PM Lee thinks economic growth of 2-3% is ok for Singapore’s current phase but potential Prime Minister think it is “rather depressing”

Speaking at the Public Sector Transformation Awards ceremony on Wednesday (4 July), Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that a new mindset is required for civil servants to transform Singapore’s public service.

“If we keep doing things the same way, we will do injustice to ourselves and our country. If we are not careful, we will be left behind in the dustbin of history.”

Minister Chan outlined 4 key principles that he believed should be adopted: first, to keep up with a digital age, to apply design thinking to enhance the end-user’s experience, to apply systems thinking for and to collaborate with Singaporeans to solve Singaporean’s problems.

He also talked about how Singapore’s economic growth is “rather depressing” at 2% to 3% a year.

[blockquote author=”Minister Chan Chun Sing”]Many people say that we have reached a certain level of growth, that going forward, it will be 2 to 3 per cent growth on average. That sounds rather depressing. If it’s 2 to 3 per cent growth on average, what does it mean for the economy, what does it mean for opportunities for our people? But the truth of it is that even if the average is 2 to 3 per cent, it does not mean that every sector, every industry is 2 to 3 per cent.[/blockquote]

He then added that the 3% was an average and there are sectors which are growing while there are also sectors which are declining.  The role of the public service is, therefore, to enhance those fast growing sectors while helping the contracting sectors.

He added: “If each of us continues to aspire in our respective sectors to work on the plus 5 per cent, then actually there is no reason to believe that we will be always 2 to 3 per cent. I say this with a heavy heart because we should not get into a mode whereby we think that the average is sufficient”.

Can developed economies grow as fast as developing economies?

While economies such as China, India, Cambodia, Myanmar, and even the Philippines have recorded astounding growth rates of 6% to 8% a year, economists have said that it is much harder for developed economies to attain that rate. This is because the high growth rate of developing economies is due to “catch up growth” which is not afforded to developed economies.

“In a developed country – the [Infrastructure, Technology, Education, Healthcare etc etc] has already been completed. [After all of these have been done], it becomes more and more difficult to progress. The game gets harder and harder as you move up the value chain [By contrast, developing countries] still have to build good infrastructure [such as] a manufacturing base, education, and healthcare”.

“Developing countries have the potential to grow faster because they are in a position to pursue ’catch-up growth’ by applying technologies previously invented in the developed countries. In contrast, developed countries are already operating at, or close to, the technological frontier, and as a result have no one to catch up with”.

Singapore’s own benchmark?

Last Jan, ST editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang had asked at a forum why Singapore’s economy was growing at a slower rate. PM Lee Hsien Loong then acknowledged that Singapore’s economy is in a different phase at present as compared to the time when it saw annual growth of 5 per cent to 6 per cent.

He added that the government was “closely monitoring” Singapore’s economy, which is on a “steady path” as a whole. By PM Lee’s yardstick, the economy will have done well if it continues to grow by 2% to 3% every year for the next 10 years decade.

This was late echoed by the Committee for Future Economy the following month when it laid out 7 steps that Singapore could adopt for future expansion. It was there and then that the committee similarly set a growth target of 2% to 3% per annum for the future.

CFE wrote:

Over the next decade, our collective efforts should enable us to grow by 2-3% per year on average, exceeding the performance of most advanced economies. This will be a good outcome for our present stage of development, with our incomes already higher than in many advanced economies and our workforce growing slower than before.

So, given that the economy is set to grow with a rate that is below 3%, would Minister Chan still say that his boss’s performance is “rather depressing” and “insufficient”?