Budget 2016: Business leaders' wish list

Budget 2016: Business leaders' wish list

Yeoh Oon Jin
Executive Chairman
PwC Singapore

GIVEN the uncertain economic landscape, we expect this Budget to focus on helping businesses, particularly local enterprises, create value through innovation.

One way in which the government can help such local enterprises (especially those without critical mass) in their pursuit of new markets is to set up a "one-stop shop" to help them navigate the plethora of assistance schemes (grants, tax incentives, financing, and so on) that are available.

One agency acts as a "relationship manager"to perform a preliminary assessment of the SMEs' plans, recommend the most appropriate assistance schemes and guide them through the application process. This collaborative approach will be yet another testament to the strength of Singapore Inc.

Toby Koh
Group Managing Director
Ademco Security Group

THE push for Singapore companies to go international is vital for our growth and to nurture our SMEs into large regional players.

In order to assist Singapore companies in the push to internationalise, I suggest a grant for overseas investment. This grant would be tiered depending on years of operations, profitability and revenue.

In addition, there should be a tax incentive to be given to Singapore companies which run their overseas businesses efficiently and profitably. This will help encourage Singapore companies to venture overseas as the local market is small and the international marketplace can be a key growth driver.

For the purpose of sharing some risk involved in overseas ventures, I propose tax relief for losses that Singapore holding companies incur in such ventures.

Fabian Wong
Chief Executive Officer
Philips ASEAN Pacific

WE hope to see a stronger focus on fostering and harnessing technological innovation that will help to drive value creation. The world is a very different place today, with innovations in technology rapidly changing our landscape. In order to keep up, Singapore businesses - MNCs and SMEs alike - have to evolve in tandem, and invest in greater value creation activities.

At Philips, we hope for incentives that will encourage co-innovation and collaboration among the public and private sectors, especially in the area of healthcare innovation so that we are better placed to address the changing demands of an ageing population.

Victor Mills
Chief Executive
Singapore International Chamber of Commerce

MY wishes for Budget 2016 are that it be prudent and aim to achieve a level playing field for businesses. We know that handouts are popular but they are not effective in changing behaviour and mindsets. They provide only temporary relief but do not address root causes.

I would like to see measures to shore up Singapore's openness to global talent because as a city state we must maintain this quality, otherwise we will wither and die. Equally, I'm looking for further measures to:

  • protect local talent and allow it to flourish;
  • ramp up the teaching of creative thinking in schools;
  • reinforce incentives for companies to consistently practise non-discriminatory hiring;
  • name and shame persistent offenders.

Lastly, we all need to ramp up efforts to collaborate and identify the skills needed for each sector not just for now but for the next five to 10 years.

Frankie Chia
Managing Partner, ILP

I HOPE that the government implements measures to enhance productivity, innovation and assist SMEs during difficult times. One important area to improve is the current time-consuming and complex grant application process. SMEs will face cash flow problems if they are required to pay entire project fees upfront and claim the grants through reimbursement. This "pay first, claim later" system may slow innovation and deter SMEs from applying for grants altogether. The current application process should be reviewed critically since the consultants and project scopes are pre-approved by government agencies.

Jannie Chan
Singapore Retailers Association

WITH the continuing labour challenges, and concern about business costs and rentals, I recommend

Tax & schemes:

  • Continue the extension of the Productivity & Innovation Credit (PIC) Bonus, and loosen the criteria for the Productivity and Innovation Credits.
  • Continue the Wage Credit Scheme (WCS) at 40 per cent (and do not reduce it to 20 per cent as was scheduled for 2016)
  • Continue the personal income tax rebate of 50 per cent for the year of assessment.
  • Ensure rental rebates from HDB, & reduce property tax - to help ease rentals.
  • Provide tax incentives for those who continue to work beyond the age of 62


  • Extend Spring/IDA funding to full implementation, and not just the pilot stage or unique cases only
  • Increase incentives for serious energy conservation initiatives including changing of lighting, solar panels and others
  • Increase funding for technical productivity projects from the outset, and help with electronic shelf-labelling, ordering/inventory systems, new packaging and merchandise display and others


