Ministry of Trade and Industry Committee of Supply 2019 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered on 4 Mar 2019)

Higher Productivity of Older Workers – Chen Show Mao

Sir, I’d like to urge that we give importance to raising the productivity of older workers (and to job redesign specifically as a means to achieve that objective) by making it part of the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), in addition to leaving it to the efforts of individual employers.

Could we expressly identify Job Redesign for Older Workers as a key component of each ITM to be set out among the suite of initiatives for improving productivity in any given industry? So that we may spur the collective thinking that can go into finding better solutions of Job Redesign for Older Workers, and direct some of the industry’s efforts at innovation in this direction. Perhaps resources could be pooled by companies in the industry to develop best practices, to modify tools and equipment for use off-the-shelf by older workers throughout the industry?

As businesses in our industries think about how to change, even disrupt, processes in the workplace in order to generate greater value on the back of better-used resources, could we make Job Redesign for Older Workers a required part of the syllabus?

We know Productivity is one of the four pillars supporting the growth and competitiveness plans of an ITM. Could we envision Job Redesign for Older Workers as a key component of ITMs: a third Horizontal, along with Promoting Info Comm Technology adoption and Skills development. It can help to support the industries and produce improvements across the economy, in the face of an ageing workforce.

Electric Vehicles – Leon Perera

Electric vehicles are the future, if Singapore is to meet its commitments under the Paris climate change accords. LTA’s figures at end-2018 show Singapore’s electric vehicle fleet to be small. Of 615,000 cars on our roads, only 28,000 are electric or hybrids. Of 20,000 taxies, just 104 are electric; of 137,000 motorbikes, only 2 are fully electric/battery-powered.

Can we not do more to promote adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles? We do have tax breaks. But other countries have introduced reduced parking, reduced road usage fees and other incentives which go further than what we currently offer. Our progress seems slow. Raising the diesel tax will not help the environment unless there are attractive, cleaner options as my colleague Mr Dennis Tan argued in his Budget speech.

Also, can we not accelerate developing a network of charging and/or battery swapping stations island-wide? In October 2018, SP Group announced they will be speeding up the installation of electric vehicle charging points and roll out 1,000 such points by 2020. But in Parliament in 2016, the government stated a goal of 2,000 charging points. I would like to ask the government by when the 2,000 charging points goal will be met and what will be done to root the operational know-how with Singapore firms and ensure that this can become an exportable industry.

Following on from an earlier Parliamentary Question I filed, I would also urge the government to reconsider setting a date far into the future for a total fossil fuel vehicle ban, as the UK and France have done. A hard target in the long-term future would focus minds and get stake-holders to start planning for the inevitable, thus hastening its arrival.

Hunting in Packs – Leon Perera

For some time now, our economic agencies have been promoting the idea that local companies should go abroad by “hunting in packs”, that is to say by co-operating, forming consortia, sharing networks, know-how, even infrastructure and assets.

We do see this with certain countries. Japanese companies often share certain types of information among themselves relating to overseas markets. Japanese business centres are also a commonplace in Asia, providing cheap, good locations for firms just starting up in Asian countries.

Japanese and Korean conglomerates are also known to bring suppliers from their own countries when they go abroad.

I would like to ask – after decades of promoting the idea of hunting in packs abroad, what results have we achieved? Has competition among companies in the same industry been an impediment? What have been the successes and failures?

I have two suggestions. Would the government consider using overseas economic offices to obtain information about commercial tenders, to be shared among relevant Singapore companies in specific industry co-operation circles, with the member firms perhaps paying a small fee to receive these? This kind of tender surveillance is a very simple yet practical form of support that operationalizes the idea of hunting in packs, since our Singapore companies would jointly share the cost for tender surveillance customised to their needs.

Secondly, would the government consider consolidating economic agency offices abroad in buildings where there are decent serviced offices, so that government officers can be close to Singapore firms starting up abroad, to facilitate information exchange?

Building Deeper Enterprise Capabilities – Low Thia Khiang

Chairman Sir, innovation, research and development are key enablers of success in industrialisation 4.0.

According to the National Research Foundation, Singapore has built a cluster of globally impactful universities and specialised research institutes staffed by cohorts of researchers doing cutting-edge research. There are also numerous research collaborations with industry partners, though most are with large corporations. We are only seeing R&D investments in start-ups bearing some fruit lately.

The Research, Innovation and Enterprise Plan 2020 recognises that Singapore needs to focus more on the “enterprise” component as our research and innovation base has firmed up. One of the four major thrusts is a sharper focus on value creation; allocating more of the RIE budget towards public-private research collaboration; and helping companies to absorb new technologies to further our Future Economy and Smart Nation initiatives.

There appears to be an important gap in this whole plan. While our universities and A*STAR research institutes have offices of technology transfer to support the commercialisation of research and innovation; and enhance collaboration with companies, our government institutions do not have such set ups.

The biggest potential here is the commercialisation of military technology, as has been shown by the United States and Israel. The Israelis have become renowned worldwide in efficiently effecting technology transfers to commercialise military technologies for civilian applications to benefit their economy.

Singapore is lagging behind in this area. Technology transfers have been moving one way benefitting our defence sector. DSTA and DSO have been working with the private sector to tap into the new technologies of Industrialization 4.0 to enhance defence capabilities.

There has been some interesting reverse flow of technology transfers, for example, the production of mass thermal scanners to combat the 2003 SARS outbreak. But there has not been a systematic push to commercialise our defence technologies, even though 1 in 12 scientists and engineers in Singapore are employed by the defence sector.

Economic defence is one of the six pillars of our Total Defence strategy. Our SME are an integral part in economic defence. Integrating them into the research and innovation sector is a key thrust of the RIE2020 Plan. One way to do this is to build a strong technology transfer ecosystem bringing together MINDEF, DSTA, DSO, ST Engineering and our SMEs.

Electricity Retailers – Pritam Singh

Sir, the nation-wide rollout of the Open Electricity Market last September giving households the option of buying electricity at a discount to the tariff rate is one important avenue by which Singaporeans can better manage the cost of living.
This consideration is also relevant for Town Councils as such statutory organisations have also benefited from the liberalisation of the electricity market earlier. However, on the 2nd of January this year, the Energy Market Authority (EMA) shared with Town Councils that one player, Red Dot Power, which coincidentally was in an existing electricity supply contract with the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, would be exiting the market. EMA informed the Town Council the retailer would cease to be able to purchase electricity from 4th January, and all accounts under the Town Council’s purview would be transferred to the SP Group.

The EMA also informed the Town Council that any early termination fees/charges that the Town Council may contractually have with the affected retailer would not be applicable. While there was no interruption of electricity services, weeks elapsed before a new contract could be called for and awarded. In the interim, the wholesale SP tariff rate applied which was significantly higher than the contracted rate, at the cost of savings to the Town Council.

With individual households now able to buy electricity directly from retailers, how will the EMA deal with the retailers that unilaterally terminate their contracts in the retail space? What recourse do households have against such retailers that unilaterally abandon their contract or are not able to fulfil it?
Would households also be barred by the EMA from claiming for their expectation loss and what compensation would be available should the retail price of electricity be significantly higher at the point of termination to the detriment of the consumer?

Finally, it was reported in today’s Business Times that out of the 30 licensed electricity retailers, the 13 who were authorised to sell electricity to households and small businesses has cleared “additional regulatory hoops to ensure viability to safeguard consumers’ interests.” As Red Dot Power was one of them, what were these additional regulatory hoops and what went wrong?