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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Pro-Enterprise Panel (PEP) - Singapore Business Federation (SBF) Awards 2020

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Pro-Enterprise Panel (PEP) - Singapore Business Federation (SBF) Awards 2020

Mr Lim Ming Yan, Chairman of Singapore Business Federation,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It is my pleasure to join you at the PEP-SBF Awards 2020 this morning.

COVID Context

2. In 1911, a Norwegian named Roald Amundsen became the first explorer to reach the South Pole. 
a. However, did you know that he did not set off to reach the South Pole? His original aim was to reach the North Pole.
b. But as he was planning his expedition to North Pole, the circumstances changed. Someone else had beat him to the North Pole.
c. So, he decided to change course and planned for an expedition to the South Pole. As a result, he became the first person to reach the South Pole. 

3. There is a lesson in this for all of us. Very often, we start off with a plan – whether in government or businesses – but circumstances change along the way. 

4. This is much like the situation many businesses are facing now. You have a plan, and a goal. But COVID has forced businesses to change their plans and goals.   

5. So, with COVID still very much around us, what do we do? 

6. Singapore is not alone in facing this situation. Everyone in the world will have to adapt to the new circumstances. Those who can adapt faster and more nimbly will emerge stronger.

7. As the Chinese saying goes “山不转,路得转。路不转,人得转。人要转,心得先转。” It means that if the mountain cannot be moved, the road must wind around it. If the road cannot be changed, then the person walking on it must change. But for the human to change course or the way one approaches a problem, he must first change his mindset.

8. I cannot agree more with this. Everything starts with our mindset.

9. We may wish for COVID to not have happened. But that is not for us to decide, nor can we simply wait for the tide to change. So, while we cannot control the circumstances around us, we must control our responses.

10. That is why I am encouraged that an increasing number of our businesses have decided not to wait out for the pandemic to blow over. Instead, they have started to make the necessary adjustments and adaptations to emerge stronger from the competition. They pivoted their business models, developed new ideas, developed new regulations to enable idealation, and seize the new opportunities. 

11. This is how we will go forth – to adapt and emerge stronger.

12. Others have done so before – switched course, transformed themselves to great success. 
a. YouTube was once a dating site;
b. Twitter esd launched as a podcast directory;
c. Nintendo tried its hand at taxi service, making ramen noodles, and card-selling; 
d. Play-Doh used to be a wall cleaner!

13. Change is the only constant. We can expect some of the iconic companies we know today to continue to evolve, with or without the pandemic. 

14. I was at an IBM event a while ago and they pointed out this interesting fact to me. The products that are sold and developed today, are completely different from the suite of products they had 10 – 15 years ago. The challenge to the IBM staff today, is to have an entirely different suite of products in 10 – 15 years’ time.

15. But this is never easy. The Chinese have another saying “创业难,守业更难,专业更是难上加难。“, which means that it is difficult to start a business, harder to maintain and sustain a business, but the most difficult is to transform a business. 

16. This is what Clayton Christensen called the “innovator’s dilemma”. When we are doing well, we would aim to improve and perfect it. It is very difficult for us to jettison what we are doing and start something new. However, if we do not check our blind spots, we will soon find whatever we are doing is no longer relevant and be overtaken by others.

17. This is also the Singapore spirit of doing things. We constantly seek to transform ourselves and the way we do things, whether it is in regulation or business model. We had always tried to transform ahead of time, not only when we are forced by circumstances to do so.

PEP 2.0 Underscored with Regulatory Agility and Enhanced Partnerships 

18. Last year, I spoke about transitioning the Pro-Enterprise Panel (PEP) from PEP 1.0 to PEP 2.0. We have to change from being protective, efficient, and predictable in the way we use regulations, to becoming progressive, enabling, and pioneering. 

19. We have to optimise regulations at the systems level to enable new businesses encourage innovation and facilitate business growth overseas.  