  • Extend the Investment in Skillsfuture to all employees, not just locals.
  • Delay the foreign worker levy increase (scheduled for July 2016) for another year.
  • Introduce a special work permit quota for front line positions, for example, cashiers and others.
  • Extend the employment credits system including help to fund recruitment costs.
  • Provide higher subsidies for families for childcare costs.
  • Increase the foreign worker quota for sectors in which Singaporeans clearly do not want to work (for example cleaning, retail and logistics) or increase the funding available for these industries to improve productivity.
  • Provide funding for more nation-wide job fairs for industries struggling to attract locals.
  • Relax the part-time employees calculation in the foreign worker quota formulae.

Others/business costs:

  • Implement measures to speed up Malaysia border crossing clearance for imports

Max Loh
ASEAN and Singapore Managing Partner

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

The continued push for a vibrant and productive economy should be balanced with care towards encouraging and enabling our SMEs, workforce and individuals to stay the course, grow and succeed, so as to strengthen the Singapore core and foster an inclusive society. Short-term fixes should be nuanced with a view to set up Singapore for long-term sustainability.

Lee Fook Chiew
Chief Executive Officer
Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants

TO remain competitive, Singapore businesses must seek new growth avenues, including venturing overseas. The ISCA Pre-Budget 2016 survey showed that accounting firms and the business community are aware of the government's internationalisation schemes. The respondents wish for greater support in facilitating access to overseas markets, and acquiring knowledge on overseas regulatory and tax regimes.

The formation of the ASEAN Economic Community is expected to lead to increased regional economic activities, along with added demand for accountancy services. The accountancy sector has been investing in human capital development to broaden and deepen the talent pipeline so as to tap such opportunities. In this regard, at the national level, the SkillsFuture scheme is laudable for encouraging continuous learning, with more pathways for professional development. We look forward to more of such initiatives.

Andrew Wildblood
Head of Global Enterprise and Country Managing Director Singapore

WE expect to see a continued focus on transforming Singapore into a regional and global technology hub, one that nurtures startups and encourages businesses to utilise the latest technology. At Telstra, we see great potential for Singapore to lead the technological evolution in South-east Asia.

The first graduating class of our startup accelerator in Singapore, muru-D, includes entrepreneurs from across Asia who are using cutting-edge technology to solve real business and social problems.

In a competitive global market, government and businesses need to continue to invest in a supportive startup ecosystem to attract and retain leading entrepreneurs, and to gain access to new ideas and innovative technologies.

Dhirendra Shantilal
Board Director

IT is no secret that 2016 is going to be challenging. The government's role will be to support the engines of growth - the SME sector and the Singaporean workforce. More local SMEs must internationalise and expand regionally but to do this they will need both pertinent incentives and skills. The Budget can contribute to this not by stimulus spending but by refining existing mechanisms.

The SkillsFuture scheme can be expanded to ensure that workers equip themselves with the capacity to enter fields where growth remains strong. Incentives such as the Market Readiness Assistance and International Growth schemes - could be further expanded and simplified to help firms grow. What the business community expects is not largesse but targeted effective support to overcome key pain points.

Ronald Lee
Managing Director
PrimeStaff Management Services Pte Ltd

SINGAPORE is facing anaemic growth, with preliminary estimates at 2.1 per cent for last year. This is the weakest since 2009.

Due to the uncertain global economic outlook and China's slowing economy, the key focus of the Budget should thus be on stimulating the economy because without strong economic performance, Singapore will not have the means to provide the necessary social benefits for its citizens.

We need to strengthen our pro-business policies to enhance Singapore's attractiveness as a business and financial hub. This can be done by reviewing the existing tax incentives for companies as well as tweaking certain policies to promote business growth across the board.

More assistance should be given to help SMEs, especially, defray rising business costs and compete in a tight labour market so that they remain viable and in business, as SMEs provide jobs for up to 80 per cent of Singaporeans.

John Bittleston
Founder & Chair
Terrific Mentors International Pte Ltd

RECENT budgets dealt with some of the pressing social issues in Singapore; some remain, mainly concerning health and ageing.

