My Comments about the Report of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE)

by Patrick Liew on February 15, 2017

1. Casting An Inspirational Vision
While the CFE has put together a commendable report, what seems to be lacking is a bold and inspiring vision.

The report is also long on strategies but short on detailed action plans.

Although we cannot predict the winners and losers in the future but still, that does not mean that we cannot create our own vision and develop our own pathway to the future.

History has shown to us that leaders who dare to dream great dreams and turn these dreams into a reality create the brightest future for their people.

With an electrifying vision, it can motivate our people, galvanize our resources, and propel our people to achieve the best possible results.

To fulfill the vision, as they say, the devil is in the details.

Without details, it will be hard pressed to execute the plan effectively and efficiently.

As we face a slowing down of the economy, many countries are adopting austerity measures and taking a cautious approach.

This is an opportune time for Singapore to invest in capitalizing on the silver lining in every dark cloud, and leapfrogging over competing economies.

We cannot afford to just tweak our current policies and fiddle with our existing infrastructures and systems.

Just like what our founding fathers have done in the past, we should dream – and dream big – and take unprecedented initiatives to shape and influence our destiny.

In the past, we have excelled as a regional entrepôt and hub.

Moving ahead, we should reposition ourselves to become a Global Switching Centre for international trade and commerce, including mobile and online commerce,

We can redesign our economic model and reengineer our infrastructure, capacity and capability to capitalize on the centrifugal and centripetal forces of global value and logistical chains.

In the future, whenever a business or a consumer buys or sells anything from one country to another, and even if the goods do not physically go through Singapore, we can have a stake in the transaction.

We can extract values, including financial profits from the transaction.

Singapore will become like a high value-added toll gate of international trade and commerce.

We can take a leaf from Israel, a small country like us but it has planted a large footprint in advanced technology and in many areas of daily life.

The first and last line of defence against disruptive forces is education.

We need to reform our education system to produce dream-chasers, value-multipliers, game-changers, and world-beaters.

They will become some of the entrepreneurs and innovators that will produce the next generation of advanced technology and other high value-added inventions.

Lead the way in pioneering improvements in homes, in schools, in workplaces, and the environment.

Singapore should aim to become a test bed, model, and co-partner for development of intelligent and eco-friendly cities, Industrial 4.0, and future economy.

If Singapore plans and plays our game well, we can be one of the fulcrums of a new Renaissance Age.

We can become one of the most livable and lovable cities in the new world.

2. Measuring Results
The key to ensuring that recommendations proposed by the Committee on the Future Economy are effectively implemented is to to continue to measure the outputs, outcomes, and impacts of these recommendations.

Appropriate committees should be appointed to evaluate the results to
improve on the recommendations and ensure that limited resources are deployed to achieve prioritized and discreet goals.

Policy makers should develop a comprehensive range of reliable indicators to measure both intended and unintended results caused by the recommendations. At the same time, they should also evaluate how they they can effectively measure these indicators.

The results to be measured should include nett benefits, cost-effectiveness, and impact of recommendations on targeted stakeholders. They should also take into consideration trade offs and resulting effects from these trade offs on the targeted stakeholders.

These designs should include use of appropriate statistical techniques or randomized experiments to control the confounders so as to determine if the recommendations have contributed to the desired results.

It helps to remember the wise counsel of Dr Rachel Glennerster, “Rigour matters. There’s what you think you know, and when you go and look at something carefully and rigorously sometime we learn that our gut reactions and conventional wisdom are wrong.

“Sometimes things we think are working aren’t working, and things that we think aren’t working, are working.”

These results should be evaluated and debated by relevant parties and their findings should be communicated to the public to ensure that our people are working synergistically and in alignment to achieve shared objectives.
By developing a culture for rigorous measurement and evaluation of policies and their intended and actual results, it will contribute to a stronger evidence-based process for improving national plans and policies and the CFE’s recommendations.

3. Analysing Big Data
To implement the recommendations proposed by the Committee on the Future Economy, we need to strengthen our repository of information and big data analytical resources.

This is to ensure that our policy-development and decision-making processes are underpinned by relevant, accurate and up-to-date information.

In a fast-changing world, there is a need to set up environmental scanning and intelligence gathering systems on a global basis.

