“The Committee on the Future Economy will study five key areas that are crucial to sustaining economic growth vital to Singapore’s future” (30-Member Committee To Chart Future Of Economy, Chia Yan Min).
Since the setting up of a committee “tasked with charting the course of Singapore’s economic future” (ST, Dec. 22) is not new – with the Economic Review Committee and the Economic Strategies Committee in 2001 and 2009 respectively – it would therefore make sense to review the recommendations made by these past committees. The intent is twofold: first, to ascertain whether the forecasts were accurates as well as how effective the corresponding strategies have been; second, how these experiences will shape the new Committee on the Future Economy. At the moment, there is little information about how different it will be from its predecessors, and how Singaporeans could be involved in conversations too.
In other words, what were the targets set in 2001 and 2009, and have they been met? If not will remedies be considered, or assumptions reconsidered?
For a start, the five key areas deemed crucial for economic growth – future growth industries and markets, corporate capabilities and innovation, jobs and skills, urban development and infrastructure, and connectivity – are fairly generic, with little said about how they relate to past or existing endeavours. For instance the key strategies mooted by the 2009 Economic Strategies Committee, such as the growth of skills and innovation, the deepening of corporate capabilities, as well as the strengthening commercialisation of research and development, can be slotted into any of the new key areas. What seems to be missing is how they were decided in the first place, and further elaboration on key trends since 2009.
And as a coherent vision is crafted – bringing together different initiatives like SkillsFuture and different stakeholders such as the Ministry of Education – the government should not shy away from frank assessments of the economy. There is volatility in the global markets, manufacturing activity in Singapore has declined with the contraction of the economy in a few quarters, and the Straits Times Index has not performed well either. Years of growth and prosperity may have also encouraged perceptions that they can be taken for granted, even if vulnerabilities such as limited land and human capital persist. In this vein, more can be done to explain the threats of technological disruption, and future recommendations should outline pathways for individuals to stay ahead of these changes.