By Jaslene Pang
As rents and wages continue their relentless climb, companies are finding it more difficult to do business in Singapore, despite the constant mantra of increasing productivity.
And SMEs - the hardest hit by rising costs - are finding it harder to overcome the difficulties with the lack of intelligence in the industry.
Zaqy Mohamad, Member of Parliament for Choa Chu Kang GRC, says: "The dearth of intelligence in the industry is something we lack. Companies won't go out there and share, 'hey, I've found a way to crack the code on how to be more productive', because this is comparative knowledge.
"Individually, most SMEs don't have the resources to do research on these issues. But associations can do research, pick up trends and share best practices with SMEs, hence helping them deal with the challenges."
Mr Zaqy is also a member of three government parliamentary committees (GPCs), including Finance and Ministry of Trade and Industry, Manpower, and Community, Youth and Sports.
He elaborates: "Associations understand the industries better and have better networks. As an association, they can do more such as stringing SMEs together to expand overseas.
That is why the government can help by giving associations more funding to do more research on best practices, business intelligence, understanding trends and giving feedback to all members on how best to work on various things such as overseas expansion and leveraging government schemes and funding."
Mr Zaqy told BT that his "biggest fear" is that the cost of business may outstrip productivity gains.
"Many SMEs don't have economies of scale or the kind of resources that the big companies have, whether it is in IT, finance or HR.
I recognise the fact that we are land-scarce and there are externalities such as higher oil prices that are out of our control.
But we need to find ways to reduce costs to give SMEs a bit more breathing space for profitability, so that they can have enough to reinvest in their companies and, as a result, grow, expand and train workers more.