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Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Finance and National Development, at The Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) Directors Conference on 25 August 2020

25 Aug 2020

Seizing Opportunities Together


1.      Hello everyone. Thank you very much for having me here at this event. You know, at the beginning of the year, I had put up a social media post saying that it’s the beginning of a new decade, a new dawn, a new era, time to change, words to that effect. I really did not expect that we would have something like COVID-19. So we have change in spades, and that’s really what today’s Conference is about, addressing that topic.

2.      Let me start off first by addressing Mr Tham Sai Choy, Chairman of the Singapore Institute of Directors, and all of you who have tuned in today. This is the eleventh edition of SID’s flagship Directors Conference.

a.      I just want to share my appreciation for SID’s continued efforts in fostering good corporate governance and ethics, in all ways big and small. That has become even more important in this era of change, and as Sai Choy mentioned earlier, the need for good leadership.

b.      SID has had things like the inaugural Singapore Board Diversity Index, which will be launching next month, and the helpful repository of articles on the SID website for directors navigating the impact of COVID-19.

Challenging Times

3.      Let’s come to the theme for today’s conference – “Living with COVID-19: The Singapore Perspective”.

a.      COVID-19 has severely affected all sectors of our economy. The impact on our way of life cannot be understated.

b.      The global economic outlook for 2020 is sombre, with significant uncertainties, not least due to the possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19 infections, and the re-imposition of lockdowns in other countries. Singapore will find it very hard to avoid that.

c.       But in recognition of these exceptional times, the Government has put in a broad range of support measures to help businesses, workers, and households on an unprecedented scale.

4.      The Government’s role is to support. But companies and directors will also need to be part of the strategy moving forward.

a.      Business leaders will have to recognise that the challenges we face now also present opportunities to develop and to grow.

b.      COVID-19 accentuates the critical importance of good corporate governance, and the role of corporate leadership is even more vital in today’s environment.

c.       I urge directors to embrace the emerging new normal and to set the strategic direction for businesses, so that they can adapt to new realities.

5.      I would encourage you, in particular, to adopt the mindset that now is the time to build on the foundations of your business, and better prepare for the future.

a.      So the responses to COVID-19 should not only serve to address the immediate challenges of today.

b.      We should also think about the future, because what we do now, will have a lasting and positive impact for years to come.

c.       It’s only with the right mindset that we can come out of this crisis stronger together.

Recognising and Seizing Opportunities

6.      Operating in the new normal, brought upon us by COVID-19, is not easy. Just take today for example, it used to be that for conferences, I would turn up, say hello to everybody at the beginning, go up the stage, and deliver the speech. You could have eye contact with your audience, and you would just get instant feedback. In today’s world, the speeches are delivered in a studio virtually, or delivered at home with Zoom. It’s a very different experience.

a.      But all of us are adjusting. It goes to show one thing, which is that businesses can harness new opportunities and “reset” to adapt and rejuvenate practices.

b.      The pandemic has reminded us that we must remain nimble, and be ready to adapt in ways big and small.

c.       If we stay still now, that is to risk being left behind.

d.      We can no longer afford to passively go about doing everything in the same manner as before.

7.      The role of corporate leadership becomes even more critical during trying times such as these.

a.      Even as you implement new working arrangements, you will need to demonstrate empathy and understanding in managing your employees’ morale and in some cases, mental health.

b.      Be creative and be open-minded too, as you consider ways that your businesses can adapt, or be reinvented to pivot into new markets and products.

c.       It is incumbent on all of us to recognize and seize the opportunities that are available.

