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Welcome Address by ISCA CEO Mr Lee Fook Chiew at ISCA Pre-Budget Roundtable 2020 on 8 January 2020 at 9 am

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance, Trade & Industry

Distinguished Panellists,

Members of the Media,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. Welcome to the eleventh ISCA Pre-Budget Roundtable.

Before we begin, I would like to express my sincere thanks to the panellists, as well as observers from the relevant government agencies, for being with us at this Roundtable. It is important that we hear your views on some of the issues which we will discuss.

2020 Economic Environment

Global events with severe economic implications, such as the continuing US-China trade war, Brexit and ongoing social and political unrest in Hong Kong, have slowed global trade and economic growth. Singapore’s economic growth has taken a hit and slowed significantly over 2019 as compared to 2018. Nevertheless, a US-China phase one trade deal and positive outlook on global manufacturing and exports has resulted in more optimism, leading to expectations of a modest economic recovery for Singapore in 2020, estimated at 1.5% to 1.9% based on MAS’ latest survey of professional forecasters[1].

Recap of Budget 2019

Last year’s Budget represented a continued commitment to transform the economy. It also focused on allocating resources to security and defence, catering to vulnerable segments of the society in education and healthcare, fostering community contribution and partnerships, building a sustainable environment and quality homes, as well as on infrastructure development.

In the next phase of growth, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat emphasised that “Singapore must push ahead to strengthen its position as a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise”.[2] This is especially important in light of significant shifts in supply chains to ASEAN and global value chains becoming more knowledge-intensive.

Against the backdrop of factors such as a slowdown in global economic growth, waning support for globalisation, shifting supply chains and the rapid onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it will be critical for Singapore to focus on structural improvements such as building enterprise capabilities and deepening worker skills, which will take time to be achieved.

With this in mind, the theme for this year’s Pre-Budget Roundtable is “Deepening Capabilities: A Continuous Process”. This is reflective of one of the key messages from Singapore’s 2019 Budget that industry transformation is a continuous journey and building deep capabilities in enterprises and workers is imperative. Following on, our discussion for this year will build on and centre around three main areas, namely:

  • Deepening enterprise capabilities;
  • Deepening worker capabilities; and
  • Ease of doing business

Deepening enterprise capabilities 

Firstly, ‘deepening enterprise capabilities’. One of the key aspects of building deep enterprise capabilities is to help SMEs adopt digital technologies, which they can leverage to improve their business processes and operations to enhance their overall competitiveness.The Industry Digital Plans under the SMEs Go Digital Programme were launched last year for some sectors, such as Retail and Accountancy. Trade associations and chambers (or TACs) play an important role and have also been closely involved in driving change within their industries.

Besides technology adoption, we would like to hear your views on what you think are other important aspects of deepening enterprise capabilities. And how TACs can play an effective multiplier role to help their industries in the transformation journey and how the government can facilitate this.

At the ISCA Pre-Budget 2020 Focus Group held in July 2019, we heard that on-ground business sentiment was one of caution and “wait-and-see”. We will also consider how the government can further convince the business community, especially the SMEs, on the importance of powering ahead on transformation in the face of an economic slowdown.

Deepening worker capabilities

The second area is ‘deepening worker capabilities’. In September last year, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo pointed out that even amidst current uncertain times, enterprises should not only focus on survival and current jobs, but also on transformation and jobs of the future[3].  Job redesign is a major component of transformation. As new processes and technological solutions are put in place, existing job roles will evolve, and accordingly, workers will need to be upskilled and reskilled. Hence, we will deliberate how we can address the need for our workers’ capabilities to be developed in tandem with enterprise transformations.


Ease of doing business

The third area is ease of doing business. In a study released in September last year, Singapore made the list of top 20 global markets that are most rapidly improving their individual potential for trade to grow, and one of the measures was ease of doing business.[4]

To ensure that enterprises can transact more efficiently with the government, there have been several different initiatives such as the launch of the Business Grants Portal that supports grant application processes. In this regard, we would like to hear your feedback on what more can the government do to streamline business touchpoints and to further improve ease of doing business.


I have raised several issues and I look forward to hearing the views and suggestions of our panellists, which I am sure will be very insightful for us to provide inputs to the Ministry of Finance as the Government prepares for Budget 2020.

I now invite my co-chair, Mr Liang Eng Hwa, to deliver his keynote address.   

[1] https://www.mas.gov.sg/-/media/MAS/EPG/SPF/2019/Survey-Writeup-Dec-2019-Web.pdf?la=en&hash=8E122B16252036C22C8B0286AB353449CB928C40