Local SMEs (small and medium enterprises) are challenged by high costs, a small market, and competition from GLCs (government-linked companies) and other government-back organisations, said former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) and Workers’ Party (WP) politician Yee Jenn Jong.
In a Facebook post on Sunday (14 June), Mr Yee responded to a Channel NewsAsia article titled, “Singapore will invest to develop its ‘intangible strengths’ to tackle COVID-19 impact on livelihoods: Chan Chun Sing” in which Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chung Sing talked how Singapore must look ahead and invest in developing its “intangible strengths”, infrastructure, people and businesses.
In a post-COVID-19 world, many countries are keeping borders closed and are pulling back from globalisation and Mr Chan says Singapore should resist the urge to do the same, adding that the country can “build capabilities to play critical roles in global supply chains to produce high quality products and services that others value.”
In his Facebook post, Mr Yee picked out two quotes from the article by Mr Chan. The first:
“Our people must have the entrepreneurial spirit to venture abroad to compete, and seize the opportunities of a fast-growing Asia. We cannot be content with doing well just within Singapore.”
The second quote the MP highlighted was:
“Singapore will step up efforts in nurturing a new generation of regional and global businesses, and will facilitate more industry partnerships, including those in the digital space, as well as better organise overseas Singapore business chapters and missions to guide newcomers venturing overseas.”
In his critique, Mr Yee said that while entrepreneurship is preached in Singapore, the reality is that it is not easy to grow a business locally due to high costs, weak social security, and the strong stigma around failure. The MP added that divergent thinking is also not encouraged in Singapore.
“We want creativity but in school, model answers are still preferred. Try to be different and you tend to get shut down,” he added, noting that he had previously called for more “open spaces and sandbox innovation” to encourage local startups to pilot innovative solutions for the government.
Mr Yee went on to say that Singapore has grown risk averse.
“Also, the current procurement mindset is to go for large established players so that in case the project fails, the evaluation team will not be blamed. We have grown too risk averse,” he said.
He went on to say that Singapore does not operate quite the same way as South Korea or Japan.
“I have heard it too often for years, how we need to better organise our business chapters overseas and how to lead local companies to expand overseas,” he wrote.
“The reality is that we are still not quite like the South Koreans or Japaneses who tend to hunt in packs. For a long time, government agencies have various schemes and have said the same thing. In reality, local companies venturing abroad better fend for themselves.”
Mr Yee highlighted that unlike many developed yet small western economies that have global brands, Singapore does not have such brands that are truly global other than a few GLCs.
“Even some of our GLCs are now being beaten quite badly too with the rapidly changing competitive landscape,” he added.