"It is not possible for the Government to keep handing out goodies to everyone, year after year. Instead, each Budget must build on the previous ones to carry forward the momentum to future Budgets."

People should not assess the Budget just by how much they stand to gain, as the larger goal is "to make every Singaporean a winner in the long run", Mr Heng said.

He added: "When we invest in our young, to help them maximise their potential and seize opportunities, we are helping to ensure they will have the means to support their loved ones in their retirement. And when we keep our tax burden low, especially for the middle-income, everyone benefits."

Mr Heng noted that this year's Budget is tilted towards helping SMEs tackle short-term challenges without getting in the way of changes for them to stay competitive.

In fact, he added, Budget 2016 marks a move to the next phase of Singapore's restructuring journey through the Industry Transformation Programme, which adopts a more targeted approach in helping companies. Several MPs had lauded it over the past two days.

Innovation must be pervasive, he said, noting that the new SG Innovate will connect start-ups to funds and help bring solutions to market.

Singapore also has to create the right jobs, develop the right skills and enable the right match between the two. Businesses and workers have a part to play - investing in staff training and tapping the SkillsFuture scheme.

Several MPs had, in the past two days, noted that Singapore's spending needs will rise in the coming years but revenue growth will slow.

Mr Heng said this means Singapore must build a vibrant economy and grow its revenues, spend prudently and right, and design a fiscal system that is fair and progressive.

The road ahead will be bumpy and full of unknowns - both good and bad, he added, calling on Singaporeans to work together, and draw on their spirit of enterprise and caring for one another.

"The purpose of this journey is to journey together, and to reach our destination together as one united cohesive people," he said. "We must look out and care for one another as we journey."

He added: "There are many innovations ahead of us that we cannot yet imagine, many personal and shared triumphs, many moments of humanity, unity and beauty that will keep defining our Singapore."

The House also debated plans for the Home Affairs and Law ministries yesterday. It will discuss plans for the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and Industry ministries today.

In his speech yesterday wrapping up the Budget debate, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat responded to concerns raised by 53 MPs over the past three days. He touched on what businesses and workers need to do, as well as social support measures and the need for a progressive yet sustainable tax system.

Government can help but firms must take initiative
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Apr 2016

Companies are grappling with the slowing economy and mounting cost pressures, but there is only so much the Government can and should do to help, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

While the Budget contains some measures to help viable companies tide over the rough patch, Mr Heng said businesses must be able to compete by relying on productivity and innovation in the long run, instead of depending on low costs.

Over three days of debate, MPs had called for more help for small and medium-sized enterprises hit by the economic slowdown.

The minister acknowledged their concerns, noting that it is vital to ensure viable companies survive the current period of cyclical weakness. However, the Government "cannot permanently subsidise costs".

Resources such as space and labour will remain costly here as they are scarce, which means firms cannot treat the Republic as a low-cost location. "Enterprising firms understand this, and build their business models with these hard constraints in mind," Mr Heng added.

The Government's role is to shape macroeconomic conditions to support growth - and companies themselves have to take the initiative to restructure and become more productive to thrive, he said.

He noted that some MPs had warned against government support becoming a crutch for companies. Citing a metaphor used by business leader Stephen Koh, Mr Heng said: "Government support is like push-starting a car that has gotten stuck in a difficult patch.

"It can get the car going again, but the Government cannot be pushing the car for miles and miles... once the car is moving, it has to rely on its own engine to go for the long haul."

In successful economies that have produced many world-leading firms, governments have played "an enabling role" in helping enterprising individuals and businesses go further than they could have on their own, he noted.

Mr Heng quoted Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), who had said that in the short term, firms expect some fish from the Government to keep workers fed, but "ultimately, the country will run out of fish if they don't develop eager, smarter and faster ships to get fish from international waters".

He added: "The Government can help businesses to develop bigger, smarter and faster ships, but ultimately, the captains of industry must navigate the ships and help our firms go the distance."

Get the right skills, match with right jobs
By Jacqueline Woo, The Straits Times, 7 Apr 2016

The key to tackling people's job worries in the current economic slowdown is to create the right jobs, arm workers with the right skills and then match them rightly, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday in Parliament.

This approach will also help Singaporeans get good jobs and stay employable, he added in his wrap-up speech of the Budget debate.

"I understand the anxieties of Singaporeans - it is not just jobs, it is about our families. We cannot take for granted there will be good jobs and incomes in the future," he said.

The Government, however, has in place schemes to transform industries that will help develop new companies and train workers in new skills for employment.

But to produce high-value jobs that match Singaporeans' aspirations, companies need to be competitive and productive, he said.

This is where the new Industry Transformation Programme plays an important role, especially in spurring the creation of jobs that require new skills.

Citing precision engineering firm Feinmetall, he said it is reaping the benefits of innovating and redesigning jobs, and improving the skills of its workers.

The company had sent a young employee, Mr Winson Ng, 26, for training in Germany and he came up with a way to automate a process in semiconductor wafer testing.

His innovation helped increase productivity by four times and reduced training time for the process from nine months to one week.

The shortened training allowed staff to be redeployed to higher value-added jobs in the firm.

Mr Heng said: "Employers play a very, very critical role in enabling the development of their people, not just in upgrading their firms.

"I hope all firms will invest in their people, young and old, and start a virtuous cycle of higher skills, higher productivity, higher wages which can then be reinvested to develop the firm further."

To help develop the right skills in workers to do these jobs, the minister pointed to the SkillsFuture programme, which will deepen people's efforts in lifelong learning.

He said more will be done to help job seekers find the right match.

The new Adapt and Grow programme, for instance, will give support to more Singaporeans to reskill and gain employment.

More details on it will be given by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say during the upcoming debate on his ministry's plans and programmes.

The TechSkills Accelerator for the information and communications technology sector will also take skills and job matching efforts further, especially as new industries and new types of jobs emerge.

Mr Heng stressed that it is critical to "sustain the long-term vitality of our labour market".

He also said the Government will study MPs' ideas on ways to improve the labour market, such as auctioning the right to hire foreign manpower and giving Singaporeans retrenchment benefits.

But it needs to be cautious in how it intervenes in the labour market, Mr Heng said, agreeing with Nominated MP Randolph Tan.

"We cannot simply copy one bit from one country and then another piece from another, and hope to make sense of it," said Mr Heng.

"There has to be a clear philosophy and a clear sense that the various measures must cohere to be effective over the long term. Most importantly, we must not undermine the sense of independence and efficacy, and the spirit of self-reliance and resilience in our people."

Support for young and old alike
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 7 Apr 2016

In the first 18 months of a newborn's life, his parents can receive at least $15,000 for his care from the Government.

A retiree living in a three-room or larger Housing Board flat received on average $5,000 in state transfers last year, mostly in the form of healthcare subsidies.

These figures were given by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat to illustrate the extent to which the young are given a good footing to achieve their potential and the elderly, to grow old gracefully.

Middle-income earners are not forgotten in the Government's effort to support all Singaporeans.

Many of them pay little or no income tax, receive support in housing and healthcare, and can use SkillsFuture credits to pay for courses to upgrade their skills.

"All these measures are not as direct as putting money in people's pocket, but it has meaningful long- term impact on the careers and future of Singaporeans.

"The most important support for all Singaporeans, including the middle-income, is employability and good jobs," he said.

The Government's goal is to build an inclusive, resilient society that cares for its members, with more for lower-income families, he said.

Mr Heng focused on these three groups yesterday, especially young children and seniors, as several MPs had championed their cause.

He listed the monetary help given to babies and education subsidies for school-going children.

Seniors can also feel assured about meeting their basic needs with Silver Support, which gives the elderly poor a basic allowance.

But payouts will be made every three months and in advance instead of every month as this gives seniors the flexibility to manage their expenses, Mr Heng added.

Equally important are the programmes for the poor and needy, and to promote volunteerism, like a new scheme that supports businesses to partner charities.

