SINGAPORE: The business community needs to work together to pull through the novel coronavirus crisis, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing on Wednesday (Feb 26) as he urged larger firms to pass on rebates given by the Government and extend a helping hand to smaller players.
“Big businesses have to help the small businesses,” he said. “We need to have a sense that we are all in this together.”
Mr Chan raised the example of the 15 per cent property tax rebate for landlords of private commercial properties announced during Budget 2020 as part of the special S$4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package.
Big landlords “must translate these benefits … down the chain to the smallest tenant”, he said, noting that several major property players such as CapitaLand have done so by granting rental rebates and other measures.
Businesses should also refrain from holding back credit lines or delay payments unnecessarily. This is to avoid causing repercussions across the entire payment chain, the minister added.
“If a part of the supply chain breaks, even if it’s the smallest part, it disrupts the entire supply chain … (This) is not a situation whereby it’s every man for his own,” he said.
“That’s my call to the business community – let's go through this together.”
Speaking at a dialogue session held by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (AmCham Singapore), Mr Chan also urged businesses to keep an eye on the future even as they manage the near-term fallout of COVID-19.
They can do so by making use of the current downturn to refine their processes, retrain workers and re-examine their supply chains.
Mr Chan noted that the coronavirus outbreak, coming on the back of technological disruptions and a protracted US-China trade war, has added further impetus for businesses to look at diversifying their supply chains for raw materials and labour.
The need for diversification also applies to the development of products and markets. “If we are overly dependent on any particular market … it will have severe impact whenever there’s an external shock,” he said.
Keeping an eye on these longer-term needs will ensure that businesses here can be “first off the blocks” when a recovery from the virus outbreak comes round, he added, echoing similar calls made by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
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At the dialogue session, AmCham Singapore also released the findings of a survey it did with 225 members between Feb 12 and 18 on the impact of COVID-19.
Some 98 per cent indicated that they still have long-term confidence in Singapore as a business destination due to the Government’s response to the outbreak.
Ninety-seven per cent of respondents said that the Government has been effective in communicating health and safety updates, while 79 per cent noted that the potential economic impact has been well-addressed.
About two-thirds said they have no plans to permanently send back any of their foreign employees to their home countries, the survey showed. Nevertheless, 40 per cent have cancelled business trips to Singapore as a result of the virus outbreak.
Interestingly, the survey showed a difference in terms of how severe the COVID-19 situation in Singapore is viewed from outside the country.
Nearly 80 per cent noted that the perception outside Singapore is worse than the reality of the situation on the ground.
On that, Mr Chan commented that Singapore’s strategy in combating COVID-19 is guided by two principles – a “medical-first” approach that is based purely on science and medical evidence, as well as an emphasis on transparency.
These were the key lessons that the country drew when battling the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003.
Mr Chan said: “I’ll be frank with you, there are some people who say why is it that Singapore is reporting all these cases and the number seems to be higher than many other places? Is that to our disadvantage because we somehow have a higher headline number?
“Our philosophy is that we rather know exactly what we are dealing with than to pretend otherwise or to ignore evidence because in the long term, that is what will inspire confidence," the minister added.
Singapore had 91 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, with 58 fully recovered and discharged from hospital. Of the 33 cases who are still hospitalised, most are stable or improving. Seven are in critical condition.
Mr Chan also urged Singaporeans to stay calm and have confidence that the country can tide through the latest virus outbreak.
“This crisis is not just a test on our medical system capabilities. This crisis, like many other crises, is also a test on our social cohesion, our resilience and so forth," he said.
“We must demonstrate our ability to take decisions calmly, evidence-based, with a view on the future and not just handling the here and now. If we can do that. I'm confident we will emerge strongly."