It will help us predict economic and business trends; preempt opportunities; achieve first-mover advantages; and move up the food and value chain.

To secure our future, we need to constantly improve our infrastructure and implement major market and structural reforms so as to reduce economic uncertainty and reinvigorate current level of growth.

These reforms are not just about developing new markets, businesses, and opportunities for growth. They are also about helping our local enterprises to continue to be competitive and be transformed into global players.

Our local enterprises need to move up the innovation curve and the food and value chain.

They need to focus on value creation and not just on value addition and become market makers rather than price takers.

4. Helping Small and Medium Enterprises Raise Capital
Local enterprises are struggling through the double whammy of a slowing down of the economy and increasing business costs.

They operate in a tight labour market and face headwinds competing with online businesses and other direct and indirect players in an open and global environment.

One of small businesses’ biggest challenges is availability, affordability and accessibility of capital to help them compete and grow their businesses.

Perhaps, we should revisit the setting up of an Exim Bank or a similar institution or initiative to help SMEs enhance their financial position, stability and growth.

Small businesses have limited size, scale and scope of operation. It is more difficult for them to enjoy priority and dedicated service from mainstream financial institutions and to access alternative financing.

In addition, small businesses have greater challenges to assure lenders of their financial position and credit-worthiness.

They also face challenges to convince lenders to invest in projects that are of a higher risk in nature, especially investment in new markets, technology, innovation and systems that are outside of the normal radar screen.

Mainstream financial institutions are not inclined to go beyond offering conventional financial services to small businesses. They are unlikely to provide provide strategic and long-term business services such as identifying new business opportunities and offering assistance to help small businesses capitalise on these opportunities.

They may not fully understand the practical needs of small businesses and be as as willing to co-invest or share the risks with small businesses to capitalise on a project.

With their focus on the bottom line, they are not as predisposed to invest in helping small businesses develop their infrastructure, support and services, grow their business and become the next generation of world-beaters.

An EXIM Bank or a similar venture can cover these essential gaps and also be more more focused in meeting the other needs and requirement of small businesses.

For example, it can provide leadership and advice to help small businesses merge their operations or hunt as a pack. By doing that, it can help them enjoy economy of scale, link diverse markets, and strengthen their competitive edge and value-additions.

5. Helping Vulnerable Workers

The government has done comparatively more for vulnerable workers than in many developed countries.

However, this is an issue that requires not just the government but key stakeholders from the people, private and public sectors to collaborate and co-create solutions to tackle this issue.

For example, many elderly workers, including PMETs with knowledge and skills that are irrelevant or soon to be irrelevant may be in self denial and may not be reaching out for help in re-skilling themselves.

Some of them may not have adequate level of self esteem to seek for support and assistance.

We should look at how to engage the support of grassroots organisations and targeted VWOs, or even help to set up such organisations to identify vulnerable workers.

Many of these workers may need personal counseling to help them develop self-efficacy, including courage, commitment and emotional competence to put the past behind them and pursue a new direction in their jobs and careers.

Just as importantly, they may also need career counsellors to help them map out their purposes, passions, performance levels, and priorities in the workplaces.

They may need expert help and supervision to identify and develop career possibilities that may fit their personalities and pursuits in the workplaces.

In addition, these workers may need personal coaching to help them ascertain relevant training courses and register for these courses.

They may even need personalised guidance and hand holding to help them participate in the course and persevere to complete all the necessary training programmes.

Meanwhile, employers should be encouraged, educated and empowered to help these workers move up the learning curve.

They should be incentivised especially during these challenging times to free up their workers to re-skill, retool and redesign themselves so as to enhance their commitments and contributions to the workplaces.

By building a learning country and a deep-seated culture for continuous improvements, we can continue to stay relevant and effective, and at the cutting edge of the new economy.

6. Developing Deep Skills
To help workers stay relevant and effective in the new economy, we need to better define the meaning of deep skills and how workers can develop these skills on an ongoing basis.

Acquisition and utilization of knowledge and expertise is predicated upon self-learning.
Therefore, we should focus not only on what we can do for workers and how we can transfer content knowledge to them.

