During the GE2020 Debate that was broadcasted live last night (1 July), one of the topics that were focused on was helping local businesses to survive the recession.
One of the questions that was asked by the debate moderator was: What would your parties do to help local businesses survive this recession, ensure businesses are ready to rebound when the economy picks up, ultimately transform and strengthen the economy?
Workers’ Party (WP) Jamus Lim had the headstart in providing views on behalf of his party.
“We believe strongly that the vibrancy of businesses actually rests in the small and medium enterprise sector (SME).”
Dr Lim proceeded to explain that the manifesto of WP focuses on helping to uplift businesses.
He believes that it is central to ensure financing is available to businesses like Singaporean SMEs for expansion into regional and global markets.
“We (WP) believe ensuring financing is made available to businesses – Singapore businesses and SMEs – for expansion into regional and global markets is central to helping these businesses, also, learn by doing and thereby, raise their own productivity level.”
Another point Dr Lim made involves the costs faced by SMEs. He noted that one of WP’s manifesto for these SMEs is to keep the commercial and industrial rents low. Dr Lim mentioned that they have proposed for companies like JTC to step in to ensure the rentals for SMEs to be kept “at a certain rate”.
Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) Chee Soon Juan responded to the topic by pointing out the country’s productivity has been “tanking” in the last decade.
With the increasing number of Singaporeans being unemployed and losing jobs, Dr Chee voiced a similar opinion on lowering the rents, and that these rents be “controlled”.
Apart from lowering rents, the SDP’s secretary-general focused on foreign workers’ levy, pointing out that the SMEs find these fees “very hard to stomach”.
“These are fees that businesses – small and medium-sized businesses – find it very hard to stomach.”
Another proposal from SDP was schemes to ensure the livelihoods of people, especially the elderly. He expressed that if elderly people had the ability to shop, it could help “stimulate our economy”.
“The third proposal that we put up is to make sure that we have schemes like retrenchment and employment scheme and retrenchment insurance scheme. And income to the elderly people. When they have all this income, it helps them to go out and purchase things, and then helps stimulate our economy.”
Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) Francis Yuen had also focused on the issues around SMEs. He related the current SME situation as being in the intensive care unit (ICU) and that the key causes for this are “rental, labour cost, and cash flow, and the rest of all the fixed cost”.
“The SMEs are now in ICU, so [as] to speak.”
Not forgetting to acknowledge that help was provided by the Government, he questioned the sustainability of the support.
“The Government is doing something to help them, yes, but how long can it last? The other thing that is very important is that they need to see business returning before they can survive. If I’m a businessman, you can give me all the support for the next six months, after the six months, if the business is not coming back, my business will go away.”
Mr Yuen stressed that other than “getting SMEs out of the ICU”, they will also need support to “nurse them back to health”.
“We need to be able to create help for them to reinvent the businesses. Or, if they know their business is not going to survive, they need to do something else. There’s no point prolonging the pain.”
In response, People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Vivian Balakrishnan noted that with no natural resources, the fundamental “hard truth” is that Singapore has nothing which is of “inalienable value”.
“Singapore will always be a tiny city-state, [with] no natural resources. The only thing we have is the ingenuity, hard work and discipline of our people.”
“We have nothing which is of inalienable value to the rest of the world. That’s one fundamental hard truth.”
Dr Balakrishnan agreed with Dr Lim and Dr Chee that SMEs are “crucial” and that they account for 70 per cent of jobs in Singapore, and 50 per cent of the nation’s GDP.
With regards to the points brought up by the three candidates, the PAP representative defended the Government that had provided help in the past few months with Corporate Property Tax rebates, job support schemes, rental waivers, waivers and rebates for foreign workers, and credit facilities.
“If you just stop for a moment and think about what we have done in the last few months, especially for SMEs. The job support schemes provided an opportunity and avenue to keep these SMEs afloat, not just for their own sake, but in order to keep job opportunities available and open for our local Singaporeans.”
He also pointed out that the digital revolution had been “underway” before COVID-19 hit Singapore, stressing that digital transformation is required “throughout all the sectors” of the economy and that the Government had been supporting the on-going digital transformation.
Dr Balakrishnan believed that not only the SMEs need to target new markets along with digitisation, but the local workers are also expected to be “equipped with skills for it”.
Lastly, he emphasised that as a city-state, Singapore “needs to remain open and relevant”.