But even as state support increases, Singaporeans should hold on to their spirit of self-reliance, he said.

"We must be cautious that Silver Support does not undermine values such as filial piety, or lead to a divisive mentality among citizens."

Singaporeans had to take care of one another and solve community problems as one, he added, saying: "It is not through the Government's efforts alone, but a collective effort, that we can build a caring and resilient society."

See Budget measures in totality
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 7 Apr 2016

The new $80,000 cap on the personal income tax relief that a Singaporean can claim has upset some working mums.

However, there is a good reason for it, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat indicated in Parliament yesterday when rounding up the debate on the Budget for the new financial year.

He explained that to ensure Singapore's tax and spending system is sustainable, the entire regime has to be fair and progressive.

These two features are the reason for the new move, he said in his reply to three MPs who had expressed concern about the cap during the Budget debate.

Mr Heng also made the broader point that Budget measures should be seen in totality and not be judged solely by their impact on one individual in a given year.

In explaining the cap, Mr Heng highlighted three musts for ensuring Singapore's future spending needs can be met. These are a vibrant economy, prudent spending, plus a fair and progressive fiscal system.

In Singapore, there are 15 types of personal income tax relief and, taken together, they can "unduly reduce total taxable income" for a few taxpayers, he added.

The new $80,000 cap will thus maintain fairness among different groups of taxpayers and increase progressivity, he said.

Further, the vast majority of taxpayers - 99 per cent - are unaffected, he said.

As for working mums claiming child relief - a group highlighted by Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) - Mr Heng said nine in 10 are not affected by the cap.

This includes those with more children, he added.

For working mums claiming child relief on two or three children, more than eight in 10 are not expected to be affected.

He also stressed to MPs that it is important not to evaluate Budget measures "solely from the individual's perspective in a particular year".

"We should not be narrowly focused on individual winners and losers," he said.

Mr Heng cited Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin's speech on Tuesday, when she warned against the mindset that citizens are in a "high-stakes competition of win-lose".

He said: "Instead, our larger goal is to make every Singaporean a winner in the long run.

"When we help one group, we are actually helping others too."

For instance, Budget measures that support small and medium- sized enterprises will also support good jobs for workers.

Supporting seniors helps the families that care for them, while investing in the young ensures they have the means to support their own families in the future.

"So we have to see it in totality and over the long term, and not just one measure or another, one group versus another, and one year versus another year," he said.

Age is no barrier to learning
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 7 Apr 2016

Logistics executive Ong Moh Hong, 68, had 29 years of experience in the industry when he joined Pan Asia Logistics two years ago. But he faced a steep learning curve.

The company was launching a second warehouse facility with a new information technology system. Mr Ong had used an automated system to pick goods at his previous company, but this one was more complex and had a different interface.

"I felt a bit lost, I didn't know where to start because it was completely new," he said.

But within two months, he had familiarised himself with the system and was helping younger workers.

Pan Asia's senior manager for operations Sundaram Velosamy taught Mr Ong and his younger colleagues how to use the software, after being part of the team to bring in the automated warehouse management system that he saw on a study trip to Germany.

Mr Sundaram, 52, also mentors those who work under him, helping them identify their skill levels when they join the company and their training needs as they progress.

"I make sure my managers mentor people under them too," he said.

Mr Sundaram himself had, since starting work in 1989, upgraded his skills from an O-level certificate to a degree in logistics. He plans to take up a master's degree next.

Both Mr Sundaram and Mr Ong were held up by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday as role models for lifelong learning and mentoring.

Mr Heng also held up their company for treasuring and training older workers, and "for creating an inclusive culture of constant development for their staff".

From the gallery: No silver bullet, everyone has a part to play
By Aaron Low, Deputy Business Editor, The Straits Times, 7 Apr 2016

Throughout his 90-minute speech to round up the debate on the Budget yesterday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat cited real-life examples of individuals and companies to illustrate how they have overcome challenges.

They serve as clear examples of how success can be wrought even as the economy restructures. But behind the smiling faces and inspirational stories is a sober message: Firms and workers have to change, and need to do so quickly.

There is a lot at stake. After 50 years of stellar growth, Singapore faces an uncertain future, one in which there are no longer any textbook answers, said Mr Heng.

"We know where we want to go, we know where we come from. It is the in-between, the getting there, that is full of unknowables," he said.

Within Singapore, the working population is ageing rapidly while physical resources such as land are limited. Externally, competition is rising not just from countries, but from technology - a big disruptor of industries and firms. Trade patterns are shifting, with the US and China preferring to manufacture goods at home, thus shrinking markets for local firms, Mr Heng noted.

What's a small country like Singapore, which has survived by forcing itself to be relevant to everyone else, to do? The answer: Take cold, calculated risks on three fronts.

One, the Government will no longer look to help every company, but move to a targeted approach, as it has done on social policy. Instead of helping weaker companies, assistance will be extended to those that can innovate and thrive.

Mr Heng couched this in polite language and called it fostering a "spirit of enterprise".

Yet there was a steely response to calls for more help for firms to cope with the short-term slowdown: "One way of supporting this spirit of enterprise is to make sure that viable firms can survive this period of cyclical weakness. Otherwise we lose precious capabilities that are difficult to rebuild later and our people's livelihoods could also be at stake." The Government has to be judicious in choosing who to help "so our finite resources will not be trapped in 'zombie' businesses, as Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) warned and in particular our workers will not be trapped in firms in sectors with poor prospects," said Mr Heng.

This swing towards companies that heed the call to transform their businesses is a sign that the Government is more prepared to help those who help themselves. As for companies that complain about costs, he stated simply that the Government cannot permanently provide subsidies to keep costs low.

Again, his message was firm: If this meant weaker, less innovative companies have to fold, well, that's just the cost of restructuring.

Two, the Government is clearly shifting emphasis to focus support on local enterprises. Budget 2016 was tilted towards SMEs and helping small firms grow through programmes like the $450 million Automation Support package.

Much of Singapore's success in the developmental years was based on wooing big foreign firms to set up here. The way forward was to get investments and technical knowledge to grow the economy.

Foreign investment remains important. But the Government has started to focus fire-power on local SMEs, which have had a patchy record of success. Also, only a handful of home-grown companies - take Singapore Airlines - can call themselves world beaters.

There is a risk that such investments may not spawn the Facebooks of tomorrow. But with the bulk of the economy made up of local firms, there is no choice but to grow them and hope for success.

The third area in which Singapore has to take more risks is in trusting its people and firms to come up with solutions. The Government does not pretend to have all the answers.

For example, when it comes to nurturing innovation, there is no "textbook answer", Mr Heng said.

"So in Government, we too need to embrace the spirit of enterprise. We have some clear ideas of where we need to go, what we need to do. But we must be humble and have to figure it out dynamically, learning and improving and improvising as we go along and working in partnership with businesses."

That is why the Budget's theme has been about partnerships: people working with firms and the Government. This is the best, though not guaranteed, chance of finding the solutions. But it means the Government will not only have to work with firms and trade groups, but also consider new and potentially radical suggestions. It can show its willingness during deliberations of the Committee on the Future Economy.

There are no silver bullets or easy answers to the challenges ahead. But if Singapore is to survive, everyone has to try hard- not sit back and expect to be bailed out.

Day 2 of Budget debate turns focus to people
Many MPs' speeches centre on the human aspect when discussing hard policy questions
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016

After an opening day focused on numbers and measures for companies amid a challenging economy, yesterday's Parliament debate resounded with stories of people who were helped but also hurt by policy.

On the second day of debate on the Government's Budget for the new financial year, many of the 25 MPs who spoke filled their speeches with anecdotes and focused on the human aspect when discussing hard policy questions.

Singapore's economic transformation remained a major topic, but suggestions now focused more on mindsets than metrics.

Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) suggested that firms and workers could be profiled by ability, attitude and vision, so support could be tailored for each group.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) zeroed in on human obstacles to change. Both called for small and medium-sized firms to get help in navigating the complexities of government grants, so that they do not need to approach consultants.

Even in suggesting concrete measures to help workers, MPs stressed the importance of mindsets.

Labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) noted that service buyers in contract-based, low-income industries such as cleaning and security must have the right mindset if workers are to benefit. Buyers should adopt performance-based rather than headcount-based contracts, to give service providers an incentive to improve productivity, he said.

Workers' Party MP Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) was concerned about the potential human impact of Budget initiatives such as incentives for automation, saying these could cause job losses.

Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi, a National Trades Union Congress central committee member, raised the need for not just training grants, but also psychological support for workers changing careers.

Hard policy aside, some MPs also looked at softer cultural issues.

NMP Azmoon Ahmad shared how his father would dismantle parts of his Vespa scooter engine for him to clean. It sparked his inquisitiveness and got him interested in innovation, which he said ought to be nurtured from a young age.

NMP Kok Heng Leun spoke on the importance of art, while fellow NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin identified two "cultural roadblocks to transformation" - fear and scarcity thinking. Ms Kuik said the fear-based "kiasu" culture does not drive people to create value, and scarcity thinking encourages selfishness rather than care.

MPs also picked up on the theme of resilience from Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's Budget speech on March 24. Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan suggested encouraging young people to join certain co-curricular activities such as uniformed groups to foster resilience.

Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) applauded the focus on outdoor adventure education, sharing his own experience with taking his children to a tree-top adventure course. He was one of many MPs who related real-life tales, from stories of mature workers successfully changing careers, to residents' demands at Meet-the-People Sessions.

No ministers spoke yesterday. Today, Mr Heng will respond to MPs' comments when the Budget debate continues. MPs will then vote to approve the Budget. This will be followed by debate in the Committee of Supply, in which MPs file "cuts" that give them time to speak on each ministry's spending plans.

Give targeted help for workers facing problems
The debate of Budget 2016 continued yesterday as 25 MPs discussed the economic goals for the financial year. They talked about the right culture for entrepreneurship to thrive, support for working mothers, and help for workers of different income levels. Chong Zi Liang reports.
The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016

MPs continued to highlight the difficulties faced by workers at different income levels.

Mr Zainal Sapari (Paris Ris-Punggol GRC), spotlighting low-wage workers, recounted how a cleaning company lost its contract with a statutory board because it had factored in a one-month bonus for its workers.

The cleaners went to work at another company and lost their employment benefits. They were also paid less.

"There are many Singaporeans working in the low-income sectors who face stagnating wages and are resigned to the fact that their situation won't change," he said.

Mr Zainal, who is assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, urged the Government to target a higher percentage rise in real wages for earners at the 20th income percentile, who now do not enjoy as big an increase as those in the better-paid 50th percentile.

Professionals, managers, executives and technicians are also hit hard in the current economic slowdown, MPs said.

Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) wants more incentive schemes and coaches for retrenched workers to persuade them to switch to the growing IT sector.

Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi, a veteran unionist, said those laid off should not only get training grants, but also support from mentors to help them adapt quickly to their new work environment.

Do more to support working mums
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016

Almost half of the MPs who spoke yesterday asked for more to be done to help working mothers juggle family and career.

The current operating hours of childcare facilities make it hard for parents who have to travel overseas for work or do not hold office- hour jobs, said Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

Mr Gan wants 24-hour childcare services to be set up for them.

He and Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) also suggested the Government explore ways to help parents find nannies for their children as an alternative to childcare centres.

Another issue MPs raised was the personal income tax relief cap of $80,000, which affects mainly high-earning mothers.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) said the cap should not apply to widowed or divorced mothers, as they face the challenge of raising their children on their own.

Other MPs called for the children of unwed parents to be given benefits, such as the Child Development Account First Step grant and KidStart programme, which children of needy families enjoy.

Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) said illegitimate children have the same needs as those whose parents are married.

They should not be treated differently because of what their parents did, he said.

Create culture for innovation to bloom
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016

Several MPs called for a change of mindset in society so that creative businesses can flourish.

Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin took aim at the "kiasu culture" that she said drives entrepreneurs here to enter saturated markets instead of coming up with original business concepts.

That is why coffee joints are sprouting up today just like bubble tea shops had in the past, she said.

She also said a kiasu person would pursue things of questionable worth as long as he sees everyone doing so, adding: "Kill kiasu culture already."

Nominated MP Azmoon Ahmad said a culture of innovation has to be fostered from a young age. He suggested that schools should teach subjects that encourage transformative thinking.

Others said firms would have to change their habits so that true reforms can take place.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) said a business owner had told her that cheap foreign labour was like a drug that his company was having difficulty weaning itself off. She also said some companies have become over-reliant on government grants to stay afloat.

She said firms should look to the example of pioneer Cabinet minister Lim Kim San, who came up with a machine to produce sago pearls shortly after World War II.

"He didn't wait around for the Government to give any research grants or Productivity and Innovation Credit for machinery purchase," Ms Lee said.

'Kiasu' culture is stifling originality in business: NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin
Fear of failure is breeding entrepreneurs who are just grant-chasers: Kuik Shiao-Yin
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016

Singapore's "kiasu" culture got a drubbing from a Nominated MP yesterday who said it was a major block in the way of building a more innovative society.

Entrepreneur Kuik Shiao-Yin, 39, said Singaporeans' fear of failure has led to a lack of originality in the local entrepreneurship scene.

It is time for a deep cultural transformation in Singapore, she said in an impassioned speech that departs from those of many MPs, who tend to talk of specific government measures that provide grants to help them in their business.

Her intense focus on the need for cultural change got MPs thumping their armrests in approval.

Ms Kuik's sentiments were shared by other MPs yesterday, with several warning that Singaporeans' unwillingness to leave their comfort zone has hampered the development of new ideas here.

They, as well as Singapore companies, are not hungry enough, the MPs said, urging them to be more driven to stay ahead of the competition.

Ms Kuik's speech, however, was the most hard-hitting, as she blamed the "kiasu" culture for creating a subculture of "grantrepreneurs" - people who "call themselves entrepreneurs but are really just grant-chasers".

"The kiasu entrepreneur is driven by the anxiety to make short gains rather than a mindful desire to win at the long game, so he will only take the risks that everyone is already taking and innovate what everyone else is already innovating.

"That's why entrepreneurship here tends to lack originality and is just copy-and-paste work of little worth," she added.

The biggest barriers to Singapore becoming a more innovative, collaborative and inclusive society are "fundamentally human", said Ms Kuik, co-founder of a group of social enterprises called The Thought Collective.

She added: "Even as Singapore develops roadmaps for industry transformation, it should also draw up matching roadmaps for the long-term psychological and emotional transformation of its people."

She also chided event organisers for preferring foreigners to deliver keynote addresses, pointing out that many Singaporeans are doing cutting-edge work in their respective fields.

"It is galling to me that at our innovation conferences here we are still getting keynote speakers from everywhere but Singapore.

"This just reinforces the perception of our own people as well as outsiders that Singaporeans are just not as capable of innovative thinking as Westerners.

"We need to take bigger bets on our own people and shore up our confidence in Singapore's ability to do things differently."

MPs like NMP Azmoon Ahmad agreed that a culture of innovation must be "deep-rooted into the way we do things". This has to be inculcated from young, he added.

He suggested incorporating innovation-related subjects into school curricula from primary schools up to the tertiary level, and launching national-level innovation competitions.

MPs such as Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) called on businesses and individuals to embrace the pioneering spirit of Singapore's earlier years.

"Our forefathers worked really hard, showcasing sheer grit and discipline. But are we hungry enough?" said Dr Fatimah."Failure need not always be paralysing. Can we remove constraints on our thinking?"