Other issues also need attention. A key one is infrastructure improvement and transport, essential to deal with faster business transacting and movement. The taxi system fails to meet the needs of tourists and of a population encouraged to avoid using cars.

In order to achieve the "big leap forward" in enterprise, especially creativity, we need more subsidised development programmes. Consumer support and redress of poor service requires urgent attention. Bad consumer handling needs "financial penalties" if we are to correct it.

Nirvik Singh
Chairman & CEO
Grey Group Asia-Pacific

WITH the slowdown in the global economy, good judgement is key to this year's Budget.

For businesses, the focus should be to cope with short-term challenges while stimulating medium-term growth so that Singapore advances further towards a Smart Nation.

For instance, the already-implemented SkillsFuture scheme can be developed further so that businesses can be adept at identifying the needs and challenges in their industry. This will help to enhance labour productivity as well as attract and retain talent, where needed. On a national scale, the scheme will produce a smarter-age workforce; encouraging the use of skill, knowledge and experience to make Singapore an even more resilient economy.

Property measures can also be implemented on an ad-hoc basis, taking into account the economic climate.

Annie Yap
Group Managing Director
AYP Group

DURING the 2015 Singapore Budget review, it was announced that there will be stronger government support for SMEs. With easier SPRING applications and higher support for internationalisation from IE Singapore, it helped SMEs to grow locally and internationally.

In the upcoming Budget, I hope the government will continue and increase support for SMEs, especially at this time of slow growth and an economic downturn. For example, having incentives for businesses which promote productivity and innovation. The new "LED" scheme announced by MOM last year can also be improved so that Singapore SMEs can effectively tap it to grow the Singaporean core workforce.

Lim Soon Hock
Managing Director

FUNDING from schemes, such as PIC, that have not worked, should be redeployed to help only selected promising SMEs. Singapore needs a critical mass of home-grown global players to lead in wealth creation and jobs. I would also advocate tax relief for SMEs in lieu of government funding. More pioneer certificates can be awarded.

In the future, more MNCs will be compelled to invest in China for one strategic reason: to compete with large Chinese conglomerates in the world's largest market in order to be successful globally. The Budget must invest more in developing a vibrant and sustaining entrepreneurship culture, that will produce more home-grown global enterprises to compensate for any eventual hollowing of foreign investments in the future.

I would therefore like to see funding for more entrepreneurial education in schools to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and life-long entrepreneurial skills in our youth. Hopefully, more of our brightest and smartest students will pursue entrepreneurship as an alternative pathway to build their careers and futures.

Patrick Liew
Managing Partner
Greenpro Capital

THE motives, means and ends of crafting a fiscal budget revolves around improving the quality of life for Singaporeans. That should be the focus and the basis for measuring the budget's success.

It should target our key priorities, be holistic, and be catalytic so as to not only create a positive impact but also generate a multiplier effect on our people, family and community.

My wish list for Budget 2016 is that it will provide incentives for enterprises to set up a corporate university on their own, as a strategic alliance, or in partnership with an educational institution.

This is a strategic tool that is widely leveraged by many prominent companies and is an important part of developed economies. A corporate university with a relevant hands-on curriculum can help enterprises enhance lifelong learning, knowledge management and change leadership on both organisational and individual levels. It can also help them foster a stronger branding, culture, loyalty, and affection for the company.

Terry Smagh
Managing Director and Vice-President
Qlik Asia

AGAINST the backdrop of a global economic slowdown, initiatives that continue to upskill the nation's workforce and boost enterprises' productivity are crucial for Singapore's survival.

We believe that data is a resource that can be used to increase the speed of business, and that any employee can make a data-driven decision when equipped with the right software platform and training.

To that end, we hope that the government also maintains a focus on sharing datasets, developing data literacy, and nurturing talent to plug the shortage in skills such as data analytics.

Ron Goh
President, South-east Asia and Korea

SINGAPORE has always taken the lead in driving policies aimed at fostering innovation, attracting the best talent and ultimately helping organisations flourish in the competitive global environment. For businesses, the hyper-connected world demands accelerated innovation and increased business competitiveness.

