AS OTHER countries rapidly catch up to Singapore's stage of development, the Republic must maintain its competitiveness by becoming more reliable, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
"We can't be the cheapest," he told news agency Reuters in an interview last Thursday. "But we have got to be fast, we have got to be nimble and very importantly, we have got to be reliable."
Singapore has become a more expensive place to do business in recent years, as inflation has climbed on the back of high property prices and a tight labour market.
The strong Singapore dollar has also affected foreign appetite for Singapore-made products.
But the Republic can retain its global edge in high-end manufacturing and services if it establishes a reputation for reliability, said DPM Tharman.
In sectors such as manufacturing, this might manifest itself in lower defect rates, he added.
Applied across the whole economy, the concept of reliability would give foreign investors and buyers confidence in Singapore's quality and consistency.
"The idea that at high-end, mission-critical, exacting tasks, you've got a higher degree of reliability in being able to deliver, and being able to protect proprietary knowledge, that is a critical factor," Mr Tharman said.
"I also mean your rules don't change arbitrarily, and don't change retroactively. That is a very important part of reliability," he added.
One aspect of this reliability is sticking to the "fundamental shift" that has been made in Singapore's economy as the Republic opts for slower but better-quality economic growth over breakneck expansion, Mr Tharman said.
He reiterated that Singapore is willing to accept lower growth - about 3 per cent a year, half the average pace of the last decade - to maintain social harmony and keep the proportion of foreign workers at one-third of the workforce.
"It is not turning off the tap (of foreign workers).
"It means keeping the flow in sync with the expansion of the local labour force, so we get some stability in that ratio between foreign and local."
Singapore will never be Dubai, where foreigners outnumber the locals, he added.
The Republic takes its "social ethos" very seriously and tries to integrate long-term foreigners so that their children can grow up here and be "as Singaporean as everyone else".
Another reality of Singapore's new growth policy is that a tight labour market has become a "permanent fact", Mr Tharman said.
"We have pockets of unemployment but the overall level of unemployment is extremely low... We can find a job for everyone and we try very hard to."
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