Ms Lee urged businesses to "embrace the spirit of our pioneer entrepreneurs, and keep innovating even in economic downturns".

Singapore companies might rightly expect some short-term help from the Government to stay afloat, but this should not be taken too far. she said.

"There's an old saying: 'Give a man fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.'

"But ultimately, the whole country will run out of fish if they don't develop bigger, smarter and faster fishing ships to get better fishes from international waters," she said.

Speech of the day

Fear, scarcity vs innovation, generosity
The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016

Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin, a social entrepreneur, yesterday gave an impassioned call for Singapore to ditch two key "cultural roadblocks to transformation" - fear and scarcity thinking. Here is an excerpt of her speech, which drew applause from the chamber: "It really disturbs me that year after year, we still rank kiasu, kiasi as among the top defining traits of what makes us Singaporean.

We laugh about it, but it's been 50 years and the joke is on us. How much longer will we self-identify as a people living under siege? What human potential and opportunities have we lost over the years, as a nation scared to lose out and fail?

These behaviours that are necessary for the future - innovation, productivity, collaboration, generosity to the needy - are wholly dependent on a person's desire and drive to generate greater worth and real value to share with the world.

Kiasu culture is also what creates a subculture of grantrepreneurs - people who call themselves entrepreneurs but are really just grant-chasers - who seize upon any kind of public monies, like the PIC (Productivity and Innovation Credit) grant, to use on everything but what the grant was meant to accomplish.

The kiasu entrepreneur is driven by the anxiety to make short gains rather than a mindful desire to win at the long game. So he will only take the risks that everyone is already taking and innovate what everyone else is already innovating.

And that's why entrepreneurship here tends to lack originality and is really just copy-and-paste work of little worth. Yesterday's bubble tea shop is today's hipster coffee joint and cat cafe.

We have a ridiculous number of entrepreneurs in F&B (food and beverage) and way too few in industries like marine and construction which have far more opportunity, profit and need for new blood willing to go where nobody else wants or dares to go.

The other habit that has cost us plenty is our scarcity mindset - the belief that the giving of any advantage to someone else is stupid because it comes at the cost of our personal survival and happiness.

I've seen it in the way some non-profits work in silo, believing it's every NGO for itself in the fight for the limited pie of state and donor funding. And now, you can hear it in the outrage among some mothers in the 1 per cent, as they can no longer claim tax relief on incomes above $80,000 because we want to support greater social spending.

In scarcity thinking, there is no win-win. It is always a high stakes competition, win-lose or lose-lose.

When we adults push back hard on why domestic workers should be given the right to their day of rest since it impedes on our day of rest, how can we expect anyone to do any better? Should it surprise us if many in the next generation refuse to take responsibility for our welfare when we become the powerless ones in our old age?

The most honest alternative to scarcity is actually not abundance, but satisfaction. When we are satisfied, we are far more willing to give something of ourselves. From that mindset of satisfaction flows a desire to share decisions, information, recognition, profits and yes, the tax burden for social spending.

Not hungry enough

Every Budget, every National Day Rally, many ask: 'What goodies are we getting?' Is this appropriate?

We are a first world nation. We can build all the best facilities, but facilities alone do not make champions. Discipline, dedication, hard work, blood , sweat and toil do.

Failure need not always be paralysing. Can we remove constraints on our thinking? Can we ride the tide of change and transformation and be willing to take the beating as we strive? Can we take ownership of our learning and growth?

We can choose to sit in a cafe and watch the world go by, or wait for inspiration to strike us.

Or we can get up and do something about it and tame that hunger.

DR FATIMAH LATEEF, (Marine Parade GRC) yesterday questioned if Singaporeans are hungry enough to meet the challenges of an increasingly difficult environment.

She sought help when down, but seized initiative to do better
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016

In the initial days of her food catering business, Madam Sa'adah Jan and her husband would sleep in the playground near her kitchen after working 20-hour days.

She would start work at 4am and only finish at midnight, when the buses and trains had stopped running. "It would be sayang (painful) to fork out $20 for a taxi home," she said.

Those were trying times for Madam Sa'adah, who owed $100,000 after a failed conference management business venture in 2010.

She sold her four-room Housing Board flat, let go of her maid and had her car repossessed.

Today, the 36-year-old owns halal food delivery service Dapur Ummi Abdullah and the 60-seater Ambeng Cafe in Simpang Bedok, which sells nasi ambeng, a Malay dish.

Her story was cited yesterday by Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC), who said while those who need help should not be left to fend for themselves, people also need to help themselves and one another.

There has to be shared responsibility between the Government and the people, she added.

At Madam Sa'adah's lowest point, in 2010, she went to see her MP at a Meet-the-People session (MPS).

Her family of five had moved into a one-room rental flat with her sister and mother, who had cancer. They lived on about $300 a month, as the bulk of her husband's salary went to paying off her debt.

Madam Sa'adah recalled being given $200 and an EZ-link card with $30 at the MPS. She was also placed on financial assistance.

That was a wake-up call for her. "I had to do something... for my children who were so used to sleeping on a bed. There were seven of us inside a small flat," she said.

When she chanced upon a Facebook post by someone who wanted chicken curry with roti jala delivered to her home, she started catering for such orders. Today, her business serves 1,000 customers a day.

Lauding this spirit of personal responsibility, Ms Rahayu said: "She refused to stay dependent on public assistance and pulled herself out of financial difficulties."

Madam Sa'adah said she was grateful for the Government's help, but did not expect to be spoonfed.

"It all started with a humble idea. I dared not even imagine it could come to this. But with perseverance, here I am," she said.

MPs call for more help for working mums
Extra childcare, flexiwork options and help for children of unwed parents among suggestions
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016

Working mums could do with more help from the Government as they juggle their responsibilities at home and in the office, said MPs.

While they welcomed the measures in this year's Budget to support young parents and families, 10 of the 25 MPs who spoke in Parliament yesterday had a slew of suggestions on ways to give them a boost.

Some want more childcare spaces for infants and a directory to match parents and nannies, while others want greater promotion of flexible work arrangements.

"Some working mothers, who are professionals, managers or executives in multinational companies, tell me that whenever a woman becomes pregnant, her career progression or promotion can be held back for one year," said Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson).

Added Nominated MP (NMP) and veteran unionist K Thanaletchimi: "Women should not be fearful of sacrificing their careers for a family."

More infantcare facilities could be opened or expanded to give parents peace of mind that their babies would be looked after whenever they work late, said several MPs.

With a directory of nannies, parents could also leave the children in their care, suggested Ms Tin and Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

Ms Tin said the Government could create an official directory online for parents to find potential caregivers in the neighbourhood.

Mr Gan said nannies' hours tend to be more flexible, which would be helpful for parents who work shifts or long hours.

For mothers of newborns returning to work after maternity leave, more flexible work arrangements would help, said MPs.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) suggested that the Government come up with a law that gives working mums another eight weeks of either flexible work or no-pay leave, after the end of their 16 weeks of maternity leave.

"This way, more mothers can return to the workforce and increase their family income without compromising on their family life," he said, adding that it could mean working from home or shorter work weeks.

High-earning mums had four MPs championing their cause, following the introduction of a personal income tax relief cap of $80,000 in the Budget. They wanted to know the reason for the cap, which they said would hit these mums the hardest.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) asked for it to be lifted for widowed or divorced mothers, as they tend to face more challenges like raising their children themselves.

Ms Tin, Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) said working mums were upset at what the move signifies.

"They feel singled out as their male contemporaries are generally unaffected," said Ms Tin. "Some wonder if this signals that senior job roles are not for mothers or that mothers should not have higher career aspirations."

Ms Lee added that while the cap is expected to add $100 million a year in revenue, this should not come at the cost of driving high-income mothers out of the workforce, or reducing the number of children they add to the future workforce.

NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin, however, was critical of mothers who held such a view. She called for a change in this mindset "among some mums in the 1 per cent when they discovered they cannot claim tax relief above $80,000 anymore". The additional revenue, she noted, would support greater social spending.

