Committee for Future Economy – CFE

By: Chua Chin Leng

It is very easy to make comments about the CFE reports. Just sit down and put a comb over it to pick put the white hair and the fleas and dust. It is also just as easy to make 7 or 10 motherhood statements about what should be done in the future. Just gather a few heads and within a day or two you could get all the motherhood statements you want. The big question, how real and how useful are these motherhood statements?

To gaze at a crystal ball, to foresee the trends, developments and challenges, is not the normal cup of tea for anyone not armed with the width and depth of intellect to look into the future. You need very serious thinkers and dreamers to make out something from nothing or from what we have today. Who would be up to it to make such great insights into the future and come out with workable recommendations to benefit from the changes? If only you can find someone who could make the right intellectual and educated guesses, this guy would be as good as God.

As a small little country with limited resources and limited aspirations, we need to be real and practical about what we want to do and what we can do. No doubt having big and wild dreams and wet dreams are ok, as these are just dreams. It is better to look at more realistic and practical targets and solutions like capitalising on our strength and how to fit into the changing world, and make the best of it. We have several good starts but due to the lack of foresight, the lack of dreamers, the lack of support, we let them passe.

Sim Wong Hoo’s sound card was at the fore front of the computer industry. Hyflux’s water purification system too was well ahead of its time. Now they are just ordinary, one among many and fading away. If only the govt had invested and supported them in bigger ways, they could be the Samsung or the Xiaomi today. Samsung and Xiaomi did not have any proprietory products to start with. They simply copied and improved on what others have done and make it big time. We were the leading transportation hub for many decades but now going to be eclipsed too.

A more down to earth and more mundane model to understand how we have gone wrong and missed the opportunities, and missed the boat is public transportation, the train. When we laid the ground work for the first MRT, China was still an impoverished country. Transportation in China was Second WW train system, running like tortoises on coal.

Today China is the front runner in high speed train system, an authority and a big mover in building international train network and infrastructure. They have developed many in house expertise and patents in every aspect of the train system, from design to manufacturing, turnkey projects to operations. They are building the train infrastructure for the future and for the world.

What have we achieved in managing our train network? What have we achieved for having a head start in mass rapid transport? Nothing. We are still struggling to make sure the train runs without fault daily. We did not have any expertise in anything concerning mass rapid transport.

When a fault occurs, we start looking out for outside expertise for help, even stupid enough to pay for expertise from third world dysfunctional train systems calling themselves experts in modern train technology. We have not acquired any expertise in mass rapid transportation to turn it into a business except as an operator. After 50 years in the business, no experts in the business.

This example applies to practically every industry. Should not Singapore be exporting our expertise with our own experts in areas of air and sea port management and development? No, we are dependent on foreigners to run our ports, to manage our ports, to find new directions for our ports. We have zero expertise to talk about when we have been big operators for decades ahead of other countries. We are top air and sea ports but have no expert in these fields.

Look at the banking and finance industry. This is another joke. We are the financial centre of Southeast Asia and competing with Tokyo and Hongkong to be the top financial centre of Asia. Ask what kind of expertise we have, what kind of local experts and professionals we have that are sought after by other financial centres? It is a joke that we have to import all our top financial talents from abroad, even from the third world countries with rudimentary financial system and village banks.

Soon there will be no local bankers left in the finance industry and all the top bankers would be foreigners. And I remember someone saying we are starting to develop our top bankers that would come on stream in 50 years time. No need to talk about the IT industry.

What is this CFE all about? Should we be bothered with gazing at the crystal ball of the future? How could such an exercise benefit the country and people when there are very serious challenges facing the country that no one could see or want to talk about? We may not have a thriving Singapore in another 30 years if we don’t address the serious fundamental problems of the country and the shallow mindset that is supposed to be driving the country forward.

We have happily awarded the contract to build the HSR terminal to foreign contractors when we should be building it ourselves and bidding for such contracts overseas like the Korean companies. Maybe we should start to bid in a big way for contracts in other countries to build hawker centres. This is about the last area of expertise we still have, but not for long. Is there anything that we are good at today to compete with the rest of the world?

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