8.      The starkest example of this is digitalisation.

a.      Digitalisation has been an ongoing trend for years now, but its importance has been sharply magnified by COVID-19.

b.      This time last year, who would know what Zoom was? Nobody would have any idea. But now, it’s just basically a household term.

c.       Businesses that take steps towards adopting digital platforms to market their products, to as wide a range of customers as possible, are going to be better placed to ride out the effects of COVID-19.

d.      We have seen this in the case of restaurants and hawkers, who have risen to the challenge by going on online platforms. There was a particular restaurant I went to during the Circuit Breaker, thinking that, “Okay it would be great, I could just go in and pick up my takeaway.” But when I stepped in, actually, they had so many online orders that I had to wait for nearly an hour before I got my food. But it was great for them, because despite the Circuit Breaker, it meant that they were still getting business and that was because they leveraged the online platforms.

e.      Businesses and employees have also done well to embrace digital solutions, such as working-from-home, which has become the new normal. Going forward, I don’t think there’s any going back. I think that businesses will have to adapt to a hybrid model where employees will do some of the work at home, or at least there will be a lot more flexibility and telecommuting.

9.      Another aspect highlighted by COVID-19 is the importance of having resilient supply chains.

a.      In today’s environment, businesses will need alternative suppliers to minimise the impact of COVID-19 disruptions. We saw that starkly in the last few months.

b.      That was what Royal Insignia did. Royal Insignia makes medals, jewellery, and gifts. When their supply of raw materials and semi-finished parts was disrupted, Royal Insignia worked with local suppliers for materials, and moved their entire manufacturing process to Singapore.

c.       Another example is SMH Food Industries and the way they dealt with difficulties in exporting their dim sum products. Faced with the COVID-19 restrictions, SMH Food Industries worked with their distributor to send products to Kuwait via trucks, rather than by the usual sea freight.

10.    Grasp this opportunity now. Consider how to adapt, improve, or supplement your business practices. Because if not now, then when?

Emerging Stronger

11.    We have to band together to weather this uncertainty. You can rest assured that you won’t be confronting the crisis alone.

12.    On the part of the Government, we have provided support and we will continue to do so, especially when it comes to cash flow, credit, and cost.

a.      Enterprise Singapore (ESG) has a number of programmes and schemes to provide assistance.

i.       For example, businesses can kickstart technological transformations by applying for the Productivity Solutions Grant. This will support a range of IT solutions and equipment, including tools for temperature screening or online collaboration.

ii.      You can also tap on the Enterprise Development Grant to strengthen your foundations, innovate, or venture overseas.

iii.      Those facing difficulties or who need working capital can apply under the Temporary Bridging Loan Programme, where interest rates are capped and principal repayments can be deferred for up to a year.

13.    At the same time, businesses can leverage existing resources, especially that of your human capital.

a.      As recently announced, the Jobs Support Scheme has been extended and will provide businesses support for employee wages for up to a further seven months, until March next year. In case you haven’t figured out, that takes us to the next Budget.

b.      We urge businesses to make full use of this period of additional support to retain and upskill your employees.

14.    Earlier, I talked about digitalisation. Yet for businesses to successfully and seamlessly adopt new practices, the upskilling of workers has to go hand-in-hand with the increased adoption of technology.

a.      Developing your staff will ultimately benefit you.

b.      The recent Budgets have had a strong focus on helping businesses and workers to seize opportunities to transform and adapt together. For example, businesses can make use of the new SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit, when embarking on enterprise and workforce transformation.

c.       As for businesses which are faring better, please do tap on the newly announced Jobs Growth Incentive to hire more and to build up your capabilities during this period.

d.      This is because we have found that there’s a mismatch. There are jobs available, and there are people who are seeking jobs, but they don’t always, at this point, have the skills to meet those jobs which are in demand. Helping them to train and upskill is very important. I do urge employers and companies to give these workers a chance. Invest in them. You’ll be surprised at what they can do.


15.    In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge and applaud the role of businesses in keeping Singapore’s economy going, even in this time of uncertainty. How do we proceed from here? Let me sum it up:

a.      Keep a positive mindset and seize the opportunities available.

b.      Make full use of Government support and press on with transforming your businesses and workforce.

c.       This will help you to prepare for recovery and emerge stronger in the post-COVID-19 world.

16.    With that, let me wish all of you a very fruitful conference ahead. Thank you very much.