Singapore Tripartism Forum 2009

I had the rare opportunity to get up close to our Prime Minister when I attended the the recent Singapore Tripartism Forum 2009, held at One Marina Boulevard.  Other than being the Stanford Daily photo editor on duty when John Edwards visited Stanford in 2006, this was the nearest I ever got to any big wig political leader, period.

As expected, PM Lee’s speech was sombre and hinted that Singapore remains caught in the global recessionary storm, and although the S$20.1 billion budget was sizeable, the Singapore Government had dry powder in the pouch in case things got worse.  SPUR and Jobs Credit got rinsed and repeated once again, and a new scheme by WDA termed Professional Skills Programme (PSP) got mentioned.  The virtues of tripartism were invariably extolled to the audience, which comprised primarily of union leaders and representatives.  Having injected the necessary dose of reality, PM Lee concluded the speech in an upbeat manner, reassuring the crowds that the Government stands ready to support the unions in aiding workers through this downturn.

The subsequent Q&A session didn’t throw up any surprises either – some representatives took the opportunity to report their achievements and ‘showed their appreciation’ to the Government for its ‘generous’ budget.  Some sound bites from the Q&A session include:

  • Tripartism allowed the Singaporean subsidiary of an overseas company to control cost, set breakeven revenue target at revenue of $200 million back to headquarters while establishing an internal revenue target of $250 million and promising to share profits with the Singapore staff through variable wage bonuses.
  • Downturn will come and go, but we will continue to grow old and (this recession) should not make us give up our long term target of ensuring rehiring of older workers.
  • “We understand the situation, but we are not going to just accept that retrenchment will be the norm.”
  • “If we keep seeking the light at the end of the tunnel, chances are it’s the headlights of an oncoming vehicle.  Better for us to play to win, go on the offensive and kill 3 birds with 1 stone by tapping on SPUR, Jobs Credit and PSP.”
  • (Alluding to unionists and the government’s response to the recession) “Try to keep possession of the ball, but at some time, the opposing team will break through.  That is when our defence must come in.  The battle is to be fought upfront in attack, in midfield and also in defence – we must face this as a team.”
  • As we go through this recession, let us remember that those cheaper than us will become even cheaper.  It is important for us to be better than those who are cheaper than us, and be cheaper than those who are better than us.

Plenty of positive spin-stories, but as our nation careens off the growth highway and is faced with its worst recession ever, reactive policies and budgets will do little to bring sustained cheers to our people.  Until our government moves past worrying about keeping people off the streets and doling handouts to its people and companies, and start showing us a growth path with bold new ideas to drive growth post-recession, while relying less on unsavoury verticals such as (casino) gaming, bust-boom financial sector and finicky MNCs, I will continue to worry for the future of our people.

It’s about time we diversify from being merely a value-for-money island of services (be it healthcare, financial, tourism, conventions, MNCs, blah blah blah), and start focusing on building some world class companies of our own.

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.