Children of unwed parents should be included in upcoming schemes to give kids from less well-off families a leg up, argued four MPs as they called for the qualifying criteria of two schemes to be clarified.

These were the KidStart programme for young children who need support, and the Child Development Account First Step grant in which parents can receive $3,000 from the Government to use for their children's healthcare and childcare, without first having to deposit $3,000.

Children of unwed parents have the same needs as their peers whose parents are married, said Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan.

"They should not be treated differently because of something their parents did," said Mr Faisal.

Thinking out of the box
On the second day of the Budget debate yesterday, MPs offered unconventional solutions to deal with issues ranging from Singapore's low birth-rate to retrenched workers. Lim Yan Liang highlights five suggestions.
The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016


Publicising adoption more widely could encourage pregnant women who are thinking of abortion to keep their babies, said Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC).

This could result in the total fertility rate here increasing, he said.

Noting that those with unwanted pregnancies may not have thought of putting their child up for adoption, Mr De Souza called on the Government to publicise it as "a comforting, loving, nurturing and voluntary alternative".

This can be done during the mandatory pre-abortion counselling sessions, he said.


The Government should tweak the way it supports research so that gains from its investments are returned to society when the research becomes successful, said Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC).

He suggested that the Government retain some equity in start-up firms receiving grants or loans, the way private venture firms do.

This could take the form of preferred stock that has priority in receiving dividends, and does not have to be a controlling stake.

Another way is by adjusting loan repayments based on the profitability of the company, he said.


Despite government funding to nudge companies towards sourcing for services based on quality, many companies are still looking at costs when procuring services such as cleaning, said Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol)

This gives service providers little incentive to improve productivity. And headcount-based contracts are also expensive and unproductive, especially as labour supply grows tighter, he added.

He called on buildings to be designed with a "productivity mindset" so building owners can hire fewer people to provide cleaning, security and landscape services.


With help schemes becoming more complex, the Government should send out a consolidated statement to each citizen once a year to let them know what benefits they receive, said Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC).

The statement can let people know the exact amount of rebates, vouchers and benefits they will get.

Zaqy Mohamad on Budget 2016
“How many Singaporeans actually do know what they are getting from #SGBudget2016, and all our Government policies?” MP Zaqy Mohamad proposes providing a consolidated statement of accounts to each citizen to inform them on the rebates, vouchers, and benefits they will receive each year.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday, April 5, 2016

It can also provide a snapshot of the current balances in one's Central Provident Fund (CPF), CPFLife, Medisave and MediShield Life accounts as well as retirement benchmarks, so Singaporeans know if they are adequately covered for their future, he added.


To get more senior citizens volunteering, a "time bank" should be created that allows every hour spent volunteering to be deposited.

Suggesting this, Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) said the hours could then be exchanged for certain privileges such as priority queuing at polyclinics and hospitals and free or discounted courses at the People's Association.

She added that it could also go towards offsetting a $50 fee needed to apply for a Lasting Power of Attorney, a legal instrument allowing individuals to nominate others to make decisions on their behalf when they are unable to do so.

Different strokes for different folks
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016

Different strategies have to be adopted to explain SkillsFuture effectively to different groups of people, MPs said yesterday.

Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) said: "We need to convince the man on the street that Singapore's future jobs and the funding of our social safety net depend on how future-proof each of us is."

One way, she said, is to use everyday examples to highlight the importance of learning new skills.

She cited a Hokkien-speaking resident in her constituency who runs a heartland shop selling fashion accessories. "She told me that she has already been buying her stock from the Internet when we spoke about reducing the cost of business," said Ms Phua.

Another way is to appoint ambassadors to identify training programmes that may be useful for certain groups, and explain to them the advantages of such skills.

The SkillsFuture scheme aims to instil a culture of lifelong learning among Singaporeans so they can stay relevant and compete amid a more challenging economic landscape. In January, citizens aged 25 and above got $500 in SkillsFuture credit that can be used to pay for training courses, and regular top-ups will be made to their accounts.

Labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) called for a targeted approach to help low-wage workers understand SkillsFuture, noting that they are mainly mature with lower education.

Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi said it was important to reach out to all workers, including those who are reluctant or hesitant about retraining.

Some work long hours, and overtime almost every day, so bite-sized training courses may work better for them, she said. "We need to be open and accept that individuals are different and therefore,we need to employ different strokes for different folks."

Review Silver Support eligibility
MPs yesterday raised suggestions to ensure the new Silver Support and SkillsFuture schemes benefit those who need them most.
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016

Several MPs yesterday urged the Government to go beyond housing type as a criteria to qualify for the new Silver Support Scheme.

They cited examples of seniors living in five-room Housing Board flats who struggle financially.

Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said there might be those who made more than $70,000 in contributions to their Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts, but who now find themselves struggling financially. Much as it helps to keep the qualifying criteria simple, Mr David asked the Finance Ministry to "consider certain cases that are in obvious need of help, but might not qualify for the scheme based on these broad criteria".

Silver Support was first announced in 2014 as a form of pension for up to the bottom 30 per cent of Singaporeans, and will make its first payout in July, with some 140,000 Singaporeans aged 65 and over getting between $300 and $750 every three months. To qualify, the recipient must not have contributed more than $70,000 to his CPF by age 55. Those who own, or whose spouse owns, a five-room or larger HDB flat or private properties will not qualify.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) said the criteria may not capture all elderly in need, citing those who live in old walk-up flats and nursing homes: "Is it the intent of the Government to push these seniors to uproot themselves from their neighbours and a familiar environment just to qualify for government support and for a better quality of life?"

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) cited a resident who lives in a five-room HDB flat with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. He felt housing criteria "disincentivises seniors who want to live with their children, because they will always lose out on Government benefits and rebates".

Sustained help for low-wage workers needed: MP Zainal Sapari
Bolder steps vital to negotiate glaring disparities: Labour MP
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016

Cleaners working at a statutory board got the short end of the stick when their former company lost the contract this year.

It had, in its tender, factored in a one month bonus for them, on top of their current salaries.

The cleaners ended up working for a new company.

They had their salaries reduced to $1,000, and lost all their employment benefits.

Labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) cited this case in Parliament yesterday to illustrate the need for "a longer-term solution" to help low-wage workers.

"Unless we take bolder steps to negotiate the glaring disparities between our low-wage workers and the majority of the Singaporean workforce in matters like wages and employment benefits, low- wage workers will continue to feel marginalised and the income gap will continue to widen," he said.

Over the past five years, real wages rose by an average of 2.1 per cent per year at the 20th income percentile, compared with around 3 per cent at the 50th percentile, he said.

Mr Zainal suggested that the Government set a target for faster wage growth at the 20th percentile level.

Longer-term service contracts could also encourage companies to adopt technology to become more productive, and prevent workers from having their salaries and benefits reset every few years, he added.

Companies should also avoid extending contracts at the same terms and conditions, as these usually prevent low-wage workers' salaries from rising, said Mr Zainal.

An assistant secretary-general at the National Trades Union Congress, he heads the unit overseeing low-wage workers.

Mr Zainal also called for making the payment of annual wage supplements and annual increments to workers part of licensing or registry conditions for sectors such as cleaning, security and landscaping. Such a move would benefit 85,000 local workers.

He also suggested crafting contracts based on performance rather than on headcount, and designing buildings so that less manpower is needed to maintain them in terms of cleaning, security and landscape services.

The plight of workers in the middle-income segment also came into focus as MPs rose to speak about the difficulties retrenched professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) face in an uncertain economic climate.

Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi suggested strengthening the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP), which helps jobseekers learn new skills to take on new careers. One way could be by giving them mentors and psychological support so they can adapt well to the new work environment.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said the PCP does not guarantee workers will be able to command the same pay in their new job, and suggested beefing up the Career Support Programme, which is targeted at older citizens in mid-level and better-paying jobs.

Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) asked for more incentive schemes and coaches to encourage retrenched workers to switch to the growing IT sector. Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) called for retrenchment benefits to help workers while they look for a new job.

Budget debate 2016: When the little details matter as much
By Aaron Low, Deputy Business Editor, The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2016

Every year, when the Finance Minister delivers the Budget, he does not just set out the financial position of the Government. He also paints a vision of what the Government wants to achieve with the money it intends to spend.

But when it comes to implementation of these big ideas, the smallest details are equally important, especially in how these policies will affect individuals.

That is where an MP, as a representative of his constituents, has a duty to not only engage in discussions about that big vision, but to also point out the fine print.

And that was what several MPs got down to doing yesterday, the second day of the debate on the Government's Budget for the new financial year.

While some MPs raised philosophical questions or talked about mega trends taking place, Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC), Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) and Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) zoomed in on the specifics and the details.

Like the Silver Support programme, for instance, and the scheme's eligibility criteria in particular. Their main beef: The use of housing types to means-test those who are eligible for cash payouts under the scheme.

Those who own five-room flats are currently not given any support. The assumption is that they have the means to support themselves.

But this may not be necessarily true, said Mr Zaqy. An example he cited was of a resident in his ward, Mr Ho, who bought a five-room flat with his son for $190,000 some 19 years ago. Their primary motivation for doing so was that they wanted to live together, and not because they were well-to-do.

"However, leaving out senior citizens who are in five-room flats and larger, does leave many retirees who were lower-middle and middle-income earners, unsupported," he said. "Means-testing this way no longer makes sense as a reflection of wealth or income status."

Similarly, Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), who works with low-wage workers and has a passion for finding solutions on the ground, came through when he addressed the SkillsFuture scheme to promote lifelong learning.

SkillsFuture is not just ambitious in scale, but fraught with major implementation challenges, he said.

Workers and companies need to change their understanding of the labour market as it exists, and work together to anticipate future trends.

This is a big challenge as most people tend to discount the future for their present needs. Many have no real incentive to change.

That is why, according to Mr Zainal, the success of SkillsFuture will also depend on tweaking small things - like procurement contracts that will encourage the use of technology, or adopting performance standards to pressure companies to use better technology when they provide services.

Another area that resonated with many MPs was the fear for retrenched workers given the backdrop of a slowing economy.

Mr Lim wants the Government to enact a law to compel firms to pay minimum retrenchment benefits of at least three to six months.

This was similar to the unemployment insurance that Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) raised on Monday, a suggestion that was also mooted yesterday by Nominated MP Azmoon Ahmad.

They want some form of unemployment insurance that would help a retrenched worker tide over for a short period. It would allow him to seek retraining instead of having to immediately look for a job and income to support the family.

There is of course the risk that focusing too much on one's own constituents may seem parochial. Parliament may not always be the best place to be singling out blocks of flats that need covered walkways.

And there is the argument, too, that speeches in Parliament need to take the conversation to a new level and inspire new solutions instead of being only concerned with matters at the individual level.

But at the heart of any system of political representation is the expectation that MPs accurately reflect the views, fears and aspirations of their constituents.

This means MPs have to be constantly in contact with them and reflect views in a considered manner to policymakers so that policies can be improved.

How about a public consultation process in the months leading up to #SGBudget2016?
Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Monday, April 4, 2016

This is a view that Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) clearly embraces. He spoke of the need to get the Budget consultation process up and running much earlier so that the Government can incorporate the views of the people.

MPs are "not there just to explain policies to people, to throw them facts and figures, but we are there to truly listen and understand", he said.

This not only builds trust between people and their representatives, but also deepens bonds between citizens and the Government, which, because of the ground-up views taken in, can make better policies for all.

MPs seek more help for workers and small firms
Ability to cope in uncertain climate a concern but many also warn against aid dependency
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2016

The ability of small companies to cope with the current economic uncertainty was a key concern of many MPs yesterday, the first day of debate on the Government's Budget for the new financial year.

To improve the health of these small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), labour chief Chan Chun Sing prescribed less "sugar", more exercise and "nutritional supplements". He also highlighted the need to prepare today's workers for tomorrow's storms even before they enter the workforce.

With Singapore at a critical juncture of economic transformation, more needs to be done to help workers and companies, said Mr Chan, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

The Budget speech on March 24 had focused on a prudent approach in helping companies and households prepare for the future.

Yesterday, noting that the Budget has sweeteners for SMEs, Mr Chan said in Mandarin: "If we have too much sugar and we are used to this, then problems will arise and it will not help to solve our problems."

As for exercise, SMEs must "walk about" and find larger markets abroad, to grow into future multinationals. The Government will continue to help them do it, Mr Chan added.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) will also do its part to give SMEs "additional nutrition", said Mr Chan, who is NTUC secretary-general. This includes working with bosses to train them for the future and starting training courses to help SMEs with human resource management.

In cautioning against too much help while acknowledging the need for support, Mr Chan expressed the concerns of many of the 25 other MPs who spoke yesterday.

Dr Teo Ho Pin (Bukit Panjang) wanted more help for SMEs, but he noted not all firms that tapped the Government's Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme made real productivity improvements.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC) warned against making firms dependent on aid, saying: "Let businesses learn to grapple with the crisis and come out stronger."

Mr Chan stressed the need to give SMEs targeted help. "We need to go sectorally to examine where the laggards in our productivity drive are and how best to help them lift their productivity, in their respective sectors."

Helping SMEs transform is not as easy as giving grants - work must be done at the sector level or even at each company, he said. "We either do this or we pretend that some broad macro-measures will miraculously lift the productivity of all."

As for workers, Mr Chan identified possible structural unemployment as one critical challenge.

The issue is not the total number of jobs, but how to help a displaced worker find a suitable new job.

To do this, the labour movement needs to go upstream - to schools - and midstream with continual upgrading for workers, as well as help mature workers gain new skills, said Mr Chan.

"We need to prevent the PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) in their 40s from being displaced in 10 years' time. We have to start with the PMETs in their 20s and 30s now. Otherwise, we can't blame the competition if one day our people lose out."

Perhaps the Independent should stop reading mainstream media and forming their opinion from there, Minister Chan said "Singapore core", not "Singaporean core".Video source - CNA
Posted by SG HardTruth Community on Thursday, April 7, 2016

In doing all this, prudence is key, said Mr Chan, echoing another common theme in yesterday's debate.

"The Government has not shied away from spending resources to upskill our workers or to help our industries restructure," he said.

"But it is incumbent on all of us to realise all these monies come from taxpayers and... we have a responsibility to use this money wisely."

The debate continues today.

Need for ecosystem that supports innovation: MPs
Onus on businesses to come up with fresh ideas, with Govt providing support system
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2016

A spirit of innovation and breaking new ground is crucial for Singapore's survival, MPs said on the first day of the Budget debate.

While the MPs supported the Budget's measures to boost such breakthroughs and welcomed help for companies, some said the Government may not always make the right business calls.

Ultimately, it is businesses that must come up with the next "killer" product or service that customers want, Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said in his speech at the start of the debate.

For this to happen, Mr Liang said it is essential to have a vibrant start-up scene with low barriers to entry such as low rental costs and less red tape.

"We need an ecosystem with the necessary players, budding entrepreneurs, mentors, venture and private equity funds among others," he said, adding that he supports the setting up of SG-Innovate, which Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in his Budget speech to provide such an infrastructure.

Over the next five years, the Government has set aside a record $19 billion for research and development(R&D), of which $4 billion has been earmarked for industry-research collaboration. It will top up another $1.5 billion to the National Research Fund in Budget 2016.

Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) said that while the Government could provide financial help, "the onus is on our businesses to innovate and be productive".

He cited entrepreneur Kenny Yap, who heads tropical fish distributor Qian Hu. Mr Yap had said in an interview: "Any enterprise that does not embrace innovation, especially in Singapore, will not survive in the next three to five years."

