SINGAPORE: The Emerging Stronger Taskforce is working “very quickly” to identify the risks and threats to each sector of Singapore’s economy, and facilitate opportunities for businesses and workers, said the task force’s co-chair Desmond Lee.
“If you look at what’s happening to economies because of the (COVID-19) pandemic, there is a real threat to globalisation,” said Mr Lee, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development.
“It is important for the task force to identify what are the shifts that are taking place, the impact that it will have on Singapore and Singaporeans, and work with the clusters of the Future Economy Council to identify risks that we must address as well as longer-term opportunities that we ought to seize because Singapore is a small country.”
Mr Lee was speaking to host Diana Ser in the second of three special episodes of CNA’s In Conversation that was aired on Monday (Jun 22).
He stressed the need for Singapore to be “nimble” amid the “major tectonic shifts” happening around the world.
“You’re beginning to see very significant economic fallout both in Singapore and around the world, and that would have a very long tail,” he said.
“Unless we position ourselves well, help our businesses to adapt and adjust quickly, and enable Singaporeans to pick up the necessary skills and make the adjustments, we will be buffeted for quite some time yet.”
The Emerging Stronger Taskforce, announced in April by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, will provide recommendations to the Future Economy Council on a post-COVID-19 economy.
The aim is to review how Singapore will stay economically resilient and “build new sources of dynamism in a post-COVID world”, Mr Heng had said.
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To be effective, Mr Lee said that the task force, co-chaired by group CEO of PSA International Tan Chong Meng, has to enable partnerships between the Government, unions and sectors of the economy.
“Because you cannot just identify an opportunity and just expect that people will go seize it,” he said.
“We have to facilitate, we have to enable, as a partnership between the Government, the private sector, our unions and our workers as well as our institutes of higher learning to be able to move quickly, to move nimbly, to move as a whole ecosystem in order to seize these opportunities.”
READ: New economic task force kept small ‘to move nimbly’, plans to engage more Singaporeans: Desmond Lee
In addition, Singapore will have to remain relevant in the world by relying on its reputation, good governance and legal system, as well as its connectivity and ability to connect “east and west, north and south”, said Mr Lee.
“So that we continue to be part of supply chains and value chains no matter what these shifts are,” he explained.
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At the same time, Singapore needs to build internal resilience, said Mr Lee, citing the country’s push towards food resilience and its aim to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs locally by 2030.
“Even as we rely on the rest of the world for our food, we also want to have some assurance that we can grow some of our food internally in Singapore,” he said. “So that is really symptomatic of our kind of resiliency thinking that we must undergo, to be able to build internal resilience, but also look at our supply chains, look at our place in the world.”
He added: “We don’t want a crisis, but since it’s upon us, we must make sure that we go into forward gear, be on top of it and try to seize whatever opportunities come our way.”
CONVERSATIONS WITH SINGAPOREANS
For Singapore to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, Mr Lee said the Government must be able to partner its people to identify gaps and seize opportunities.
He cited the Singapore Together movement, a platform by Singapore’s fourth-generation leaders to work with Singaporeans in designing policies and creating more community-level partnerships.
People will be given a chance to provide feedback on economic and social issues through a series of conversations held by the Singapore Together movement and the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, said Mr Lee, who is also Second Minister for National Development.
These conversations will allow the Government to reach out to “the whole spectrum of society”, he added. “People who are concerned about social issues, about inequality, about the digital connectivity and the digital divide, about the opportunities that lower-income households need to be given.”
“So both the Singapore Together movement which focuses on social issues and the Emerging Stronger Taskforce which focuses on economic issues need to work very closely together,” Mr Lee said. “For the purposes of being nimble and being focused, they’re kept separate. But in fact, they’re interlinked.”
READ: Singapore will emerge from COVID-19 crisis a stronger society, with renewed sense of identity and values: DPM Heng
NGOs that want to be more involved can take part in the conversations, of which topics could include mental wellbeing, inequality and the digital divide, said Mr Lee.
He added that NGOs, civil society, stakeholders and community groups will also be brought into the Singapore Together action networks to translate these conversations into action.
“Conversations have to lead to action”, he said. “In order for Singaporeans to emerge stronger from this crisis, we need to be able to partner Singaporeans, identify the gaps and then seize the opportunities.”
Watch the full interview: