S’pore needs local-based enterprises instead of MNCs which will move out, but they lack support from Govt, says SDP’s Alfred Tan

Local enterprises seem to be “unwelcomed” in their own home country, given the lack of support by the Government despite Singapore’s need for local-based enterprises when multinational corporations (MNCs) move out from the country, said entrepreneur and Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) member Alfred Tan.

Mr Tan was among the panellists in the webinar titled, “The Future and Challenges to the Singapore Economy”, organised by the Future of Singapore (FOSG) via Zoom on 17 Apr.

The webinar touched on the fractured global economy with Singapore caught between the US and China blocs, disruptive technological revolutions to jobs and global supply chains in artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things, 3D printing as well as future pandemics.

Sharing his insights on the future economy of Singapore, Mr Tan opined that the Government should make “a conscious effort” to develop Singapore’s local enterprises and build the country’s core up.

“I’m surprised that our NTUC FairPrice would sign an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] with Tesco, the UK retailer, to promote Tesco’s branded products.

“Tesco is not a manufacturer. They are just a grocery chain and there’s an MOU signed to promote their products in Singapore. I mean, what stakeholder model is this? This is really wack,” he noted.

Mr Tan believes that the Government can be “a lot more aggressive” in helping local enterprises seek market access in the region and build linkages with the neighbouring countries.

“When the multinational corporations move out for whatever reasons, they are fleet-footed. We’d still at least have strong Singapore-based enterprises. I think it has to be a conscious effort that the country has to put efforts into building external access,” he noted.

Mr Tan also shared in the webinar’s Q&A session an anecdote about his company being rejected by the Government when bidding for land.

His company had previously placed a bid for a 100,000 sqft plot of land to build more space for food automation, but its bid was rejected as he claimed that the Government would rather give the land to a business that has “higher value-added” characteristics.

The land ended up with a warehouse for semiconductors.

Despite that, Mr Tan noted that his company eventually found offers in other countries to build the site of their operations.

“What is ironic is that we have a Government in one of the countries that we mentioned, offering us a 100,000 sq ft of land, free, as long as we site our operation there and they can use our product (with) Singapore’s branding.

“What I’m saying is that sometimes the local enterprises are unwelcomed by their own home country,” he remarked.

Mr Tan also concurred with Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) NCMP Leong Mun Wai’s points in the webinar, who noted that the Government should “give enough leeway” to private enterprises, saying that the Government should not interfere in the private sector market.

“Let the private enterprise develop and find its way. They know the market best. What the country should do as a government is to facilitate, to open up certain access, but let the sector grow,” he added.

Singapore’s economic structure comprises “a whole lot of MNCs” and GLCs, says Alfred Tan

Apart from building local enterprises, Mr Tan believes that the Government should also look into the country’s education system.

“Our youngsters, our children — we got to teach them. We got to give them an environment where they are allowed to take risks. Risk-taking, have the courage and the self-confidence to build up the tenacity and the resourcefulness to encourage, promote and reward creativity.“

“These are the traits of people that will be able to take us forward, to bring up an enterprising workforce and entrepreneur class that we need to build going forward and it starts from the very young,” he noted.

Mr Tan went on to highlight that Singapore’s economic structure comprises “a whole lot of MNCs” and government-linked companies (GLCs).

“If you were to use our stock market as a proxy, as a guide, our SGX compared to all the other exchanges, we are not great. Very few companies would like to raise capital here.

“Just look at the STI which supposed to be a composite of 30 largest counters, I think it’s 29 as of today with Jardine merging, more than half are GLCs. And what are they in? Half of the GLCs are in real estate. They are property developers. They are holding properties.”

“Where is the production? Where is productive creativity? We don’t see that and that to me is an indication of where our Singapore economy is right now, there’s no energy. There is no buzz,” he said.

Additionally, Mr Tan suggested creating a rallying call such as “Proudly Made in Singapore” to cultivate “a sense of pride” among Singaporeans towards their country.

“Do we have something like ‘Proudly made in Singapore’, ‘Proudly designed in Singapore’ or ‘Prototyped in Singapore’? Because that rings some sort of sense of pride that is lacking, and I think it’s something that the Government could actually do to rally Singapore together,” he added.

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