We should also help them develop joy for learning, passion for learning how to learn, and discipline to be self-directed learners throughout their lifetime.

They should know how to learn on their own and apply evolving knowledge and skills to have a stable, secure and sustainable career.

As we come to grips with disruptive forces, it’s important to train workers to develop a wide range of meta skills.

Meta skills are skills for higher-order thinking and these skills can help workers improve their cognitive and emotional processes, strengths and growth.
These skills can also be cross-fertilized and be built upon to help them develop other skills in response to changing requirements in the workplaces

Meta skills include metacognitive and fluid intelligence skills, creativity and innovative skills, self-regulation skills, leadership and persuasion skills, high-touch and aesthetic skills, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, financial literacy skills, and giving back skills.

In the new economy, we cannot train our people just for a specific job or career.
We need to help workers inculcate different knowledge and skills to succeed in multiple careers and at different organisations and locations in the new world.

To develop such deep skills, we should educate our people from young and in schools and workplaces.

7. Establishing Corporate University
As part of the thrust for skills acquisition and utilization of skills, the authorities should also provide incentives for enterprises to set up a corporate university as part of their operations.

Development of a corporate university is widely leveraged upon by many prominent companies to grow their businesses and it’s an important part of many developed economies.

Enterprises can set up a corporate university using their own talents or by tapping on the resources of training providers and educational institutions.

A corporate university can help enterprises develop a hands-on curriculum that meets the targeted needs and requirements of both the businesses and workers.

It can provide relevant and practical training, coaching and ongoing guidance to workers and ensure that they apply newly-acquired skills correctly in their workplaces.

By setting up their own corporate universities, enterprises will take greater ownership and become more proactively involved in attracting stronger buy-ins and participations from their stakeholders.

A well-run corporate university will facilitate better sharing and use of knowledge and other resources. It will also enhance culture for lifelong learning and continuous improvement.

By complementing recommendations by the Committee on Future Economy with the setting up of a Corporate University, it will strengthen the acquisition and utilization of deep skills.

8. Grooming Local and Foreign Talents

To take ourselves to the next level of growth, we have to focus on developing local enterprises and talents while at the same time, attract the best of economic resources to our shores.
We need to continue to attract high value-added and high-tech firms to invest in our economy, especially if they are well-positioned in strategic areas such as the development of advanced technology and intelligent and eco-friendly cities.

Through cutting-edged and innovative business models, these firms can help to boost economic investments and growth, and meet expectations of a more educated and increasingly demanding workforce.

In the new economy, we are also competing to attract a limited pool of talents on a global basis.

Therefore, we should continue to attract, develop and groom both local and overseas talents to help us move into new and emerging markets, businesses, and opportunities.

At the same time, it can help us improve relatively low productivity levels, and balance decreasing total fertility rate and impact of an aging population.

We have to aggressively tackle undue concerns about foreign talents and dangerous rationale underpinning xenophobia. These challenges seem to be rearing its ugly head every now and then, and especially on the wild wild web.

We need to promote the fact that if the right foreign talents are effectively assimilated and integrated into the workforce, it can be a plus factor to society and a major contribution to the economy.

There are evidence to show that diversity, pluralism and multiculturalism can contribute to improving creativity and innovation.

The assimilation and diffusion of different culture, creed and custom can bring forth unconventional ideas, concepts and models that can contribute to radical breakthroughs.

If we can leverage on a wide spectrum of local and overseas talents and enterprises, we’ll be in a stronger position to create a better future.
In the final analysis, it’s the quality of talents that will determine the quality of our achievements and future.

9. Improving Total Fertility Rate

The challenges of decreasing total fertility rate (TFR) and aging population have a major impact on the strength and growth of our economy, security level, and society on a long term basis.

These challenges continue to loom just across our horizon and the potential threats are getting closer to our view.

We need to take a braver and more aggressive stronger move – a more comprehensive Next Generation Package (NGP) – to turn the silver tsunami tide and improve the TFR on a more sustainable basis.

We need to tackle the decreasing TFR on a more targeted, holistic, catalytic, and impactful basis. Implement the initiatives with active buy-in, support and participation from the public, private and people sectors.

The NGP should address not just the roots but also the symptoms of the issues. It should seek to eradicate all the roots as soon as possible as time is of the essence.

