For the past couple of weeks after Budget 2017 was released, everybody’s mind was fixated on the 30% water price hike. In my humble opinion, if the intention of the water price hike is to shock Singaporeans into realising how valuable water should be, the government should probably be considering an even bigger percentage hike.
Afterall, for the average Singaporean family (the 4-room dwellers), net water bill will increase by only $5/month (after U-save rebate).
And this issue is distracting us from bigger strategic concerns.
During the National Day Rally last year, PM Lee spent a big chunk of time explaining about the South China Sea disputes and its impact on Singapore. Unfortunately, this issue was overshadowed by PM Lee’s falter on stage as he took ill during the speech.
The world is rapidly changing and in my opinion, we are at a pivotal moment. Besides China’s encroachment in our neighbourhood, the Post World War II Order is in danger of crumbling. Seven decades of unprecedented prosperity made possible by free trade while respecting every country’s sovereignty. In the next few years, protectionist, more inward-looking policies are likely to gain more popularity across the globe, going by events like Brexit, Trump’s US Presidential Election win and the possibility of Le Pen becoming French President later this year.
The Singapore government would need to do a great job to navigate our country past these potential storms ahead, like what it had done in the past.
In the early years after our Independence, we took a different path from many newly independent countries. Instead of driving out Western influence and enterprises, the Singapore government welcomed them, giving tax breaks and numerous other incentives to set up factories and plants to provide jobs to our workers. On hindsight, after 50 years, this move appears to be the only logical choice but seriously, it was pretty contrarian back then.
And even at the height of the Cold War in the seventies, our political leaders never wavered in believing that English will be the language of business for today and tomorrow. Students were not required to take up Russian and that required some foresight from our political leaders. Today, we are all reaping the benefits since close to 80% of the content on the Internet is English.
The decisions to subsequently transform Singapore into a leading oil refinery hub and a financial centre in Asia have also proved to be masterstrokes. Right now, the median income in Singapore is one of the highest in the world.
Enough of glorifying our past. So where are our next growth drivers?
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Secretary-General of NTUC Chan Chun Sing highlighted Data and Connectivity as two potential growth drivers. He also mentioned about how we could export our capabilities and skills in urban planning to the world. Surbana Jurong, in its previous entities as Surbana (Temasek-owned) and Jurong International have in the past, not just helped to urbanise cities in Asia but also developed special economic zones in Africa. (Side note, have you read about Surbana Jurong’s recent HR fiasco?)
In the video, Minister Chan spoke about the recommendations from the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE). Personally, I’m not a big fan of the convoluted-sounding seven strategies of CFE. Too complex and too distant from the everyday lives of the everyday folks. Was Minister Chan feeling the same way? He flashed a diagram during his Budget speech and tried to simplify the seven CFE strategies.
Minister Chan had used the example of a trimaran. I had to look it up; it’s a multi-hull sailboat. Anyway, he had summarised and more importantly, simplified the seven strategies into something easier to understand and remember via this trimaran boat.
Well, to chart our economy forward, we need two enabling strategies – SkillsFuture for the individuals and EnterpriseFuture for the businesses, and we will also need three core strategies of CID to help Singapore build a more balanced and dynamic economy: City (Urbanisation), Internationalisation and Digitalisation. And how to do all these? The implementation calls for the two strategies embodied in our Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) and Tripartism, which is essentially the partnership amongst the G, the businesses and the working people.
Perhaps Minister Chan is right that the challenge is not about who comes up with a better plan, but who can execute the plan well and who can execute the plan faster, and who can adapt when conditions change.
Perhaps we could leverage the above in a big way to create more quality jobs for tomorrow. Or maybe the government can take a leaf out of Elon Musk’s book, identify potential industries ripe for disruption like Elon Musk (car industry, space industry and now the tunnelling industry) and bet heavily on them, similar to what Singapore’s first generation of leaders did.
As individuals, we do not have much influence on the above macro events. However, we can focus on our own actions and how we can contribute. SkillsFuture and EnterpriseFuture are what might allow us to take advantage of future disruptions instead of becoming victims. Transforming our industries to be ready for tomorrow has already taken place.
It might sound annoying or even irritating to keep hearing about the need to learn new skills so many times in recent years and months. But think back to 30 or 40 years ago, when our parents and grandparents might have also harboured the same feelings when repeatedly told to “brush up on English”.
So, a few decades from now, the ability to re-skill, add relevant skills and the willingness to venture overseas might just be the attributes that differentiate our workforce from the others and maintain Singapore’s edge and exceptionalism in the world.
For me, even though English was never my most comfortable subject, I have decided to step out of my comfort zone and tutor more students in this language this year. That’s taking a leaf out of our country’s success since Singapore is all about creating the supply of workers to meet the existing world demand.
There is a good chance I can be a part of Singapore’s flourishing export of its excellent education system. But first, I would need to get my CELTA certification first. I am definitely looking forward to more SkillsFuture credits to subsidise my cost.
How about you?