Singapore will never be done with economic restructuring, says PM Lee

‘I don’t think we’ll ever be done (with economic restructuring). Ten years from now, I’m sure we’ll still be talking about productivity growth and upgrading,’ Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said. — TODAY pic
‘I don’t think we’ll ever be done (with economic restructuring). Ten years from now, I’m sure we’ll still be talking about productivity growth and upgrading,’ Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Jan 13 — While Singapore's economic restructuring efforts have borne fruit, it is a marathon with no finish line, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday.

“We are not done. I don’t think we’ll ever be done. Ten years from now, I’m sure we’ll still be talking about productivity growth and upgrading,” Lee told reporters after a visit to the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar.

Since Singapore began its restructuring efforts eight years ago, the economy has expanded. Wages and productivity have gone up, and employment rates have also climbed, particularly for older workers and women. Unemployment has also been kept low, Lee said.

“It is a long journey. (As) the Chinese say... ‘you are always on the road’,” he added.

Earlier in the afternoon, Lee met jobseekers who found work with help from government agency Workforce Singapore (WSG).

He revealed later that 30,000 workers got jobs last year via Adapt and Grow, the government’s employment-support initiative.

This is higher than the 25,000 people placed in 2017, and 21,000 the year before.

Even as such efforts gain momentum, Lee said the country cannot avoid the changes it is going through. “The way forward is to go with the change and, therefore, become more productive, do better jobs and earn better pay,” he added.

He acknowledged that the various changes are making many people anxious, and the journey would not be easy.

Lee said it was important to show workers that help is available, and that they can improve their lives if they receive assistance and “make the effort”.

Less than two weeks ago, in his New Year message, Lee warned that Singapore’s economy could expand at a slower pace this year in the face of global uncertainties.

It is expected to grow between 1.5 and 3.5 per cent. Last year, it beat expectations to expand by 3.3 per cent.

Lee cautioned then that there could be “major uncertainties” in the global economy amid escalating trade conflicts, jittery financial markets and signs of slowing growth.

On Friday, he said that it is uncertain if Singapore could sustain the “very high” economic and productivity figures seen in the last two years, but the numbers show that the economy is making progress on a macro basis.

“It’s not just expanding, but it’s actually upgrading, and improvements are happening,” he added.

Still, the improvements have been uneven, he said. While export-oriented sectors have been upgrading rapidly, domestic services have been moving at a slower pace.

As these sectors comprise many small- and medium-sized enterprises, the authorities have to focus on them as well. “We want to make sure that we have programmes to reach them and can upgrade them,” he said.

Help to move into new jobs

Among the workers Lee met on Friday was Premalattha Sadhasivan, 60.

In 2017, her company was downsizing and undergoing restructuring, said Premalattha, then a quality-assurance professional in the education sector.

She turned to WSG and was referred to a career coach, who laid out her options, and helped her discover and market her skills to prospective employers.

Through the Career Support Programme, which offers employers short-term wage subsidies to encourage them to take on retrenched or unemployed workers, Premalattha landed a job as a social worker at nursing home Sree Narayana Mission (Singapore).

The job melds her management experience with her interest in social work. “It’s really the best of both worlds,” she told TODAY. — TODAY

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