Experts believe that by 2025, 40 per cent of the S&P 500 companies that do not innovate will either merge or cease to exist. Budget 2016 is a perfect time to re-look at the drivers of growth for businesses in Singapore and we would like to see the government continue to nurture an environment that embraces innovation and providing support for technologies to equip the workforce of the future.

Tan Mui Huat
President and Chief Executive Officer, Asia
International SOS

GIVEN our small domestic market, venturing overseas is the natural approach for Singapore companies to create and sustain growth, especially in today's uncertain global climate. For employees to adjust to new environments and remain productive, companies must be sufficiently supported and guided on travel risk mitigation measures in order to fulfil their duty of care responsibility.

More incentives should be introduced to encourage companies to develop robust travel health and safety awareness and education programs, especially in the face of rising global pandemics (For example, Ebola, Zika virus), natural disasters and terror threats, which have a direct impact on the bottom line.

Chris Lee
Country Manager, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei

FOR Singapore to remain globally competitive in manufacturing, the development and adoption of smart manufacturing solutions should be encouraged. Renewing the Productivity and Innovation Credit Scheme to incentivise manufacturing SMEs to invest in digital fabrication and advance manufacturing technology like 3D printing, and cloud services for a connected environment, are a positive step in that direction.

Clean-tech is another area that Singapore has earmarked for growth, and we have seen more companies coming on board our Autodesk Entrepreneur Impact Program to develop solutions for positive environmental or social impact. Incentives and opportunities for startups to trial and scale clean-tech solutions will reinforce Singapore's global status as a 'Living Lab' for innovation.

Thomas Holenia
Henkel Singapore

AT Henkel, we welcome the Singapore government's focus and programmes to move the economy up the innovation ladder as well as enable a highly skilled and productive workforce. This is in line with our experience, where we observe that the talent requirement for future business success has changed. To remain responsive and entrepreneurial, we need good leaders at every level of the organisation - people who possess a global mindset, the agility and skills to adapt and innovate, manage changes and complex relationships, and make decisions and inspire teams.

With that in mind, I would like to see the government Budget emphasising key skill areas which can help "future-proof" the economy, such as leadership skills training for all employees. Having employees who have a global mindset and strong leadership skills will enable us to leverage Singapore as a major global business, innovation and supply chain hub to support our growth aspirations.

Sean Lee
Regional Director

SINGAPORE has always taken the lead in driving policies aimed at fostering innovations, attracting the best talents and ultimately helping businesses flourish in the global market. In Budget 2016, we would like to see the government continuing on this trajectory, further nurturing a business environment that takes the best of Silicon Valley's spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation, and creating its own unique environment of robust, agile companies.

Data intelligence and software-driven approaches will be central to businesses. Government incentives and partnership in driving technology deployment, efficiencies and expansion have worked well and we look forward to another year of continued efforts that can strengthen the nation's transformation journey.

Paul Lim
Chief Executive Officer
Secura Group Limited

"LAYOFFS highest since 2009. Business closures more than start-ups. Economists reduce growth forecast to 1.9 per cent." Many businesses saw these headlines coming as they struggled with negative productivity growth coupled with incessant wage and rental increases for the past three years, and they have been dipping into their reserves to get by year after year.

For this coming Budget, I hope the government will adopt decisive pro-business measures that will facilitate businesses "learning to fish" instead of getting use to the "crutch mentality" of long-term handouts. While certain productivity grants can remain, the focus should be on "bold and brave" incentives to encourage businesses to expand their market outreach to the regional hinterland.

To help SMEs quickly achieve the requisite economies of scale to compete regionally, the government can do more to incentivise and facilitate M&A activities. The government should also consider setting up an individual coordinating agency to manage all the myriad grants and loan schemes it provides. Overall, I hope this budget will focus on strengthening our struggling businesses to ensure that they can continue to provide jobs for our Singapore core.

Robin C Lee
Group COO
Bok Seng Group

PRUDENCE is the magic word here, as the economy's outlook for the next two years is not particularly bright. Hence, ample resources must be kept for off-budget mitigation should things get worse, especially in the sobering and likely scenario of heightened unemployment from mass retrenchment.

For now, the government must continue to support businesses, especially SMEs, by anchoring them with more incentives for productivity-related activities to get them ready for the next wave. Perhaps the hike in foreign worker levies can be held back a little longer to ease the burden.

In addition, I hope to see continued fostering of an inclusive society with more packages to supplement other forms of reliefs to those who really need it. On the socio-economic front, we have made respectable progress in the redistribution of wealth, but more can definitely be done towards narrowing inequalities.

Stephen Saul
Managing Director
Cushman & Wakefield Singapore

SINGAPORE Budget 2016 comes at the right time to prepare for the future and allow Singapore to emerge as a winner in the next phase of growth in Asia. Given the uncertain outlook on the macroeconomic front, maintaining the competitiveness of the city-state has never been more important. The government may want to re-look at some recent policies which have unintentionally hurt Singapore's competitiveness. Competition between major cities in the Asia-Pacific region to attract multi-national corporations has intensified.

While it is the government's intention to keep the workforce lean and only use foreigners as a complement to the local workforce, Singapore should remain open to attracting highly skilled talent from all parts of the world. These policies should focus on investing in Singapore's future and transforming the nation. In addition, I would like to see more innovation-led Budget initiatives as Singapore aims to be the first Smart Nation in the region. These could come in the form of policies and tax incentives that will encourage the younger generation to embrace business risks aimed at growing new enterprises.

Jim Li Hui Hong
CEO & Founder
JSB Tech Pte Ltd

UNLIKE value-adding, the journey of value creation in technology-driven enterprises is often knowledge intensive, talent dependent, and highly uncertain, with prolonged investments. Successful innovation of radically differentiated new products are a prerequisite of value creation while gaining access to niche global markets is critical in subsequent stages.

Over the past decade, JSB has experienced the entire value creation and internationalisation endeavour in taking our innovative products into the US, Japan, the UK, EU and Asian markets. Our leading-edge scientific instruments are used by some of the world's most technologically advanced companies, research laboratories and government institutions.

The challenges of establishing a portfolio of IP in major markets, ranging from international product certifications to regulatory compliance and the development of a global sales distribution network are likely to be inconceivable to many SME bosses who conventionally focus only on local or regional markets.

Hence, sustained government measures to empower leading SMEs in both value creation and particularly, the value capturing stage during internationalisation, would be crucial to enhancing their success rate.

Richard Spence
Managing Director, ASEAN

AS a high growth economy, Singapore has always imbibed the spirit of transformation - constantly evolving and redefining itself, from a governance, business and citizen perspective. Recognised for its high business standards and initiatives boosting the spirit of innovation, we are often referred to as the Silicon valley of the region.

2016 brings with it the promise of greater economic opportunities with the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). As the markets now open up there is opportunity for greater collaboration and stiff competition. We are looking forward to a budget that will continue to provision for technologies, tools and infrastructure to power up this high growth economy into a smart digital service economy taking us a step closer to the Smart Nation vision 2020.

Paul Gambles
Managing Partner
MBMG Group

SINGAPORE, like most economies, faces the headwinds of high domestic debt levels alongside a deteriorating global outlook. Attempts to improve the external position by further enhancing competitiveness, will likely have a marginal impact at best. The only really viable policy option is to tackle the domestic debt issue. With a strong fiscal position and a freely convertible currency, a significant debt relief plan could be implemented.

If Croatia, despite its appalling economic backdrop, managed to generate a recovery of domestic demand last year, partly due to a very limited debt cancellation, following six years of declining GDP, imagine what Singapore can achieve.

Sanjay Aurora
Managing Director, APAC

WITH the government recently announcing that cyber security expenditure will increase in the long term, this year's Budget should address the shortage of cyber security talent and the inability of legacy approaches to deal with increasingly sophisticated attacks. It is now humanly impossible to keep track of the number of connected devices within an organisation's network and the entry points attackers can use.

As Singapore moves towards becoming a Smart Nation, further investment in cyber security should include a focus on automation - machine learning technology that allows networks to identify and self-defend against cyber threats in real-time, before they become business crises. This will make up for the lack of human capability or availability.

This article was first published on March 19, 2016.
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