Several speakers touched on the need to support innovations by Singaporeans and ensure that the country gains from what it invests in.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh said while there is heavy investment in deepening R&D capabilities, there should also be focus on making sure these are anchored by a Singaporean core in the sector.

Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong raised the issue of ownership of intellectual property (IP) through innovation, which she feels is important when research collaborations involve non-Singapore entities.

She hoped the Government would set clear guidelines for the retention of IP that was of strategic value to Singapore.

"We must not let Singapore pay money to be used as a test bed without retaining strategic IP arising from such research," she said.

Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) also said it was important for Singapore firms to own intellectual rights to reap the returns of the Government's efforts in innovation.

Mr Lee Yi Shyan (East Coast GRC) noted that Singapore should not just consume smart solutions in areas like robotics, but also create applications and products that it can commercialise and export.

He noted that a 2013 survey showed economic spin-offs attributed to R&D were valued at $23.8 billion."It is clear that allocating more R&D funding to industry-led research collaborations would greatly multiply the economic spin-offs to our economy," he said.

Calls to help innovation take root in the heartland
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2016

Even as plans are under way to build an industrial park focusing on innovation in Jurong West, the heartland should not be neglected, several MPs said yesterday.

The Jurong Innovation District will bring researchers, students and businesses together to develop new products and services.

But innovation should take place in Housing Board estates too, and more help can be given to businesses located in these areas to enliven them, the MPs added.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland- Bukit Timah GRC) said some heartland community clubs and libraries already function as flexible mobile workstations to let people work closer to home.

"These well-equipped and broadband-enabled smart work centres can also serve as initial workspaces for budding start-ups," he said.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh said there are merits to decentralising mega industrial districts and creating "innovation estates" in public housing estates.

Neighbourhoods will be more economically vibrant with the increased activity, and the different estates "could evolve into diverse specialisations". Bedok, he said, could well be a powerhouse for developing financial technology.

He added that he is worried the new industrial park in Jurong will be a "high-tech island detached from the rest of Singapore".

Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) said more could be done to help heartland shops and old brands survive, even as the focus is on helping start-ups succeed.

Mr Saktiandi noted that many small retailers are in the heartland and suggested that lunchtime parking rates could be lowered to attract visitors, so that town centres will not become "shuttered centres".

Ms Foo said home-grown companies and ageing family businesses could be given counselling services and advice to help them prepare for succession or reinvent their business model to stay alive.

"We must put in place measures to preserve and build on the precious value of these companies accumulated during Singapore's growing years," she said.

Firms must lead change
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2016

Restructuring is becoming increasingly critical for Singapore companies but the impetus to transform cannot come solely from the Government, MPs said.

Speaking on the first day of the Budget debate, they lauded Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's more targeted, sector-specific approach towards helping firms raise productivity, but noted that companies themselves must be driving change.

More also needs to be done to gauge the effectiveness of the Government's billion-dollar industry transformation programmes, they said.

Their comments come as Singapore companies continue to face the uphill task of transforming for the future amid an ongoing slowdown, tight labour market and rising business costs.

MPs welcomed Budget measures targeted at helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) tide over the current rough patch, as well as moves such as the $4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme that aims to foster innovation, help companies automate and gear industries up for the future.

However, some raised concerns that billions spent on help for companies might create a dependency mindset, especially as some of these measures have been in place for many years.

"Businesses are always hopeful and confident that the Government will introduce measures to help them tide over the crisis. And indeed, the Budget always delivers," said Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC). "We are encouraging local businesses to venture out, but the business climates in other countries are far harsher. There will be more obstacles, and nobody will be at hand to provide them with aid and assistance... Let businesses learn to grapple with the crisis and come out stronger."

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) noted that resources are scarce, and asked how outcomes on big-ticket investments like the Industry Transformation Programme will be tracked.

"What lessons have we drawn from our experience of years past, where well-intentioned productivity schemes, costing billions of dollars, ultimately failed to lift productivity levels?

"We have been on this restructuring journey for some time now and with each passing year, the urgency to show results grows while our margin for error shrinks," she added.

Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) noted that efforts like the Wage Credit Scheme, in which the Government co-funds 40 per cent of pay hikes given to Singaporean employees, and the popular Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) have benefited firms but more accountability is needed in measuring outcomes.

"But for how long more... should more tax dollars be used, is something the Finance Minister would have to address," he said. "The onus is on businesses to innovate and be productive. If they do not, and if their businesses suffer, who is to blame?"

Meanwhile, business MPs said shifting mindsets among business owners is vital.

"Some industry players have no confidence in their own industries. This kind of mindset is in fact sunset thinking, which would sooner or later lead to their elimination," said Nominated MP Thomas Chua, who heads the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), the chief executive of OUE Hospitality Trust, said attitudes towards failure also have to change.

"We await the day when we have people comparing how many times they have failed and are still trying instead of which company are they working with," he said.

Thinking out of the box
MPs got creative in Parliament yesterday as they offered unconventional solutions to dealing with problems that ranged from small firms’ shortage of talent to fewer customers visiting heartland shops. Charissa Yong highlights five memorable suggestions by MPs on the first day of the Budget debate.
The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2016


Parking charges in the heartland could be lowered or even made free, to encourage more people to visit mom-and-pop shops there.

This could be done during lunch hours on weekdays, especially in less populous neighbourhoods, said Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC).

He urged the Government to do more to support small entrepreneurs and bring new life to neighbourhood centres.

The Housing Board could also actively manage the mix of tenants in neighbourhood centres to attract more customers, he added.


Silver Support payouts for the elderly poor should be given every month instead of every three months, said Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC).

The scheme gives quarterly payouts of between $300 and $750 to the bottom 30 per cent of those aged 65 and older.

But a monthly payout would be more beneficial, as these seniors need help with their daily living expenses, Mr Yam said.

This was the feedback of participants at a PAP Seniors Group dialogue last week, he added.


Singapore could lobby the United Nations (UN) to establish a stronger presence in Asia and set up its regional headquarters here, said Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC).

Asia is one of the biggest markets for global trade and an engine of growth for the world economy, he said as he argued for a stronger UN presence in the region.

Also, if the UN bases its regional headquarters here, it would go a long way in helping Singapore stay relevant to the world, he added.


Singapore's next big entrepreneur could well be a former prison inmate, said Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera.

He wants the Government to work with ex-inmates to help make their business dreams come true.

People with disabilities could also get more educational support from the Government to develop their talents, he added.

"We must do more to unlock these sources of talent, not just because it is the right thing to do morally, but also economically," he said.


The Government could co-fund scholarships offered by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), said Dr Teo Ho Pin (Bukit Panjang).

It could also chip in to help small companies pay their long-serving workers loyalty bonuses.

Dr Teo made the suggestions as he urged the Government to help SMEs attract and retain talent, as they find it very hard to do so.

Budget prudent, but watch spending, say MPs
Call comes as govt expenditure is set to rise with maturing economy, ageing population
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2016

The Budget is back in the black this year after a deficit in the last fiscal year, but Members of Parliament yesterday repeated their calls for cautious spending, warning that expenditure is likely to rise in the future.

These calls came from at least 10 out of the 26 MPs who spoke in yesterday's debate on the Budget delivered by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat last month.

While they lauded the Budget for being prudent and forward- looking, they also expressed concerns that the healthy balance sheet, which projects a surplus of $3.45 billion, could inflate expectations among Singaporeans for more spending in the future.

At least three MPs - Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) and Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) - said that government spending will likely increase in the future, given the maturing economy and greying population.

And while public finances remain healthy, Mr Chong said, expenditure on social development has been outpacing revenue growth.

Mr Yam, noting that total spending for this fiscal year is projected to be $5 billion more than for last year, said he hopes that Singapore "does not reach the stage where we develop the habit of giving out fish, rather than teaching people how to fish".

