Transformation to digital economy 'a top priority'

Transforming Singapore to embrace innovation and become a digital economy should be among the committee's top priorities, but a long and tough road lies ahead.

Analysts, economists, industry players and MPs yesterday noted the challenges the new body will face, such as a maturing economy and finite resources.

These were among the reactions to the unveiling of the new 30-member committee - which includes government officials and business leaders - formed to draw up plans for the country's economic future.

The committee will tackle five key areas: Future growth industries and markets, corporate capabilities and innovation, jobs and skills, urban development and infrastructure, and connectivity.

Ms Foo Mee Har, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry, said corporate capabilities and innovation should be the most important, to help firms adopt new technology and ideas.

"I hope the committee's recommendations would take learning from the past, consolidate existing programmes, and launch breakthrough initiatives and unique business models that will give Singapore a true global competitive and comparative advantage," she told The Straits Times.

OCBC economist Selena Ling questioned how the committee would fit "the rise of the digital economy and disruptive technologies" into one of the five key areas.

Committees that focused on economic strategies to remake Singapore and its economy were created in 2001 and 2009.

Their work has often been seen as a blueprint to help the nation stay ahead as a global economy.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, the chairman of the GPC for Finance and Trade and Industry, said that Singapore needs to expect constant change as a given.

The committee, he added, will have to develop strategies to help companies and employees keep up with the "fast pace of technological changes" in the areas of skills and employment.

Analysts also want the committee to address the perennial challenge of helping small and medium- sized enterprises grow to be strong and better engines of the economy.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said that beyond the terms of reference, "the committee will have to deep dive into the major or fundamental issues such as growing the SMEs, immigration and manpower policy, as part of the overall plan of driving indigenous economic activity".

He deemed those areas "integral to any assessment of what stands in the way of the economy transforming decisively".

Ms Ling emphasised that local enterprise and innovation must still play an important role in the area of jobs and skills.

Ms Kuik Xiao Shi, chief operating officer of beauty mobile application Vanitee, said: "In the next 50 years, what could really move the needle for Singapore's future economy are businesses that are driven by technology and are global in nature.

"I would like to see a strategy that takes active steps to identify and support these key industry trends which have the potential and capabilities for Singapore's home-grown companies to create innovative business models and scale internationally."

This article was first published on Dec 22, 2015.
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