For example, many couples are still concern about the financial burdens of having and raising children. These concerns can have a stronger influence on couples’ decision to have a child than the pleasures of having one.

The NGP should take a multidimensional, multidisciplinary, and multifaceted approach to help especially young couples to defray major costs of bringing up their children. It includes costs of placing their children in childcare centres, medical costs, educational costs, and costs for major living essentials.

The NGP can lessen couples’ worries and encourage them to have more children and have them earlier. It can lead to a more protracted increase in the TFR.

Encourage homemakers to join the workforce and be more committed to improving personal and organisational productivity and results.

There are also many other indirect but catalytic outcomes that can result in a cascade of positive benefits for our country.

These benefits include building stronger families and communities, strengthening the economy, and developing a more caring, cohesive and compassionate society.

If it takes a village to bring up a child, let’s make Singapore the best village to bring up an appropriate quantity and quality of children to further secure and brighten our future.

10. Resolving Issues On The Ground

a. To be competitive, we need to tackle rising costs, including business costs and costs of living.

If we want to attract foreign direct investments, it does not bode well to be rated as the most expensive city for expatriates and business travelers by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

b. As many of our mainstream and traditional markets are undergoing different challenges, we need to aggressively target new and emerging markets, including markets in Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.

c. We need to strengthen our backbone of small and medium enterprises and help them better access capital and other resources, hunt as a pack, and scale up their operations.

Generate more radical innovations and breakthroughs to have an edge over their fast-growing competitors, especially those around the region.

Become large enterprises that can make a mark in the global economy and leading players in their industries and markets.

d. We have to continue to focus on improving labour productivity.

However, this is limited by the operational capacity of the economy and finite resources of the worker.

In the new economy where the battle line is not just defined by the efficiency of the workforce but also on the innovative value-creations of the enterprise, we need to enhance productivity from a more holistic perspective.

It includes creating and developing more and higher value-added industries and enterprises, developing game-changing business architectures, focusing on value-creations and not just value-additions, innovating and exporting future technologies and services, and becoming market-makers rather than price-takers in order to strengthen our overall growth.

e. Living in a relatively comfortable society, we have to ensure that our workforce will always have a strong work ethics and fighting spirit.

They’ll have the grit and resilience to battle all odds, including working overseas in challenging environments to help develop multiple and diversified wings for our economy.

f. To respond to a fast-changing world, we need to eradicate the culture of “kiasuism”, a culture that very often disdain failures and over-glorify success stories.

Therefore, we need to craft a national blueprint to foster entrepreneurship and innovation, with active ownership, participation, and support from the public, people and private sectors.

This blueprint should also be crafted and championed by both prominent as well as struggling entrepreneurs from different sectors of society and not just from the business world.

Unless and until, we develop a culture for entrepreneurship and innovation, we’ll not be able to resist the tide of changes and craft our own pathway to the future.

11. Serving The People

In the final analysis, the motives, means and ends of economic development is to improve Singaporean’s quality of life. That should be the focus and basis for evaluating success of the CFE’s recommendations.

Therefore, we need to address challenges of an aging population and potential fault lines that can divide and polarize our people.

These fault lines include widening income or wealth gap, limitations in social mobility, and deep-seated poverty in some quarters of society.

From a macroeconomic perspective, we have to continue to work on inclusive growth, including ensuring that none of our people are being left behind.

We have to continue to design fiscal policies that will help redistribute wealth in a more equitable way.

Just as importantly, we need to build on the “one united people” spirit, and strengthen families and communities.
Develop a home where Singaporeans can have a deep sense of rootedness and belonging. A home that we can be proud of and where we believe we can find purpose, happiness and fulfillment.

We should continue to look out for each other and look after the last, the least, the lonely, and the lost both in our land and overseas.

As a people, we must have the self-efficacy to believe we can battle all odds so that we will secure our future as a vital hub for the new world.

To do so, we need to balance top-down initiatives with more bottom-up and peer-to-peer initiatives to shape and influence our culture and ecosystem for stronger growth.
Strengthen our tripartite system and continue to encourage the public, private and people sectors to connect, collaborate and co-create solutions for a brighter future.


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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