20. PEP 2.0 is even more relevant, at such a time as this. We have made good progress in PEP 2.0.
a. In 2019, the PEP worked with MOT and LTA to develop a regulatory sandbox for a peer-to-peer car sharing programme, that was supported by a digital app. This sandbox allowed business innovation to be tested out, while providing greater convenience and affordability to car users, and contributing to car-lite objectives. 
b. More recently, our PEP 2.0 approach helped elderly and residents, who have limited access to digital means, gain greater access to necessary provisions, during the Circuit Breaker period.
i. Industry, NTUC, and the government had partnered up to implement a regulatory sandbox for a ‘Food and Groceries on Wheels’ programme in HDB carparks.
ii. Multiple agencies – HDB, URA, SLA, SFA, and ESG – had come together to review regulations across disciplines to enable this.
iii. As a result, residents across 20 designated carparks have benefited from the programme.
iv. We are working together to explore scaling this to more venues in the future. 

21. I am encouraged by the spirit of the teams involved in the projects, as they had adopted the mentality of how best they could tweak regulations to support innovative business ideas which can serve the public better.

22. But as we encourage more pervasive and deeper business transformation, PEP 2.0 must be underscored by two things. 

23. One, regulatory agility. To some people, the term “regulatory agility” seems contradictory. However, it need not be so. We want the best of both worlds – the predictability and consistency in regulation; and the agility to adapt and adjust to evolving circumstances, or even pre-empting situations that may arise, at the same time.

24. Let me illustrate with my visit to Station F in Paris a few years ago. Station F houses an entire entrepreneurial ecosystem together. The French authorities assessed that it would be a good idea to send some of its regulators to Station F, so that they can help the start-up companies navigate the regulatory system. That was the original intent.

25. However, as the regulators spent more time interacting with the entrepreneurs and getting to know the needs of the start-ups, they soon realised that the regulations will have to change as many of the new business ideas will not fit nicely to existing regulations. They will need to develop new regulations to allow many of the new business ideas to be realised. So, instead of helping start-ups navigate regulatory systems, the regulatory unit at Station F soon evolved from to being a “start-up” in terms of regulations.

26. This was a challenge which I brought back to our team in Singapore. Our regulators must not only help entrepreneurs navigate regulations, but also evolve our regulatory system as the situation changes. I am happy to note that some of our regulatory agencies have already adopted this mindset and workflow to ensure our regulations keep pace with the business environment .

27. Two, we must develop a deeper and more sustained public-private sector partnership. 

28. For example, if we have a new idea on health-related app, bio-tech or medical products, the chances of the regulatory agencies knowing everything required within the government – the latest findings, data and methodology – is qutie remote. If the regulators do not know what the businesses are doing, they may end up being the obstacle to the commercialisation of the ideas. 

29. This is a challenge that is not unique to Singapore. Many countries face the same challenge but not many have gotten an approach which works well for them. To overcome this challenge in Singapore, there are two things we can do:
a. First, we will send more public service officers on attachments in the private sectors which allow them to know what is going on in the industry. We have already started doing so, and will continue to do it more regularly. This will also facilitate a constant exchange of information and ideas between the public and private sector and allow the two sectors to work as a team for Singapore to excel. 
b. Second, we will form Community-of-Practices (COP) to share information on the latest ideas and technological progress between the regulators and the industry, and facilitate regular conversation to build a trusted partnership.

30. The COP will ensure that there is a group of people who is always working with regulators and businesses to be at the forefront of the technological cycles. When we are able to do that, we can market innovative technogies much faster than others. This is how Singapore can sustain, if not extend, our competitive advantage. This will also give innovators around the world the confidence to put their investments, innovations and intellectual property in Singapore. 

31. I must also emphasise that while many things can change, there are some things that will never change for Singapore. Our commitment to regulatory transparency and predictability will never change. When we do this consistently, businesses can be assured and remain confident in the long-term viability of their products and projects. When we adopt a consistent logic and be ever conscious on the costs of compliance and regulate on the basis of good science and economics, it will strengthen our role as a hub for new business ideas. 

32. This will also allow us to be a standard bearer in the region and internationally. If our standards are adopted more widely, it will benefit our companies as Singapore will become a platform for them to expand their products and services to the rest of the world. This will become another competitive advantage for Singapore amidst the pandemic, and beyond.

Conclusion

33. On this note, I would like to thank all the members and alumni of PEP who have worked on this project for the last 20 years. Apart from making rules which are more business-friendly and enable new business ideas to grow, PEP reflects the common DNA of how as a country, we want to strengthen our competitiveness through a collaborative approach. 

34. If we continue to do that well, we will distinguish ourselves and continue to create opportunities for businesses and job opportunities for our people.

35. Thank you.

 
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