Staying open, investing in infrastructure, R&D key to Singapore’s post-Covid-19 success, says DPM

Singapore DPM Heng Swee Keat announced that S$20 billion will be set aside for research in 'high impact areas' over the next five years. — MCI pic via TODAY
Singapore DPM Heng Swee Keat announced that S$20 billion will be set aside for research in 'high impact areas' over the next five years. — MCI pic via TODAY

SINGAPORE, June 22 — To succeed in a post-Covid-19 future, Singapore must “reimagine” its future economy in three ways — by enabling the free flow of goods and services, by investing in infrastructure and sharpening its competitiveness in research and innovation, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Saturday.

To support research and development (R&D), the government will set aside over S$20 billion (RM61.04 billion) for research in “high impact areas” such as health and biomedical sciences, climate change and artificial intelligence over the next five years, he announced.

In addition, the government has also set up “Singapore Together Action Networks” which will bring together partners across different sectors to turn their ideas into new solutions, said Heng, who is also the Finance Minister.

He was speaking during a national broadcast laying out the government plans for the country to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 crisis. 

His speech on “Emerging Stronger Together” is the sixth and final one in a series of six national broadcasts over the last two weeks by various ministers including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

Reimagining Singapore's post-Covid future

Heng said that to succeed in emerging stronger from the Covid-19 crisis, Singapore will need to master the major trends reshaping the global economy as well as speed up the structural transformation of its economy.

“With Covid, resilience and reliability will be more valued. The shift to digital will accelerate. The way we live and work will be transformed. We must support our businesses and workers to ride on these trends, and reimagine our economy for a post-Covid future,” said Heng, who added that the Government will do so in three ways.

First, regardless of what the rest of the world does in a more fractious post-Covid world, Singapore will persist to find new links to enable the free flow of goods, services, capital, data, ideas and talent.

“Do not doubt this: Singapore must always remain an open, trading nation. We are finished if we close up,” he said.

Second, the government will continue to invest in infrastructure, even if some projects are delayed.

“Such projects keep us connected to the world, makes travelling within Singapore faster and more pleasant, and gives us all beautiful homes,” said Heng, adding that the government will also strengthen its resilience such as through the plan to meet 30 per cent of nutritional needs locally by 2030.

“We will also rejuvenate our island into a cleaner and greener Singapore, and a city in nature for our people to enjoy.”

Third, the government will invest in research and development and launch a series of “Innovation Challenges” to rally people to pioneer solutions for some of the world’s major challenges.

“Our investments in research and innovation will sharpen our competitiveness. We are finalising our R&D plan for the next five years,” he said.

“We will set aside over S$20 billion to support basic and applied research in high impact areas, such as health and biomedical sciences, climate change, and artificial intelligence.”

The government had said in early 2016 that public spending on research, innovation and enterprise would increase to S$19 billion for the five next years till 2020 — 18 per cent more than the S$16.1 billion spent from 2011 to 2015.

In addition, the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, which was set up in May to navigate Singapore’s post-pandemic economic future, will set up a “Singapore Together Alliances for Action” to put ideas from various spectrums of society into action quickly, said Heng.

Elaborating, Heng said that the seven alliances that have been formed will be led by industry, with each prototyping new ideas in the coming months. These new ideas will be in areas such as robotics, e-commerce, environmental sustainability, digitalisation of supply chains and the built environment.

“The key is speed and agility. Successful projects will become new shoots of growth, and generate new jobs,” said Heng.

“This effort to grow our economy is not just to create jobs, but to create better jobs for Singaporeans.”

Securing jobs

Heng said that the government’s “top priority” and “most urgent task” is to preserve and secure jobs for Singaporeans, as jobs are the most direct way to help Singaporeans improve their lives and support their loved ones.

However, despite the government’s best efforts, Heng said that many people may still lose their jobs. As such, the government is pushing to create as many new jobs as possible, said Heng.

For example, the National Jobs Council, headed by Senior Minister Tharman, has started work to oversee the creation of 100,000 jobs and training opportunities under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package.

Singapore is determined not to lose a generation of workers and youths, Heng said, reiterating a point he made previously.

To achieve this, Singapore will need a stronger economy that is dynamic, inclusive, resilient and innovative so that it can create more jobs offering better prospects for workers and help them climb up the skills ladder, he added.

“This is what distinguishes us from other countries. All countries, including us, are providing immediate support, to provide a cushion,” said Heng.

“But we are going further, investing to give everyone a springboard, to bounce back from this even stronger. In Singapore, we never stop thinking of tomorrow.”

Strengthening society

Even as Singapore builds a stronger economy, it must also strengthen its society, said Heng.

He said that the circuit breaker has revealed vulnerabilities in society, such as seniors who have found it hard to use digital tools and services.

To this end, the Ministry of Communications and Information has launched the Seniors Go Digital Programme to help seniors bridge the digital divide, noted Heng.

Likewise, the government has launched the National Care Hotline, which is manned by 300 volunteers, to provide emotional and psychological support to those who cannot cope with the new stresses brought upon by the pandemic, said Heng.

“The government will continue to support you fully, and mobilise Singaporeans to support one another.”

“Be assured that, in Singapore, no one will be left to walk alone. You will be cared for if you fall on hard times. You will be part of our society’s progress, no matter your starting point or circumstances,” he added.

Singapore together action networks

The government is also setting up “Singapore Together Action Networks” which will bring together partners across different sectors to turn their ideas into new solutions.

Such networks have already been formed, such as the Youth Mental Well-being Network set up in February to promote mental wellness among youth, as well as UPLIFT which was set up last year to strengthen support for underperforming students from disadvantaged families.

“We will form new partnerships around issues that you care about, and to make a difference through action,” said Heng.

Concluding his speech, Heng said that less than 200 days into what is expected to be a “long-drawn fight” against the Covid-19 pandemic, Singaporeans have demonstrated their generosity and resilience.

Singapore’s actions in the next five to 10 years will chart its course for decades to come, he noted.

“Each of us must adapt and learn fast in this changed world, turn anxiety to action, turn challenges to opportunities. As we move forward, we will deepen our trust and support for one another,” he said.

“I have every confidence that we will succeed. We will overcome this crisis of our generation. We will be a generation that emerges stronger,” he added.

“Together, we will be the generation that sets our children and their children onto a path to an even brighter future.” TODAY

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