Former MOF civil servant turned journalist praises Minister Heng’s collaborative approach in building Singapore’s economy

Taking a look at Heng Swee Keat’s tenure as Finance Minister, Channel NewsAisa says his annual budgets have shifted to allow the business community more leverage for positioning the economy for the future which reflects the minister’s own collaborative approach in leading Singapore.

With rumours abound that Mr Heng is in line to take over as leader of Singapore, people have been paying attention to his every move to figure out what kind of leader he would be for a Singapore that is facing complex challenges in today’s world.

CNA describes him as a ‘longtime economic czar’ with experience in the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Trade and Industry Ministry before he entered politics six years ago.

In their report, they noted how Mr Heng has “shift away from a top-down model of government to one that seeks to develop stronger partnerships to position Singapore for the future has been evident.”

They highlighted Mr Heng’s initiatives in three areas of the business sector: the growth of the business community, restructuring of companies and workers, and innovation for higher institutes of learning.

For growing the business community, several initiatives were announced in Budget 2019 which were aimed at giving businesses a larger stage in the growth of Singaporean companies such as the injection into the Co-Investment Programme (CIP) which builds on a series of schemes the minister has announced in recent past budgets serving to catalyse private sector resources to help local companies reach the next stage of their development and break into the international market.

Another shift is the focus on restructuring of companies. Mr Heng said during the Budget 2019 presentation that there are sacrifices that must be taken by businesses. He detailing plans that are already underway such as the Industry Transformation Maps which was launched in budget 2016 to help businesses shift into digitisation and automation.

There were also schemes to help workers take on new jobs in sectors that were blooming such as the Adapt and Grow and Adapt and Train initiatives as well as the new Professional Conversational Programmes in blockchain, embedded software and prefab.

With these measures in place, the next phase of restructuring will require companies to make the difficult decisions needed to prepare the economy for long-term growth. CNA noted how Mr Heng explicitly pointed this out in his presentation by focusing on a crucial issue – the reliance on foreign labour and restructuring to reduce that reliance.

Mr Heng also announced initiatives that gives research partners a stronger role in enterprise development such as the creation of two Centres of Innovation in Aquaculture and Energy at Temasek Polytechnic and Nanyang Technological University respectively. He highlighted the need for closer collaboration between institutes of higher learning and businesses in order to effectively synergise the spirit of entrepreneurship with the rigour of research.

In a nutshell, it’s clear that Budget 2019 as well as previous budgets have been focused on growing the economy and Mr Heng is adopting a collaborative approach to rally the people of Singapore towards a common goal of ensuring long-term economic success.

Mr Heng has clearly placed Singapore businesses on a strong footing and directed them to muster support from other players instead of relying solely on the government.

Conflict of interest?

All in all, the report by CNA on the initiatives presented by Mr Heng over the years, which was written by executive editor of digital news at CNA Lin Suling, is wholly positive.

Now, looking at Ms Lin’s past experiences, it appears worked under Minister Heng for several years in the Ministry of Finance just before joining CNA. Minister Heng took over the role of Financial Minister in 2015. As far as we can tell, Ms Lin has no previous experience in journalism.

The concern here is that her report on Minister Heng and his initiatives over the years has been presented under the guise of neutrality. At the bottom of the article, nothing is mentioned of Ms Lin’s previous experience as a civil servant under the MOF nor any possible conflict of interest she might have in presenting this report in the first place.

Since her past experience was not immediately made clear on the article itself, how many readers would assume her opinions on Minister Heng are neutral and would take her assessment at face value?

TOC has written to CNA with comments and will include them when they reply.