Budget measures announced this year included schemes to help needy and elderly Singaporeans as well as business-centric policies to help small and medium-sized enterprises amid a slowing economy.

Some MPs were concerned that the support schemes and subsidies to industries may become increasingly institutionalised.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) warned that they would add to the fiscal burden of the country and to the strain on future generations, as he called for "creative ways to fund government spending and schemes".

Commenting on the surplus in this year's Budget, Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) noted that it was largely due to the inclusion of Singapore investment company Temasek Holdings under the net investment returns framework for the first time this year.

Under the framework, the Government can spend up to half of the long-term expected real returns on investments by GIC, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and now Temasek.

But given the uncertain economic climate, "there is no guarantee that expected long-term returns would not fall in the years to come", said Mr Liang, who is chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry.

Therefore, several MPs said, the traits of thrift and prudence that have underlined fiscal policy since independence are just as relevant now.

As expenditure goes up, the challenge is to identify what the "must haves" are and prioritise spending on them, as opposed to the "good to haves", said Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir).

"If we think we are safe and invulnerable because of the size of our bank balance and therefore can and should draw down on it to make our lives 'easier' or 'better', we are simply deluding ourselves."

Nominated MP Randolph Tan also sounded a dire warning against "unrestrained profligacy".

The labour economist said: "Just as natural resource endowments can be readily depleted, later generations of Singaporeans can easily end up with a vacuous foundation on which to erect their future economy if our economic philosophy shifts."

One way to guard against this is to make sure money is well spent, said Ms Foo.

She suggested monitoring the outcomes of such "big-ticket investments" as the $4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme and the SkillsFuture scheme to promote lifelong learning, which will cost more than $1 billion a year from now to 2020, to make sure they achieve their objectives.

Tighter purse strings needed as revenues fall
By Aaron Low, Deputy Business Editor, The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2016

Budget 2016 has been described as a prudent Budget, one that focuses on preparing the economy for the long term rather than handing out feel-good cash transfers to households and companies.

But if the first day of the Budget debate was anything to go by, it sounded as if Budget 2016 was not prudent enough.

On March 24, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered the Government's Budget for fiscal year 2016, one which saw expenditures rise by 7.3 per cent, or by about $5 billion.

Special transfers, which included a $1.1 billion top-up to the Special Employment Credit Fund - a wage subsidy - and a $1.5 billion top-up to the National Research Fund, amounted to close to $6.27 billion. This is about 40 per cent lower than the $10.54 billion shelled out during Budget 2015.

Over the past few years, the Government has been spending more, especially since it started strengthening social safety nets against the backdrop of an ageing population.

But there are fears that this continued rise in expenditure is unsustainable.

It is clear that growth in tax revenues is slowing as economic growth levels off, the result of Singapore becoming a mature economy.

As Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) noted, expenditure growth has been outstripping revenue growth for the past four years.

So far, investment returns from Temasek Holdings, GIC and the Monetary Authority of Singapore have helped beef up the Government's balance sheet.

Without the injection of investment returns of $14.7 billion in financial year 2016 - a jump of 48.6 per cent from last year - the Government would have a gaping deficit of $11.26 billion.

And even then, investment returns are not guaranteed, noted Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland Bukit-Timah GRC), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry.

"There is no guarantee that expected long-term returns would not fall in the years to come as it really just depends on the prevailing yields of the financial markets and the global outlook," he warned.

As such, it is unsurprising that MPs such as Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) and Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan Toa-Payoh GRC) want Mr Heng to proceed cautiously on spending from here on.

These concerns are valid.

Singapore cannot be spending indiscriminately. Which is why the Government's $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package, rolled out in 2014, was paid for upfront by surpluses generated by the Government - in order not to burden future governments and taxpayers.

Singapore should also avoid being a welfare state and resist, as Mr Nair said, institutionalising subsidies for companies such that they end up expecting regular help.

But look forward a few years down the road and the trend is clear: Expenditures will rise significantly. The ageing population means that healthcare expenses will only grow, while building an inclusive society necessitates the strengthening of social safety nets that will also cost money.

Restructuring the economy will mean spending on infrastructure as well as investing heavily in education and workers' skills.

No one spoke about raising taxes as the means to generate higher revenue to pay for all these in the debate yesterday.

But in time, this will be an issue that will eventually have to be debated thoroughly.

For now, before the subject of raising taxes is broached, what's probably more useful is for the Government to be judicious about what to spend on and justify why the billions of taxpayers' money needs to be spent on people, companies or industries.

As labour chief Chan Chun Sing noted yesterday, there is a moral imperative for anyone spending taxpayers' money.

"It is incumbent upon us to realise that whoever takes any of these monies, either for personal upgrading or for corporate restructuring, that we have a responsibility to society, a responsibility to use this money wisely to really achieve the goals that we set out to achieve rather than to waste them or fritter them away."

As such, there is a critical need for accountability for the billions spent on big-ticket items such as the Productivity and Innovation Credit, or the $4.5 billion to be shelled out on the Industry Transformation Programme, as Ms Foo and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh suggested.

Said Ms Foo: "What lessons have we drawn from our experience of years past, where well-intentioned productivity schemes, costing billions of dollars, ultimately failed to lift productivity levels?"

To this I would add other questions: What are the objectives of the money to be spent on various packages? Can we quantify the benefits at the end of the day? If not, are there other measures that can help track the success of the programme?

It is also unclear if the Government has done its own internal studies of the programmes.

If it has, such studies have not been made public in a big way. Some studies of past policies such as the Jobs Credit scheme have been done by academics such as National University of Singapore economics don Tilak Abeysinghe.

But these have been far and few in between.

Such studies will be useful in helping to tweak future policies and in educating the taxpayer to understand just how public monies have been spent and what benefits they have accrued for Singapore.

Speech Of The Day

A clarion call to society
The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2016

Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong, who uses a wheelchair, said Singapore has become more inclusive, but called for a campaign to raise awareness of those with disabilities, including those not as noticeable. Here is an extract from her speech, which drew applause from the chamber:

"We have a culture of kindness and generosity. Some of us have experience, either personally or distally, with disability. And we know we can suffer a disability at any time. So why then do persons with disabilities still not feel included in our society? It cannot be that it's because people are not kind.

Could it be because we have a lack of awareness? Could it be because there are disabilities that are not visible? Could it be because there are disabilities that are not perceived as disabilities?

Here are some small voices:
- We hope for you to be patient when we are slow in entering the elevator. We don't like to hold up others.
- We hope for you to be accommodating when we make strange, loud noises. We can't control our muscles.
- We hope for you to give up your seats in the train. We feel bad for you not to have a seat, but our ankles are weak and we cannot stand for long.
- Please understand if I refuse to communicate. Sometimes I'm afraid and confused from the many voices I hear in my own head.
- Do not be offended if I do not respond to your greetings. I cannot hear you.
- Give us a chance to train and upgrade our skills so that we can work. We cherish our hope for a brighter future.
- Give us a chance to work, so that we can be less of a burden to our families.
- Let my son have flexible working schedules so he can accompany me for my medical and therapy sessions. I do not want him to sacrifice his career development or lose his job because he's looking after me.
- Be kind to my parents when I throw tantrums. It is not because they did not teach me well. I simply cannot comprehend my external environment.
- Please play with me. My legs are weak, but I still have a sense of adventure.
- Thank you for accepting me.
Madam, a disability is not caused by a medical condition per se. A person is disabled because there are external and internal barriers that impede his development and participation in the community.

We have people who do not feel included because they do not know what disabilities and what challenges we have. Can we ask this House to be that platform, to convey the little voices that I have just shared. Let our people know that there are disabilities they cannot see, they cannot perceive, but those are disabilities that are real and hurting.

I ask for a national education campaign so that we can reach out to our people.

I ask that we understand so that we can be one."

Budget 2016: Partnering for the Future

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