Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is well-connected to the global economic community, gave a sobering snapshot of what he called a “whole new world”.
It is one in which tough times and uncertainty will not just last for a year, but for a prolonged period; where investments will slow down significantly and affect future growth, nations think of themselves first, and where the huge debts which are being accumulated by some countries now will become a burden in future.
Speaking at a “Straight Talk with PAP” session on 2nd July on the topic “Responding to Changed Global Economy”, he said: “It’s not just a world of low growth, it’s a world of much more unequal growth.
“Some countries will do better than others, many emerging countries will have a tough time. It is a more divided world in terms of who gets the benefits of growth and who doesn’t.”
This imbalance also applies to industries. Some will contract while some, like those related to digitisation, will do well.
“Economies are now one of large masses of SMEs doing poorly and being kept afloat by governments around the world. But when that stops, it’s whether they can survive. Big tech firms are doing well, but most small firms are doing badly,” he said.
At an even more micro level, the imbalance will be marked between individuals who can embrace new trends like digitization, and those who cannot.
What does this mean for Singapore?
Mr Tharman said, “Singapore has to create a future for itself, even in these difficult times, for a whole stretch of years ahead. Don’t wait and hope for the best. Don’t try and predict the future but create it.”
Creating Singapore’s future
At a strategic level, said Senior Minister Tharman, creating a future hinges on whether Singapore is trusted by the rest of the world.
“Most critically, we have to be a trusted place; trusted government and trusted country.”
He said that Singapore also has to transform its economy without large divides emerging – like between global enterprises versus Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), or people who can adapt versus those who cannot, and find new connections and new markets in the world.
The two other panelists at the session weighed in on how Singapore can create this future, which hinges on digitisation trends.
An inclusive future
PAP new candidate Alvin Tan, who is the Head of Public Policy and Economics at LinkedIn, used the analogy of a boat in the ocean confronting monsoon winds.
“We are facing headwinds because of COVID-19 and the retreat of globalisation. But there are also tail winds. Some, like the tech industry, are riding the tail winds
“These winds will change and it’s how we set our sail right so when winds change, we are ready.”
He said the top five skills, in this new future, would be collaboration, EQ, adaptability, creativity and nimbleness.
It also comes down to ensuring that people on the ground are not left out, in the push toward the future.
PAP new candidate Sharael Taha, the Vice President (Strategy and Project Management Office) at Rolls Royce Pte Ltd and Singapore Aero Engine Services Private Limited, suggested that SMEs could start off by making use of data.
For instance, even hawkers could get a sense of whether people buy more mee rebus in the morning, for instance, to better use their resources and meet demand.
Mr Sharael further said that for seniors on the ground, getting them on the digitisation highway could be as simple as teaching them how to enlarge the font size on their phones, or enabling fingerprint access so they do not have to struggle to type in passwords.
Said Mr Tharman: “It’s not just about economic objectives, but social objectives. Digitisation is about inclusivity. We can do it in Singapore.”